Monday, May 25, 2015

What’s in a Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." That famous quote comes from William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. Juliet utters that line to Romeo as she makes the point that no matter his name (he was a Montague and his family was at odds with Juliet’s family, the Capulets) he is still the man she loves.

It’s a well-known line that does contain an element of truth because the rose would smell every bit as sweet no matter what we called it. However, if we renamed the rose something like “The Dogcrap Flower,” very few people would be willing to even sniff it.

This understanding came to light recently when I approached an individual about an idea I had. I wanted to rename something but I knew this person was heavily invested in the current name. Here’s how I approached the conversation:

Me – Have you ever had Patagonian Toothfish?
Other – (making an “ewe gross” sound) No, I don’t think I have. Sounds kind of gross.
Me – Have you tried Chilean Seabass?
Other – Yes, I love it.
Me – Did you know they’re the same thing? (I hear a chuckle). Nobody was buying Patagonian Toothfish because it sounds bad so they renamed it Chilean Seabass in the 1970s. I bring this up because I think we have a naming problem.

From there I described the problem and the other person agreed rather quickly to explore the name change.

Aside from an example like that, names, words and labels matter a lot! And it doesn’t always matter what the dictionary has to say about what a word means because ultimately we give meaning to words. Understanding your audience and their interpretation of words is what matters most. Here are a few examples.

Thug – a violent criminal (Merriam-Webster)
We heard this word used repeatedly in connection with the recent Baltimore riots. It’s true that those who looted and destroyed were violent criminals. However, many people came down hard on those who used the word – including Baltimore’s mayor and President Obama (both African-American) – because in society the word has become more closely associated with African-Americans. There was a time when the word was used to describe Irish immigrant criminals, gangsters in the 1920s and 1930s, and even former Detroit Piston center Bill Lambier. But the connotation in today’s media is so heavily skewed towards African-Americans that it’s becoming a race-related word.

Niggardly – hating to spend money, very small amount (Merriam-Webster)
In 1999 David Howard used this word when referring to the budget for Washington D.C. and was relieved of his position after a race-related complaint. Eventually he took a different position working for the city and said he learned from the incident.

Bastard – a person born to parents not married to each other (TheFreeDictionary.com)
We can probably all think of someone we know who was born to parents who never married. If you used this word to describe that someone you’d probably get popped in the mouth or get an earful of condemnation for being insensitive. Most people in that situation would have no problem talking about their parents never marrying but would not take kindly to the label.

There was an urban legend about the Chevy Nova not selling in Spanish speaking countries because in Spanish Nova means “no go.” There was no truth to the story but it too belies the point that a name can have a profound impact on the listener.

What does this have to do with persuasion? A lot! Understanding your audience – what words will help and what words will offend – and keeping in mind your ultimate goal will help you craft your persuasive message.

Do we want to see race relations improve in this country? I believe the vast majority of people would say yes. Tossing around the word thug, when you know how it will be perceived, is not something a smart persuader would do. If an African-American mayor and president can’t avoid controversy then neither will you.

Budgets may be tight but the wise persuader would not use the word niggardly – no matter how the dictionary defines it – because they realize someone will be offended and their message will be lost.

If you want to help tackle the issue of children being born out of wedlock you best not refer to those children as bastards because you’ll offend so many people that your desire to help and good ideas will never be heard.


Yes, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet but rename it incorrectly and almost nobody will take a sniff. The words we use can make all the difference so make sure your words work for you, not against you.

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


Monday, May 18, 2015

If You are Wrong – Tom Brady – Admit it Quickly and Emphatically

I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of athletes getting caught red-handed cheating or involved in some scandal only to defiantly maintain their innocence. Pete Rose, Lance Armstrong, A-Rod come to mind and now Tom Brady has joined the list. Eventually the truth comes out and each person only compounded his problems with the lies that ensued. Of course, this issue isn’t limited to just athletes. We’ve all seen our fair share of politicians, religious leaders, businesspeople and many others go through the same thing.

Just once I’d like to hear someone say, “I did it. It was wrong. No excuses and now I’m willing to bear whatever punishment comes my way.” 

The public doesn’t care why they did what they did because it’s all excuses. My old high school football coach said it best, “Excuses are like a—holes. Everybody has one and they all stink!” The only thing people care about is what they did.

Lying after getting caught only compounds cheating. Thus the well-known saying, “The cover up is worse than the crime.” When will they learn? I realize a lot is at stake, but had each of the aforementioned people taken their medicine when they were caught, odds are they’d be back in the good graces of the public by now. Tiger Woods, as horrible as his behavior was, fessed up, sought help, and is in a much better place than Pete, Lance, A-Rod or Tom.

Football is a game of inches. Sometimes the slightest advantage makes all the difference between winning and losing. But the point is not whether or not deflating a football a little bit makes a difference or not, or whether fans and players think the rule is silly,  IT’S THE RULE.

The issue with Tom Brady is twofold. First, he chose to break the rule and only did so because he felt it would be an advantage for him. If he didn’t think balls with slightly less pressure would help he wouldn’t have instructed others to let a little air out. Like the rule or not, he knowingly broke it.

Second, and more important now, he lied about it. For most people when everything is on the line we see their true character. Sometimes people choose to risk life and limb for others but most people focus just on themselves. That’s the choice Tom Brady made.

In Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, he has some great advice under the section Be a Leader (something Tom Brady is supposed to be):

"When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically."

Carnegie’s advice taps into Robert Cialdini’s principle of authority. One shortcut to gain credibility with others is to admit weakness or mistakes before the other person brings them. In doing so you’ve viewed as more truthful.

If I were in the NFL, I might get flagged for a 15-yard penalty for “piling on” with this blog post. I don’t dislike Tom Brady or the New England Patriots. In fact, I was pulling for them to win the Super Bowl years ago when they had a chance to go undefeated because it would have been a historic event. But no longer can I root for them at all because it seems at every turn Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the organization are embroiled in controversy over the rules. When there’s smoke there’s usually fire. Admit you started the fire and do all you can to prevent any more from starting!

Here’s my final thought: Tom Brady needs to grow a pair and take his punishment like a man. Of course, maybe he already has a pair but if so, then they’re obviously a bit deflated too. 

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


Monday, May 11, 2015

Setting the Stage for a Successful Sales Call

Let me ask you a question and please be honest; doesn’t it bother you when the doorbell rings and someone has showed up unannounced and tries to sell you something? I’m confident everyone reading this agrees that’s not how you want to be approached. Then why do salespeople do that to their business customers?

Salesperson – “Hi Pat. I was in the area and thought I’d pop in to say hello. Do you have a few minutes to talk because I’d love to tell you about…blah, blah, blah.”

All too often people agree to give up some time because they don’t want to appear rude but here’s a newsflash for the offensive salesperson – they aren’t listening to you! They’re wondering why they didn’t honestly tell you they didn’t have time to see you and are counting the minutes until you leave.

Holding successful sales calls entails setting the stage because you want to be in front of people who want to see you and believe you might just be able to help them or their business.

So how do you set the stage? A little pre-call planning and understanding psychology goes a long way.

Common courtesy dictates you contact a client (current or potential) to find a date and time that works for both of you. I always suggest doing this by phone because it allows you to inform them about why you want to see them and find out if there are any things you should be considering in advance.

Salesperson – “Hi Pat, it’s Jim. I was calling to see if we could find a time when I could stop by. I’d like to find out how things are going and share with you some things I think you’ll find very interesting.”

A big reason to make this initial contact is to give the client time to think about you, your company, and your product or service.

Next, follow up immediately with an email thanking them for their willingness to meet with you, confirming the date and time, and giving them some information to look over and think about. Make sure to ask them if they will look at it in advance because when they say yes, the likelihood they will do it goes up. This approach taps into the principle of consistency – people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do.

Salesperson – “Thanks for making time to see me next Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. To get the most out of our time would you take a few moments to look at the link below?”

Setting up the sales call like this also taps into a psychological concept known as priming. Simply sharing information beforehand can change how people think and behave.

Resend the original email on the day of the sales call to remind the client of the time and ask if they’ve looked at the information you shared. If they haven’t already they’re very likely to in response to your email. Again, they don’t want to meet with you and not have done what you asked.

As the meeting starts, again, thank them for their time. Allow them the opportunity to share what’s on their mind before you launch into your presentation.

After the meeting it’s always a good idea to send a follow-up email. The reason for this email is to confirm any sale, agreed upon next steps or action items. If you came away with a different impression than the client this is the time miscommunication can be dealt with.

If you’re a salesperson I challenge you to try this approach to a sales call. Clients and potential clients will appreciate you respecting their time. You’ll also have the benefit of a much more productive meeting because your contact will have had three or four opportunities to think about your offer.

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