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665: How to Make Lasting Change – According to Science – with Katy Milkman

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Behavioral scientist and Wharton professor Katy Milkman reveals how behavioral science can help you make changes that stick.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top obstacles of change–and how to overcome them 
  2. How to overcome your impulsivity 
  3. How you can make your laziness work for you 

 

About Katy

Katy Milkman is the James G. Dinan Professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, host of Charles Schwab’s popular behavioral economics podcast Choiceology, and the former president of the international Society for Judgment and Decision Making.  Over the course of her career, she has worked with or advised dozens of organizations on how to spur positive change, including Google, the U.S. Department of Defense, and Walmart. 

An award-winning scholar and teacher, Katy writes frequently about behavioral science for major media outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Her book How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where You are to Where You Want to Be came out two days ago! She earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University (summa cum laude), and her PhD from Harvard University where she studied Computer Science and Business. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Katy Milkman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Katy, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Katy Milkman
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to learn how to change once and for all. You’ve literally written the book on this and I can’t wait to hear your insights.

Katy Milkman
Well, I’m excited to share.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe to kick it off, could you share maybe what’s maybe one of the most surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about us humans doing behavior change while researching the book How to Change?

Katy Milkman
That’s a great question. I love starting with that question. Probably it’d be a study I ran at Google that had the most counterintuitive finding to me. And it was a study where, actually, my collaborators and I were trying to figure out if we could create more durable habits around exercise in people if we got them to build really consistent routines, which is what our read of the habit literature suggested makes habits sticky, like, “Always at the same time of day, I’m really, really grounded in that routine and now it becomes like second nature to me.”

And if we could build that, we thought, then we sort of let go and we’d see these lasting habits. So, we ran this experiment with Google employees where we basically, for a month, gave them rewards for either visiting the gym at the same time of a day, a consistent time that they’d said was ideal for them, or for any time, whatever they wanted. So, about half of their visits ended up being at a consistent time but the other half were all over the place.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, one group was rewarded only when they went during the time they said and the other was rewarded regardless?

Katy Milkman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Katy Milkman
We actually varied the size of the incentives so we got variance in how often people went, and we basically ended up with two groups who went the same frequency but in different patterns. One is going very consistently, the other is more variable when they go. And then the question was, “What happens at the end of this month?” And we were sure, we knew, it was going to be the people who had that consistent routine, and we were wrong.

And what we found out is that the reason we were wrong is not that we had our model completely messed up, it was true that the people who had been really consistent in their exercise who would basically train to be automatons, the same time, same time each day. Those people actually were a little more likely to keep going at that same time, but if they didn’t make it to the gym at that time, they didn’t go at all.

And the folks who had built a more flexible habit ended up with a more durable habit because they went a little less often at that magic time, it was the best time each day for them, but they went at other times too, and at that they went more. And that was really surprising to us that, it turns out, and I write about this in the book, I call it the power of elastic habits. I really expected, from everything I’d read, that those consistent cues would be critical to durable habit formation but what we found instead was that it bred rigidity, and that if you’re going to get something done, you need to be flexible, and just say, “I’m going to do it no matter what,” not, “I’m going to only do it under this narrow set of circumstances.”

So, I think that’s really interesting and it was a really important takeaway and counterintuitive to me. Although, now it makes sense, in hindsight I can see why that’s important but it’s not what I expected. And we surveyed professors of psychology in all the top universities, and 80% of them also were surprised. They predicted strongly, “Oh, yeah, that consistency, that’s what we know about habits. Consistency breeds habit,” and it’s just not what we found.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Wow, that’s striking. And so, well, there’s one gem right there, so thank you.

Katy Milkman
You’re welcome. That’s a great opening question.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s zoom out a little bit in terms of, okay, your book How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. Can you lay it on us sort of the big idea or key theme or thesis associated with this work?

Katy Milkman
Yeah, absolutely. So, the key idea behind this book is that there’s a lot, of course, of great books and a lot of great knowledge out there about how to change and, yet, it’s not getting us where we want to be for the most part. People are still looking for these kinds of books, still trying to figure it out, a lot of us aren’t where we want to be. And one of the things I have found in my career, devoted to studying this topic of where change comes from, is that I think part of the problem is we often don’t focus on what is actually obstructing change for a given individual, for a given challenge or a given goal they’re trying to achieve, and tailor the solution to that obstacle.

We sort of grab one of those big ideas off the shelf that sounds sexy and appealing, like, “Set big audacious goals and then break them down,” or, “Build a really tiny habit and piggyback.” Like, there’s all these ideas that are out that are appealing but they won’t work if they’re not solving for what’s holding you back.

So, that’s kind of the big idea behind the book. There’s all these different things that can be barriers to change, whether it’s, “I don’t enjoy doing the thing that I need to do to change,” or, “I keep forgetting to do the thing and flaking out because I’m too busy and it’s just, I can’t prioritize it,” or, “I’m having trouble getting started,” or, “I don’t have the confidence to change. I don’t believe I really can and that’s holding me back,” or, “My peer group is not showing me the ways to do it and is a bad influence.”

Like, what is the challenge and the solution then will be different. And we can make more progress if we actually diagnose what’s standing in the way, and then use the best science to solve that specific problem. And I see this all the time in my work with companies, that they have some behavior, “We want get people to save more for retirement,” or to get their flu shots, or to be more productive. Like, let’s just grab from this bag of tricks from behavioral science and we think we’ll be able to slap a solution on it, but if there isn’t an understanding of, “Well, why aren’t people saving? Why aren’t they productive? What’s holding them back?” that is matched to the solution, we don’t get very far.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s resonating a whole lot. I’m getting chills in terms of like there’s much truth here.

Katy Milkman
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in a way, it seems like self-evident, “Well, of course, you should figure out what’s the challenge and address it.”

Katy Milkman
It does seem self-evident.

Pete Mockaitis
And, yet, we don’t.

Katy Milkman
It’s astounding how often we don’t, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you lay it down, lay it on us then, what’s maybe the menu of categories of obstacles and the best practices for deconstructing or addressing those obstacles? And then, maybe even before we go there, how do we go about identifying it and zooming in on it very well? Because, for example, when you say, “Why don’t people save?” like, “Well, I just don’t have enough money. I don’t have any spare money to save. I guess we’re done.” And so, it’s like, “Well, no, not quite. I think we got to dig deeper.” So, yeah, let’s start there. How do I identify, like, what’s the crux of the obstacle here?

Katy Milkman
I think the answer is probably most people will recognize themselves and a specific problem when they see these different discussions.

So, for example, I mentioned it’s not fun. That’s a really common one. I don’t know if that’s not a super common one for retirement savings. Most of us aren’t like, “I want it to be fun to save. And I find it dreadful and dreadfully unpleasant in the moment to do it.” That’s more like exercising or eating right or really focusing at work instead of scrolling social media. But that’s a category of obstacle.

Another category of obstacle is, “I don’t see how I can do this. This doesn’t seem doable.” I think that’s a big one, and retirement savings is actually is like, “Wow, it doesn’t feel feasible.” And that can come down to confidence, it can come down to what you’ve seen other people like you accomplish, and how, if you’ve learned their techniques and skills for doing it.

Another category can be, as I mentioned before, just flaking out, like, “There’s just a lot going on and I can’t get this to the top of the list, and I keep spacing it when it’s time to actually setup the 401(k).” So, it depends on which one you see yourself in, and I think it’s not like a category of problem, it’s always the same answer for different people. For some people, savings is also about procrastination, like, “I mean to do it but tomorrow I’ll get around to do it,” and then tomorrow never becomes today.

So, I think the goal of the book is that the reader will be able to see themselves as they see the classes of challenges and see what the solutions are. And there really are some experimentation individuals have to do, like, “Oh, I thought this was right solution for me. I tried it. Oops, I had diagnosed my barrier wrong. Really, that wasn’t what was holding me back. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to the gym because I thought it was incredibly unpleasant. It was that I just hadn’t made the time to do it with the right people and I didn’t have the right social network and the right structures.”

So, there’s different problems for different people even for the same outcome, there are some commonalities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then it sounds like one way that you diagnose kind of like the core obstacle is you try something and you realize, “Hey, it turns out that wasn’t it at all. Okay.”

Katy Milkman
That’s one way. Hopefully, I think that will be one way. I also think another way will be looking, for the book and even for this conversation, and seeing yourself in the challenge. So, I do think people will be able to self-diagnose if they just give a little thought. I think normally that’s not the prompt we get. Instead, we get a solution, like, “Here’s your solution. This is going to work for you because it works for lots of other people,” instead of some thought about, “Why is it that I can’t motivate myself to do X.” And often, introspection is going to be enough. We’re not that hard to understand when we look internally in a lot of cases.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s say that if I am thinking about, “Hey, what’s my obstacle?” and then what I come up with is something lame, like, “No, I just don’t have enough time”? Like, what does that really mean and how do we get deeper?

Katy Milkman
Yeah. Well, “I don’t have enough time” isn’t the kind of obstacle that the book is about because that’s not an internal obstacle. So, the book is really about how are you holding yourself back. “I don’t have enough time” is an external obstacle, like the way you structure your life needs to change. And I think you’d get some ideas about that once you’ve read the book about, “Oh, okay, does that mean you really don’t have enough time or do you just need to restructure yourself and your life differently?”

But the book is more about, so, if you’re like, “I don’t have the resources,” that’s a different kind of challenge than, “I can’t get myself to and I need to find a way to get myself to do something differently.” Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I hear you. And I guess maybe you’re kinder than I am to our imaginary interlocutor here. I guess when I hear “I don’t have enough time” I guess I just don’t buy it as my default.

Katy Milkman
Oh, yeah. And it can also be like, “I don’t have a priority to do this.” So, the book is not to convince you that you need to change. The book is for someone who has a goal, they want to achieve it, they haven’t been able to get there, or maybe they haven’t tried yet, they’re ready to try, and it’s going to offer the best science has for them about how they can set themselves up for success.

It doesn’t guarantee success by any stretch changes really, really hard but, hopefully, I think my career has been devoted to understanding what is the best knowledge out there, what’s the best science out there on how we can change, and I’ve tried to put it all in one place so that, for someone who’s motivated and ready to give it a shot, it’ll give them the best chance available.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. And I think that precondition right there says it all in terms of, like, if you’re really motivated, “I don’t have enough time” is probably not going to be what you say is your obstacle because, by definition, you think it’s important enough to make some time, and it might just be tricky to actually figure that out in a calendar, like, “No, for real, where do these 30 minutes actually emerge from?”

Katy Milkman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, maybe can you lay it on us, perhaps like the top three obstacles and some of your favorite solutions to those obstacles?

Katy Milkman
Sure. Okay, I can give you one that I love because I’ll probably pick on ones where I have done the most research personally which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most important ones but they’re the ones I find most interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Katy Milkman
So, one of them is impulsivity, and I’ve touched on this a little bit already and things I’ve said, which is like people are wired to look for instant gratification and to dramatically discount things that are good for us in the long run, which is why it’s so hard to drag yourself to the gym and eat that healthy food when there’s a pizza right next to it or a brownie calling your name, stay off social media, study for a test when there’s more exciting options that, even though you know clearly what’s good for you in the long run, is just not fun to do in the moment.

And I think one of the really interesting things research has shown is that people, generally, when they face a challenge like this to motivate themselves to do something that’s not that enjoyable in the moment but that’s good for them in the long run, our inclination is to just try to push through and look for the most effective way to achieve our goal.

So, if we’re, I’m going to go back to the gym, but there’s lots of places you can think about this, if you’re choosing to work out at the gym, most people are like, “I’m going to do the most effective workout on this first trip to the gym,” as opposed to an alternative, which would be, “I’m going to do the most fun thing I can do. I’m going to do the Zumba class. It’s not going to burn as many calories per minute maybe but I’m going to enjoy it.”

Same thing with healthy foods. We look for the basket of foods that’s most sinless as opposed to a healthy food that we actually enjoy eating. Or, you need to study and do work, like do you try to set up an environment where you’re really going to actually enjoy it? Maybe there are some people around that you’re studying with, or you’re in a coffee shop that you like, and you get yourself your favorite drink and you feel great. Or, are you just going to try to do it in distraction-free environment because that’s the most effective?

So, most of us think effective, and what research shows is we’re actually better off trying to do the fun workout, eat the tastier, healthy food even if it’s a little worse for us, and study in a way that’s a little less effective but more fun if we want to persist because we’re so wired for that instant gratification. We won’t push through, we think we will, but we won’t, if it’s not fun.

So, I think that’s a really important insight and it actually is really related to some work I did early on in my faculty career on something that’s a very specific solution to this. I call it temptation bundling. And the idea is only allowing yourself to enjoy some indulgence that you look forward to but maybe you shouldn’t indulge in too much, some guilty pleasure, while simultaneously doing something that’s good for you and productive so that now you start to crave.

Maybe it’s trips to the gym to binge-watch your favorite TV show, or trips to the library because you’re always going to pick up your favorite Starbucks Frappuccino en route, or folding the laundry or home-cooked meals because you’re listening to your favorite podcast at the same time. So, if you can temptation bundle, suddenly, this thing that was a chore, actually becomes something you look forward to.

And I’ve studied this and show that it can help people exercise more, and found in my own life, of course, that it also is very effective for solving all sorts of dual self-control challenges. So, in general, a principle is, make it fun, and then temptation bundling is one tool to do that, and the obstacle is when something isn’t instantly gratifying, and because of impulsivity, therefore, you aren’t making progress on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it. And that just seems like a game-changing insight distinction right there. Because of our impulsivity, don’t go guns blazing for the most effective path, but rather the most enjoyable path if what you want is consistency and persistence, like, that’s huge. Thank you.

Katy Milkman
That’s beautiful, yeah. And I only gave you one, you asked for three. I was like, “I have to breathe in here.”

Pete Mockaitis
You’re allowed to breathe. Your temptation for breathing can be bundled to more insight, Katy.

Katy Milkman
I will breathe while giving insight, okay. A second one that I like, is actually, I’ll call it the getting-started problem. And that is even though we want to do something, or motivated to do it, like finding the moment where you’re like, “Okay, and now I’m going to take action. I’m going to do something. I’m going to do something about it. This is the moment action is beginning.” It’s hard to get over that hump from visualizing it to doing it.

And I had this really interesting conversation with one of the HR leaders at Google about a decade ago when I was visiting and presenting. It’s actually as a precursor to doing the gym study I mentioned earlier on habits, I was telling them about some of my other work on nudging better decisions, helping people through use of behavioral science, make better choices at work about everything from enrolment in 401(k) plans to getting flu shots, you name it.

And this question was, “Okay, Katy, totally sold. We should be using behavioral science to encourage more productivity at work, more use of health and wellness programs, more retirement savings. But is there some optimal time to encourage that change? Is there some moment when people are particularly likely to hop on the bandwagon if we offer up tools that will help?” And I thought that was such a fascinating question and I didn’t know of any research that really addressed it so it ended up guiding my work for the next several years.

And what I immediately thought of, which came to mind, for you, too, when I posed that question was New Year’s. We all know that at the beginning of a new year there’s like this huge boost in people’s enthusiasm for starting resolutions. Forty percent of Americans set some sort of resolution. Many of them fail but they at least give it a shot which is more than we can say for many other times of the year. And I wondered, and my collaborators and I wondered, too, like, “Is there something bigger going on there? Is it just New Year’s or are there moments like that? And why New Year’s?”

And what we realized is, of course, there’s this like, it’s a social construct now, there’s norms around it, but part of it, what’s going on, is that at these moments, like New Year’s, that feel like a breaking point in life, we step back and think bigger picture, and we also feel some sort of dissociation from our past failures, because, “Oh, like, that was the old me last year, and the new me has a clean slate and I’m going to be able to do the things that were tough before and that seemed insurmountable.”

So, that sense of a clean slate and identity shift, boosted optimism, the tendency to step back, actually arises at a lot of moments in our lives that basically serve as chapter breaks in the way we structure our narrative. So, there are small ones like the start of a new week. There are big ones, celebrating a birthday, moving to a new job or a new city, becoming a parent. All of these moments turn out to make us feel like we have a clean slate and a new beginning, and people are more likely to do things like create goals on goal-setting websites, search for the term “diet” on Google, go to the gym, at these moments, and so I think that’s really interesting.

So, my team has studied specifically temporal landmarks, so moments that actually don’t involve a change in our lives but there’s also research that’s shown when you move to a new place, you move to a new job, those moments are productive times for change because, literally, you have a clean slate. You don’t have old bad habits to fall back on and you have an opportunity to build and structure new routines and not walk by the Dunkin Donuts on the way to work on this new commute.

And so, whatever it is that has been tripping you up, you have that clean slate in addition to the psychological clean slate. So, in that sense, I think the obstacle there is, “How do you find the motivation to get started?” And our research points to looking for these moments that have fresh-start resonance as jumping off points, and also nudging other people to notice them.

So, we found, for instance, if you just mark your calendar with the first day of spring on it and give you an option, like, “When might you want to start getting reminders from us to pursue a goal you’ve been meaning to get around to?” and March 20th is labeled first day of spring. Now, it triples your excitement about getting reminders to start your new goal in that day than if we gave you a calendar without labeling March 20th the first day of spring.

So, we can do, and we ran a study where we invited people, thousands of people who weren’t saving adequately for retirement, to sign up for our retirement program at their employer to start setting aside a portion of their paychecks in retirement savings. And everybody got an identical offering, you could start saving right away or you could delay a few months. But some people that delay, we labeled, and it corresponded either to a birthday or to the start of spring, and we said, “Do you want to start saving after your next birthday? Do you want to start saving at the start of spring?”

So, we’re literally making an apples-to-apples comparison because everybody is getting that same offering but some people don’t have it labeled for them as their birthday. It just says in three months. And we see a 30% increase in savings over the next eight months when we’ve invited people to start saving after those fresh start dates.

Pete Mockaitis
I was just going to ask, Katy, so not only do we have more enthusiasm to start but the proof is in the pudding. They actually do it afterwards.

Katy Milkman
Well, I do think a really important note is that, in that case, we set ourselves up for success because it’s an auto…it’s like a self-fulfilling thing.

Pete Mockaitis
You flip the switch once to do it, yeah.

Katy Milkman
Yes, and those are the best things to do at fresh-start moments because the motivation wanes and that’s why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. So, it only solves one problem, which is getting started, and the rest of my book talks about how you solve all the other problems so you stick to it and actually get somewhere with your goals. But if you can put it on autopilot, how about if that’s my third answer, but it’s not a super original and it is a super powerful one.

Anything we can put as a default so that it is just self-perpetuating, that’s a huge win because an obstacle to change is laziness, but you can turn it on its head and make it into a solution if you set defaults, like in that moment of motivation, you sign up for the retirement savings plan on January 1st, and now it’s going to just kick in. You’d have to actually lift a finger to change it and, goodness knows, you’re never going to. Or, cancel all of your subscriptions that you don’t really need, one day a year, when you’re feeling motivated after your birthday. Those are the kinds of things that can sort of be gifts that keep on giving. Or, signing up for an educational program or subscription of some sort that’s really valuable. Those also can carry you forward and sort of have like riptide-like effects.

So, if you can use that moment, when you’re feeling motivated to do something and lock in a change that will continue, that’s really valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is cool. So, let laziness work for us if you can somehow shift it such that the default of doing nothing benefits you, then that’s awesome.

Katy Milkman
Exactly, which is what happens when you sign up for a savings program once, that just keeps going. Or, when you enroll in school, I mean, you still have to show up, but you’re going. It’s hard to get out. Like, the path of least resistance is to go for the thing that you’ve put a down payment on.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Well, Katy, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Katy Milkman
No, this has been so…you’ve asked such good questions. I feel like I’ve been giving you really long and detailed answers, like highlights of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love them.

Katy Milkman
So, I’m excited. Thank you for the great questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, maybe I’ll give one more. What should we not do? And maybe something counterintuitive, like, “Hey, I’ve heard I should do this, but maybe I shouldn’t.”

Katy Milkman
I’m not a big fan of setting like really big audacious goals, like that model, and just assuming that will carry you forward, because without actually getting into the nitty-gritty structures, like I do think people try to think about a north star huge objective and that having that could be really valuable, and I think it can be distracting, it could be overwhelming. There’s also research showing that if you make too many, set too many goals, and then plan for each of them, that’s really demotivating because you can’t do it all and you sort of throw up your hands and give up.

So, I think sort of too big and distant and dreamy and not broken down is bad, and too many objectives that you do break down and plan for is bad. Like, focusing on one thing at a time, that’s a little bit of a stretch but it’s doable and you can plan for it, and then you can use these tactics to help you is the right way forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, great. Thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Katy Milkman
Is it “Well done is better than well said”? Is that Ben Franklin, I believe? I like that one.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And how about a favorite book?

Katy Milkman
My favorite book is Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein, and that actually has a new edition coming out later this year which I’m really excited for. Though, I’ll also say, my second favorite book, and it’s really close, is Influence by Bob Cialdini. I know you’re a big fan too.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Katy Milkman
I assign both of those books, by the way, to all of my MBA students at Wharton. I love them and read them every year, and they’re just classics and truly wonderful and have changed the way I think about the world.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit for you?

Katy Milkman
That’s interesting. I wouldn’t call it a habit. Can I say a favorite behavior?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Katy Milkman
Because habits have this very narrow definition in academia where we’re like it’s on autopilot. Okay, so like a favorite behavior or this thing I do, which is I choose to work with people I really, really admire and enjoy spending time with so that work for me is a treat intellectually but also socially. And I feel really lucky to have the privilege of being able to choose who I collaborate with. And so, that has made my career tremendously fun, and I think it’s part of what’s helped me be productive and successful in my career as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Katy Milkman
My website which is KatyMilkman.com. It has all sorts of information about my book How to Change, about my podcast Choiceology, I have a newsletter called Milkman Delivers, which is a name that I was shying away from but my MBA insisted I had to go with, and about my research.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Katy Milkman
I would say one of the biggest takeaways from all of my research on behavior changes that, and we sort of started here, it’s super important to expect that there will be things that don’t work out, that if you are too rigid in your expectations of yourself, if you set up habits that are too rigid, if you set up goals that are too rigid, and let yourself be discouraged when things don’t work out according to plan, and don’t push through, you just won’t get very far.

And in change, anticipating setbacks and being prepared for them, having a backup plan, is just absolutely critical. Even in habits, we found that it was critical to be flexible and build flexible habits. So, it’s “I’ll always…” not “If only…” kind of habit. And I think that’s critical to everything. It comes up again and again in my research, how important it is to find ways to get back up after you’ve fallen down, and to be expecting that that could happen and planning for it.

So, my words of wisdom would be don’t let yourself be discouraged too easily, expect that there’s always setbacks. But on the path forward, it’s, hopefully, two steps forward and one step back, and just be prepared for that and set yourself up for success when you hit those roadblocks.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Katy, this has been a pleasure. Thank you. I wish you lots of luck with the book and all the ways you’re changing.

Katy Milkman
Thank you. So lovely to chat. Thanks for having me on the show.

664: Dr. Robert Cialdini on How to Persuade with the 7 Universal Principles of Influence

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The Godfather of Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini, reveals best- and worst-practices for deploying the seven universal principles of influence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five words that doubled a student’s persuasiveness
  2. How to masterfully and disasterfully employ each of the seven principles of influence
  3. The easiest way to lose someone’s trust

About Robert

Dr. Robert Cialdini is the author of Influence and Pre-Suasion. He is the thought leader in the fields of Influence and Persuasion.  And, he is a three-time New York Times Bestselling author with over 7 million books sold in 44 languages. 

Dr. Cialdini received his PhD from University of North Carolina and post-doctoral training from Columbia University. He holds honorary doctoral degrees (Doctor Honoris Causa) from Georgetown University, University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wroclaw, Poland and University of Basil in Switzerland. He has held Visiting Scholar appointments at Ohio State University, the University of California, the Annenberg School of Communications, and the Graduate School of Business of Stanford University. In acknowledgement of his outstanding research achievements and contributions in behavioral science, Dr. Cialdini was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. His work and books have been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, Inc., Psychology Today Magazine, and on the PBS Newshour, Bloomberg, CNN, BBC, New York Times, MSNBC, CNBC, CBS, and many more outlets and shows. 

Dr. Cialdini is a highly popular keynoter and is often referred to as the Godfather of Influence.  For more on Robert Cialdini and his life’s work, visit: https://www.influenceatwork.com/. 

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Dr. Robert Cialdini Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Bob, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Robert Cialdini
I’m glad to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am glad to be with you as well. This is a treat and an honor. You’ve been on my list since before this show was a show. We’re talking about your latest, new and updated edition of Influence, and you’ve updated it and expanded a lot here. But I love how you have left the first two sentences in the introduction the same. Could you speak those words now and tell us if they still ring true after studying influence for all these decades?

Robert Cialdini
Yes. There’s a story that goes with them but let me give them first. They are, “I can admit it freely now. All my life, I’ve been a patsy,” which has to do with one of the reasons I got into studying the influence process and persuasion. I was forever the unwanted owner of various things that people would sell me, I was a contributor to causes I’d never heard of, and I would say to myself, “What just happened here? There must be something other than the merits of the offer that got me to say yes. It must be the way the presenter delivered the merits of the offer, that triggered some psychological tendencies in me to say yes to things. Wouldn’t that be interesting to study, not just out of self-defense but as a general inquiry into the way we work as members of our species?”

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. And it is fascinating stuff and we’re all indebted to you for having delved in and codified and discovered a lot of this stuff. So, maybe we’ll give first a quick note to the pre-existing Cialdini fans. What is new in this latest expanded edition?

Robert Cialdini
Well, of course, it’s been 14 years since the last edition so I’ve added 220 pages of new material, updates, as to what it is that makes people say yes to requests, to recommendations or proposals – the science has advanced. But, in addition, I’ve looked specifically at how the internet has interacted with this process, how the principles of influence have migrated over to these platforms that didn’t exists in any meaningful sense 14 years ago, to look at how the influence process works on those platforms – social media, electronic marketing, and so on. That’s a big difference and a big addition to this edition.

But, as well, I’ve added a seventh principle of influence. There used to be just six that I thought covered the waterfront but, no, I think there’s a seventh that I call unity, and it has to do with the extent to which people are willing to say yes to anyone who is a member of what they will consider a “we” group, a group in which they share an identity with the other members of that group.

So, here’s an example. A study was done on a university campus. Researchers had a young woman asking passersby for contributions to the United Way. Most of the passersby were students at that university. She was able to double, more than double her number of contributors and the amount of donations by adding one sentence before she made her request, it was, “I’m a student here, too.” And now, Pete, all the barriers to yes came down. We say yes to those individuals who are not just like us but are of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is powerful. Well, so, I want to dig into, quickly, each of the six and then in some more depth, the seventh. But maybe for those who are not yet Cialdini fans, can you paint a little bit of the why for us? Like, just how much more persuasive are we when we utilize these principles? Is it a little bit of a lift or is it transformational? And could you give us maybe some of the most dramatic numbers you’ve encountered?

Robert Cialdini
It’s transformational. We just talked about one. If you could more than double, it’s two and a half times the amount of assent that you get to a request, you’re going to be a master of that moment. But that will be true in a lot of instances even though all it takes is an extra breath. All it takes is to say something that triggers a deeply seated psychological tendency in all of us. It’s that trigger that produces the power.

In the same way that if I were the person who was in charge of lighting a stadium, I don’t have to go run around on a wheel to get all that. I flip a switch. There’s no effort involved. The power is what is stored in the system of that electronic network inside that stadium. Well, that’s what you do with these simple words or phrases or sentences. You trip a switch that engages the power of a system that moves us powerfully, like the system that says, “I say yes to those people who are of us, are one of us.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that 2.5X right in that particular example of unity is somewhat representative of all of these principles used well in action?

Robert Cialdini
It will vary from 20% all the way to 250% but you’ll get substantially more compliance than your competitors who don’t know how to trigger those psychological principles.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s huge. So, I just wanted to establish that for the record. We’re not talking about studies that somehow managed to eke out statistical significance with a big sample size – it’s transformational. All right, so, covered. Now, I’d love to hear, before we get into the particulars, is there one or two discoveries about influence that you’ve made over the course of your career that just surprised you the most, like, “Holy smokes, is that how we humans really operate? Wow”?

Robert Cialdini
Yeah, I’ll give you two. One is how small the footprint is for the fundamental principles of persuasion. I spent two and a half years studying, undercover, the techniques and practices of various kinds of influence professions: sales, marketing, advertising, fundraising, recruiting, and so on. And what I’ve found was that there were only very few principles of influence that worked across the whole range of these. There were thousands of individual tactics and techniques that were used but I thought we could categorize the majority of them in terms of just these seven universal principles. So, that’s one.

We don’t have to have a long compendium of these things that we’ve memorized and checked off and so. No, there are only seven. We can handle seven. Know to include one or another of them into a message or a communication which will significantly increase the likelihood of assent. And here’s one thing I should say. The word likelihood is crucial here. These aren’t magical. There’s no such thing as a 100% all of the time that will get you success, but will get you better chances of success, will get you better probabilities of success every time. And if, as I said, you use them and your rivals and competitors don’t, you’ll win every time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, beautiful. Okay. Well, then let’s zoom in, let’s talk about these universal principles of influence, also might be called weapons of influence, or tools of influence, or levers of influence, the big ideas here. Could you maybe give us the quick version of the original six? Hey, what is it? And maybe an example that you find intriguing of a professional using it masterfully and then maybe disastrously, like, “Whoa, that’s the wrong way to use reciprocation”?

Robert Cialdini
Okay. Good plan. Let’s begin with the principle of reciprocation which says, “People want to give back to those have given to them first.” So, if you invite me to a party, I should invite you to one of mine. If you remember my birthday with a card, I should remember yours. And if you do me a favor, Pete, I owe you a favor. And I’ll say very simply, in the context of obligation, people say yes to those they owe.

So, let’s take an example. Recently, one of my colleagues, Steve Martin, did some research at McDonald’s with a little procedure in which the manager arranged for every family that came into that McDonald’s location for the children in the family to get a balloon. Half of them got the balloon as they left as kind of a thank you, the other half got the balloon as they entered. Those who got the balloon, the kids got the balloon as they entered, the family bought 20% more food.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, because they thought a tug of reciprocation, like, “Oh, that was nice of them. I should probably go ahead and get some extra fries.”

Robert Cialdini
Yeah. Do you have kids, Pete? Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
I got two toddlers, yeah.

Robert Cialdini
You know if I do a favor for your children, I’ve done a favor for you, and that’s what happened. Now here’s the interesting thing about that study. They also got a 25% increase in coffee purchases not for the kids. The parents bought more food for themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking of John Mulaney, “One Black Coffee.” It’s not for kids.

Robert Cialdini
No, right. Okay, now, to your point. So, how do people sometimes use this poorly? Notice that it was the same cost of the balloon for the kids as they left. You have to go first. How many restaurants have you been in that they do this wrong? As you leave the restaurant, there’s a basket of mints on the desk for you to sample. As you leave, nobody gets any benefit inside the restaurant for that little favor that you’ve done. In fact, it probably cost you more because I see people digging their hands in and taking handfuls of mints.

Well, there was a study that showed that if you put a mint on the tray just before people pay their bill, the tip goes up 3.3%. If you put two mints on the tray per customer, the tip goes up 14.3%. All right. So, you can see the difference now. It’s the same expense but only one gives you anything in return.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. And while we’re talking about reciprocity, I said we’d go fast but I can’t resist, you suggested if you do a favor for someone and they say thank you, don’t say, “It was nothing.” But you might say something along the lines of, “I know you’d do the same for me.” Do you have any pro tips on how to deliver that line or alternatives if people feel a little funny saying it?

Robert Cialdini
Look, that’s what I would recommend for somebody who you don’t have a relationship with. So, what do you say to just put them on record that, “In the future, if I need something, you’d do the same for me”? So, one of the tips is don’t say, “If the situation had been reversed, I know you would have done the same for me.” That’s in the past. You say, “If the situation were ever reversed, I know you would do the same for me.” Now, they’re on record. All right?

Now, if there is a relationship and you’ve done something, a little special for people inside that relationship, maybe a business relationship, and they say, “Thank you so much. I really appreciated the way you got this order to me quicker, you arranged the payment plan for me to fit.” All right. And then here’s what I think you say, “Of course, it’s what long-term partners do…” and then you add the addendum, “…for one another.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’m applauding. Thank you. I’m glad I asked. So, that’s reciprocation. Let’s talk about commitment and consistency.

Robert Cialdini
Yes, so one thing, another thing that people feel very strongly is they want to be consistent with what they have already committed themselves to either in action or word, especially in public. You want to be consistent. You don’t want to be seen as a flip-flopper, somebody who says one thing, does another, and so on. So, if you can arrange for people to make a small step in your direction, or make a statement, or something that they truly believe, but make it out loud in public, they’re more likely to then continue to move in that direction.

And the great story I like in this regard comes from a study that was done in a restaurant in Chicago, where the owner was getting about 30% no shows, when people would call and book a table then 30% of them wouldn’t show up, and they wouldn’t call to cancel. So, he had his receptionist change what she said when she took a booking from, “Thank you for calling Gordon’s restaurant. Please call if you have to change or cancel your recommendation” to “Will you please call if you…?” and then pause. The pause was crucial because it allowed people to say, “Yes, sure. Of course.” In other words, they committed themselves.

No shows dropped from 30% to 10% that day and never went back up. What’s the implication for your listeners? If you’re running a meeting and you’re assigning people tasks to do before the next meeting, never let anyone out of the room without saying, “Will you be able to complete this task properly by the time of our next meeting?” If they say no, that’s good. That means you know, “Oh, we got to give them more time,” or you got to give them some resources or help. But most of them will say yes, and you’ve now significantly increased the likelihood that they will come properly prepared because they’ve made a commitment to it, a public commitment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so one key principle there is just to do it and not forget and not assume but actually get the yes. Any ways this can be done inappropriately?

Robert Cialdini
Yeah, it’s by failing to pause and let them make a commitment to you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Perfect. Well, now, how about social proof?

Robert Cialdini
Social proof, this is the one, the principle that says, “People want to follow the lead of multiple comparable others.” If a lot of people are raving about a new restaurant, a piece of software, or a new film, or something on Netflix, “You don’t want to miss The Queen’s Gambit,” you’re likely to follow through because they’ve beta-tested it for you. So, people are much more likely to say yes if there’s evidence that that’s the case.

There was a study done in Beijing, China that shows you the cross-cultural reach of this. Restaurant managers put a little asterisk next to certain items on the menu which increased the purchase of those items by 13-20%. What did the asterisk stand for? It wasn’t what it usually stands for, “This the specialty of the house,” or, “This is our chef’s recommendation for the evening.” That’s what we’d normally see. It’s, “This is one of our most popular items,” and each one became 13- 20% more popular for their popularity.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that is interesting in terms of…And did they do that research kind of head-to-head, like “most people like this” asterisk versus asterisk means chef’s suggestion, and social proof wins?

Robert Cialdini
No, they didn’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I guess we don’t know.

Robert Cialdini
We don’t know but what we know is that they had never used, “This is one of our most popular items,” there, and it produced this effect. Honestly, it was their most popular item.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, they’re not just blowing smoke. And that makes everything easier from like a supply, management, inventory, complexity, running your business situation on the backend because it’s just way simpler.

Robert Cialdini
Yeah, just point to it. And the lovely thing about it is it makes it ethical. You’re just informing people, into assent. You’re not tricking them. You’re certainly not coercing them. It’s just educating them.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s even helpful, it’s like, I don’t know…

Robert Cialdini
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
…I’m a tourist. I might actually want to know. People might ask me, “Oh, did you get the dish?” I had no idea I should’ve gotten the thing. Okay.

Robert Cialdini
Pete, you put your finger on another factor in this study that I usually don’t talk about but it’s true. Although this technique worked for every demographic that came into the restaurants – young, old, business people, men, women, whatever it was. The one demographic that most responded to this was people who were there for the first time who were unsure. And what this does is it reduces your uncertainty. That’s what social proof does. It reduces your uncertainty of the step you should take.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. And that really does seem where social proof shines. Have you ever had the conversation with a parent, like, “Everyone else is doing it”? and I say, “Well, if everyone else were jumping off a cliff, would you do it?” I think the real answer is, if you were on top of a cliff, you’re like, “This is kind of scary. I’m not so sure about this.” But then you see ten people jump off, have a great time, be okay.

Robert Cialdini
In the water, right.

Pete Mockaitis
And like, “I guess it’s fine.” Social proof.

Robert Cialdini
Yeah, precisely.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Let’s talk about liking.

Robert Cialdini
There wouldn’t be a single member of your audience that’s listening to us who would be surprised that we prefer to say to the people we like. That’s not a surprise. Here’s what’s surprising. There are two things you can do, very small things you can do to significantly increase the rapport that people feel with us. One is to point to genuine similarities that exist between us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, Bob, we’ve both written books. I like you.

Robert Cialdini
We’re authors. If I just bring that to the surface, at the top, there’s a bond between us now, right? Well, there was a study done with negotiators that found that if they sent information to one another before the negotiation started about their interests and hobbies and backgrounds, where they went to school and what their family situation was, and so on, they significantly reduced the percentage of stymied negotiation where people just walked away, nobody won, both sides left with nothing.

Now, the interesting thing was it wasn’t the amount of information that was conveyed by one or another partner. It was whether there was a commonality, a parallel inside that information that was revealed, “Oh, you’re a runner? I’m a runner,” “You’re an only child? I’m an only child,” “You have twins? I have twins.” And that was the thing.

So, we now have the internet available to us where we can identify, before we ever try to do business with somebody, or negotiate with somebody, or make a request of somebody, they tell us all kinds of things about them on LinkedIn or Facebook. It’s not proprietary information. It’s not embargo. They want us to know this about them. If we go there and locate something that’s truly in common and then bring it to the surface, we get a better outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And not to get too into the weeds with distinctions, but so there’s liking, and one way that we produce liking is seeing a similarity, then that kind of feels like we’re now in unity territory, like, “Oh, hey, we’re both authors.” Do you think about that distinction in any particular way that’s helpful?

Robert Cialdini
I do. One is a similarity of preferences, or tastes, or styles, inclinations, and these kinds, proclivities. The other is a similarity of membership in a group that people define themselves with.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, who I am identity.

Robert Cialdini
Yes. So, if I were to say to my fellow group members, “Oh, Pete is like us,” I’ll get some movement in your direction from them. They’d be more inclined towards you. But if I were to say, “Pete is one of us,” everything, all barriers to influence come down now. That’s a much more powerful form of similarity. It’s “Who I am” is shared by this individual. We share a social identity. And there are various ways of doing that that don’t take a lot of time.

Everybody says Warren Buffett is the most successful financial expert, investor of our time. He did something in a recent letter to his shareholders where the question was, “What’s Berkshire Hathaway’s…” that’s his business, his company, “…future going to look like in the future? What is it going to look like?” And he said, “I would tell you what I’d say to a family member if they asked me that question.” In other words, he brought everybody inside the boundaries of his family.

I own some Berkshire Hathaway stocks, and what he said at that moment opened my ears and opened my mind to the next thing he said in ways that he wouldn’t have been able to do without that preface. He said, “I’m going to bring you inside my family, my identity, my social identity. I would do the same thing for you as I am for them.” Wow! You can do it. You can do those sorts of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hey, we’re talking about unity, let’s roll with it. So, any other key things you want to share about unity? It’s about identity, that shared we-ness, we’re in the same tribe.

Robert Cialdini
Yes, we-ness, partnership. So, here is one small…again, small thing you can do that flips the script and significantly increases the likelihood that people will follow what you ask them to do. Many times, we have ideas or initiatives perhaps at work that we would like to get installed and we would like to be associated with that would bolster our reputation as somebody who comes up with ideas that worked if we run them up the hierarchy, but often we need buy-in from people around us, fellow colleagues, maybe our immediate manager and so on, that this is a good idea.

And what we typically do is to show a draft of our idea or a blueprint of it to this person whose buy-in we want and we ask for their feedback on it. And, typically, here’s the mistake that we make. We ask them for their advice, and the truth is, psychologically, when you ask for someone’s advice, you get a critique. You get someone who goes inside, who introspects and thinks about you as different, and they separate from you almost physically, take a half step back, certainly psychologically, and go inside themselves to consider the pros and cons.

Pete Mockaitis
Just with the word advice.

Robert Cialdini
I’m sorry. Did I say advice? I meant opinion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Robert Cialdini
If you ask for their opinion, you get a critique.

Pete Mockaitis
Opinion leads to critique. All right.

Robert Cialdini
If you ask for their advice, you get a partner, you get a collaborator. And there’s research to show that if you send people, and this is an online study that was done, a business plan for a new restaurant called Splash, it was going to provide fast, healthy food, and they read the business plan. And then you ask them, “To what extent do you favor this idea?” If they were asked for their opinion on it versus their advice for it, the opinion gets significantly less favorable commentary than advice. And the researchers asked why, and here’s the kicker. It was because they felt more identity, they felt more of a shared identity with the business plan developer if the business plan developer asked for their advice, they felt a partnership with them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. It’s like, “We’re members of this community. We want to make the downtown really cool. Like, yeah, let me…” And I imagine, to the extent that they would sort of write in options, there’s probably more of that, more helpful stuff written by word count.

Robert Cialdini
Yes. There’s another example of a small thing. You change one word and you get a different psychological response based on what it triggers in you. In one case, it triggers a sense of, “Well, I’m a critic here.” And the other case, for advice, “Oh, I’m a collaborator, I’m a partner with this man, or this business developer, in this project, in this idea.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I don’t want to be a critic of other podcasters and bloggers but I guess I will. Sometimes I feel a little weird when it’s almost like as if we have the language of the unity principle. But if I’m listening to a show and a podcast and they sort of address me in the group. For example, if I were to say to my audience, “What’s up, awesome nation? We got a really cool guest, it’s Bob.”

And so, I’ve sort of just defined that this is our group. If I’m on the receiving end of that, I’m like, “Hmm, I feel a little weird. It’s like I don’t know if I am in awesome nation, and I almost feel a little bit more distanced from them having to try to grab me in.” What do you think about this?

Robert Cialdini
Well, that may be the case because you see it as manipulative. But if you’re truly looking for insight and collaboration and you want to share the idea or the membership, and people see that, that you feel that you want to be more inclusive and bring people in inside the tent, then I think they’ll let you get a pass with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Thank you. Well, all right. So, we talked about liking and then went right into unity. So, should we hit authority?

Robert Cialdini
Sure. Another way to reduce your uncertainty about what constitutes a good choice for you is to follow the lead of genuinely constituted experts, people who know what they’re talking about. And, of course, if you have that access, if there’s a testimonial that fits with the recommendation you’re making or the request that you’re making from a legitimate authority on the topic, you need to bring that to bear, especially online.

You see this all the time where people provide testimonials of one sort or another what they make. Here’s the mistakes they make though. They bury it inside the message. My view is that it should go first. It should be the first thing you see so that all that aura, that positive aura of authority now infuses the rest of the message.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s authority so we want to put that a little bit more front and center as opposed to buried.

Robert Cialdini
Right. Where you’ve got it, don’t forget to bring that. And people say, “Is there anything you can do to up the amperage of the authority?” Yes, multiply it. Multiply the authority. It turns out that people are more swayed by multiple authorities that you present all pointing in the same direction than anyone. Don’t stop at one.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect.

Robert Cialdini
You’ve missed a gear. There’s another gear available to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I guess it might vary case by case but, as you noted with like the mints, there’s one mint, it gives you a little bump; two mints give you a much bigger bump. I guess you can go overboard. I’ve seen some books, I kind of like it but there’s like 20 of other authors and endorsers on it, I’m like, “Oh, that’s pretty impressive. That’s a good lineup.” But, at some point, I don’t know, it’s sort of like trying too hard. I don’t know. It comes across like that.

Robert Cialdini
What I think it is, is people don’t read it, read all 20 of them there because you’ve made it a burden for them to process all of that. But I think the fact that there are 20 is a plus.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. And that’s true, I’ll scan them, it’s like, “Oh, okay, you got Bob Cialdini, you got Adam Grant, you must be fairly legitimate even though I’m not going to read the details of every single one of those people said about the book.” Cool. And now how about scarcity?

Robert Cialdini
Scarcity. People want more of those things they can have less of, and that’s true it turns out from a very young age in us. By the age of two, children are preferring to go in a direction of something that is scarce or rare or dwindling in availability to them; a toy, compared to a comparable toy that isn’t dwindling in availability. So, that’s true of all of us.

And the reason that that’s the case is that if things are scarce or rare or dwindling in availability, we suffer the possibility of loss, and we have loss aversion as a species. We are more motivated into action by the idea of losing something than gaining something of equal value. The Noble Prize winner Daniel Kahneman showed this in his prospect theory, and he says, “We’re twice as likely to move in a direction of something that prevents a loss than that obtains a gain for the same thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. Well, Bob, this has been quite a rundown. Thank you. You tell me, is there anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Robert Cialdini
Well, I think we’ve highlighted it before, and that is the importance of doing this ethically, that the only way you get to continue long-term productive relationships with people is that if these principles are used to inform them into assent rather than trick them. As soon as they recognize the trickery, they’re gone to you. They’re going to ghost you. That’s it, you’re gone, so ethics is crucial.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, maybe, could you share with us, what is the most frequently occurring abuse you’ve seen of these principles?

Robert Cialdini
I think it’s lying with statistics where people will claim certain kinds of growth or size of the market share and so on, and they fix the data so that it seems that way, and it’s not really that’s the case.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. It’s not the representative for the reader.

Robert Cialdini
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Robert Cialdini
I’m a researcher so I’m going to use a version of this quote, but there’s an old Chinese proverb “The years say what the days can’t tell.” So, it means don’t jump on the first impression, the first piece of information, the first datapoint that you get as a way to decide. If you can collect more evidence, then your choice will be more solid. So, the research-based version of that would be multiple data points tell what a single datapoint can’t say.

Pete Mockaitis
Well done. And, speaking of datapoints, boy, this might be hard for you, is there a particular study or experiment or piece of research that you think of often, that you’re fond of and has shaped your thinking?

Robert Cialdini
Well, I’ll say there’s one that, really, I love because of what we also talked about, one small change that makes a difference. It was a study done by the Harvard psychologist in a library and in front of a library copying machine where she had a research assistant go to the front of the line and say to the first person, “Excuse me, I have eight pages. Could I butt ahead of you in line?” And under those circumstances, she was successful 60% of the time.

In another condition, she went and said to the first person in the line, “Excuse me, I have eight pages. Can I move ahead of you because I’m in a rush?” And now she got 94% compliance. So, it seemed like the reason “I’m in a rush” made the difference. But she had a third condition that showed that wasn’t the case. Third condition? “Excuse me, I have eight pages. Could I butt ahead of you in line because I have to make some copies?” Now, that’s not a real reason.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, “We all have to make copies.”

Robert Cialdini
Ninety-three percent. It was the word because. We are programmed to respond to the word because as if it leads into a genuine reason, and people automatically responded to it rather than to the genuine merits of the reason. So, what I love about that is it just shows you how much of this is psychology rather than the merits of the thing. We have to train ourselves to know as much about the psychology of what goes before the offer as we do the merits of what’s in the offer in order to protect ourselves properly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Thank you. And could you name one favorite book?

Robert Cialdini
Favorite is a tough one for me but I’ll give you the one that was most formative to me, the most impactful to me. I read it at 12 years old. It was the book The Hidden Persuaders by a guy named Vance Packard who showed the hidden cues inside advertising that triggers psychological reactions in us. And it opened for me the idea that, “Wait a minute. It’s not just what’s in front of you,” even at 12 years old, “It’s not what’s being presented to you on the surface. It’s what’s underneath the surface that’s often driving our behavior.”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Robert Cialdini
I would say Zoom is terrific and Google Scholar where I could get the research reports of people. All I have to do is type in their names or a concept or a title of an article, and, suddenly, I don’t have to be a library unto myself in my office with all my journals and books, and so on. No, it’s right there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good, yeah. Then I’m sure you’ve got your full text access. And, usually, I get a tease, and I’m like, “Where’s the rest?” That’s the kind of dork I am. And how about a favorite habit?

Robert Cialdini
I do an exercise workout every morning, and then I brew myself a cup of coffee that I leisurely sip and savor, sip by sip, which allows me, first of all, to celebrate and reward the fact that I just did a workout, but also it gives me the calm to plan my day.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, as you savor the sips, you have notepad in hand as you’re writing the plan? Or how does that go?

Robert Cialdini
I often don’t. I just order in my mind which things I need to prioritize once I’m finished with that cup of coffee, what’s the first thing I need to do that’s not just there but important for me to do. So, inside that time of thinking about my day, I prioritize.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And you share a lot of wisdom, but is there a particular nugget you say that seems to connect and resonate, get Kindle Book-highlighted, retweeted more than others?

Robert Cialdini
Yeah, I would say, and this has to do with the influence process again, and what I will say that gets retweeted a lot is “When the science is available, why use anything else?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, hey, talk about authority, it’s like a ladder of authority. Like, yeah, double-blind, controlled, thousands of participants stuff is excellent. Well, tell us, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Robert Cialdini
Our website InflueceAtWork.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a finale challenge or call to action specifically for professionals looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Robert Cialdini
Go into every new situation thinking the best of the people who are there. That will allow you to be generous with them which will cause them to reciprocally be generous with you and to like you for it. And now you’ve got two people who like each other and are giving each other grace.

Pete Mockaitis
That is lovely. Bob, thank you. This has been a treat. It is no exaggeration to say it’s literally been a dream come true for me to have this conversation, so thank you so much. And I wish you much luck with the latest edition of Influence and all your adventures.

Robert Cialdini
Thank you. I’ve enjoyed myself with our interaction.

613: Boosting your Influence with the Principles of PRE-Suasion with Brian Ahearn

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Brian Ahearn says: "Where we are mentally can make a huge difference in that willingness to say yes."

Influence expert Brian Ahearn discusses how to get more yeses using Dr. Cialdini’s principles of PRE-suasion.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How one question dramatically improves your chances of yes 
  2. The two ways to capture people’s attention
  3. Why we’re more persuasive when we talk less

About Brian

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. A dynamic international keynote speaker, he specializes in applying the science of influence in everyday situations. 

Brian is one of only 20 individuals in the world who currently holds the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer designation. This specialization was earned directly from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence. 

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, is an Amazon best-seller and his LinkedIn courses have been viewed by more than 75,000 people.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Brian Ahearn Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Brian, thanks so much for joining us again on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Brian Ahearn
I’m excited to be back with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And so, I want to hear, so we’re going to talk about some pre-suasive principles from Bob Cialdini’s book, and it’s a funny story. I actually read that book when I was on my honeymoon with my wife in Hawaii, so that shows you how into this stuff I am. That’s a good beach read for me in social psychologist work. But you use some pre-suasive principles when you proposed marriage yourself. What’s the story here?

Brian Ahearn
Yes. So, in my first job, first day on the job, with traveler’s insurance, I’m in the HR training room, and I see Jane, and I think, “Wow, she’s beautiful!” And she said that she looked at me and thought, “What an egghead.” So, I stumbled out of the gate badly but I recovered quickly. And within a few weeks I was no longer going out with this longtime girlfriend, and Jane and I started dating, and we fell in love, and it was awesome. Until the old girlfriend called in the fall, and it really threw me for a loop, Pete, and all of a sudden, I didn’t know who I wanted to be with, and I couldn’t make up my mind for six months.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, my gosh. What were you doing during that period of time?

Brian Ahearn
I was back and forth, back and forth.

Pete Mockaitis
Do they know about each other? How do you work that?

Brian Ahearn
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. Okay.

Brian Ahearn
Funny. They both felt bad for me because I sincerely…

Pete Mockaitis
Sweet gals.

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. Well, I sincerely cared about both of them and I hated the thought of hurting either one. Anyway, I was in the state of indecision, and Jane and I still worked together, and this was in late April. I saw her in the breakroom one day and I asked how she’s doing, and she said she was doing fine, and that’s when she announced that she would never go out with me again, and nobody could blame her given my indecision. But I had really kind of settled things in my heart by that time, and I was actually thinking I want to marry her, crazy as that sounds. So, I knew I was going to need to do something big if I was going to make this happen. And getting to the pre-suasion, here’s what I did.

Her birthday was in mid-May, and so I sent her a couple dozen roses at work, and then I showed up at her apartment later, she agreed to go to dinner. I showed up at her apartment with another dozen roses and a bottle of wine. Now she’s thinking, “This is a pretty nice birthday.” We get ready to go to dinner. We go downstairs from her apartment, and I had rented a Rolls Royce and chauffeur to drive us to downtown Columbus. And then we went to a restaurant that was, at the time, the tallest building in Columbus. We rode this glass elevator up over 30 stories. It was really romantic and had dinner overlooking the skyline, and took the glass elevator back down. And then in the back of the Rolls, on the way home, I popped the question, and she said yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. So, you weren’t even officially dating at the moment but it was a good birthday. You’re clearly romantic.

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And she was pretty insistent only weeks before that she would never go out with me again. And what I know is this, Pete, if I would’ve just, in that breakroom that day, said, “Hey, Jane, I’m sorry. I love you and I want to marry you,” she would’ve been, like, “Go jump in the lake.”

Pete Mockaitis
“You know what, Brian, I’ve heard it before.”

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And I think even if I had done it, probably any other way than I did, she still would’ve had reservations but, I don’t know, I pre-suaded her. I kind of made it fairytale-like, and it certainly made the yes come a lot easier. There was no hesitation when I finally popped the question.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is beautiful. And maybe, just to clarify, it made it easier to see this when it’s written. When you’re saying the word pre-suasion, as opposed to persuasion, so we’ve inverted the R and the E, implying that there’s some persuasion and something that’s happening before a request. And, in this instance, before you popped the question you were setting the stage with, “Oh, okay, this guy is pretty clearly committed, made up his mind, going big in investing in me.” So, that sets a tone there.

So, maybe, could you zoom out a bit, and give us kind of the full picture in terms of what’s the main idea behind pre-suasion?

Brian Ahearn
So, most people are focused on persuasion, that is, “What do we say or do in the moment? How do we communicate to make it easier for somebody to say yes?” But pre-suasion, and you used the term setting the stage, I like to use that term too, pre-suasion is, “How do we arrange that moments before so that somebody might be in the right frame of mind to make it even easier that when we go and we make that ask?”

I think a really good example that people could relate to is if I had three buckets of water in front me, a red bucket on my right with scalding hot water, a blue bucket on my left with icy cold, and in the middle was just room temperature.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it purple?

Brian Ahearn
We’ll call it purple.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. I’m so like a little kid.

Brian Ahearn
If I plunged my hand into that hot bucket and then put it into the lukewarm water, all of a sudden it would feel cold. I mean, people get that. It’s like getting out of a hot tub and getting into the pool. But if I took my other hand and put it into the icy cold, and then put it into the lukewarm, it feels hot. Now, if I do that at the same time, into the hot, into the cold, and then put them both into that middle bucket, one hand feels cold and one feels hot. But the reality is they’re experiencing the exact same temperature water. I’ve changed, though, how I experience that by what I did beforehand. And that’s a picture of pre-suasion, “What can I do beforehand to change how somebody will positively experience what I’m about to do next?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a nice visual and kinesthetic, I guess, at the same time, that sort of puts that into perspective. And so then, can you share with us some studies, some experiments, some research that reveals just how powerful this effect can be?

Brian Ahearn
Sure. Where we are mentally in the moments before we make a decision or are going to say yes or no to something, where we are mentally can make a huge difference in that willingness to say yes. And I think one study that really encapsulates this, a marketing firm was interacting with people at a grocery store as they would come in. So, imagine, Pete, you walk in, and somebody like me says, “Hi, I work for a marketing firm. We represent ABC Company. They’ve come out with a new type of pop or soda,” depending on where you live, “They’ve come out with a new type of pop, and we’re asking customers if you will give us your email address, we’ll send you an email with coupons for free samples. Would you be willing to share your email?” And in that scenario, 33% of people said, “Sure.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, basically, cold, “Hey, you want some free pop/soda?” One-third said, “Yeah, I’ll give my email.”

Brian Ahearn
So, that’s kind of the control group. And then with another group though, 76% said yes to the exact same question. The difference was when you came in, that person would ask you a question first, and they would say, “Excuse me. Do you consider yourself to be adventurous, the kind of person who likes to try new things?” Well, as you can imagine, virtually everybody can think of a time where they have been adventurous, and we can all think of a time where we’ve tried new things. So, almost everybody said yes to that.

And then when they said, “Well, I work for a marketing firm, represent ABC Company, new type of pop. If you’re willing to give us your email address, we’ll send you a new email with free samples.” That change of mindset, getting you to think about the fact that you are adventurous and like to try new things, then, all of a sudden, it became much easier to say yes to the very same question.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love that example. And I don’t remember if it was in Influence, or Pre-suasion where they also had the instance of asking, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” and then survey responses went way up. And I actually used that once – hey, listeners – I used that once in an email asking for our survey, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” was the subject line. And, hey, many of you are. Thank you, listeners, for filling that out. That’s super helpful. It really does set the stage when you want to live up to…well, I guess there’s a few factors at work. You want to live up to that identity. Lay it on us, what’s going on there internally?

Brian Ahearn
Well, if you go all the way back to Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the tips that he had was give someone a fine reputation to live up to. Now, he didn’t know about the term pre-suasion, he wasn’t doing research and studies, but he understood that when you give that person a reputation to live up to, most people will want to do that.

And so, for your listeners thinking, “Well, how would I potentially use this?” Let’s say you need to go to a store, and you’re going to return something, and it’s past the 30-day mark. So, technically, they have every right to say, “You’re beyond 30 days, no.”

Pete Mockaitis
This is ringing true.

Brian Ahearn
But I think if you go up and you say to that person, you see their little nametag, and you say, “Alice, you guys have been really helpful in the past, and I hope you can help me now,” and then you begin to talk about what it is that you want to get accomplished. By giving her that helpful label because people at that store had been helpful in the past, she is more likely to try to live up to that just like your readers were.

So, when you give somebody that reputation to live up to, they usually will try to find a way to do that. And if she’s thinking of herself as helpful, she’s probably going to be a little more creative or a little more open to flexing the rules for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that a lot. And this brings up, I guess, ethical questions, but our whole first interview, Brian, was about ethical persuasion influence. So, check that out, anybody, if you’re concerned about this stuff. And I think you put it very well in terms of, hey, it’s honest. It’s good for them. It’s good for you. And some of those principles really play out well here.

And that notion of giving someone a reputation to live up to, I’m thinking about my buddy Mohammed, who’s also on the show. And I remember he’s just a really super kind guy, just naturally being him. We started a business together and someone helped us out with some advice and some input, and he emailed her and said, “Thanks for being so generous with your time.” And I wrote him a whole email about how I loved that phrase because, one, we really do appreciate it. And, two, they really were being generous with their time. And so, that’s a message that ought to be conveyed, and, at the same time, in so conveying that, it does give them a fine reputation to live up to in terms of, “You know what, I am just kind of someone who is generous with their time.”

So, should we have a follow-up question, I think I don’t have the studies on this, but I imagine the science is in our favor that our odds of getting some follow-up questions answered, and some even more bits of advice and assistance have been elevated by thanking in that way.

Brian Ahearn
Oh, absolutely. I think any time you give somebody praise for something like that, they feel good. That plays into the principle we call liking when we’re talking about persuasion, and the more they like you, the more likely they are down the road to say yes if you ask them to do something.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s excellent. And then what I found intriguing was sometimes it’s not even verbal, right? I remember there were some studies associated with if a resume is on a heavy, weighty clipboard that some people can infer, like, “Oh, this is something with some gravitas, such to be taken more seriously,” or if we’re drinking some warm beverage. What’s sort of the stuff that’s there, like non-verbal at work?

Brian Ahearn
So, the beverage is a good example. If you invited somebody to your office, you would be better off offering them something like a cup of coffee because that coffee would be warm, and people who are feeling warm tend to have warmer feelings toward other people. Now, I’m not going to say that you want to give them a hot cup of coffee if you live in Arizona. It’s 115 degrees outside. They’ll still appreciate the kind act of a cold drink. But holding something warm tends to warm people and make them feel more warmth towards other people.

As you said, sometimes if you want somebody to really give a lot of thought to something, having it on heavier stock paper or putting it on a clipboard where it feels heavier, that heaviness psychologically gives people the sense that, “This is a heavier, more weighty issue, or something that really looks to be read.”

I bet a lot of people could relate to this. I see, as we record this, Pete, that you got a lot of books in the background there. We all feel a little different about a really skinny, like very light book versus a book that’s got substance. You just tend to think that book that has a lot more substance probably has a lot more detailed good information. That may not be the case, but I think, psychologically, many of us, when we pick up that heavy hardback book versus the very light, smaller paperback, we feel differently about those books.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s true. And, again, this isn’t a panacea, the most perfectly, elegantly, luxurious paper on the planet won’t make a resume of poor content, I’m sure, capture a hiring manager to say, “This guy, we got to hire them.” But it very well could be like, “Oh, I should take a look at this.”

How much of a difference do these pre-suasive elements make? I’m imagining that it can’t make up for poor content or not fundamentally having the goods. But what sort of an edge does it enable?

Brian Ahearn
Oh, I think if we go back to the example I shared earlier about the grocery store, they went from 33% to 76% just by asking a pre-suasive question beforehand. There’s another study that’s detailed in Cialdini’s book Pre-suasion, and it had to do with people’s willingness to buy French or German wine. When they would go into the wine store, they were either playing French music or German music. When they played French music, they sold more than three times more French wine as compared to the German. But when they played the German music, they sold 275% more German wine than they did the French.

And when people were asked as they exited the store, most didn’t even remember hearing the music. Those that did insisted it had nothing to do with their purchase decision, but it’s undeniable the difference between that, that once that music is playing, it’s impacting people’s thinking, and it impacted their behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. And that kind of drives towards, I guess, the distinction I was getting there. It’s like, if folks are not interested in drinking wine, that doesn’t matter. If they are not locked-in on, “By golly, it’s going to be Bota Box RedVolution,” one of my favorites, and if they’re not sort of already dead-set on a particular item, but they’re like, “Yeah, you know, what would be a good wine tonight?” “I don’t know. Let’s take a look,” and then, boom, they’re put right through that chute.

Brian Ahearn
But I think when somebody who walks into a wine store has an intention of buying wine, so then the question becomes, “What might you do to push certain brands, maybe have a newer brand, and it’s French, and you want people to be a little more enticed to try that?” If something as simple as music can get people into a frame of mind where French wine becomes an easier default choice, then that’s a really good thing. But, you’re right, if somebody doesn’t drink wine, it’s not going to impact them. But, again, they probably wouldn’t wander into the wine store to begin with.

Pete Mockaitis
They said they saw there was a Jimador in the back.

Brian Ahearn
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, that just sort of sparks all kinds of interesting possibilities. Like, I don’t know, if you are a maker of German wine, maybe you want to be equipping your distributors with music systems on the condition that they played German music. I don’t know how practical that is, but it does show that there may very well be small investments that make a huge impact.

And I’m also thinking about, I’ve heard, as I go to this event Podcast Movement, full of podcasters and people in the podcast ecosystem, I’ve heard that sometimes there can be wildly compelling results from advertisements. Like, let’s say it’s a product about reducing risks, like insurance or something, in the context of a show that’s really scary, like about a murder, or a true crime thing that they can say, “Uh-oh, that could happen to me.” Like that kind of influences is huge. Can you speak more to that in terms of advertising/marketing realms?

Brian Ahearn
Well, if you are going to pay to be on some type of show, you probably want to consider, “What is that show? And what is going to be the mindset that most people are going to be in as they watch that show?” If people are watching something that really is scary, risk is scary. And so, by advertising something about risks, or maybe it’s insurance at that time, people might be more apt to pay attention to that because they’re in that fearful state.

If we had no fear at all, we wouldn’t probably buy any insurance. I mean, it’s not that you’re selling fear, but we know that bad things can happen and we want to mitigate that if possible. But we’re not thinking about bad things happening when we’re in certain mindsets, but we certainly are when we’re in a fearful mindset. So, strategically thinking about, “What is the show? What would be the mindset that people are going to be in?” is going to make a difference as to where you want to advertise.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And I want to maybe zoom out a little bit to the principle level. Within the book, we’ve got two commanders of attention: attractors and magnetizers. Can you sort of help us understand that distinction and give us some examples of each?

Brian Ahearn
Well, an attractor is going to be something that, as it says, it attracts you, and a magnetizer is going to be something that keeps your attention specifically on something. And when we talk about, as we teach about pre-suasion, one of the things that we talk about is, “Can we extend the time that we’re pre-suading?” The longer that somebody, for example, remains in the mindset that you want, the more opportunity you have if you are trying to persuade them.

So, an example of a magnetizer, keeping something there, if you we go back to the music, that would be a good example of a magnetizer because it’s continually playing while you’re there. It wasn’t as simple as the question that might’ve changed your thinking in the moment. But then, as you go through the store, that might not be impacting you any longer, but the music is continuing to do that. So, that would be, I think, a difference. Magnetizer is going to keep you there. The attractor is going to be something that might grab your attention immediately.

When they talk about something like, “Sex sells.” Sex is something that, quite often, will grab your attention right away. And that’s important because we have limited capacity for our attention. And so, if you can grab that attention, even momentarily, you’ve got a better chance of trying to influence somebody to do the thing that you need them to do. And in the context of what we’re talking about, it’s a purchase.

Pete Mockaitis
And then I suppose you got to have some congruence with the offer or, otherwise, you’re going to kind of lose out on some trust and such, like, “What? What does sex have to do with this?”

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And I think there are times where celebrities are advertising things, and it’s not even close to being in their wheelhouse. And so, while it may attract your attention in a moment, but you’re not necessarily making a connection with what that product is that he or she is trying to sell, I think that things fall short there.

For example, if Tiger Woods is advertising things that revolve more around golf, that is certainly going to be more congruent for somebody to say, “Well, you know what, if he plays that kind of ball, if he uses those kinds of irons, then maybe I could play a little better if I use the same products.” But when he’s selling something that’s totally out of the realm of that, yes, he’s attracting the attention because we all know who Tiger Woods is, but, beyond that, I don’t know that I’m compelled to drive a Buick because he drives a Buick.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes sense in terms of there’s maybe not so much of a logical, rational connection. It’s maybe more just sort of brand good feels, like, “You know, I like Tiger Woods,” or sort of whatever he stands for in your own mind, and that could be good or bad, whatever he stands for, that sort of gets a bit imparted onto the brand and the feels associated with it, which is probably one of the reasons why when folks get themselves into hot water, brands cut bait real quick with them.

Brian Ahearn
Yes. Yes, they do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I’m also intrigued by just talking about how long you can sort of have that attention going. And there’s a bit of an approach associated with having some mystery and keeping that tension and mystery going for a bit of time. Can you walk us through that?

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. Human beings, we don’t like it when there’s not kind of some finality to things, when there’s not a bow on the package, so that we can kind of wrap it up and say, “Okay, we’re done with that.” You probably have had somebody who began to tell you a story, and then they got interrupted, maybe it was their phone or something, like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I got to go to this meeting.” You’re left hanging, and you’re like, “Wait a minute. I want to know what’s the end of this.”

And that is something that we can use to our advantage by sharing something that’s interesting and compelling, and then holding back a little bit. And then once that person is like, “Wait a minute. What’s the end of the story?” you have them even more focused on you and what you’re sharing than if you might’ve just gone all the way through and given them the answer.

It’s not unlike this, too, Pete. I’ve taught communications for a long time, and I know that people hate silence in conversation. So, sometimes just saying what you need to say and then being quiet, all of a sudden, they try to fill that space, and they’re the ones now who are engaged with you. Where people make a mistake a lot, is they just think they need to keep talking and basically throw everything except the kitchen sink at somebody, and that’s the exact opposite. Create a little mystery in your communication. Share a little bit and then just be quiet and see how people start responding.

Also, when you ask questions, people feel compelled to answer questions. So, those are a couple of just small things that everybody can do in their day-to-day communication.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you give us an example of how we might go about sort of leaving something out to provide some mystery for a little bit of time?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I write a blog, I could certainly write a blogpost and then leave it open-ended, and say, “Next week, we’re going to take a look at what actually happened.” I mean, that would be a perfect case of I share some detail and then I leave it hanging because you don’t want to write a book when you’re writing a blogpost. You want to keep them relatively short. So, maybe you put something out there with a, “And we’ll conclude on this next week.”

You see this sometimes in other advertising, too, where they’ll put something out, and say, “Go to this website to find out the conclusion of the story,” or something like that. But if it’s compelling enough, and that’s the thing though, it’s got to be somewhat compelling, because if somebody puts out something that’s of no interest to you at all, just like if you don’t drink wine, you’re not going to be in the wine store. If it’s not of interest to you, but if you know your audience and what sort of interest to them, and you leave them hanging a little bit, like, “Come back next week because I’m going to share the answer with you,” that’s going to get more people, I think, coming back the following week and clicking on what you want them to click on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s so good. Well, again, Podcast Movement is coming up. They did exactly this, and I was totally riveted in terms of they said, “You know, hey, with the pandemic, we shifted to a virtual format, and we went through many, many, many options for platforms and providers in order to figure out one that’s just going to be amazing. It’s not just going to be a bunch of Zoom.” And so, I was like, “Oh, what is it?” And they’re like, “We’ll tell you next week.” And I put it on my calendar, it’s like, “Go to the Podcast Movement blog, and figure out what platform they’re using.” It’s Swapcard. I haven’t used it but, apparently, it’s great. I trust those guys to pick a good one. And it did, it did for me because there was some mystery, and I had to wait, and I went ahead and went there to get the word.

Brian Ahearn
Well, the news does this too. How many times have we seen something, “There could be radon in your house. News at 11:00”?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Brian Ahearn
Now you’re like, “I got to tune in at 11:00 o’clock to find out radon levels in homes in my area,” something like that, so it happens. But what we want people to do, as we teach about this, is to be more thoughtful about their communication, “How can I start taking this in without being a television advertiser or the news? How can I start using these simple and easy-to-implement ideas to have more people paying attention and, ultimately, doing the things that we need to do?” In a corporate environment, that’s a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe to wrap it up, before we hear some of your favorite things, could you share what is post-suasion, and why is it necessary, and how do we do it?

Brian Ahearn
Post-suasion, like when I think about sales, and I usually work with salespeople, when you’ve made the sale, you would like to get referrals, and so I teach insurance agents this a lot. What I would never ever do with you, Pete, if I was an insurance agent, I would never ever say, “Hey, Pete, now that you’re moving your insurance to my agency, you must be happy. Who else do you know who would like to make the switch?” because mentally you’re not there. You’re just wondering, “If I’ve made the right choice,” you’re making the switch. It’s probably somewhat expensive if you’re insuring your home and auto, and all these other things. You are not thinking about, “How can I help Brian Ahearn?”

So, what I’ve always instructed agents to do is I would say to you, I’d say, “Pete, you’ve just made a big decision here, severing ties with your current agent, and moving your business here. I know that you’ve probably had people ask you for referrals at the end of the sale, and I’m not going to do that. But what I would like to ask you is this. If nine months from now you’re happy that you made the switch, that we have lived to everything that we said we would do, and you’re happy, would you be open to talking about referrals?” And most people are willing to put off into the future what they don’t want to do right now. You’re probably thinking, “Well, yeah. If I’m happy, why wouldn’t I be at least open to that?” I’ve not even fully asked for a commitment. I just said, “Would you be open to it?” And you’re going to probably come back and say, “Sure. That’s reasonable.”

Now, it’s on me in nine months to follow up with you, and I would do that. I’d call up, “Hey, Pete, how are you doing?” And we’d talk a little bit, and I’d say, “Do you remember when we wrote your insurance, and I asked if you were happy, would you be open to talking about referrals? It sounds like you’re happy. Would you be okay setting a time next week to talk about those referrals?” Now, I’m kind of into the pre-suasion again because I don’t want to just ask you right during that conversation because, again, you weren’t thinking about me and referrals. I just called you up. But once we set that time, you start thinking about, “Who can I refer to Brian?” And I’ll do little things to ensure that. I will send you a quick email with a meeting reminder and a thank you. In the day of, I will shoot you a text and say, “Pete, are we still good to talk about referrals this afternoon?” But the whole time now you’re starting to think about that.

So, the post-suasion started right after the sale, and now I’m pre-suading again, getting you into the mindset so that when I call and ask about referrals, you’re ready to give me good-quality referrals.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s intriguing how it’s bit by bit, you’re doing it at the right times, and, you know, it’s funny, maybe I’m just selfish, but I have a hard time imagining how I would ever make the time to provide some with insurance referrals, unless like you really hooked me up in terms of like, “Straight up, my house burned down, and you swooped into action and saved the day. Wow.” Or, you keep giving me other cool tips associated with saving money, reducing risks. Like if it’s a home, maybe it’s just sort of like, “Hey, do you know about HomeAdvisor? Now you can find out how much renovation should cost before you do it.” Like, “No, I didn’t. Thank you, Brian’s Insurance. That’s really cool of you.” So, I guess I also need a little bit of wow to do that personally.

Brian Ahearn
Well, that’s why I said that, “If we live up to what we said we’d do.” So, that was part of the buying process. You switched because maybe you were saving money, but maybe there were other things that I was saying we will do, and you’re thinking, “My current agent doesn’t do any of that.” So, that’s implied by me that that’s part of the sale. And in nine months, when we talk about it, you’re like, “Hey, the insurance advisor, and all the things you said you would do, which helped me make the switch, you’ve done, and I’m happy.” And that’s where I’ve got that opportunity then because you’ve said, “I’d be open to talking about referrals.” So, you’re right, there’s got to be part of that package of why you made the decision to move.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, this will be a whole another podcast as how to differentiate yourself in a crowded market, it’s like, “What would that be?” Maybe for home insurance once a year, you send a person over and spend half an hour looking at some stuff, and say, “Hey, man, you want to get some tuck point right there or you’re going to see some water damage within a couple of years.” It’s like, “Oh. Well, thanks for letting me know.” That would really be distinctive and make me really want to, I guess, the reciprocity, say, “Wow, that was so cool of you. I want to be cool to you right back, so, yeah, let’s see those referrals.”

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And that’s, you’re right though, how do you stand out? Insurance is a somewhat generic product. The real differentiator becomes who that insurance agent is, and it’s all about what you value in a relationship with an insurance agent. Sometimes agents will say, “Well, because we’re local,” and I’ll challenge them, and I’ll say, “You know what, some people don’t care if you’re local because they can see you online anywhere in the world, so you need to understand if that’s part of the buying process for you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Right. Well, Brian, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Brian Ahearn
I would just encourage people to pick up a copy of Cialdini’s book, one, it’s a fascinating read. I think they will be amazed at how things that they might not even consider can impact them at the conscious, but quite often, at the subconscious level, and really cause substantial change in behavior. It’s good because you want to understand what might be impacting you so you can make the most informed decisions possible. But if a large part of your success is getting people to say yes and do things, then really starting to think about, “How can I set the stage so that when I go and make my ask, it’s easier?” that will be extremely beneficial for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Now, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brian Ahearn
I think one of my favorite quotes, and I’m not going to get it word-for-word right, but one of the most impacting books I’ve ever read was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. And towards the end he said, “In the end, they can take away all of our human freedoms except for the last freedom, which is where we will place our thoughts.” He really said that the man or the woman who knew that nobody could make them think what they didn’t want to think was actually the freest person. And he said, “We were freer than some of the guards who maintained our captivity because we understood that.” And I think I read that such a long time ago, but I always go back to that, that the freedom of thought, nobody can take that away from me.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Brian Ahearn
I would say probably research around highlighting loss, loss aversion with Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, because when I share any of that, and the research that I’m thinking specifically is University of California when they did energy audits and went back to people and gave them ideas to make their homes more energy-efficient. They either said, “If you do this, you will save $180 next year if you’re like the typical homeowner. Or if you don’t do this, you will lose $180 next year because you’re going to overpay.” It’s the same $180. But how it’s talked about makes a world of difference.

And in that particular case study, 150% more people who were told they would lose tended to implement the energy-saving ideas. That goes back to their work on loss aversion, that humans are anywhere from two to two and a half times more likely to say yes to the very same thing when they think they’ll lose as opposed to where they may gain. And there are so many opportunities for people to move something from a gain view into a loss frame. And not being a negative or a threatening or anything like that, but just by conversationally talking about what somebody might lose, and so there’s just a tremendous amount of opportunity for people to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Brian Ahearn
Well, other than Influence: Science and Practice, my book, Influence PEOPLE. No, actually, I’ll give you two books because they really radically impacted how I make my presentations. One was Carmine Gallo’s The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and the other was Presentation Zen. Between the two of those books and changing how I format and the visuals that I use with audiences, and then thinking about Steve Jobs and how he interacted with people, it completely changed my stage presence, and it gets a tremendous feedback. So, those are two books that have had a big impact on me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Brian, maybe we have to have a third of this. We had Carmine on the show. But could you give us sort of one tidbit in terms of, “Before, I always did this. And now, I never do this,” or vice versa?

Brian Ahearn
Well, before, I did a lot of words and I would just do some bullet points as I go through things. And what I do now is almost entirely visual. I will usually have a keyword. Like, if I’m going to talk about a principle, you might see the word authority, and then I talk about it. And then maybe I click and it says research at the bottom or application. It was a little scary at first because you can’t look over your shoulder and hit a bullet point, but then there’s a freedom with it because nobody says, “Hey, you didn’t talk about the third bullet point.”

And what I started to sense was I could go in any direction I wanted with an audience. And when people would say, “Can I have your PowerPoint?” I’m like, “Why? It’s 24 pictures. You need me to interpret that for you.” So, that was a big change. The more comfortable I got with it, the more fun I would have when I was with audiences.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I’ve been down that road as well because I used to make slides, well, sometimes I do, based on the audience, like, as a strategy consultant, I mean, that was kind of the idea. And Nancy Duarte would call it a slide dock, it’s like, “This is not just a supplement while keynoting. It is going to be distributed amongst decision-makers and follow-up meetings as a piece of research tool to get work done.” So, that’s very different than, “I want to draw you into a good energy space, and augment my message when I’m keynoting on stage,” versus, “I need to persuade you that this is going to make you 16 million incremental dollars next year.”

Brian Ahearn
Yeah, you always have to think about who your audience is and what you want that takeaway to be. When I reference what I do, I’m thinking really of keynote presentations. And I’ve got Duarte’s book right down below, near my feet here, slide:ology, and I would say that’s a great book too. I just happened to read “Presentation Zen” many years ago before her book came out, and so that’s what started to impact me.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Brian Ahearn
A favorite tool right now is an app called Voice Dream.

Pete Mockaitis
I have that one.

Brian Ahearn
Do you use it?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve used it a couple times when I needed something read to me, and I couldn’t find a way to do it. Voice Dream was the way to do it. How do you use it?

Brian Ahearn
So, I use it for a lot of stuff. I have a personal mission statement, I download to it, and it takes about three minutes, but usually when I’m doing my coffee in the morning, I press it, and I hear the words of the mission statement, so every day I’m hearing that. I’m in the middle of writing my second book, and so I download it, and then I start listening to it to see, to find out how it sounds because my eyes can deceive me, I know what I want to see. But once I hear it, I’m like, “Oh, it should be the not they,” and you catch the little things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fascinating.

Brian Ahearn
I’ll bring a blogpost in, and I’ll quickly write the blogpost, clean it up. But then I’ll listen to it, I’ll go back and refine it. So, what I would say, Pete, is try and use it for some things you’re not right now, and I think you’re going to start going, “Wow, this is so beneficial,” that you’ll start pulling more things into it. You’ll just realize how important it is to hear what it is that you’re writing before you actually publish.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And you’re hearing it a bit differently than if you read it yourself out loud, and you’re saving the time of making a recording. So, that’s clever to surface errors and better ways to rephrase things in a different way. I like it. Thank you.

Brian Ahearn
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Brian Ahearn
My favorite remains working out. I’m up every day at 5:00 a.m., and by 5:30, I’m downstairs. I’ve got a really nice gym in my basement. I usually run in the morning, do three to five miles. A lot of times I’m on the treadmill because I like watching things on Netflix, and then I’ll spend time stretching. And then I’ll go back down in the afternoon and spend 30 to 45 minutes lifting weights. This became the routine during COVID because you couldn’t go anywhere. But then I started to realize I really like the routine, I like the aerobic activity to start the day, I like going down and working my muscles after I’ve been sitting for a while, and just the break from thinking to be able to do that. And then it’s usually dinnertime, and my wife and I are interacting after that, so that’s a daily seven-day a week routine.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Brian Ahearn
I think around the principle of liking. As I have really come to emphasize, it’s not about me getting you, Pete, to like me. It’s about me coming to like you. And that seems like it’s been revolutionary for a lot of people. They all know that if somebody likes them it’s easier for the people to say yes, but they’ve never really thought about, “Maybe if I spend more time coming to like other people, that would be the difference-maker.” Smart people, over the course of history, have known this. Abraham Lincoln said, “I don’t like that man very much. I need to get to know him better.” And I think if we all took that tact, that we would probably have much, much better relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Brian Ahearn
I’d say my website, InfluecePeople.biz. From there, if you want to buy my book, you can buy the book. I’ve been blogging for a dozen years now. I’ve been on almost 80 podcasts. All of that stuff is there. It’s all free. The book is not free. You do have to buy that, but the podcasts, and I’ve got some videos, I’ve got the blog, all of that stuff. So, there’s a tremendous amount of information that’s out there. And the other thing I would say if you want to connect with me on LinkedIn, I’m always open to connecting with people.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Brian Ahearn
I would say really start giving some thought to persuasion and pre-suasion. That’s one of those things that we do throughout the course of our lifetime, and so we can almost take it for granted. But if we really pause and start thinking strategically about these principles of human behavior and how can we bring them into our communication, whether it’s oral or written, you will have more people saying yes to you. You’ll enjoy a lot more success at the office as a result of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Brian, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you’re being pre-suasive.

Brian Ahearn
Thank you. I appreciate it, Pete.

553: How to Change Minds and Organizations with Jonah Berger

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Wharton professor Jonah Berger discusses the biggest obstacles to successful persuasion—and how to overcome them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why persuasive arguments don’t work—and what does
  2. A simple technique to win over stubborn naysayers
  3. How to introduce big changes with minimal resistance

About Jonah:

Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and internationally bestselling author of Contagious, Invisible Influence, and The Catalyst.

Dr. Berger is a world-renowned expert on change, word of mouth, influence, consumer behavior, and how products, ideas, and behaviors catch on. He has published over 50 articles in top‐tier academic journals, teaches Wharton’s highest rated online course, and popular outlets like The New York Times and Harvard Business Review often cover his work. He’s keynoted hundred of events, and often consults for organizations like Google, Apple, Nike, and the Gates Foundation.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Jonah Berger Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jonah, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Jonah Berger
Thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom. You’ve been on the list for a long time so it’s so good to have you here.

Jonah Berger
Oh, thanks. I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to just kick us off by so you’ve been doing a lot of research in influence and change. Can you maybe tell us what’s some of like the most common things that people want change that comes up again and again, it’s almost like trite for you by now?

Jonah Berger
I think everyone has something they want to change. Employees always seem to want to change their boss’ mind, leaders want to transform organizations, marketing and sales want to change the customer or the clients’ mind, startups want to change industries, nonprofits want to change the world. I think we all have something that we want to change. People talk about changing their spouse’s mind or their kids’ behavior, so I think these things come up again and again.

What I found most interesting is that we tend to take a particular approach that often doesn’t work. So, when we did some of our own research, for example, we asked people to write down, “What’s something you want to change? And what have you tried to do to change it?” Almost 100% of the time, 99% of the time, they write down some version of what I call pushing, and that is kind of adding more pressure, more reasons, more information.

If it’s the boss, “Oh, let me just send one more email.” If it’s the client, “Let me make one more phone call.” If it’s my spouse, “Let me just tell them one more time why I think what I’m suggesting is the right way to go.” And it’s clear why we think this is a good approach, right? In the physical world, if we want to move something, we push it, right? If you’re sitting in a room and there’s a chair, and you want the chair to go somewhere, you push the chair in the direction you want it to go.

But the problem with people is they aren’t physical objects. Unlike objects that move when we push them, when we push people, they push back. And so, the question, really, of this new book that I’ve been working on is, “Well, is there a different way? Is there a better way to change minds and organizations?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, do tell, what is the better way?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, so I think there’s a need analogy to be made with chemistry. And so, in chemistry there’s sort of this special set of substances that make change happen faster and easier, they’re called catalysts, but they work in a very particular way. They don’t add temperature, they don’t add pressure, which is usually what things in chemistry do to change things, they remove the barriers to change. They basically make the same amount of change happen with less work.

And so, that’s really what I find quite interesting about the social world as well. Too often, we say, “What could I do to get someone to change?” rather than taking a very subtle but important shift, and saying, “Why hasn’t that person changed already? What’s preventing them? What are the barriers that are mitigating or hindering change,” that friction as you said, “and how can I remove those barriers?” And so, that’s what the book is really all about. It’s about finding those barriers, those things that are getting in the way and how to get rid of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so then, let’s hear in terms of frequent examples of resistance, friction, barriers, obstacles. What’s the kind of stuff that gets in the way for professionals looking to make a change at work, either in themselves, or with their boss, or colleague? What are some of those repeated obstacles?

Jonah Berger
Yeah. And I love to think about these obstacles as parking brakes. The reason why, when we get in our car, we often have this problem. We get in our car, we’re sitting on an incline, or whatever, we want to get it to go, we turn the key ignition, put our foot on the gas. If it doesn’t go, we think we need more gas. We, rarely though, until we think about it, end up checking that parking brake. So, sometimes it’s the parking brake that’s along the way. So, what are those parking brakes or obstacles?

And so, in the book I talk about five. I talk about reactance, endowment, distance, uncertainty, and corroborating evidence. Those, I found across my research, are some of the five most common benefits and they have the nice side benefit of when you put them in order, they actually spell a word, which is REDUCE.

Pete Mockaitis
It was no accident, Jonah, I’m sure.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, it was no accident. And, honestly, actually, if I could I’d change the order around. I’d end up with like the EURDC framework which doesn’t spell anything. So, it would just be confusing if we did it that way but I think it’s a nice way to organize that information, and that’s what catalysts do, right? They don’t push harder; they reduce those barriers. They figure out what those obstacles are and how to mitigate them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s dig into each of them. Can you maybe define the five of them and then we’ll sort of dig into each one?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, let’s pick one to start. So, let’s say reactance, and I think this is something that everyone listening has experienced in one way, shape or form, whether it’s in their professional or personal life. And the idea here, very simply, is when we try to get people to do something, when we try to persuade, they push back.

A bunch of very nice research shows that people essentially have an ingrained anti-persuasion system, almost like an anti-missile defense system, or radar, that is going around, that says, “Hey, when I sense that someone is trying to convince me of something, someone’s trying to change my mind, my defense system goes up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Even if it’s for our good or it would be fun.

Jonah Berger
You’re exactly right, yeah. And I find this most funny with exactly what you said. Even if it’s something I already want to do, this happens a lot in our personal lives, right? Our spouse, for example, might say, “Well, I think we should do this,” and even if it’s something we already wanted to do, we have to stop ourselves from saying no because we want to feel like we made the choice.

And that’s exactly what reactance is about. We want to feel like we’re in control, we’re in the driver seat, and so if we don’t feel like we’re in control, or we don’t feel like we’re in the driver seat, we push back against that message. That radar goes up and we either avoid, or ignore something, or, even worse, we counterargue. And I think counterarguing is the worst because you don’t know when someone is counterarguing. Often, they’re sitting there, they’re listening to you but they’re not actually listening. They’re sitting there thinking about all the reasons why they don’t want to do what you suggested.

And so, in terms of how to solve this challenge, there are a few different ways but one I often like to talk about is to do something called providing a menu. And the notion, the intuition here is very simple. When we give people one thing that we’re recommending, they, as we just talked about, often sit there thinking about all the reasons why it’s a bad idea. So, if our spouse, for example, says, “Hey, why do you want to do this weekend?” And you say, “Oh, let’s go watch a movie.” They go, “Oh, but it’s such a nice day outside,” or, “Oh, we went to the movies last week,” or, “Oh,” whatever it is. They think about all the reasons why it’s a bad idea.

And so, what good consultants often do is they provide what’s called a menu, essentially multiple options rather than just one. And what that really cleverly does is that shifts the job of the listener. Let’s say a consultant is presenting a solution and they’re presenting it to a client. If they just present one option, the client sits there going, thinking about all the reasons why it won’t work, “It’ll be too expensive.” “It’ll be hard to implement.” “My staff won’t like it, blah, blah, blah, blah.” All the reasons why it won’t work.

If, instead, you present two options, at least two or three, maybe even a couple more, it shifts the role of the listener, because rather than thinking about all the reasons they don’t like what you’re suggesting, they’re instead sitting there thinking which of them they like the best. Which of these two options do they like the best? Which is going to lead them, not surprisingly, to be much more likely to pick one at the end of the day.

And so, I like calling it providing a menu because you’re not giving infinite choices, you’re giving a limited set, and you’re guiding that decision.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s so funny because it takes so much work to go off the menu. I’m thinking, this is triggering all sorts of things. So, I’ve got a two-year old at home, and so sometimes he doesn’t want to put a shirt on after he wakes up, and so I was like, “Hey, do you want the blue one or the purple one.” And he says, “Purple.” Or I was at a hotel with a continental breakfast this weekend, and I just wasn’t thrilled with the options. So, I was hoping for those little egg things but they weren’t there. There’s about all carbs, no protein, but I had like six options. And so, I just sort of stood there displeased for like three minutes. The people are probably wondering what I was doing, I was like, “No, no, no,” and then I finally just said, “Okay, I guess I want to do this because I don’t want to truck it out in this snowy weather. I’ll eat what’s here.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, but talking about kids, I mean, it’s the same idea. I have a young one at home myself and it’s the same thing. When you ask kids to do something, they go, “No.” “Put this away.” “No.” “Do you want to wear this?” “No.” They’re like so used to saying no, but if you give them two options, suddenly they got a chance to choose. And notice you’re not giving them 15 options. If you gave them 15 options, they wouldn’t make a choice. They’d feel overwhelmed, they’d go something else.

When you walk into a restaurant, so you go to a Chinese restaurant, they don’t say, “Okay, which of the 60 options of world cuisines would you like?” They say, no, “Here’s the small set of options that are available but you get to pick.” And I think that same thing is used for whether you’re trying to convince a client or whether you’re trying to convince a boss. If you want that boss to do something, don’t say, “Hey, boss, I think we should do this.” Say, “Hey, boss, I think these are two really great options for us. Which do you like better?” Now, the boss may not pick either, but because they felt like they’re in control, they’re more likely to pick one than they would’ve been otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s particularly excellent when it’s sort of like the “Help me prioritize” conversation. Like, “You’ve made 40 requests of me and it’s, in fact, impossible for all of those things to happen within the timeline you’d like them to happen. So, what do you think of, on this list, is the most important?” And so, that goes across, I think, a lot better while on the receiving end of this than, “No, not going to do that,” or, “I can’t do that.” It’s like, “Well, what?” It’s like, “No, no, you pick which of these things?”

Jonah Berger
You pick, yeah. But, as you’re pointing out, and that’s actually another thing I talk about a little bit in this chapter, is what that does is it gets the boss to commit to the conclusion. When you make statements, if someone gets a sit, they’re going, “Okay, do I agree with that statement or not?” When you ask questions, suddenly, again, it shifts their role. They’re saying what they think is the most important. They’re saying which of the things you should prioritize. They’ve put a stake in the ground. And so, if you come back later and you do that thing, it’s hard for them to disagree.

Somebody was talking about this in the context of a startup they were working at where the boss wanted everyone to work the weekend. No one wants to work the weekend, right? So, instead, in the meeting, the boss said, “Okay, what kind of company do you want to be? Do you want to be a good company or a great company?” Now, we all know how everyone answers that question, they don’t say, “Oh, we want to be a good company.” They say, “We want to be a great company.” And after everyone says that, they put that stake in the ground, they’ve committed to the conclusion. Then the boss says, “Okay. Well, to be a great company, we got to put in some long hours.” But because people have committed to it, because you asked them a question rather than telling them what to do, they’re much more likely to do the work to reach that conclusion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. So, then that covers the reactance, I guess, we automatically react to, “I don’t care to be persuaded but I do care to make some choices.” So, then how about the endowment?

Jonah Berger
Sure, yeah. I think endowment, the best way to talk about endowment is to share the common intuition we often have, which is we tend to become attached to things we’re already doing. So, unlike if you’re trying to get someone who’s never done something to do something, when you’re trying to get people to switch to go from one thing to something else, they’re not only about how much they value that new thing and how much they want to do it, but how reticent they are to give up the old one.

So, some research on home buying, for example, shows that the longer someone’s lived in a home, the more they value that place above market price. They’ve spent a long time in it, they have their memories attached to it, they’re unwilling to get rid of it. Same thing if you’re asking people to buy something. So, they do great research, for example, on what’s called the endowment effect, where the name of the chapter comes from, where they asked people, “Hey, imagine I give you this mug.” They’re checking out this mug, it can hold coffee or tea, “You like it, great. How much would you be willing to sell it for?”

And they asked another set of people, they say, “Hey, here’s this wonderful mug, it holds coffee and tea, etc. How much would you be willing to buy it from someone else for?” And those prices, those amounts should be exactly the same whether you’re buying that coffee mug or selling that coffee mug, the value of it should be the same. But people’s valuation of it changes based on whether they own it or not. If it’s your mug, if it’s yours, you’re less willing to let it go. You have two times, often, will have higher valuation than people that don’t have it already because it’s yours. Obviously, this is a problem because you’re not only asking people when you ask them to change to do something new, you’re asking them to give up something old that they probably value very highly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. This also reminds me of the cognitive bias, the IKEA effect in terms of, “I poured my time into assembling this piece of furniture therefore, if I were to sell it, it needs to fetch a hefty rate because I’m invested into that.” And to others, “No, it’s just kind of a cheap piece of furniture. You’re not going to get a hefty rate. It’s not world-class craftsmanship or anything.” Okay, so there we go. That’s endowment, it’s there. What do we do with it?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, and so I think the thing there, I found, is that we have to make people realize that doing nothing isn’t costless. So, I think we have this notion that, “What I’m doing already is free.” The cost of doing a new thing, the switching cost, which hopefully we’ll get to in a couple minutes, but we think the existing thing is, in some sense, free, “It’s not going to cost me anything to keep doing the same thing I’m doing.” But that often isn’t the case. There often are costs to doing something that we don’t realize.

So, there’s a nice study, for example, that talks about which hurts people more, which causes more pain, a minor injury or a major one. And everybody, when they think about it, will go, “Oh, of course, a major injury causes more pain.” So, if I break my elbow, it’s going to hurt me a lot more than a sprain. A headache is not going to hurt as much as a heart attack, for example. But what people don’t realize is when something really bad happens, we often take measures to fix that bad thing.

Something that’s terrible, when we break our arm, for example, we’re not just going to sit around. We’re going to go to the hospital, we’re going to get it set, we’re going to get it fixed. Whereas, for a minor sprain, we often don’t fix it. And so, we often don’t address those things and they end up causing more pain over the lifespan overall because they don’t go above our threshold.

And so, the challenge, that is for change agents, is make people realize it’s not costless, that doing what you’ve done before isn’t costless. There’s a great person from IT that I talk about, I talked to in the book, they did a version of what I call burning the ships. So, there’s this old famous story where an explorer wants to get his men to travel inland to do this dangerous thing in Mexico, they don’t want to go. So, what he does, he takes the old option off the table. He basically says, “Look, if the ships are still around, they can still go home so I’m going to burn the ships. Once the ships are gone, once the status quo has disappeared, they’ve got to go with me. They’ve got to change and do the new thing.”

And so, that may seem really drastic, burning the ships, but this IT guy did a version of it. He was trying to get everyone to upgrade, so upgrade to a new software version.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you’ve got to. Those hackers are after you.

Jonah Berger
Oh, they do, right?

Pete Mockaitis
They’re after you.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, you’re still using Windows 7, or whatever it is, it’s dangerous for the network.

Pete Mockaitis
Can’t have that.

Jonah Berger
Or someone’s on that old version of their PC they don’t want to get rid of because they’ve got that status quo bias, it’s theirs. And so, what he did was interesting. So, rather than saying, “Hey, let me tell you how great the new thing is,” he surfaced the costs of inaction. He made people realize more that doing nothing isn’t free. He sent out this note to people who weren’t upgrading to a new system, so he sent out this note, he said, “Look, you don’t have to upgrade. But just so you know, we can’t support the old system anymore. It’s dangerous to the network. It takes too much time. You can keep using it but, after a certain point, if you have a problem, we’re not going to fix it.”

He didn’t say, “Hey, look, you have to switch,” but he didn’t allow that costs of inaction to remain dormant. He really surfaced it. He allowed people to see it. And so, in some sense, he didn’t take the old option off the table, he didn’t throw their PC out the window, he didn’t truly burn the ships. He just made people realize that sticking with those old way of doing things might be more costly than they might think, which encouraged them to be more willing to do something new.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really dig that, and I’ve recently applied that in terms of there’s all these little tasks that, you know, I’m big on outsourcing and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But there are some like three-minute tasks that’s just like, “Ahh, it’s probably a lot of effort to train folks on how to do that so I’ll just keep doing that.” But then when I really hunker down, it’s like, “Okay, so what is this going to amount to over the next five years of doing these three minutes?” And I think about all those hours, and it’s like, “Okay, well, that’s a few vacation days, so maybe it’s worth taking an hour to share, ‘Hey, this is how you make invoices,’” or whatever the thing may be so that I can get that going, as you show that the cost of doing nothing is significant.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. And I love that example that you shared because the cost is significant over time but it’s not initially. Like, you’re sitting there, going, “But it’s only three minutes.” But, as you said, three minutes over time adds up to vacation days. But there’s always an initial cost of action. To train that person requires a couple hours, and if the cost seems bigger than the immediate benefit, we don’t do it. And so, really encouraging people to say, “Look, over time, that sprain, that elbow sprain is going to hurt a lot. You might want to go see a doctor and get it fixed.” Really adding it up over time forces people to realize that it’s not actually costless.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, let’s keep it going. Tell us about distance. Tell us about distance, Jonah.

Jonah Berger
Sure. So, distance is the notion that if we ask for too much, if we ask for something or even give people information, it’s too far from where they are at the moment, they tend to ignore us or they tend to sort of push back against what we’re suggesting. And so, this might sound a little bit like reactance, but in reactance we’re really trying to persuade someone, even if we just give people information, sometimes they don’t listen.

And so, a great domain to think about this is politics.

Jonah Berger
It’s the new reality show, it’s called America – What’s Happening in Politics. But people don’t get along with the other side, and many people have talked about filter bubbles, and you get access to biased information, and all these different things. But one solution is, “Hey, if we just learned about the other side, if we just connected with people on the other side, then we’d be more moderate, we’d come around.”

And so, sociologists from Duke actually tested this, they said, “Look, I’m going to take people on Twitter, I’m going to pay them a little bit of money to follow a bot for a month, and that bot is going to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum as them.” It’s exactly what all the commentators and pundits have said, “Look, if we just reach across the aisle, just talk to a couple Republicans, if you’re a Democrat, vice versa if you’re a Republican, that’ll make everybody more moderate.” They said, “Look, if we just give people information, we’re not trying to convince anyone, just give them information about what the other side thinks, hopefully, that’ll make them more moderate.”

And you can think about this in a variety of other contexts as well, right? If I just give that boss more information about what I want, if I give the client more information, they should listen. And the hope was simply that information about the other side would move people to the middle but that’s not, unfortunately, what he found. It wasn’t that it moved people to the middle, and it wasn’t even that it had no effect. Giving people information about what the other side thought actually pushed them in the opposite direction. It backfired.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Those jerks,” villainized them more for how wrong they are.

Jonah Berger
In some sense, right, they made Republicans become more conservative, and the Liberals move in the opposite direction as well. And, essentially, why? It was too far from where people are at the moment. Research shows that we have a sort of a latitude acceptance or zone of acceptance around our beliefs or our attitudes. Sure, we believe a certain thing, but we’re willing to move a few yards in another direction.

Think about a football field, right, we move five or ten yards in one direction, maybe five or ten in another, but we won’t go completely on the other side of the field because on the other side of the field is that region of rejection. It’s that set of opinions, or information, or beliefs that we are unwilling even to consider. We’re unwilling to pay attention to them, and this is sort of ideas of the confirmation bias. And even when we do pay attention to them, we discount it or we don’t believe it because it’s too far from where we are.

And so, the question really is, “How can we shrink that distance, make it not seem so far away from where people are at the moment?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, so let’s get an example here. Boy, what’s something that people can really…hey, how about abortion, right? There is some distance. So, one side could say, “Hey, this is a human life and you’re murdering it or him or her, that’s not cool.” And the other side would say, “No, you’re enslaving women. You’re trying to bring them back to the dark ages in which they’re subservient to men. This is unjust.” Okay, so we got a whole lot of distance. I’m throwing you in the deep end, Jonah.

Jonah Berger
You are.

Pete Mockaitis
If one side or the other is trying to gain some ground, how might we present things to have less distance?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, so I’m going to cheat here. I’m going to take an easy out at the beginning and then we’ll work our way back around abortion.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Jonah Berger
So, I would say a first place to start is to do what I call asking for less. And so, I think an easy way to think about this is a doctor that I was talking to. So, often, when we want people to change, we ask for too much. The information is too far away. In the abortion case, for example, we want someone to go from pro-choice to pro-life right away. We want people to switch sides, one to the other right away. We want big change to happen right away.

And the doctor was actually dealing with something similar. She had this truck driver she was working with that was morbidly obese, so he was like 100 pounds or more overweight, part of the reason why, he was drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man.

Jonah Berger
He was drinking in that truck hub all day long. He’d buy Mountain Dew.

Pete Mockaitis
Got to stay awake.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, got to stay awake, got to have something to drink, so he was drinking three liters of Mountain Dew. And so, what’s our knee-jerk reaction in that situation?

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s disgusting. You have to stop that now.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, “Don’t drink anymore Mountain Dew,” right? If we want someone to exercise, “You exercise every day.” We want someone to switch from one side of the field to the other, which is great for us but it’s probably not going to work for them. If you’re talking to a guy that’s drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day, telling him to quit cold turkey is probably going to fail.

And so, she tried something else instead. Rather than asking him to quit cold turkey, she said, “Hey, you’re drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day. You can keep drinking some Mountain Dew, but drink two instead of three, and take one of those empty bottles and fill it up with water.” He grumbled, he didn’t want to do it obviously, he wasn’t interested in moving at all, but he was willing to try. He lost a little weight. He came back next time. She said, “Okay, great. Now you’re at two, move to one.” Came back a few months later, had made it to one, then she said, “Great.” Eventually moved to zero.

And by using this sort of step-wise function, not asking for all at once, but asking for less and then asking for more, she was able to get him to change. And so, asking for less isn’t about saying, “Hey, I’m only going to ask for less,” it’s about starting with less and then asking for more. Moving people five yards down the field, and then moving them another five yards.

If you talk to product designers, they often call this something like stepping stones. If you’re introducing a new version of a product or a new version of a service, I, a few years ago, was working with Facebook to introduce a new hardware project, and they were dealing with exactly this. They’re saying, “Okay, we’re going to introduce something. It’s very different from what people are used to. How can we introduce this new thing? If it’s too different, they’re going to say no, they don’t want to do it.”

And so, what we ended up doing instead is rather than going for the full thing right away, asking people to move to a completely new thing, let’s pick something that’s just a little bit from where they are currently, introduce that version. Then, once people have gotten used to it, move to the next version, and move to the next one. And so, in some sense, it’s almost like called stepping stones because it’s like a river. When you ask someone to change, it’s like a big river, they don’t want to cross from one side to the other, “It’s to far. I’m going to get wet. I don’t want to do it.”

So, instead, you say, “Okay, well, just jump to this little stone, and then jump to this next stone, then jump to this next stone. And you jump a few times and you’re across to the other side.” And so, rather than asking for too much right away, start by asking for less, chunk that change and then ask for more.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy. And so then, in the challenging example I threw your way with abortion, it might be just a matter of a stepping stone might be not so much changing your view but just accepting that the other side is not evil and trying to commit these atrocities against women or tiny babies, but rather that they are mistaken or they have a different perspective, and that’s some distance that you’ve reduced. You’re still quite a distance away but it’s something.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. There’s a great Heineken ad that does something exactly like what you’re suggesting where they take the people that completely disagree and they have them have a conversation. So, they take, for example, a feminist and someone who hates feminism. They take someone who hates transgender people and someone who is a transgender, and so on, people that really disagree. And what they do is they have them essentially build a bar. They get together, they go through a variety of activities, they build a bar, and at the end, they showed them a video of the other person, and the other person saying all the things that they believe.

So, the feminist says, “Oh, women are important,” and the feminist hater says, “Oh, women’s job is at the home,” and they see what the other person is, and then they say, “Okay, now that you know who this person is, do you still want to be friends with them?” And I think what that does, it’s slightly different than asking for less. What it does is it switches the field. Rather than starting with something like abortion where two sides are dug in on opposite sides of the field and they’re unlikely to agree and move, it switches the field to a dimension where they’re more similar in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
We both like drinking beer.

Jonah Berger
We both like drinking beer, right? We both hang out. We both care about our families. We both care about America being a great country. Or in an organizational context, right? Sure, you might not want to do what I want but we both want the company to succeed. I think a good way to think about it, imagine you’re sitting in front of graph paper. You can draw that field on the X-axis, there’s one end zone, there’s another end zone, you can make the tick marks along the way. But at the 50-yard line, you draw a vertical line, there’s a Y-axis which is another dimension where you might actually have a lot in common, that even if you’re on different ends of the X-axis, you’re actually at the same point on the Y-axis, you’re exactly in the middle.

And so, by switching that field by starting with common ground, starting with something we have in common, a place where we don’t disagree, and using that to then eventually build around to that place where there’s more disagreement, we’re going to be more successful because now you humanized the person. You’re not just, “Oh, this faceless person who believes something I don’t believe. We have a little bit in common. We both care about our families. We realize we have emotional connections to the things we love. I’m going to see you more as a human. You’re going to see me more as a human. And then we’re more likely to be persuaded at the end of the day.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m digging it. So, Jonah, let’s just keep it going. Uncertainty, lay it on.

Jonah Berger
So, we talked a little bit about switching costs before, but just to make that really concrete, if I’m asking an organization to change company culture, there’s some costs to doing that. There’s an incentive structure that was, and now there’s a new one. When I ask a customer to buy a new project, they have to spend money or time or energy to install that new thing or get that new thing. And those are costs that often prevent change from happening. The old thing seems cheap, the new thing seems costly.

But the other problem with new things is that they have more uncertainty associated with them. Think about a new phone, for example. Not only do you have to pay more money to get that new phone. But when do you have to pay the cost and when do you get the benefit? The costs are up front, pay the money for that phone. Now, I have to go to AT&T and Verizon and switch my thing, and do this, and do that, and get all my information switched over. So, the costs are now and the benefits are later. Yes, it might be faster and lighter and have a better camera but I’m not going to get those until later, and those benefits are also uncertain.

Sure, this new way of doing company culture might be better, sure, this new project you’re suggesting might make us more money, but I don’t know if it’s going to. And if I don’t know, why am I going to be willing to switch? And that’s what I call the cost-benefit timing gap. Costs are certain and they’re upfront. Benefits are uncertain and they’re later, and people don’t like uncertainty. Think about the last time you were wondering if you’re going to be late for a meeting, for example. So, your flight is late or you’re stuck in a car in traffic, and you’re worried about missing this meeting. You’re so anxious you don’t know what you’re going to do. You feel terrible. You hate this concern about missing the meeting.

What’s interesting is the worst thing that can happen is missing the meeting. And so, if you know that you’re going to miss that meeting, you should feel what? You should feel worse because that’s the worst thing that can happen. But often, notice what happens, we figure out we’re going to miss that meeting, and then what ends up happening?

Pete Mockaitis
You’re relieved.

Jonah Berger
You actually feel good. Relief. You feel better.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Okay, what am I going to do now? I’ll communicate something to somebody and make it up somehow.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, now that I know, I’m going to solve it. And so, in some sense, it’s not just missing the meeting that’s bad, it’s that uncertainly. And so, in a product context, in a sales context, in organizational context, uncertainty often leads us to hit the pause button. We don’t know whether the new thing is going to be better or worse. And given we don’t know, it’s safest to do nothing, which is great for the status quo, which is great for what we’re doing already, but it’s terrible for new things. And so, to really then get people to overcome that uncertainty, that anxiety, we have to make it easier for them to experience the value of that new thing.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you. And I think this connects so much in terms of I’m thinking about how people try to sell me something, and it’s just like, “All I really need to know is that it’s really going to do the thing that you say it’s going to do. And so, maybe you can alleviate that with a demo or…” usually I want hard data that they can never give me in terms of, “Oh, you have a marketing service. Well, can you tell me the cost per acquired customer for a population of people who are selling something very similar to what I’m selling?” Like, “No, we can’t.”

So, anyways, maybe I’m jumping the gun. I think, “Hey, demos, data,” but you tell me, what are the best ways to address and reduce uncertainty?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, demos and data are close. And so, I think I love to start with an idea that many of us may have heard of before, and that is the notion of freemium. So, take a company like Dropbox, which many of your listeners are probably familiar with, a storage place for files and so on. When Dropbox came out, they had a great technology, but the challenge is people were scared of it. They didn’t know whether it would be better than what they’d done already. They were used to doing things a particular way. “Where is that cloud? Where are my files going to be? If I’ve worked hours on this Word document, I don’t want to lose it.” And so, they were unwilling to make the change.

And so, Dropbox could’ve done advertising, they could’ve bought Google search words, but what they did instead is they gave it away for free. And you might be sitting there going, “What do you mean? Give it away for free?” Any kid who’s ever run a lemonade stand, to the most seasoned business executive, knows that giving away something for free is not a way to build a business, yet Dropbox has built a billion-dollar business giving away things for free. How did they do that?

And so, what they did is they didn’t give away everything for free. They gave away a version for free and then created a premium version and encouraged people to upgrade to it. So, in Dropbox’s case, for example, they gave away 2GB, or something like that, of storage for free. They said, “Look, sure there’s switching costs, you have your files on your computer, it’s going to take time and effort to upload them, but let’s at least try to mitigate that monetary costs by making the upfront costs free.” So, you can put files on Dropbox until you get to 2GB. Once you get to 2GB though, you’re faced with a choice, “Do I upgrade to premium version or not? Do I want more space, more features or not?”

And what’s really nice about something like freemium is rather than Dropbox telling you how great it is, just like that marketing service that you were talking to, of course they’re going to say it’s great. No marketing service is going to say, “Oh, yeah, you know, well, we’re not so great.” So, you can’t really believe them. But in Dropbox’s case, you have to believe because you’re the one who’s been using it. You’re the one that’s uploaded all your files to it. And so, when they come around and they say, “Hey, can you throw us a couple bucks to get more space,” you say, “Well, I know it’s good. I’ve resolved that uncertainty myself. I’ve convinced myself.”

And so, there are dozens, if not hundreds of other businesses that have leveraged this notion of freemium, creating a free version of a product or service, and then encouraging people to upgrade to the premium. If you think about Pandora, there’s an ad-free version. If you think about Skype, there’s a premium version. Think about LinkedIn, there’s a premium version. And so, what all these things have done is they’ve lowered that upfront costs to allow people to experience whether something is good or not, and then if they like it, they encourage you to upgrade to the premium. So, you have to figure out the right way to leverage freemium, I think that’s at least one idea to lower that barrier of trial and reduce uncertainty.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that does make a lot of sense to me. And anyway, I guess, you can give people a taste of things, like whether you make a good sketch, or a model, or a prototype, or a 3D world so they can put on the headset and see, “Oh, that’s what you mean,” so that uncertainty diminishes as it becomes more real and a part of something that they’ve experienced.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. I mean, think about test drives, for example. So, I often talk about freemium with clients of mine, and I’ll talk to somebody who’s an online software as a service company, they say, “Great. Freemium. I got it. Let’s do it.” But then I’ll talk to somebody that sells offline goods. So, maybe they’re a fleet management company, or maybe they’re a doctor, or maybe they’re a hospital and they say, “Freemium is great, but if I’m selling a physical thing, I can’t do freemium.” The idea of freemium though is a lot larger than freemium. The idea is, just as you said, “How can I make it easier for people to experience the offering?”

So, think about something like test drives for cars. There’s a not a free in a freemium. You get to test drive a car. It doesn’t make the price of the car any cheaper. The amount of money that’s going to cost to buy that Acura is still the same. All the test drive does, it allows you to figure out whether the value of it is actually worth paying the money. It allows you to experience some sense of what it’s like even though it’s not freemium.

And so, what that chapter talks all about is, “How can we lower the upfront costs by using things like test drives, or freemium, or other ways? How can we lower the backend costs, making things reversible?” Free returns, in the case of online buying. Lawyers often say, “Hey, we only get paid if you win,” so, again, reducing that uncertainty that it’s going to work, or even things like drive and discovery where you bring the trial to people so they experience it themselves even if they don’t think they’re interested, bringing it to them and allowing them to see how good it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

So, Jonah, if you could maybe give us an example that brings this all together, or maybe just even a few of the elements together in terms of there’s a professional, they’re looking to make a change, and they astutely utilized multiple levers in their appeal and made magic happen. Can you lay one on us?

Jonah Berger
There are many examples in the book that touch on individual aspects of this. I think, since we’re talking about uncertainty, I’ll just give one more about uncertainty specifically that I think is a fun one, and this is what I put under the sort of drive discovery bucket.

And that is sometimes people don’t know that they like what you’re offering. So, sometimes you’re trying to get them to do something but they don’t know you exist or they don’t think they like you, they’re going to be unwilling to change. So, if your boss, for example, has never heard of a certain thing, or you’re a challenger brand in the space, a client doesn’t know you exist, they’re going to be unlikely to change their mind, and so, I think this can be a great way to solve the problem.

There was this guy, his name was Jacek, he’s Polish, he works for Santander Bank, and, essentially, he wants to get his boss to buy into customer service or the customer experience. So, in the United States, we know all about surprise and delight. We have our best customers, we surprise them, we greet them by name. You check into our hotel; we give you your own pillow. You call customer service; we know it’s you. But it hasn’t been applied in banking as much and hadn’t made its way to Europe.

And so, Jacek would sit there going, “Look, this could be great in banking. Customers like us but they don’t love us. I’m sure we’re smiling at them when they walk in the door but we need to build that deeper connection. And so, he tells his boss, “Look, we got to do this,” and his boss says, “Ahh, no, thanks.” He says, “Look, boss, all these people are doing it.” And the boss says, “No, look, we’re banking. We’re not hotels, we’re not online retailers. People in banking care only about the rates.” So, Jacek brings a consultant, they make presentations after presentations, his boss still isn’t convinced.

So, he’s sitting there, going, “Okay, I can’t push my boss. If I tell my boss what to do, he’s not going to listen.” And so, he’s like, “Well, how can I help my boss experience the value of what I’m offering? How can I put him in the situation and the management team in the situation of what I’m trying to get them to do?” And so, he ends up doing slightly different. Rather than having another meeting where he talks about the value of customer experience, he instead collects a bunch of information from his boss and the management team. So, he finds out their birthday, their anniversary, how many days they’ve been with the company, when they’re going on trips, and so on.

And then what he does over the next couple months is he celebrates these things. So, if someone’s anniversary, he sends them a nice note. If it’s their two years of working with the company, they get a wonderful card signed by everyone saying how great it is that they’ve been with the organization. Someone goes hiking, somebody knits them a hat. Someone’s child gets in a car accident, they raise them money. And so, all these things are basically putting the management team in the shoes of what it’s like to be part of a customer experience initiative.

Then the next time they have a meeting, Jacek is sort of tentative to bring it up, but he says, “Hey, what do you guys think?” And nobody says, “Hey, I don’t think it’ll work,” because they’ve all experienced it. They all know what it’s like to be cared about as a customer because they’ve been sitting through it. And that’s an example of what I put under uncertainty of drive and discovery. Rather than forcing people to come to you and take that test drive, how can you bring the test drive to them? How can you put them in a situation of what you want them to do so they experience the value themselves and they can’t help but say yes because they’ve seen it for themselves and they’re the best ones to judge whether they’re going to like something or not?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that a lot. Thank you. So, I assume that they accepted his proposal after all of that.

Jonah Berger
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jonah Berger
You know, it’s funny they not only accepted his proposal, they’ve promoted him to be director of customer experience for a large number of banks, and it has lived on not only in that location but a number of others. He’s really helped bring that approach to a whole industry that hadn’t seen it before.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s awesome. Well, Jonah, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jonah Berger
I think that’s it. We covered many of the barriers in the book. I think, to me, the main takeaway in the book is really start to notice those roadblocks, those obstacles, figure out how to mitigate them, and then those five are at least a place to start for some of them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jonah Berger
“Do what you love and love what you do.” And I found it quite motivating to remember both that you want to love what you’re doing, but also sometimes it takes a little bit of work, and you’ve got to be willing to put that work in to love whatever it is that you’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jonah Berger
I’ll tell you an example of a recent favorite. They looked at the visual similarity between paintings to figure out how novel and how influential certain paintings are, and to figure out how correlated those are with the value of painting.

So, they do things like looking at what someone paints, what style they paint, and how similar or different it is from prior folks, to look at what drives value. And so, a lot of the research I’m doing at the moment is really natural language, or image processing, pulling behavioral insight from textual image-based data. And I thought this study was just amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Huh. And so, they found something, I imagine, or otherwise it wouldn’t be…

Jonah Berger
They did, yeah. They’re looking at sort of how novelty or similarity is related to value. We actually did something similar in songs. We looked at how similar songs are to their genres, to how similar a given song is to other songs. In that genre, we found that songs that are more atypical that sing about things that are more differentiated from their genre are more successful. So, country songs, not surprisingly, sing a lot about girls and cars, but country songs that sing about different themes than usual end up being higher on the Billboard Charts.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jonah Berger
Oh, it would be a copout to say The Catalyst which is my new one, so I’ll say a different favorite book, which is a book called A Matter of Taste. It’s all about baby names and how we can use baby names to understand culture. It’s an amazing, not only a fun read, but just an interesting lens on the world itself.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Jonah Berger
I would just say research. It’s a broad Swiss Army knife of a tool. But I would say no particular technology, just research in general, being curious about the world and trying to quantify it.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit, something you do that helps you to be awesome at your job?

Jonah Berger
God, I think, scheduling is so important. You talked to this a little bit earlier about sort of outsourcing things. To me, it’s really about finding time for the big stuff, making sure that you know when something is a pebble and a boulder, not only doing the pebbles first because they’re easy, but making sure you make time for the big things, otherwise they’ll never get done.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they repeat it back to you often?

Jonah Berger
I can’t say that that’s true. I would hope that something from one of the books, whether it’s word of mouth, only 7% of it is online, or hopefully some day soon, one thing from the book The Catalyst.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jonah Berger
So, a great place to find me online is my website, just JonahBerger.com. I’m also on LinkedIn and on Twitter @j1berger.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, I think if I’ve learned anything from this new book, it’s that we are almost oblivious to these barriers. We’re blind to these obstacles. And so, I think my challenge would be to figure out why something hasn’t changed. Whatever it is you want to change, whether it’s a person, whether it’s an organization, whatever it might be, start looking for those obstacles. Don’t be blind to the barriers. Start to see them. And if not, ask about them, and use that to drive change. If you don’t understand why change is happening or not, if you can’t find the root, it’s going to be really hard to change minds in action.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jonah, this has been lots of fun. I wish you a bunch of luck with The Catalyst and all your adventures.

Jonah Berger
Thanks so much.

544: How to Build Exceptional Influence in a Noisy Digital Age with Richard Medcalf

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Richard Medcalf says: "Transaction is the opposite of influence."

Richard Medcalf shares strategies to grow your influence despite the noise and overwhelm of the digital world.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The language that gets people to listen to you
  2. The two ways of effectively relating with anyone
  3. A quick trick to exude charisma and confidence

About Richard:

Richard Medcalf has advised exceptional founders and senior executives in complex, fast-moving industries for over 20 years. After earning a first-class degree at Oxford University, Richard became the youngest-ever partner at tech-sector strategy consultancy Analysys Mason. He then moved to tech giant Cisco, where he held various senior positions over 11 years, most notably being hand-picked for an elite team set up by Cisco’s CEO to lead new board-level business initiatives. Believing that there’s no business transformation without personal transformation, he founded Xquadrant to work at the intersection of leadership, strategy and purpose and help digital-age leaders create extraordinary positive impact.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Richard Medcalf Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Richard, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Richard Medcalf
Hi, Pete. Fantastic to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m excited to have you and I really appreciate you staying up extra late in France to have this conversation with us.

Richard Medcalf    
No, that’s great. It’s 11:00 p.m. here but I’m energized and ready to go, so let’s do this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I see it and I’m excited. Well, I want to kick it off, you have a very impressive bio but at the same time you also discuss vulnerability in some of your work. So, I want to put you on the spot and ask for you to publicly admit something that you’re terrible at. I’ll start just to break the ice. And that is I’m not good at drawing three-dimensional shapes. I had a new product design class and that was actually a reasonable part of it and I didn’t do so well and it was so embarrassing, they’re like, “What is wrong with you?” So, now, the world knows that. But, meanwhile, I’m looking at your bio, I was like, “Man, this guy looks like he’s amazing at everything he touches.” But that’s never quite true, and it’s always comforting, so lay it on us.

Richard Medcalf
No, yeah, I can give you that. Well, I think my kids would say that I’m just bad at animals, like any animal comes near me, I’m jumping around, freaking out. Really bad. Like, when my daughter was one, we went to Australia to see some family there, and she stroke a baby kangaroo or something, and I was like, “Okay, Richard, come on. You’re 40, whatever it is, years old. Go and stroke that damn kangaroo.” So, that’s probably the funny one. And then probably I think I come from a long line of people in my family who are just not particularly good at sports, and that’s all we’ve been like. I was always the last to be chosen in school teams and all that kind of stuff. So, I think I had a school report that said, “Richard tries hard at a subject to which he’s not naturally gifted.” So, I said, “All right.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the kindest possible way that they could articulate that. I, likewise, didn’t do well in most sports. I was good at swimming. Weightlifting, depending on the lift. But, anyway, now we know. Thank you. You’re on the record. But I want to mostly talk about influence today, that’s one of your areas of expertise and so let’s dig in. And maybe if you could tee this up for us with maybe a compelling story that captures just what’s at stake when it comes to professionals being influential or just what is possible when a typical professional upgrades their influence game.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, going to my story a little bit, and, again, be a bit vulnerable about times when I actually didn’t sure I have the influence I needed. So, my story in a nutshell is I studied in Oxford University, I got like a top grade there, ran into consulting, strategy consulting, became a partner very fast in that. I think it was just a lucky fit having to be good at that as a bit of random choice but it worked well. And then I moved into Cisco, it’s obviously a massive global company, a smaller fish in a bigger pond. And I think I didn’t manage that transition actually particularly well. It took me a while because I had a lot of expertise to bring but I hadn’t quite understood quite how much you needed to work that broader organization to really have an impact.

And so, I think if I look back and I’m honest, I think I kind of got a bit pigeonholed into the next big role for a while, and they’re quite high-profile projects, they’re quite having a certain impact but I kind of knew that there was more that I should’ve been doing and there was more of me that I wasn’t bringing to the table. And so, I think there was this gap where I was kind of trying to struggle with, “How do I actually do this?” And nothing was bad but I just knew that there were others perhaps who’d made a much better transition in, and I was seeing I was a bit envious.

So, I started to kind of dig into this and think about it and a bit of self-reflection and I started to realize, actually, as often the case, that all of these answers are actually under our nose, and we have to kind of do the thinking and do the searching and come back to it, and say, “Well, what have I really got to offer and to whom?” a number of other things. And the net of that was my last role in Cisco, before I then left and setup my own company Xquadrant, was actually part of a small group setup by the CEO and global head of sales of Cisco to really have influence, to really capitalize strategic partnerships between Cisco and some of its large customers and partners.

And so, that was a role where it wasn’t a hierarchical power role. It was very much about, “How do we actually get people who are not under my direct control, not even in my own company, to perhaps collaborate in ways that they weren’t used to?” And so, that for me was really where that whole journey was where I got passionate about this idea of, “How do we all take our impact up a game, up a notch, play a bigger game and channel our natural skills in the best possible way to have the impact that we want?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so that is pretty cool transformation from, okay, you’re kind of hanging out and treading water for a little while in the career because of not having those influence skills, and then you’re selected for a role that is just chock-full of this influencing-type activities and requirements, so that’s pretty cool. So, it seems like you learned a thing or two to get that role and to flourish within that role. So, can you lay it on us, what are some of the foundational principles that can make a professional influential?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, let me give you a few of the models that I’ve been using and I found really helpful. But, perhaps just to go back a second and just to realize that the context that we’re in, whether we lead or whether we’re an individual contributor, the whole world has shifted, as we know, with digital technology and everything else, and so there are these very unique contexts for making things happen. As I said before, most of this is actually in the roles where we can’t just tell our subordinates what to do and get everything done, right? Almost every role, even if you have a big team, is going to involve influencing across those boundaries. But there are some traps that I see.

So, the first one is this always on culture, right? Everyone is always connected, there’s always things going on. I call it managing infinity because it’s an infinity of people to speak to, movies to watch, books to read, emails to address, tasks to write. It’s never finished. It’s always on. But we often find ourselves neither really productive, or neither really present, and more to the point, we often do the wrong thing at the wrong time. So, we’re trying to be productive when we should be present with people, and we’re perhaps getting distracted when we should be being productive.

So, we’ve all been in that situation where it’s a social event and somebody’s on their phone doing emails, it’s just not the right time, an undermine of influence. Or if you’re in a meeting, and the boss is like on his phone and not listening to your presentation, he actually undermines his or her influence at that point with you, you think, “What’s going on? Is something wrong with this work? What’s going on?” And so, the first thing is to realize that always on actually has a bit of a trap because if we’re not in the right mode at the right time, we don’t see it, we see it in others.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, yeah.

Richard Medcalf
And that undermines it. And I think the other one that I’d speak to is the virtual world. In other words, we have distributed teams, and a lot of times we get onto conference calls for a lot of our work, and the issue is it can become very transactional at that point. We all know that example, anyone who’s been in a distributed team where there’s a conference call, people get on, people are in awkward silence, perhaps the odd comment here and there, the odd bit of banter but it’s pretty quiet, people are doing their emails, typing away, people are joining, it’s a bit awkward, and then suddenly, “Okay, let’s go. Right.” And we start.

And so, if you imagine in the real world, if you’re all in the same office, those five minutes would be spent finding out about each other’s weekend, the family, “What’s going on? You look a bit tired, stressed,” and so forth. And so, relationships can get very transactional because of the digital culture. And I think that is actually something, if you are working in a distributed team, you need to be careful about, because transaction is the opposite of influence, really, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued then, I think some people worry they might lose influence if they are not responsive and fast enough in replying to whether it’s Slack or email or whatnot. So, how do you think about the, if it’s tradeoff or it’s just a matter of, “Hey, you schedule time to do both, and then you do both, then you engage appropriately based on what you’re doing”? I guess this is all vary organization by organization, and request by request, but how fast do you got to respond to maintain influence?

Richard Medcalf
I think there’s a lot of fear around this topic, fear of missing out, fear of not being seen, and as ever, it’s always the other side of the fear, that you actually get into a safer place, and probably few, a more secure place. And so, think of people that you really admire and respect, they’re not always easy to get in touch with. The people who are available at the drop of a hat, your esteem of them doesn’t necessarily go zooming up just because they’re super responsive. They’re super responsive, it’s useful, it’s nice.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an excellent distinction. “Yes, I appreciate it, that’s cool of them, it’s convenient, but my esteem doesn’t go up. It’s like, “That is a true professional, rock star, person of influence I respect.” It’s like, “Oh, I appreciate that. Thanks.”

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. And so, I think there’s a time in my consulting career where I think I pretty got a promotion delayed by that six months because I took on too many projects because they’re all really high-profile projects and I thought, “This is fantastic opportunity,” but I took on like all three of them. Frankly, if I’d done one of them really, really well, I would’ve been promoted. As it was, I did three of them okay but I did not knock the ball out the park. It was fine. It was okay. The client was happy. We got signed up. But I think less can be more, and we forget that, and we think more is more, and it’s not. They don’t actually notice the quantity so much as the quality, right?

So, even if we’re in a job like sales where you got to get through, it’s actually, “Who are those 20% of clients that are really going to make the 80% of your revenues, right?” Yes, so I kind of try to force myself, as there’s barriers in place, and to realize that we’re often playing this game with ourselves and our mind about having to jump in. But when you’re always trying to be super responsive, you don’t create the space for the deep work that actually sets you apart.

In Cisco, one of the things I did do to increase my influence was I remember I actually carved out once, literally it’s just one day, where I took on some work I had done and turned it into a piece of thought leadership, like really said, “Okay, what have I learned? What is cutting edge here?” And I developed this little model and some material with it, and I remembered about 3:00 p.m. on that day, I was like, “What am I doing wasting my day writing this stuff?” I was like writer’s block and all that trying to do this stuff. And that day, I spent the time, I was like, “Well, was that just a waste of time?”

But, no, because suddenly I’ve created something that was valuable, that was unique, and the people had not seen it before. And, suddenly, it was in demand, the customers wanted to see it, I was flown here and there to deliver it. So, this investment of one day where I was not being responsive and much more impact than if I was just doing my emails all day. You know that.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, yeah. That’s very tactical, practical, tangible, and real, I love it, in terms of if we really look back, we can probably think there were a couple deliverables that changed everything, and they weren’t made with the email box open on the side with being interrupted every 10 minutes.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, I say, often when I’m working with executives, I work a lot with senior executives in a kind of coaching capacity, and one thing I’ll say is there’s a slowdown because often we advance in the first part of our career by sheer churning things out, but we get to a stage where it’s like, “Okay, just stop a second. What’s the one phone call that’s going to make all the difference right now? What’s the one partnership to form? What’s the one thing you need to shift, the one conversation you need to have, whatever it is, that’s really slowing it down? What is that number one lever that’s going to have the most impact?” And I think when you do that, then you differentiate yourself, and people’s estimation of you rises.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s excellent. Okay, cool. Well, then you mentioned there’s some traps, and we covered a couple. Are there more?

Richard Medcalf
Well, I’d say there’s a number of traps. I think the other one is around noise, I suppose. We could use that one. So, just the sheer volume of content and information coming our way. So, when we want to create influence, this does matter because what we say can easily get lost in the mass of everything going on, that infinity I talked about.

So, one of the things that I do, I actually have a saying, my saying is, “Do you have a saying?” You see what I just did there? So, what I did is, the point is when you actually say, “I have a saying,” you actually put a context around what you’re about to say next and it becomes a thing.

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Richard Medcalf
Right? So, if I say to you, “I’ve got sayings. Slow down to speed up,” it’s a good saying, right? But it has more impact than if I just say “Slow down, to speed  up,” in the middle of a sentence that I’m rattling through.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. The receiver of that message naturally thinks, as I do, it’s like, “Well, what is it, Richard?” It’s like, “I’m listening. Bring it on.”

Richard Medcalf
And having a saying is important because language, we adopt language really powerfully. It’s a natural human instinct, right? I say language creates culture. So, if you want to change a culture, or a team, or your family, then think of the words that you use, because it’s how we celebrate. It’s how we relate. And so, as you kind of introduce words, and you use phrases, that does have a big impact.

The idea of a thing as a phrase, as a saying, is about context. So, I always say this, “You should never really have content without context.” So, the context is a frame around the content. So, if I’m going to say, “Hey, Pete, I’ve got something that’s really important for you to hear right now, and it’s going to change your life,” then you’re suddenly ready for it, you know what I mean? Whereas, if I just said it, you wouldn’t perhaps appreciate it, the fact that I really believe this was something important for you.

And so, say, if you’re talking to your boss, it might be one important issue you really want to raise and a load of tactical issues you do every with him. So, you might want to say, “Hey, today, there’s three or four things that we need to rattle through as normal, but there’s also one big topic that I think is really going to be important for how we work together in the coming year.” So, suddenly, they’re kind of mentally getting ready for that, and they’re kind of more ready to receive it. Whereas, if you suddenly launched in with whatever it is you want to say, they’re not mentally prepared.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is so powerful. And you said a couple of things that both reminded me of Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-Suasion, which is outstanding. And in terms of language, how that shapes things, he told a story about how he did a presentation for a health, was it hospital or…it was health-oriented, and the presentations, they’re not allowed to call them bullet points, it’s like, “Bullets are weapons that harm people, so we don’t use those words here.” And at first he thought, “That’s kind of ridiculous,” but they’re saying, “Oh, this really does shape things in terms of the culture.” And then the context creating content, or shaping, making more impact, how do you say it? You don’t want content without context.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I say it frames. The context frames the content.

Pete Mockaitis
It frames. And I guess I’m thinking it amplifies in terms of it makes all the difference in terms of like, “What should I be paying attention to?” And I think this is all connecting in terms of, yes, in this digital noisy always-on and managing-infinity world, that becomes extra important to know. It’s like, “I’m looking at this here in a matter.” So, maybe, I would love it if you could just give us some more of your favorite content phrases. So, one is “I have a saying,” the other one is, “Hey, the really important thing is this.” What are some other just tried and true winners?

Richard Medcalf
I think a lot of them, to be honest, are kind of quite natural and would depend on the people, right? So, what I mean by that, you create context whenever you just create that sense of anticipation. And so, it’s as simple as, “Hey, I’ve something important to tell you.” That’s what we’re saying all the time to people. That already sets up a context.

So, as a leader, one of the things you’re trying to do actually is instill the way you think in other people, not to make everyone robots but to help them kind of make the decisions that you would need them to make rather than making all those decisions yourself. And so, for example, I was working with a leader at a global kind of industrial process engineering company, so it might’ve been chemical products and various things, and so safety is very important. And he was complaining that his team were not autonomous and coming to him for all sorts of decisions.

So, I said, “Well, how do you make decisions?” So, he talked about it, and it came down to he looks at the business impact of the decision and he looks at the safety impact, and those two things are so important because this stuff is so dangerous that they’ve got to be both up there equally. So, those were the basic questions. So, I said, “Well, when somebody comes to you with a question, would you say to them, ‘Hey…’”

“Well, first of all, you will tell them, ‘Well, you know, these are my criteria.’ But when they come to you with a question, you say, ‘You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you?’” Once again, it’s a bit of context. “Oh, yeah, you’re going to say, ‘What’s the business impact and what’s the safety impact?’” “You got it. So, please answer the question for me.”

And so, that’s another one. Slightly different framing the content because, first of all, you would have to deliver the content to say, “Hey, this is the way I would think about it, safety and…” Again, he’d probably say, “I have a rule of thumb.” Again, you’re kind of phrasing it, “I have a rule of thumb,” or, “I have a…” how could you put it?

Pete Mockaitis
Mantra, dogma, guideline.

Richard Medcalf
Exactly, yeah. Mantra or guideline, yeah. I always look at the two big factors, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Command.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. Anything like that. Yeah, exactly. So, “I have a manta.” It has to be positive on the business and positive for safety. So, you say that to them. And then, afterwards, when they come to you, you can then refer to that and they start to embed that way of thinking about the world. So, I think that’s just another way of doing it.

But it can just be as simple as starting a meeting by saying, or starting a conversation by really just explaining the relevance of what you’re going to say to somebody. If you want to have influence, you need them to put their ears up, right? So, you want to say, “Look, we’ve come up with a project proposal that we think is probably one of the most significant things that we can do this year. And, as well, we think we’ve really mitigated the risks, breaking it up.” But, suddenly, your boss is going to be interested in that, right? Whereas, if you just launched straight it, they might be checking their email still.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Richard, my next question will forever transform the way every listener thinks about influence forever. See, I’m practicing.

Richard Medcalf
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if I can deliver. I was just practicing setting up some contexts. But I guess I am curious, so these are really great tools. And so, we’re talking in this context of technology. Can you share, are there some rules or guidelines or principles about influence that used to be true but now are not so much true? Like, “Hey, stop doing this,” given how we’re living today.

Richard Medcalf
It’s a great question. My instinctive reply to that is I think that it’s back to less is more, right? It’s back to everyone has lower attention spans, more solicitations, and so we need to make our interactions count I think even more. So, it’s not that it’s totally changed but I do think mistakes are risen on that because people don’t have time to listen to all of that stuff that you might want to tell them often. So, I’d say it’s more there’s dialed up, those things. It’s always been a good idea to be succinct and to say things and to have high quality when you open your mouth. But I think it’s probably gone up.

I have a little model which, I think, worked in the past but definitely works now, and I think could be helpful for people and certainly it worked with me and I can give you an example of this in a second, of this working out in practice. But it’s really this idea that, I’d say there’s two levels of relationship and influence. There’s the kind of transactional level, which is kind of about basic transactional trust which is important to establish. And then the second level is a deeper level of relational influence where you’re really seen as a trusted mentor or ally or somebody who’s really able to speak into your life.

So, on the transactional level, you might’ve heard of something similar to this, there’s various models around. It’s really these four Cs that’s very simple. So, there’s competency, chemistry, character, and criticality. So, first of all, character. So, character literally is like, “Do I believe the assembly with integrity? They’re not going to stab me in the back.” Who’s basically a good person, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Richard Medcalf
“In fact, are we going to work together with some degree of trust?” Chemistry is, “Well, are we going to basically enjoy working together enough, for that to be not a horrible experience?” Competency is, “Yeah, are you somebody that can actually do this job? Are you actually going to do the work and get it done?” And around that one, there’s often this question of confidence, so, “Are you confident in your own competency?” Often, there’s a whole load of people who are extremely competent but they actually kind of the traffic light goes red, one of the people think of them because they’re just not confident enough in their skills. So, that can be a real…

Pete Mockaitis
Right. There are some who are over-confident in their skills and they say things so assertively, like, “Oh, okay.” And then they’re like, “Wow, you were so wrong. I’m surprised based on how empathically you said that.” And then I think that diminishes influence in a hurry, it’s like, “Hmm, just because that guy seems really forceful and convinced doesn’t mean it’s true as experience has taught me.”

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, so these traffic lights, I kind of imagine these four Cs with the traffic lights, and sometimes they all go green at the start for some people, a rare number, like when you meet them, they all go green. The question is, “Can these people deliver?” Often, those people are great at winning you over but then the delivery doesn’t quite match the elevated expectations.

And the fourth one is criticality. And the criticality, for me, is really essential. It’s about relevance. It’s, “Can you combine all these skills and character and everything else you’ve got and solve one of my top problems, actually do something meaningful? So, you’ve got the skill, but is it what I really need right now or is this a conversation for another day?” And so, here’s the thing, so in order to really get that good level of working together, you need green on all of those, okay? Character, chemistry, competency, and criticality.

The funny thing though is that we all naturally focus on two to start with. We want to unlock all four but we often look for two to start with, and once they’re validated, we move onto the other two. But we also project the thing to ourselves, to other people. So, for example, I know that, for me, whether it’s by birth or by training in consulting through my career, competency and criticality are really important. I’m always like, “Okay, how am I going to show to add my value, show that I know my stuff, show that I can speak into the situation right now?”

So, I tend to probably project that to other people as the first things, and also looking for, “Are these the people? Are they relevant to my strategic plans? Are they competent? Are they the people I’ll be working with?” Once I have that, I’ll then switch into, “Okay, as a person, are they the right fit, the right feel?”

Other people will start the other way. First of all, they want to build that relationship, that feeling, “Oh, yeah, this person, I get that they’re trustworthy, they’re really nice. Oh, yeah, they’re great people. Now, actually, can they do this job or this task that I have in mind?” And they’ll kind of work the other way around. So, they’ll start more in the relational side. And so, of course, what happens is that when somebody is more task-focused and somebody is more relational-focused meet up, they’re kind of projecting the wrong signals for each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. And it’s so funny, I’m often task-focused when I’m evaluating or early stages of evaluating like, “Am I going to buy something, like sign up for service or whatnot?” And so, I think it’s funny because a lot of salespeople have been trained, “Hey, you got to build that rapport and that relationship.” And so, I’m just thinking, “I already have my criteria. You have to check five boxes for us to continue this conversation,” and they’re like, “Yes, so where did you grow up?” It’s like, “I don’t want to talk about that now. Maybe we’ll discuss that if we end up having a longstanding business relationship. What I need to know from you is A, B, C, D, E, F.” So, yeah, that mismatch is annoying.

Richard Medcalf
So, they’re losing influence in that moment because what’s happening is they’re not picking up. You’re actually very task-focused in that moment and some people are probably, “I need a sales advisor. And is this person trustworthy? Do I want to talk to this person?” And so, it’s their reading. So, actually, when I work with sales teams, I talk so much about finding your own personality or be aware of your tendencies. Essentially, it’s about, “Can you read the person opposite and what are they looking for? What mode are they in? Are they trying to relate at this moment? Or are they trying to get down to business?” And you do need both.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s great to identify. Just having that frame of mind, “Hey, is it more A, more B?” as you’re kind of assessing things. This is great. And then what are some of the telltale signs and indicators, “Ooh, this person is in business mode. Okay,” or, “Oh, this person is in relate mode.” What are some of your key…?

Richard Medcalf
I think you can pretty much detect, right? I think it’s kind of leaning forward versus leaning back effectively. Are we leaning forward, getting down, is it, “Okay, are we starting to talk about that always”? Or is it the opposite, actually not so pressed for time? They’re kind of more just interested in you, they haven’t got quite to the topic yet. Even just on their face, right? If they’re kind of smiley, they’d probably be more in relational mode. And if they’re kind of a bit more serious, they’re more in the processing stuff and they want to proceed on their role.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about how I relate to my nanny right now. I’m often in task mode because it’s like, “I’ve got to get this day started. I’ve been with the kids this morning and it’s been fun, but now the time is coming, there’s things to do.” And so, it’s like, “You know, I just changed the diaper and they woke up at this time, and welcome.”

Richard Medcalf
And actually you get from home.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. But then every once in a while, it’s sort of like the exception, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, how is it going? How’s your weekend?” I think that can be your indicator right there in terms of, “How was your weekend?” and they say, “Oh, it’s fine. We fixed our furnace.” Like, “Okay, that’s a quick fact.” As opposed to, “Oh, we just had the loveliest time. My mom came into town and she brought this delicious chili.” And I guess at the same time, and then sometimes I guess there’s a whole continuum as well. Like, some people maybe kind of overshare, it’s like, “Oh, I was just kind of being polite. I didn’t expect this level of detail about what you ate for each meal over the course of your weekend.”

Richard Medcalf
So, the match and lead, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yes, so match and lead in those situations. So, matching is if they’re being relational, be relational. But then if you don’t want to stay there, then you can move the subject on.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I’ve heard that before, I was like, “Well, boy, I could talk about chili for a couple hours.” But, Richard, I want to make sure that we figure out the key principles of influence, so that’s good.

Richard Medcalf
Yes. So, you’re talking here about environment as well, about presence and productivity. It’s really about, “What environment are we going into and what’s appropriate?” So, for example, if you’re going into basically some social setting, it might be a business social setting, it might be lunch break or whatever, and everyone is kind of chatting about social stuff, or they’re networking, or whatever they’re doing. And, suddenly, you walk up to your colleague and you start giving them all, “Oh, I got to catch up on the project, A, B, and C,” right? It’s just like, “What are you doing that for? Look around you, it’s not the right moment,” and that can create awkward stuff.

But we do it all the time. We get off the phone, we walk into the house, we’re on the phone, our family is happy to see us, and we’re still in task mode and we’re not present. Or the boss who has an open-door policy. I tend to say to a leader, “Don’t have an open-door policy. Be very intentional about when do you need to do your focused-work, when you need to do your task-level work, and actually when do you actually, when are you going to look up and actually be totally present for people?” So, actually have a smaller window but where you’re not secretly a bit annoyed if somebody walked in because you really are halfway through an email you need to finish. Because I think we can have an open-door policy, often you don’t quite focus on your work you’re meant to be doing, you’re not quite focused on the person who wants your attention unless you’re very, very disciplined.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Richard, I’m really liking this. Do you have some slides, diagrams, charts, tables? Because it really seems like I’m seeing two columns and, like, side by side to make this contrast come alive. Do you have that? Can you make that? Can we link to that? I’m putting you on the spot.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Yes, so I’ve actually already got a little thing on influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Richard Medcalf
Which is basically a three-step very simple process based on this kind of framework I’ve been explaining, very simple process to figure out. Who, right now, do you need most to exert your influence with? And where are you and where do you need to get to? What is the lever that you really need to focus on to do that? And so, I’ve set it up already. I can add in a couple of extra slides based on this conversation. But if you go to my, for the show notes, my company, Xquadrant.com/awesome and that’ll be there for you and for everybody there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I appreciate that. And, boy, we had some fun getting deep into it. Tell me, Richard, anything you wanted to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Richard Medcalf
I think we’ve covered a lot. I think perhaps there’s one little extra thing which is almost another topic in itself, but I think it could really help, which is that sometimes we know there is a moment of truth, as I call it, when we need to step up and have influence. It’s a meeting, it’s a presentation, it’s one of those keys, perhaps it’s a high-stakes situation. And sometimes we can do the four Cs and we can map it out and everything, but, it’s like, “How am I going to show up more powerfully in that moment?”

And what I find is really powerful and is probably along the conversation, but it’s about deciding who do you want to be rather than the techniques. And so, I’ll give you a personal example. I’m a big Queen fan, the rock band Queen, ever since I was a teenager. I got into the band, I played electric guitar because I got inspired by them, everything else. And at one stage, it occurred to me that I really respected Freddie Mercury’s ability to be bold and be flamboyant and really communicate with the back of mass of stadium in an epoch where a lot of rock bands were very kind of like trying to be cool and not really moving around and so forth, and he just went for it and he totally embodied his message.

And so, somebody once said to me, “Hey, Richard, actually, you should be like Freddie Mercury of consulting,” or whatever they said, and I kind of took that away. And, actually, for me, that’s a really powerful kind of alter ego that I can use, which is when I’m about to go into a meeting, a presentation, I kind of think, “Okay, can I release a bit of my inner Freddie Mercury in this moment and be a bit less in my head? I can get very intellectual and a bit kind of in my head. How can I embody this, be totally, powerfully demonstrating the message that I bring, not being afraid, not like doing a half-baked thing, but totally all in in this moment?”

And so, for me, it’s just a really simple shift but it helps me kind of get into that zone. And so, I think sometimes it can be helpful. And it’s not being inauthentic. It’s just another part of my personality. I already have a bit of that slightly extravagant side to me. I don’t mind prancing around. I mean, I don’t prance in front my clients. You know what I mean? I won’t play any guitar in front of another party or whatever. I don’t mind that kind of stuff. So, it’s a bit a part of me but it’s a reminder to bring out this part of me that’s kind of latent or perhaps that I’ve been trained not to use in certain circumstances.

And it has an impact because, actually, I’m fully living my message in that moment where I’m freely delivering what I’m there to say. And so, I think that my influence goes up in that moment because it’s like, “Wow, this guy is really on. He really believes what he’s saying. He’s there.” And I think we all have perhaps those moments where we know, oh, perhaps we’re too hesitant, or perhaps we’re too bold, perhaps we need to be the more smoother relational individual rather than the abrupt decision-making machine, or whatever it is. But if we just identify that a bit of a name to it, again, it kind of creates that context again for that next interaction.

So, perhaps that’s just another thing that we didn’t talk, which I think could be helpful for people because it’s a powerful tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I totally agree. So, “Who do I need to be or who do I need to be like in this moment?” And we’ve had some guests use some phrases like enclothed cognition, alter egos, psychological Halloweenism, that kind of get after this notion, it’s like, “I am stepping into this role,” whether it’s someone that you admire or fiction or non-fiction. Was someone I want to step into a number of times in high school and college. I’m excited that there will be a TV Series in which he comes back to that role.

Well, thank you. That’s a great extra point in terms of to show up and embody and deliver that. That can be a much more direct path to getting it done. So, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, apart from “Make it so.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there you go.

Richard Medcalf
One of my favorite quotes is by an author called Kary Oberbrunner, he said, “We don’t get what we want. We get who we are.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I recently read this book by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, and he interviewed 80,000 professionals.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that took a long time.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, over his career, he’s been going for many decades, to rate their performance. And he had 98.5% placed themselves in the top half of their peer group, and 70% believe they’re in the top 10%.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Richard Medcalf
I call it the 70/10 fallacy. The point is it’s like I’m thinking, “Oh, my God, yeah, so do I.” He said that just using that to really realize, “Okay, what is it that I need to see in myself that makes part of growth?” And with the CEO, asked them to rate his team from one to ten just how they’re doing, and then we actually looked at their level of self-awareness basically. So, the people actually who were scoring the highest in terms of his evaluation were also the ones who really felt they had to work a lot of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Richard Medcalf
So, it’s actually the ones who felt they had the biggest problems were actually the least problems. The one who felt they’re pretty much sorted were the ones that he was the most concerned about. So, I just love that, so I call it the 70/10 deception, you know, 70% of people think they’re in the top 10%, which I think we need to be aware of that because that’s actually where we live in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. So, thank you for that context. And how about a favorite book?

Richard Medcalf
I think probably 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a gamechanger for me. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we just had John C. Maxwell, yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, I think it’s helpful because it kind of just made me realize how much of our impact starts with us. He has those great phrases, “The leader is the lid,” the leader sets the lid on the whole organization, these kinds of things. It’s just powerful stuff. So, yes, those are probably two. Let’s keep it there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Richard Medcalf
I probably live my life with a mixture of Evernote and Todoist. Those are probably my two kind of structuring apps I guess of my day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Richard Medcalf
My favorite habit, which I’ve learned recently, well, not recently, but I’ve been doing more and more, is breathing out. I’ve just done it and it’s changed already. Breathing out, it just takes you down and it’s also probably a good influence tip, thinking about it. Just by breathing out, you just slow down that a notch, and the gravitas comes a bit more.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a particular nugget you share, I guess a saying, if you will, that you have, and maybe it’s just, “I have a saying”?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, there’s lots of nuggets. I like the one which is “What kind of person has already achieved his goal?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Richard Medcalf
“And then be that person.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, cool. Thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Richard Medcalf
So, I guess my website Xquadrant.com. LinkedIn is where I’m happy to connect with people, on LinkedIn. That’s probably where I publish the most, kind of most of my fresh content and videos and things because most of my clients are kind of there in the business world. Of course, you’ll find me on Twitter, too, a little bit there.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I’d simply say let’s focus on the behaviors. Pick one behavior that you would like to change and don’t actually even worry about changing it but just start to ask yourself every day, “Did I do my best to do that behavior?” and just score it from one to ten, it just raises your awareness, and then just keep scoring it at the end of every day, “Did you do your best?” because that kind of connects to that emotional component. And I think what you’ll find is if you actually stick with it, and if you write down on a piece of paper those numbers from one to ten over a period of time, you’ll find that you just start doing that behavior naturally. It will just start to emerge because you’ve got that little feedback loop.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Richard, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you tons of luck in all the ways you’re influencing.

Richard Medcalf
Pete, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks again for all the great stuff you put out. It’s pretty impressive the amount of material you’ve been able to build up over the years, and it’s such high quality. So, thank you.