Monday, September 29, 2014

The Scoop on Ice Cream and Persuasion

I’ve traveled a lot this year and have a lot more trips coming up. If my travel schedule plays out I’ll have been on the road half of the weeks this year and spent at least 50 nights in hotels. Think about that-- 10 weeks away from my family! Some days have entailed hitting the road by 4 a.m. to catch early morning flights and arriving home close to midnight. If you travel you know if can be tiring!

Last month, as I waited to catch an evening flight home I got a text from my daughter, Abigail, asking if I wanted to get some ice cream at Graeter’s when I landed because she wanted to tell me about her first days of college. Despite being tired I agreed because I don’t view such times as a sacrifice; rather it was an investment in her and our relationship.

As we waited in line I tried to decide what flavor I was in the mood for and whether I’d go with a single scoop or a double. If you’ve been to Graeter’s you know the ice cream is great but you pay a premium for it!

As I looked at the menu I saw a single scoop cone was $2.95 and a double was $4.25. I thought, “I just bought a half gallon of really good Homemade ice cream for just over $5,” so I was reluctant to get two scoops at that price. The other thought that raced through my head was, “That’s almost twice as much.” When you do the math, you know it’s not twice as much, but my mind quickly registered the $2.95 and $4.25 as $2 vs. $4 because those are the numbers each price started with.

Something else that came into play as I decided what to do was the fact that I was still a little full from dinner a few hours ago. I decided to skip the cone to save a few calories so I asked for a single scoop in a cup. The server said, “Would you like a second scoop for just 50 cents more?” I recall thinking, “For 50 cents why not, that’s a good deal?” because in my mind the option of going from one to two scoops was twice as much ice cream but not at double the price.

As it turns out, the single scoop in a cup was $3.75 and two scoops were $4.25…the same prince as the two scoops in a cone that I’d just decided to pass on! It was only a 50-cent difference but in the end I got two scoops…no cone…and paid the same amount I’d mentally rejected moments before!

I read lots of books on the subject of persuasion, pricing, etc., and yet I ended up in the very place I was initially trying to avoid. Before you chuckle, I can assure you I could probably spot similar inconsistencies in some of your decision-making.

So what happened to me? My focus shifted from “two scoops for nearly double the price” to “a second scoop for just 50 cents more” when in the end, the price was $4.25 in each case!

When we make decisions we rarely do so in a vacuum. To assess a “deal,” we’re always making comparisons to other things. My first thought was two scoops for about the same price as a box of ice cream is not a good deal. However, knowing the first scoop was pretty expensive, getting a second scoop for just 50 cents more seemed like a great deal. My mistake was that I didn’t pay close attention to the price of a single scoop in a cone vs. the price of one scoop in a cup. I mistakenly assumed getting ice cream in a cup would be less expensive, certainly not more, because I couldn’t eat the cup.

So here’s the “scoop” next time you’re faced with a similar decision.
  1. Try to remove your emotions from the decision. Many behavioral economics studies show people are emotional creatures that occasionally make rational decisions (i.e., We have five TVs but I want a 66-inch flat screen!).
  2. Recognize you’re always making comparisons to other things. Make sure you’re comparing to the right thing and don’t just look for something that will confirm what you emotionally want (i.e., I know we don’t need another television but it’s 50% off!).
  3. Take a moment to consider the value of the thing you’re considering regardless of what you’re comparing to. Value is subjective but oftentimes we ascribe too much value to things we believe will make us happier or more fulfilled (i.e., What will the 66-inch screen, even if on sale, really add to your life?).
Follow these simple steps and you’ll probably make better decisions; the kinds you look back on with pride, not regret.

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Choose Your Words Carefully Because They Matter

This summer was a whirlwind! After an unusually heavy amount of travel in the first half of the year. I was looking forward to no airports or hotels until I began making the rounds for fall sales training. All of that changed when I made it known to the head of State Auto’s claims division that I was available if he needed my help. To be honest, I thought he might invite me to sit in on a few meetings in our home office and share my expertise in influence. Instead he asked if I would travel to each of our claims offices to give an overview of persuasion to all of our claim reps.

Six cities and two-dozen sessions later I concluded with a presentation to the senior leaders in our claims division. As I fielded questions at the end of the talk I was reminded about the need to choose my words carefully. If anyone should be aware of this it should be the guy who teaches influence for a living! Having said that, we can all slip at times and I’m no exception.

During the presentation, I shared about a particular application of the principle of reciprocity. This principle of influence alerts us to the reality that people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. The particular application I shared that day had to do with concessions. That is, when we concede a little by taking a step to the middle, quite often people feel obligated to take a step towards the middle in response to our first move.

As I spoke about this I shared a story from Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., that shows how powerful concessions can be. Dr. Cialdini had some of his graduate assistants spread out across the campus of Arizona State University to randomly ask people this question:

“Hi, I’m from the juvenile county detention center and we’re looking for people who would be willing to chaperon a group of juvenile delinquents on a day trip to the zoo. Would you be willing to volunteer?”

As you might imagine, spending a day at the zoo with juvenile delinquents didn’t sound appealing so not too many people offered up their time. In fact, only 17% agreed to be chaperons.

At a later time, to test the theory of concessions the graduate assistants started with a much bigger request then retreated to a smaller request upon hearing no. It went something like this:

“Hi, I’m from the juvenile county detention center and we’re looking for people who would be willing to be a big brother or big sister for some juvenile delinquents. Generally we like people to commit a few hours every weekend and we ask that people sign up for two years. Would you be willing to be a big brother or big sister?”

As you might imagine, nobody said yes because that’s a huge commitment but as soon as that offer was rejected the graduate assistants retreated to a smaller request, the one they’d asked people days before:

“If you can’t do that, would you be willing to be a chaperon on a day trip to the zoo for some kids in need?”

The response in that case was a 50% volunteer rate. That’s triple the initial request even though it was the same time commitment – one day at the zoo!

You might not have caught the subtlety in how I shared that second request but someone from our legal department pointed out that the second request for the day trip to the zoo wasn’t exactly like the first request because dealing with “juvenile delinquents” is different than helping some “kids in need.” It’s probably easier for people to say yes to “kids in need” versus spending all day with “juvenile delinquents.”

It was a good reminder for me about how powerful words are! The reality was both requests were identical in the study but I got lazy when I shared the story that particular day. In the study both requests were to spend a day at the zoo with some juvenile delinquents so it was an apples-to-apples comparison.

This post isn’t so much about the power of reciprocity by way of concessions, as it is to remind us that we need to choose our words carefully because they matter. Frank Luntz, a conservative pollster, brilliantly shows this in his book Words that Work. I highly recommend the book because it will open your eyes to scripting used by political parties. For example: 

  • Taxes. If you’re against taxing inheritances passed down to family members you’ll talk about the “death tax” but those in favor of taxing inheritances will refer to it as the “estate tax.” Each description conjures up very different images and feelings.
  • Immigration. If you’re for opening up immigration you might refer to people already here as “undocumented workers” but those against it call these same people “illegal aliens.” Again, each word choice creates very different mental pictures and feelings. 

These are just two examples of how word choice describing the same thing can make a very big difference in people’s perception of the issues. Remember, what you say and how you say it can make all the difference when it comes to hearing “Yes” or “No.”

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

The 7 Most Common Persuasion Mistakes

When I work with students in the Principles of Persuasion workshop we talk about three kinds of persuasion practitioners: bunglers, smugglers and detectives. Here’s a quick synopsis of each:

Detectives are folks who understand the principles of influence and look for genuine opportunities to use them in order to create a win for themselves as well as the person or people they seek to influence.
Smugglers are individuals who also have some understanding but they look for shortcuts through manipulation. They find it easier to distort the truth or lie outright in their use of the principles of influence so they can get what they want no matter the cost to others.
Bunglers are people who don’t understand the persuasion process or principles and therefore miss opportunities to be more effective when it come to persuasion. Or, they might intuitively know a few things about the principles but don’t understand how to effectively use them. Unfortunately the vast majority of people fall into this category and they make predictable mistakes.

In this post we’ll look at some of the most common mistakes people make when trying to persuade others. No offense, but if you find yourself doing these things, you’re bungling away persuasion opportunities.
  1. Validating undesirable behavior. There’s a lot of bad stuff that happens in society. For example; too many kids try cigarettes and cheat in school; far too many people don’t vote; violent behavior seems to be on the rise, etc. When you talk about what many people are doing – consensus – you tend to validate the bad behavior. This can cause more people to do the very thing you’re preaching against! Instead, you want to point out good behavior you want people to emulate. This approach was validated in the last two presidential elections where people were told to get to the polls early because record turnouts were expected. Those turnouts materialized. 
  2. Highlighting gain instead of loss. I’ve shared in recent posts about homeowners who, when told about energy saving recommendations, were informed they would either save $180 by implementing the energy saving ideas or that they would lose $180 if they failed to implement the ideas, the latter of which is an application of the principle of scarcity. Everyone I share that study with correctly guesses more people in the “lose” group made the necessary changes. And they’re correct -- 150% more people in the lose group chose to incorporate the energy saving ideas. Despite intuitively knowing this, most people still go out and talk about all the things someone will gain, or save, by going with their idea. Perhaps they fear coming across as negative but they’re failing to apply the most persuasive approach and they won’t hear yes as often.
  3. Confusing contracts with reciprocity. Reciprocity explains the reality that people feel obligated to return a favor. In other words, if I do something for you you’ll feel some obligation to want to do something for me in return. An example would be; I’ll do A and I hope you’ll do B in return. This is very different than entering into a contract – I’ll do A IF you’ll do B. Quite often you can engage reciprocity by doing or offering far less and still get the same behavior in return. 
  4. Mixing up positional authority with perceived authority. Believing you’re an authority is far different than other people perceiving you to be an authority. Sometimes others need to know your credentials. When people rely solely on their position to gain compliance it will never be as effective as it could be if they engaged people in the persuasion process by highlighting their credentials. It’s one thing for me to do something because the boss says so versus doing the very same thing because I see the value in doing so because an expert convinced me.
  5. Failing to connect on liking. Effective persuasion has a lot to do with relationships built on the principle of liking. It’s not always enough that someone likes your product or service. Quite often the difference maker is whether or not they like you. It doesn't matter if you’re a salesperson, manager or someone else, spending too much time describing ideas, products, services, etc., without getting the other person to like you is going to make persuasion harder. And here's the gem - make sure you create time to learn a bit about the other person so you come to like them and you'll be amazed at the difference it can make!
  6. Telling instead of asking. Telling someone what to do isn’t nearly as effective as asking because asking engages consistency. This principle tells us people feel internal psychological pressure as well as external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. By asking and getting a “Yes” the odds that someone will do what you want increase significantly. In the POP workshop we talk about a restaurant owner who saw no shows fall from 30% to just 10% by having the hostess go from saying, “Please call of you cannot make your reservation” to asking, “Will you please call if you cannot keep your reservation?” The first sentence is a statement but the second is a question that engages consistency. 
  7. Failure to give a reason. When you want someone to do something, giving a reason tagged with because can make all the difference. As I’ve share with State Auto claim reps, “Can you get me your medical records?” will not be as effective as “Can you get me your medical records because without them I cannot process your claim and pay you?” This approach was validated in a copier study where 50% more people (93% up from 60%) were willing to let someone go ahead of them in line when the person asking gave them a reason using the word “because.”
So there you have some of the most common persuasion mistakes. By pointing them out hopefully you’ll change your ways if you’ve made these mistakes before. If you’ve not bungled like this then hopefully you’ll avoid these mistakes now that you’re aware of them.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.