Monday, June 29, 2015

You Teach People How to Manipulate Others

I attended a networking event/cocktail hour recently and was engaged in conversation with the woman I was seated next to. She asked what I did and I told her I was a sales trainer for an insurance company. She asked if I had a background in education and I told her I did not. She proceeded to quiz me on how I could be a trainer or educator without formal training as an educator. I say, “quiz” because rather than feeling she was interested, I felt more like I was being cross-examined, as if I might be unqualified for the job I’ve been doing successfully for more than 20 years.

As the conversation proceeded, I mentioned that I have my own business where I teach people about the psychology of persuasion. She said, “So you teach people how to manipulate others.” I’m sure she noticed my face change as I replied rather forcefully, “No, there’s a difference between manipulation and persuasion.” She said she didn’t think there was any difference because persuasion was only about getting people to do what you want which in her mind was manipulation. In my mind that’s like saying there’s no difference between the person who uses a knife to cut into a steak and a surgeon who uses a scalpel during an operation.

If you’ve read Influence PEOPLE for any length of time, you know I’ve addressed manipulation before but it’s worth going into once again because there’s such a misconception out there.

My first question to those who think persuasion is manipulation would be this – is there any way to get someone to do what you want without manipulating them?

I hope you answered yes because if not, then we live in a world where everyone is simply out for himself or herself with no regard for anyone else. Think of the consequences: 

  • We don’t get our kids to study because it will help them in life, only because it allows us as parents to brag about their grades.
  • Wherever you work, no one should buy your product or service because you only sell it to make money without regard to how it impacts others.
  • You don’t marry someone because you love him or her and want to make him or her happy; you just want to take happiness from them.


I could go on and on but you get the picture. There are people who do what I just described because there are always people who are out only for themselves and don’t care about anyone else.

However, I bet most of you reading this aren’t like that. You want your kids to do well in school because it will make their lives better down the road. You probably work for a company where you really believe people will be better off with your products or services. And the person you’re with, you probably do want to help him or her live a happy, fulfilled life. Do you get anything out of what I just described? Sure you do, but is what you get your driving force? Probably not.

Here’s the reality; every day we encounter people who are not doing what we’d like them to do, what we know they should do, or what might make them better off. For example, in my line of work – insurance – people are happy they have insurance if they have a car accident, their home burns down or a loved one dies. You hope you never have to use your insurance, and you’d rather not have to buy insurance, but you know you might need it one day and you’re thankful it’s there when something bad happens. Is a salesperson helping you understand this reality manipulating you? I don’t see it that way.

Now, people can certainly resort to manipulation. One definition is “to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner.” Today we don’t think about “skillfully” because the word is associated with “unfair” and taking advantage of others.

Consider this; if you learned that saying “please” and “thank you” made people more likely to do what you want, would you say “please” and “thank you” most of the time? Certainly you would! You can call using those words “good manners” but the fact remains, we appreciate it when people are polite and we know people respond to us better when we’re polite. Consequently polite people tend to get what they want more often than impolite people. But that doesn’t mean polite people are manipulative.

It’s a fact that when we help others they’re more likely to help us. Does being a nice person who likes to help others make you a manipulator? Not necessarily. Certainly some people learn this and use it to their unfair advantage but others do it because they’ve learned life is easier when you give and respond to giving. This starts early in life when we teach our kids to say “thank you” after someone has done something for them. Are you just teaching your kids to manipulate? I don’t think so.

When we talk about the principles of influence we’re talking about psychological triggers that people naturally respond to. The principles are neither good nor bad, they simply describe how people typically think and respond. How we use them reveals something about our character. When it comes to this I like the following quote from The Art of Woo:

“An earnest and sincere lover buys flowers and candy for the object of his affection. So does the cad who only seeks to take advantage of another’s heart but when the cad succeeds we don’t blame the flowers and candy, we rightly question his character.”

Learning how to influence others isn’t manipulation but can certainly be used by a cad to take advantage of another so let me end with this:

Be truthful, look to give, and try to genuinely help people. If you live your life like that you’ll reap much more than you sow because people will appreciate you and want to help you in return. That’s not manipulation, that’s living life in a way that benefits everyone, including you.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


Monday, June 22, 2015

A Funny thing Happened to me on the Airplane…

I travel a good bit and it seems to pick up each year. For example, last year I was away from the office half of the weeks during the year. Quite often my travel entails flying to and fro around the country.

When it comes to air travel, I’m a Southwest guy through and through. Rarely am I late and I can’t recall a time when I didn’t make it to my destination the same day I was supposed to. Combine that with the best fares in the industry and people who seem to genuinely enjoy what they do and it’s a no brainer for me to choose Southwest each and every time.

If you’ve flown Southwest then you know you have to check in 24 hours in advance. They have me trained better than Pavlov’s dog because I’m on their web site 24 hours ahead of my scheduled flight and check in the moment the clocks tells me it’s exactly 24 hours till take off. That usually gets me an A30 or better assignment which translates into sitting almost anywhere I want to.

When I fly I typically have my iPad out to read or get my MacBook out once we’re airborne so I can work. And I’m not someone who throws their seat back so the person behind me has their legs up in their belly or their tray in their chest.

Not long ago I went through my usual routine as I got on a flight and almost as soon as I sat down the flight attendant said, “Excuse me sir. You’re sitting in the row right in front of the exit row and that means you can’t recline your seat.” I replied, “That’s not a problem because I never recline my seat.”

As soon as we started down the runway I began to think about not being able to recline my seat. The more I thought about it the more I was mentally kicking myself for not changing seats when I had the chance. Once in the air all I thought about was that I wanted to recline my seat. In fact, my mind obsessed over it!

What was going on? After all, I almost never put my seat back so why was I so obsessed with wanting to do it on that flight? In a word – scarcity. The principle of scarcity alerts us to the reality that human beings want things more when they believe those things are rare or going away. To put it more succinctly; if we can’t have it, we want it.

In the book Scarcity: Why Having so Little Means so Much the authors wrote, “Scarcity captures the mind. The mind orients automatically, powerfully, toward unfulfilled needs.” I didn’t “need” to put my seat back but as soon as I realized I couldn’t I wanted to.

If you’ve raised kids you’ve no doubt seen this. As soon as you tell a child they can’t: 
  • Watch a particular movie it’s the only one they want to see.
  • Listen to a certain song or artist and that’s all they want to listen to.
  • Play with a toy and it’s the only one they want to play with.
  • Eat or drink something and they want it all the more.

Bottom line; deny something to someone and it’s natural that they’ll want it even more. It doesn’t matter if they need it, want it, or possibly have ever considered it before because scarcity changes how their brain views it.

An effective persuader understands this and one other important factor. It’s not enough that something is rare, difficult to obtain or going away. The real key is that the other person becomes aware that what you’re offering is rare, difficult to get, or might go away soon.

Disney is a master of this when it comes to marketing. For example, Snow White has been around since 1937 so how do you make people want a product that’s been around so long and is so easy to obtain? Change it ever so slightly, offer it for a limited time then throw it into the Disney vault. No one knows the combination and no one knows when the vault will open again. When it does open up you can bet your bottom dollar the whole cycle will repeat itself making people want Snow White once again.

Sometimes scarcity causes us to buy things we don’t need or want because its pull on our mind is so strong. Having said that, scarcity was at play in my decision to marry Jane. After 10 months of on again, off again dating, I was talking to her in the break room (we worked together) during an “off” period and she told me how happy she was and told me even if I asked her out again she wouldn’t go out with me. Two weeks later we were engaged! Was I played? Maybe so because I didn’t need her but I sure wanted her and the thought of not having her was too much to bear!

Hopefully this gives you a vivid picture of how scarcity works on the mind and causes people to take action. I’ll end with this; since that earlier Southwest flight I’ve flown a lot and not once have I put my seat back. Truthfully, it rarely enters my mind…until someone else brings it up.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


Monday, June 15, 2015

An Education in How to Apply Persuasion to a School Levy

Many years ago I wrote a blog post that was one of my best read. It even caught the attention of Jeffrey Gitomer and he ran it in his weekly Caffeine Ezine. The article was called 700,000 Great Reasons to Use Yellow Sticky Notes. It showed how we took a concept from the book Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive and implemented it to recover from a $700,000 mistake quickly.

The person I worked with to make that happen was our home office accounting manager Steve Ruble. Steve recently told me he was taking the concept of personalizing information into a school levy campaign in his town. He said if the levy failed there would be many more cuts than residents realized. Being a big school supporter and having children in the school system, Steve had a vested interest in making sure this didn’t happen. The odds were against the levy as none had passed since 2010.

Working with other supporters of the school levy they were able to identify 2,000 people who hadn’t voted in the last levy ballot. A frequently asked questions (FAQs) flier was delivered to these people. On the FAQ was a section highlighted in yellow that read, “Please Vote Yes.” Steve personally signed all 2,000, writing “Thank You” next to the highlighted section.

Now you might be thinking something as trivial as a personalized note would have no effect on your decision to vote, let alone to vote yes on the levy. You would not be alone in that thought, but much of persuasion happens at the subconscious level, meaning it impacts you without you actively thinking about it.

In the studies cited in Yes, both times signed sticky notes were used the response rate doubled. When a hand written note was used without a sticky note the response rate was still 33% higher. You can’t explain away those results in a controlled experiment.

Back to my friend Steve – he had seen the difference it makes to personalize requests to our agents when it came to money and he knew it worked. That’s why he made sure the Please Vote Yes was highlighted in yellow and that’s why he endured writer’s cramp to sign 2,000 FAQs!

Quite often elections come down to a few percentage points and in small towns that might mean a few hundred swing voters can make the difference. In Steve’s case the levy passed by a whopping 74% to 26% margin!

Did the personalization – an application of the principle of reciprocity – make all the difference? Perhaps not all the difference, but Steve knew it could be a big part of the difference they would need to pass the levy and he was wise enough not to let the opportunity slip by.

Whenever you want to persuade someone – to get them to do something they’re not doing at the moment – take a moment to personalize your request and your odds of hearing yes will be much better.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Drive for Show, Putt for Dough

My wife is a heck of a golfer. She’s the poster child for the power of golf lessons and practice. About 10 years ago she was a very average golfer, shooting between 100 and 110. After years of lessons, practice and consistent play she’s transformed her game to the point where she consistently shoots in the low 80s and occasionally the upper 70s. Last year she had a pressure match and had the best round of the year. Her pressure was playing 18 holes with rock legend Alice Cooper who happens to be a scratch golfer. That day Cooper shot a 75 and Jane had a season best 78. Needless to say, he was impressed!

There’s an old saying in golf – “Drive for show, putt for dough.” Crushing a drive off of the tee is impressive but to be a great golfer it comes down to play around the green, particularly putting. That’s so because putting accounts for approximately 40%-50% of a golfer’s score. For example, a par four hole may be anywhere from 400-475 yards. A good golfer will reach the green in two shots then most likely take two more strokes to putt the ball 20-30 feet into the hole.

Persuasion is a lot like putting. It doesn’t seem like something that should take too much time or practice because it usually comes at the end of a long process. However, when viewed as critical as putting, it deserves a tremendous amount of time and attention.

Daniel Pink, author of To Sell is Human, cited a study where more than 7,000 businesspeople were asked how much of their time was spent in non-sales selling (i.e., persuading). The answer was 40%! That’s right, apart from selling, businesspeople estimate they spend 40% of their time, or 3.2 hours a day, trying to persuade other people to do things.

If you spent 40% of your day (or more for salespeople and leaders) engaged in a particular activity wouldn’t it make sense to devote time and effort to improving in that area? Of course it would!

Great golfers spend an inordinate amount of time on the putting green because tournaments are usually won and lost on crucial putts. If your job requires you to sell, work with others or work through others, then you’re like the pro golfer. You should be working on your putting (persuading). 

  • Leaders – Whether you’re a supervisor, manager or senior level executive, your success depends on the performance of your team. Your ability to get them to buy into your vision and execute it enthusiastically is vital to your success.
  • Salespeople – Success for you culminates in a “Yes” from prospects and current clients. Understanding how to communicate in a way that makes “Yes” come easier and faster will impact your income via commissions earned.
  • Not in sales or management – Undoubtedly you still need assistance and cooperation. You may need coworkers, suppliers, vendors or even your boss to do certain things. Knowing how to ethically influence these groups can make your days much, much easier.
  • At home – Life is much nicer and pleasant at home when your spouse, roommates, children and neighbors more willingly go along with what you propose. 

Whether you’re looking for professional success or personal happiness, I believe understanding how to ethically persuade others will go a long way – longer than any drive off the tee – to help you achieve that success and happiness.

Drive for show but persuade for dough!

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.