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708: The 7 Steps to Winning Others’ Support with Suneel Gupta

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Suneel Gupta says: "If you don't believe what you're saying, then others can't believe."

Suneel Gupta walks through his 7 steps for becoming “backable”–worthy of others backing your ideas.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you don’t need charisma to be backable 
  2. How to make your idea stand out with an “earned secret”
  3. Why you don’t want to have everything figured out 

About Suneel

Suneel Gupta teaches Innovation at Harvard University. His  bestselling book Backable is rooted in Suneel’s journey from a twice-failed entrepreneur to a leader behind two IPOs, and to being named “The New Face of Innovation” by the New York Stock Exchange. Suneel has personally backed startups including Impossible Foods, AirBnB, 23&Me, Calm, and SpaceX. 

Resources Mentioned

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Suneel Gupta Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Suneel, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Suneel Gupta
Pete, it’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to hear your wisdom. And, first, you got to tell us the story about you being the face of failure from New York Times.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, I got a call a few years ago from an organizer of an event, and it was cool for me because at that time I had just started public speaking. Just trying to get up in front of audiences. I really enjoy that type of work. And I get a call and this event organizer says, “Hey, you’ve been nominated twice to speak at this conference.” And I said, “Hey, that’s fantastic. What’s the name of the conference?” And she says, “It’s FailCon,” which stands for Failure Conference.

And let me tell you, Pete, it’s a humbling experience when somebody calls you and says, “Look, we’re doing a conference on failure and we would love for you to be the keynote speaker.” And to make matters worse, I’m up on stage and I didn’t realize this at that time but there was a reporter from the New York Times in the audience, and this reporter decides to do a full-length story on failure, and uses my face as the cover of this article, and the article goes viral. It goes so viral that you could literally have Googled failure at the time and my face would’ve been one of your top search results.

And so, funny enough, I always tell people this, when it comes to writing a book, people tend to come from either the point of view of having a solution or having a problem. And, for me, at that time, I definitely had a problem. And my problem was that when I was inside companies, when I was trying to get jobs, at that time when I was trying to raise funding for my own company, I just wasn’t having any luck. I wasn’t getting people to listen to my ideas. And even when I got inside a room, I was having a very difficult time winning people over.

And that article turned out to be a real gift for me because it opened the door to all these conversations with people who I consider to be the top of their game, extraordinary people from Oscar-winning filmmakers, to celebrity chefs, to CEOs of big companies. And what I learned through the conversations was that coming up with an idea is really only half of sort of the dynamic of being innovative. The other half is really getting people bought into it, and that is much more learned than anything else.

Usually, backable people who I studied were not naturals at this. There was a series of steps that they learned how to take in order to get people excited about their ideas. And once I started to put these practices into play, it really changed everything for me, and I said, “Gosh, I got to put this on paper and share this with other people.” And that formed the basis for the book.

Pete Mockaitis
And, indeed, you put it on paper in the book Backable: The Surprising Truth Behind What Makes People Take a Chance on You. And so, I’d love to go through each of the seven steps and get a little bit of a demo in terms of what does okay look like versus great look like inside these worlds. But could you kick us off by sharing perhaps the most surprising or counterintuitive piece of your approach?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, one of the things I really expected to find is that backable people were going to be just generally charismatic. And as I started to sort of broaden the spectrum and I looked at backable people everywhere from all different fields, I thought they were going to have a certain style of communication. They were going to be people who had great eye contact, and great hand gestures, and just did all the sort of things we think about when it comes to great speakers, but more and more, I found that to not be the case.

And I would venture to say, Pete, that probably the majority of backable people that I was able to study did not have the classic communication styles that we might expect. But what I did find is a common denominator, is that it wasn’t charisma. It was conviction. Backable people took the time to convince themselves of their own ideas, and then they let that conviction shine through in whatever communication style it is that feels most natural to them.

And so, just a couple of examples. One is you just go back and watch the original launch of the iPhone. So, this is the 2007 Steve Jobs product launch. And what you might be surprised to find is that it doesn’t come off as charismatic or at least classically charismatic as we might remember. He uses the word “uh” over 80 times in that speech, he’s staring down at his feet quite a bit, and he kind of sort of almost wanders a little bit here and there. And, again, it’s not a crisp sort of TED-style presentation.

Or, let’s take another example from TED itself. If you look at the number one most popular TED Talk of all time right now, what you’ll find is…

Pete Mockaitis
How to get some creativity?

Suneel Gupta
Sir Ken Robinson, exactly. Sir Ken Robinson, it’s a brilliant, brilliant talk but what we might be surprised by is that it’s just not sort of a classic TED-style presentation. Sir Ken Robinson, he has one hand in his pocket, he sort of meanders on and off script, he naturally walked with a bit of a hunch and so he’s got a bit of a slouch as he stands up there on stage, but it’s an amazing presentation.

And, again, the reason that I bring that up is because, oftentimes, when we think about winning people over, when we think about sort of being inside a room, we focus on these classic communication styles – make direct eye contact, use specific hand gestures – but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I found more to be the case of figure out what your natural style is, but then build conviction around that. Take the time to convince yourself first because if you don’t believe in what you’re saying, then they can’t believe.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, so that is step one, convince yourself. And so, let’s kind of walk through all seven of those. But while we’re talking about convince yourself, I think I look back on my own entrepreneurial journey. I think I’ve been too good at convincing myself. I talked myself into some things. I had some natural enthusiasm and passion for the thing, but I think I talked myself into pursuing initiatives that, on second thought, probably should’ve done a better job validating the value proposition upfront and maybe gone in another direction. So, how do we think about convincing ourselves versus not deluding ourselves, shall we say?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think it is a balance. One of the ways I try to think about this is you don’t want to share your idea too early. And so, when we talk about convincing ourselves first, we want to build enough conviction where we feel comfortable getting into a room and people can poke holes at our ideas and we don’t immediately get deflated.

Because here’s the thing, what we found is that, especially if you look inside big companies and the way that ideas are shared, most ideas actually don’t get killed inside the conference room, they don’t get killed inside formal meetings. They get killed inside casual conversations around the water cooler, or through side conversations, or in the parking lot. That’s where the vast majority of great ideas end up sort of finding their stop.

Why is that? Well, typically, it’s because when we come up with something, we tend to sort of blurt out the idea right as it comes up, and we get really excited about it but then we look around the room, or we look on the screen the way you and I are right now, and we see that the other person isn’t quite as excited about the idea as we are. And when that happens, it can be a very deflating experience.

And so, when we think about convincing ourselves, it’s not saying, “Hey, I’m no matter what wedded to this idea,” but it’s building up enough conviction where we feel like we can walk into a room and not be afraid of the possibilities and sort of the challenges that will come up. So, one fun way to think about it is when you are in that moment when you get excited about an idea, just asking yourself, “Is this a chocolate M&M or is this a peanut M&M?”

A chocolate M&M, if you squeeze a chocolate M&M, it cracks immediately. A peanut M&M is not a piece of steel but you can squeeze it, other people can squeeze it, and it’s not going to break immediately. Again, you’re not looking for it to be bullet-proof but you’re looking to put a peanut inside. And so, one of the things we talk about in the book is backable people have sort of learned to kind of ask themselves that question in the heat of moment, right before they are about to share an idea. They sort of ask themselves that question, “Chocolate M&M versus peanut M&M.”

If it’s chocolate M&M, they’ll resist the temptation to share in that moment and go take, what we call in the book, incubation time to put peanut inside. And that can be done through all forms of things. It could be through drawing out your idea, it could be through taking long walks and thinking about the idea, it could be journaling. I know, Pete, that’s something you like to do as well. And so, there are many ways to do that, but, again, it really comes back to that moment of resisting the temptation to share an idea too early because, oftentimes, that can be the death knell of some really creative things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you convince yourself first, you take some time before putting it out there because if you put it out there too early, they might deflate you before you’re able to take a hard look at the stuff in advance and kind of get inoculated, you’re like, “Oh.” It’s so funny. I had an idea for…it was basically Airbnb. I had this with a couple of my friends, actually.

And then I think we talked to a consulting friend of ours who worked at Hyatt, he moved on, he said, “Oh, my gosh, you could have some crazy liabilities. Say, a crime happens or someone’s stuff gets stolen,” and we’re like, “Oh, yeah. Yeah, you’re right. That sounds really risky.” We just let it go. And he’s like, “And, oh, Couchsurfing is already a thing, and that’s not a really big deal, and people do it for free. It’s kind of a fun vibe.” It was like, “Okay, there’s Couchsurfing and there’s liability, oh, never mind. Oops.”

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, exactly. And I think that it’s so much better when…By the way, all those things your friends brought up, they’re all valid. They weren’t invalid objections, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Liabilities, for sure.

Suneel Gupta
All that stuff is real, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a reason not to do it. And what ends up happening is that when someone points out an objection that we haven’t thought of ourselves, what that tends to have is a lot more charge to it. It just tends to have much more of a deflating effect versus if you’ve gone through, then you’ve actually thought through some of these objections yourself, and you walk into the room knowing that, “Hey, this, this, and this may come up.”

They probably will come up but they’re not going to have as much of a charge to them. You’re going to have thought through, “Hey, yeah, that is a thing. Maybe here are a couple of things that we need to consider as a result of that.” And, again, you’re able to walk in and have a discussion rather than the sort of, again, crossing your fingers, hoping they’re not going to point out something that you haven’t thought of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is great, and the answer to liability is insurance, that insurance writers love to take that on for a price. And so, it’s not a deal killer; it’s just, “Oh, that’s a new thing.” And you’re right, well-said in terms of having less charge when you think about it yourself as opposed to, “Oh, the super smart guy who was a director at Hyatt thinks that this is a big thing, then it must be a really big thing.” Yeah, well-said.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, and I think, also, gosh, the curse of knowledge is just so important to factor in here because, oftentimes, and what we mean by that is, look, the deeper we go into a subject matter, we are going to be more resistant to innovative ideas in that matter because we know how hard it is. I was talking to somebody the other day, who was an investor, and he comes from a financial tech background, really knocked it out of the park in that space, actually started a company, in one of the sorts of original fintech companies, had a massive exit.

And then I was talking to him about what it’s like to be an investor, and he said, “Look, you know what, I’ve passed on every single great fintech deal. I passed on PayPal, I passed on Square, I passed on Stripe because I had this knowledge of how hard it really is to do a fintech company that that sort of got in my way from taking a risk on these other ideas.”

And the point here is that, look, oftentimes, when we come up with something, you come up with an idea in the housing space, you came up with an idea for Airbnb, you went immediately, as most people would, to somebody who kind of knows that space, you went to a friend at Hyatt. And that person is going to tell you what they have discovered, which, in most cases, is going to be reasons not to do something because they’ve spent a lot of time.

And, Pete, it all comes back to something I know that is probably obvious but worth restating, which is that the fresher an idea, the newer an idea, the less obvious it’s going to be. And that’s the trap that I think we sort of fall into whether we’re an entrepreneur or whether we work inside a big company and we’re trying to do things that are unique and cool and different, is that those tend to be the ideas that make the biggest difference, but they also tend to be the hardest ideas to sell.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s great. Well, we’re just on step one here. So, we talked about convincing yourself. Could you maybe give us a quick overview of steps two through seven? And then we’ll spend a couple minutes hearing a bit of detail for each.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, sure. So, step one was to convince yourself first. Step two is to cast a central character. So, what we mean by that is who is the person you’re trying to serve, and sort of bringing them into the story and making them the hero of your story. The third is to find an earned secret. So, this is something that you have gone out and you’ve learned that most people probably don’t know. And there’s lots of examples of how to do that, and we can get into that.

The next is to make it feel inevitable. So, instead of just making a new idea feel fresh and exciting, you also want to make it feel inevitable, that we’re inevitably heading in a certain direction. The fifth is that we want to flip outsiders into insiders. So, how do we actually make people feel like they are a part of the idea. Another way to think about this is, “How do we make people feel like they’re builders instead of buyers?”

The sixth is to play exhibition matches, and these are practice sessions before you walk into the final event, playing lots and lots of these exhibition matches, and there are specific ways on how to do this effectively. Then the final is to let go of your ego. So, the ego can very much get in the way when it comes to creating new ideas, and we really unpack that and talk about how to get around it. So, those are the seven.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, could you maybe give us a demonstration then in terms of how an abbreviated pitch might go, and then kind of annotate it for us, like, “Hey, see, that was step two, we cast a central character. Oh, and that was step three. See that earned secret?” so we kind of see it in action?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah. I’ll give you sort of the Michael Dubin Dollar Shave Club pitch. And for those of you who aren’t familiar, Dollar Shave Club was an online razor blade company that sort of expanded from there, sold for a billion dollars to Gillette, but it’s sort of a folklore story in a startup world. I think the thing that isn’t well known is that Michael Dubin struggled quite a bit to get a lot of funding for his company, to get investors to care at all.

And one of the ways that Michael Dubin sort of thought about this, and one of the ways that he was able to flip investors who didn’t care to saying yes – and, by the way, I think this is important whoever you are, you don’t have to be an entrepreneur – is he took people through the storyboard of what happens to his target customer.

So, one of the first things that he did was he went out and he built conviction behind this idea by actually thinking about, “What is it that my customer actually goes through?” And he literally storyboarded this at home. And then he would go to the stores and he would watch people in action, and then when he was in front of investors, he sort of walked them through the storyboard of, “Hey, my average customer is a 20-something male, who cares a lot more about his health than his father ever did, and that includes what he puts in his body, that includes what he puts on his body. And he’s used to a certain level of convenience when it comes to buying products.”

“But all of that sort of goes out the door the moment that he sort of thinks about buying razor blades because, now, he goes to this sort of pharmacy or grocery store, he has to locate the aisle that these are in. When he finally locates the product, he realizes that, in many cases, it’s behind a locked security case. He has to push a button in order to get somebody’s attention. He waits there until an annoyed worker sort of shows up, unlocks the security case, and, by the way, everybody is sort of watching, and behind that case isn’t just razor blades but there’s condoms and there’s laxatives, and nobody knows exactly what you’re there to buy, but now all attention is sort of on you.”

“He unlocks the case and then sort of watches over your shoulder as you make this purchasing decision.” And that is so fundamentally different than the way that this generation, the way that his target customer was used to buying products. And so, when we he went in with the pitch of, “Hey, we want to disrupt a multi-billion-dollar industry through an online platform,” it didn’t do very well.

But when he shifted that to, “This is the moment-by-moment experience, and here’s how we’re going to change that,” it really shifted the way that investors sort of looked at him. Because, as it turns out, stories sort of bring us in, and then substance sort of keeps us there. So, if he were to stop there in that pitch and just ended it, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere. But when he went from there, it’s like, “Look, there are millions of young men who are going through this experience every single week, and that’s translating to this number of dollars and this amount of market share, and this is what we can pick up.”

And so, he’s bringing them in with story, he’s keeping them there with substance. Convincing himself first, casting a central character, and let’s go through some of the other…we’ll go through some of the other principles too, and we can show how this story relates.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it, yeah. And so then, that earned secret. So, you highlight some information that goes beyond Google or what just about everybody would know. And, in a way, that story, in and of itself, has you thinking, like, “Yeah, you know what, you’re right. It does kind of take a lot to get these razors. Haven’t thought about it.” So, I don’t know if that counts quite…well, you tell me. Is that earned enough or do we have some more juicy insider info to go for there?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, I think the key thing with an earned secret is I would underline the word earned. And the reason for that is you want to show, when you walk into a room, whether that be for an interview, whether that be for a product presentation, team presentation, whatever it is, that you had sort of put yourself into the story in a way that most people have not because that counts for a lot.

I was talking to somebody, this was shortly before I published my book, so her story is not in the book, but she was talking about how she was returning to the workforce. She was a single mom and returning to the workforce and ready to sort of get a job, and she’d found a role at a company that sounded perfect for her except for one thing. And that is that she wasn’t really a user of the product but the role itself was perfect, and she was very excited about this.

Most people in that situation would do the following. They would research the company, they would maybe download the product onto their phone, start playing with it a little bit, and then they would go into the interview and start asking some questions, and be prepared as much as they possibly can be. She did something unique, which is that she talked to every single one of her daughters’ friends because this is very much like a Gen-Z social product, and she talked to every single one of their friends. She interviewed them about what they liked, about what they didn’t like, she took careful notes.

And then when she walked into this interview, she walked in with all these observations, all these sorts of insights. And this hiring manager that was talking to her was so impressed that not only did she get the job, but right in the middle of the interview, he ended up patching in one of their UX designers because a couple of the things that she had found and discovered through these interviews were things that actually were not on top of their mind, and it was coming from a very fresh voice, and she was able to sort of come in with this earned sense of information.

And, by the way, these don’t need to be sort of big monumental things. They can, oftentimes, be small. But I think the key is that asking yourself when you go into a situation, “What’s the sort of typical level of research that people would do to prepare for this moment?” Again, whether it’s an interview, or a pitch, or a presentation, it’s figure out how to go one step further. It could be test driving a competitor’s product, it could be talking to customers, but just doing something that ordinarily most people wouldn’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. I’m reminded we interviewed Ramit Sethi, and he calls this the briefcase technique because you, like, dramatically remove slides, or research, or something. You sort of have like a deliverable inside your bag, and most people don’t, and they’re just like, “Wow, this person…we’re impressed.” And it can often lead to great opportunities opening up there. That’s good.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, one of the people that I talked to for the book is a guy named Jonathan Karp, who was a publisher, and he really wanted Howard Stern to write a book, but Howard Stern had no interest in writing another book. He had already written a couple of bestsellers, and he was like, “It’s a lot of work. I really don’t want to do this.” And Karp kept asking him, he was year after year, he continued to be on Howard Stern’s tail about the idea of, like, “You got to write a book.”

And, finally, Karp decides to do something really clever and unique, which is that he thought to himself, “Most of what Howard Stern would end up writing is already kind of out there. It’s going to be sort of a summation of a lot of the interviews that he’s done. So, why don’t we take the transcripts of those interviews, then why don’t we actually sort of extract what we think could be really good content for a book, then we’ll actually create the book?”

And so, the next time that he actually goes and pitches to Howard Stern on the idea of writing a book, which Howard Stern is prepared again to say, “Gosh, I’ve told you many times I don’t want to write a book,” right in that moment, Jonathan Karp literally pulls out a finished book, a leather-bound book, and says, “Look, Howard, I know one of your objections to all these is that you don’t want to write a book, but we’ve kind of just taken the liberty of writing 90% of it for you.”

“All you got to do is write an opener, write some the language around some of these interviews, and you got yourself a book,” which, of course, it ended up being a lot more work than that, but what Howard Stern said was, “Look, I was so in that moment, I was so intoxicated by the effort, so intoxicated by effort that Jonathan Karp had put into this process that I could not say no.”

And that’s kind of, in some ways, how you want people to feel inside the room, which is like, again, you have intoxicated them with effort. You’ve gone out and done things that most people wouldn’t do, then you’ve taken insights from that experience and you’ve brought that into the room.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, let’s hear about step four, make it feel inevitable.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, this is a big one because I think that, oftentimes, when we think about new ideas, we get excited about how shiny it is, and we want to talk about why it’s exciting. But the thing that is important I think to realize is that, as human beings, we tend not to be risk takers. We don’t like to take risks. And that’s true even, I have found, Pete, for people who take risk for a living. You look at venture capitalists, you look at Hollywood producers, people who are betting on uncertainty, they don’t like to take risks either. It’s really, in the vast majority of the cases, it’s just something that they sort of accept as part of their job but they’ll do whatever they can to sort of de-risk a project.

And so, this sort of, I think, gets to a Noble Prize-winning theory around loss aversion, that the pain that we get from making a bad decision is twice as powerful as the pleasure that we get from making the right decision. And if you keep that in mind when you walk into a room to pitch someone anything new, we’re not just trying to sell them on why an idea is good. We’re also trying to make sure that we cover sort of why an idea might be bad, and making sure that we can sort of minimize that risk. And one of the ways that we can do that is by talking about why an idea is inevitable. Not why it’s new but why it’s inevitably going to happen.

There was an executive that I talked to at Comcast who talked about this idea of having Comcast not be just a service that’s inside the home but outside the home as well, connected over mobile, which, today, is like one of those, yeah, that’s sort of a passe sort of idea. But ten years ago, when he was sort of inside Comcast trying to get people behind the idea, it was actually very hard because there were a lot of people who were sort of wedded to the idea, they’re like, “Look, we’re an in-home business and we don’t want to dilute ourselves, we don’t want to focus on anything else.”

And he continued to sort of pound the table on the idea of, like, “Look, this is new, this is exciting,” and he wasn’t getting anywhere. But when he re-jiggered the presentation to show a couple of things, everything changed. And those couple of things were, “Here’s what’s happening in Europe. And Europe tends to be a few years ahead of us when it comes to mobile, and they’ve started to have these integrated services, which tell us that, look, if history continues to repeat itself, we’re going to be heading in that direction.”

The second thing was there were certain sort of plays that some competitors were making that were starting to hint at the idea that they were going to have an integrated service as well. And when he combined that in his presentation, he showed, “Hey, look, this isn’t where I think the world is going. This is where the world is going, and I think we need to get ahead of it or we’re going to get left behind.” That’s when executives started to change their minds, that’s when people started to get bought into this idea of, “Look, we don’t want to miss out,” because we all sort of have that fear.

I think if you believe that fear is one of the biggest things that we need to sort of face when we’re trying to sell people on anything new, well, then we can’t neutralize fear with excitement. We sort of, in some ways, have to neutralize fear with fear, and, in this case, it’s the fear of missing out.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in making it feel inevitable, it’s not just a matter of saying, “Hey, here’s the trend,” but rather, “Hey, here is overwhelmingly the trend, and woe to us if we don’t get on board with that.”

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, and I don’t think it necessarily need to be overwhelming either. I think that it gets easier if it’s overwhelming, and you can point to, “Hey, this is obviously going to happen,” but a lot of times it’s not obvious but there are indicators that things are going to happen, that you start to see little signals of that.

You look at sort of Zappos, for example, as a company. There wasn’t a lot that they could show at that time in terms of trends but there were little datapoints, like there was the notion that Amazon was expanding beyond just books, and they were expanding to get at products. That wasn’t necessarily at the time.

Today, again, that sounds obvious. At the time, it didn’t but there were little datapoints that were showing, to say, “Look, not only is this growing in a certain category, not only are we selling books online, we’re going to be selling other things online. There are all these sorts of niches out there.” Or, back to your example about Airbnb. When Airbnb went into the room, they didn’t really have another Airbnb to point to but they had Couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing was starting to pick up and there were 600,00 or so listings on Couchsurfing, and there was a lot of activity around sort of Airbnb-like offerings happening on Craigslist. Again, these aren’t necessarily overwhelming datapoints but they collected enough of these datapoints to show that, like, in combination, there’s something happening here.

In the book, we talk about putting on your anthropologist hat because that’s effectively what you’re doing at this stage. You are sort of looking at the direction the world is heading, and that can be hard sometimes for people because whenever we get excited about an idea, we want to just stay focused on that idea, and we want to say, “Our idea is going to change the world.” Whereas, I think what backable people are doing is they’re saying, “Well, here’s the way the world is changing through these datapoints, and then here’s how my idea would fit into that change.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you. Well, let’s hear about step five, flip outsiders into insiders.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, this is one of my favorites because we, oftentimes, think that when we go into a room, we need to have sort of a bullet-proof presentation, and the more bullet-proof our presentation, the more backable it’s going to be. But the more and more I look at sort of the way that backable people were operating, what I realized is that they didn’t have that at all. They would walk in with a pretty clear vision of what they wanted to do but they wouldn’t have every single detail necessarily sorted out, and that was on purpose.

And the reason for that is because you want to bring people in when you’re inside a room. You want people to feel like they are part of it as well. And one my favorite stories from the book is the story of Betty Crocker, and how in the 1940s, they came up with the idea of cake mix. And they had done all the focused group testing, and the believed that cake mixes were just going to be like this hot sensational product. And so, they were shocked, like all the executives at Betty Crocker were shocked when they found out that cake mix was just not selling, and they couldn’t figure out why.

And so, they hired this psychologist named Ernest Dichter to go out into the field and start interviewing homemakers. And what Dichter founds out, what he comes back with was, “I think you have made the process of making a cake too simple, too easy, because you have basically removed the customer from the creative process. All they have to do is pour water into a mix and then they pop it into the oven, and the cake comes out of the oven, and they don’t really feel like it’s theirs. They don’t really feel ownership over it.”

So, Dichter has a recommendation, and the recommendation is, “Why don’t you remove one key ingredient and see what happens?” And so, they do, they removed the egg. And so, now, if you are a customer, you have to go out and you have to buy fresh eggs, you have to crack them into the mix, and you stir it in, and then you pop it into the oven, and sales completely take off. Because, now, when the cake comes out of the oven, people actually felt like ownership of the cake. They felt like it was theirs too.

And researchers have unpacked this over and over again. There’s a group out of Harvard that calls this the IKEA effect. And the IKEA effect basically tells us that we place up to five times the amount of value on something that we help build than something that we simply buy off the shelf, because we made it ourselves. So, what does this have anything to do with innovation or ideas?

I think, Pete, we kind of have been told that innovation is a two-step formula. You come up with a great idea and then you execute on it well, but there’s this hidden step in between. And this hidden step is where we get other people, we get fellow employees, we get bosses, we get investors, we get shareholders, we get other people involved before it reaches execution stage where the idea is still imperfect, where they get to crack their own egg into the mix and be part of it so that way, when we show up to execution phase, we actually show up together.

And I believe you can trace, literally, every product, every successful product, every successful business, every successful political movement, back to this hidden step, where we know it wasn’t just one person, we know it wasn’t just the person that came up with the idea. It was a group of people who felt founder-level ownership over that idea even though they didn’t come up with the idea itself because they were able to be a part of it from the earliest stages.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, in the Betty Crocker example, you let them crack an egg into it, and so, likewise, if you’re putting forward a proposal to folks, you don’t want to have everything nailed down. So, let’s just say, someone brought up, like, “Hey, what about liability?” It’s like, “Hey, you’re right. That’s going to be a key issue we need to solve, and we’d love your expertise to help.” Is that kind of the vibe that you’re going for?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, and I think you can go one step beyond that, which is like, Pete, if I’m coming to pitch you on an idea, and you are an expert at taking content, great content, at creating great content and distributing it. And maybe I have an idea for something that requires that, ultimately is going to require that. I would come into the room and to say, “Look, we’ve got a few details figured out here. But, Pete, one thing actually we don’t have figured out is how are we actually going to craft this in a way that people are going to listen, that people are actually going to watch. And I know that that’s something you’ve been focused on. We’d love to get your thoughts on that.”

Now, a couple things to keep in mind. That does not mean that I haven’t spent my own time thinking about what the answer might be. It takes a lot more preparation to have a discussion than to give a presentation because I have to ask you the right questions, I have to pull you in the right way, I have to be able to go back and forth with you, you’re going to say something, you’re going to have an answer to that question, and I’m going to want to ask follow-up questions.

And so, there’s a lot more preparation that goes into the details that you don’t know than the details you know, which I know it sounds counterintuitive but it’s really important to know, which is you’re not sort of shrugging your shoulders or hand-waving at sort of these unknowns. You’re actually spending real time thinking about that, uncovering the possibilities, thinking through pros and cons, but the difference is you’re not coming to the room, saying, “I absolutely believe that this is the right way to go for every single detail.” You’re saying, “I think I have these details figured out, but I don’t have these details figured out. Let’s talk through them.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how do you recommend we do the step six, play exhibition matches?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, exhibition matches, I think, were surprising for me because, again, I look at backable people and I felt like, originally, these are people who are just, off the cuff, who were just naturally great communicators. And what I found is that people who tend to be off the cuff, people who come off with more of sort of an improvisational style, they actually tend to be the product of lots and lots and lots of practice. And it’s that lots of practice that actually lets them be off the cuff, which I know sounds a little bit weird but let me share what I learned.

When we practice something enough, what it allows us to do is it allows us to sort of loosen the grip on our script. Because, oftentimes, when we walk into a room, we walk in with a script. We have a sense of what we want to say and we kind of sort of almost follow that script. But the problem with that is that there’s always something that’s going to come up, a question that we didn’t expect, or an interruption, or something’s going to happen, and it’s really our ability to adapt to those moments. It’s really our ability to adapt to those moments that create these sorts of backable situations where a tough question is answered, and where we sort of go off script and we start having a discussion about something else. Then that’s really when we start to win audiences over.

The other thing is this. Like, I thought if you practice something, by the way, the average person that I talk to for this book, practice something 21 times before they got into a room, that could be for an interview, that could be for a pitch, but 21 practice sessions. Then there were a couple of things to keep in mind when they were doing these practice sessions. The first thing is that, really, no venue is too small.

Like, you can ask anyone for a practice session. That could be a friend, that could be a family member, but the key is that when you’re doing this practice session, you want to deliver it as if it’s the real thing. You don’t want to give sort of editorial or commentary, and say like, “So, hey, what I’m planning on doing is I’m planning on walking them through this and then I was going to go through that.” You actually want to give it as if it’s the real thing because you’re building the muscle memory that you want inside the room.

The second thing is it’s really important to be able to get good feedback. So, when you’re finished with the practice sessions, say, you’re pitching like a colleague, a friendly colleague, before you walk into the room to talk to somebody who’s leading the team. When you’re getting that feedback, what we typically tend to ask is the question, “Hey, so what did you think?” That’s the typical question we ask. And when we ask that question, we very rarely get the kind of feedback we need to make ourselves better. It’s kind of an imprecise question, people may want to be nice so they may not give you the feedback that you need.

A better question to ask is, “What stood out to you the most? Of what you just heard, what stood out to you the most?” Now, they have to sort of think through the highlights of the moments that really resonated or landed. But the question I like even more is, “How would you describe what you just heard to someone else? Like, what would be the headline of what you just heard?” And what I find is when I ask people to do that, the description that they have, in a lot of cases, is actually better than what I had.

Like, I’ll learn a new way of how to describe my own idea. Like, when I was coming up with the idea for Backable I went to Daniel Pink, another author who’s written a few great books that I really like, and I shared my idea, and it was pretty half-baked at the time. But then I asked him, like, “How would you describe this to someone else?” And one of the things he said was, “I would say that the most exceptional people aren’t just brilliant, they’re backable.” And that ended up becoming sort of one of the taglines of the book, and literally is on the back cover of my book. So, I really appreciate the idea of asking people, “How would you describe this to someone else?”

The final thing I’ll say about this, Pete, about exhibition matches and practicing over and over again, is one of my big hiccups, one of the reasons I was skeptical about this, is because I felt like, “Well, if you practice something 21 times, isn’t that going to make you robotic? Isn’t that going to make you sound too sort of planned or scripted?” But what I found is that the opposite tends to happen. Because when you’ve mastered your material at that level, you really understand what you want to communicate, what you want to say, and sort of the ways you want to get there.

What that allows you to do is it allows you to sort of drop the script when you’re inside the room. You’d be fully tuned in, be fully present with the other people who are there. And when you’re fully present at that level, it allows you to pick up on cues that you may not otherwise pick up on. Oftentimes, you see people who walk into a room and they have a set of slides to get through, and they just sort of get through those slides.

But when you’re fully tuned into what’s happening inside the room, you can pick up on little gestures, like little, “Oh, I’m pretty sure they did not get that part, so I’m going to spend a little longer on that,” or, “I’m pretty sure that’s an area where they’re really excited about, so I’m going to double-down on that or maybe come back to it later on.” And being tuned into that level is really what tends to create these backable moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And then with 21 practice sessions, that’s plenty, and I think that’s encouraging. It’s funny, it’s both daunting and encouraging in terms of, “Oh, you don’t think you’re polished quite yet? Well, how many practice runs have you done? Oh, three. Well, to be expected. There’s a long way to go.” I find that oddly comforting.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah. Well, look, 21 does seem daunting, for sure. And the way that I sort of like to think about it is, the other way that somebody pointed out to me, I still remember the first time I started to hear about exhibition matches is the former chief technology officer of Pixar, and spent 20 years at the company, and so he spent a good amount of his time sort of bringing together all these disparate groups – technology, and business, and storytelling, and creative, and design.

So, he’s telling me about the idea of practicing 21 times, and I told him about the time that I went in to interview for a role at Square, the company Square, and my interview was with Jack Dorsey. And I told him about how I just bombed that interview, completely bombed it, completely tanked it.

And even though I kind of knew the answers to all of Dorsey’s questions, the role was for a product role, I’d spent a bunch of time working in product development, I kind of just knew the content but I bombed the interview. And I asked him why, “Like, why did that happen? Tell me, Oren, why did that happen?” And he said, “Well, how much time did you spend preparing for that?” And I said, “Well, I wrote out some questions for him. I spent a bunch of time researching the company.”

And he’s like, “Yeah, but preparing, like that was preparing. But how much time did you spend practicing, actually practicing what you’re going to say?” And I said, “None. I didn’t practice what I was going to say. I didn’t do any mock interviews or anything like that.” And he’s like, “Let me ask you a question. When you were in law school,” because he knew I went to law school, “how much time would you spend preparing for a test?” And I was like, “I don’t know. I would do practice tests. I would do probably spend at least 10, 20 hours preparing for a law school examination.”

And he’s like, “So, let me get this straight. You spent all that time preparing for a law school test, for a single law school test, that may or may not have had a true influence on your career. But for an interview with Jack Dorsey, you didn’t spend any time actually practicing before that interview.” And it was like sort of this punch in the gut moment where I was like, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” So, yeah, we spend a lot of time, I think, preparing for these moments, but we don’t spend enough time practicing for these moments, 21 times.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And the final step, let go of your ego.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, let go of your ego is about making it about somebody else. Like, who are you there to serve? How is this about somebody else? One of the best pieces of advice that I think about all the time before I walk into a room, and I think as I talk to different audiences now, I always get really positive sort of feedback on like, “Wow, that one thing really changed things for me.” It was like when you walk into a room to give a pitch or a presentation or an interview, whatever it might be, you’re going to feel like the spotlight is on you, normally. You are the person delivering the content.

Find a way to take that spotlight and to put it on something else. Put it on someone else, ideally. That could be the person you’re there to serve, that could be the primary customer of the company. But how do you take sort of everything you’re talking about and make it about someone else? So, if it’s an interview, it could be knowing who the customer is, like knowing deeply who that customer is, and then walking in as somebody who’s looking to serve that customer. Every question you’re answering, everything you’re doing is about the service to that customer.

If you’re there to pitch an idea for a company, again, who is the person you’re trying to serve, who is the central character, and making it about that person. It’s taking the spotlight that’s on you and putting it on someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Suneel, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Suneel Gupta
I will say that one of the things I continue to hear is that, especially as we’re coming out of the pandemic now, is so many people are looking to start new ventures. They’re looking to do something new. And that doesn’t necessarily, by the way, means starting a company, leaving a company, and starting a new one. It could be starting a new venture inside the company as well.

But one of the things I hear often are three words, which is, “I’m not ready for that just yet. I’m not ready.” Three common words. And the thing that I would leave you with is as I went and studied all of these people, backable people from all different fields, none of them were really ready. None of them were really ready to do what they did.

Three friends from design school were not ready to start Airbnb. A mid-level talent manager wasn’t ready to start SoulCycle. A 15-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden wasn’t ready to build an environmental movement but today, Greta Thunberg, is Time magazine’s youngest ever person of the year. And, sure, there were setbacks and there were failures and there were mistakes along the way, but I think the mantra that they all tended to adopt in their own way, which I try to remember as well, is that the opposite of success is not failure; it’s boredom.

So, let’s run with the things that make us come alive and let’s bring good people along the way to join us along the path, because, if there’s anything that I’ve learned, wherever you are listening to this, you are ready.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, how about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Suneel Gupta
Long-term success often comes from short-term setbacks.

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

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, there was a great experiment that was done in the 1980s at Dartmouth University, and it was called The Scar Experiment. Well, basically, what they did is they asked people to come into a room, a group of people, and, one by one, they would put a scar, an artificial scar, on their face. And then they would send them into another room where they would interact with other folks.

But there was a trick, which was right before they walked into the other room, they would say to the person, “Hey, can we get the makeup artist in here just to touch up your scar, just to do a little touchup?” But instead of doing a touchup, they would actually wipe the scar off completely. So, you walked into the room believing that you still had this scar on your face, but you didn’t. And then they had you come back into sort of the study room where you sat down with the researcher, and the researcher say, “How did that go? What happened?”

And nearly everybody was like, “They couldn’t stop staring at my scar. Everybody was completely obsessed with my scar.” And I just love that. I just love, love, love that because it just shows what we believe in ourselves internally is what we believe the world is looking at us for externally, and the power of that connection. So, look it up, The Scar Experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s something to think about, for sure. And a favorite book?

Suneel Gupta
The Alchemist Paulo Coelho, one of my all-time favorites.

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

Suneel Gupta
I would just say my whiteboard. I know people can’t see this right now but I’m staring at it right now. Just a simple whiteboard has just changed everything for me. One of my favorite things to do in the morning is when I have my cup of coffee, sometimes I just stare at my whiteboard and I’ll just see what comes up. Sometimes it’s nothing. Most of the times it’s gibberish. But, every once in a while, the things that that whiteboard pulls out of me is amazing.

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

Suneel Gupta
Come to SuneelGupta.com. There’s a bunch of free stuff out there, some new thoughts, and a way for us to keep in touch.

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

Suneel Gupta
I would say, as we think about sort of how to be backable, which I think nearly all of us are, let’s also think about how to make other people backable. Like, I’ll leave you with one story, which is about a woman named Damyanti Hingorani, she was a refugee on the border of India and Pakistan, under dire conditions, impoverished conditions, had this unlikely dream, which was that she wanted to become an engineer with Ford Motor Company, and this was the 1950s, and Ford Motor Company was in its heyday. And Detroit was the Silicon Valley of the world at the time.

And so, her parents get behind the dream. They saved every penny they have. She’s able to get on a boat to the United States. She gets a scholarship to Oklahoma State University. The day after she graduated, she grabs a train to Detroit, Michigan and finds her way to get into a room with a hiring manager to apply for her dream job.

But when this hiring manager looks at her application, he looks at her resume, he says, “Wait a second. Are you applying for the job of an engineer?” And she says, “Yeah.” And he says, “Well, look, I’m sorry. We actually don’t have any female engineers working here right now,” which is crazy, right? Ford Motor Company, at that time, had thousands and thousands of engineers on staff but not a single one of them was a woman.

And so, Damyanti Hingorani is really deflated in this moment, and she gets up, and she picks up her purse, and she picks up her resume, and she starts to walk out of the room. And then, almost in this last minute of courage, she turns around, she summons all of the grit that she possibly can, she looks this guy in the eye, and she tells him her story about all the struggle and sacrifice that it took for her to get to this country, to get to Detroit, to get to this very room. And then she says to him, “Look, if you don’t have any female engineers on staff, do yourself a favor and hire me now because things are changing.”

And this hiring manager, so inspired by that conversation, that he goes out and he fights with everybody around him, fights with his colleagues, fights with his superiors, and eventually he gets her the job. And in 1967, Damyanti Hingorani becomes Ford Motor Company’s first ever female engineer. It was a great story, honored in Time magazine pretty recently because it inspires people. It inspired other immigrants. It inspired women in the workforce. And it’s the story that has inspired me the most because Damyanti Hingorani is my mom. And had a middle manager from suburban Michigan had not taken a chance on a refugee from the other side of the world, then, Pete, I wouldn’t be here right now chatting with you. I wouldn’t be able to share any of this with you.

So, my final message to anybody who’s listening is, hey, as we get out into the world now, let’s think about how to make ourselves backable but let’s also think about how to find good people and help them become backable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Suneel, what a beautiful closing note. Powerful stuff. Thank you so much for spending the time and sharing the goods. I wish you lots of luck in your backable adventures.

Suneel Gupta
Well, thanks so much, Pete.

701: How to Get People to Say Yes through the Power of Persuasion with Vanessa Bohns

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Vanessa Bohns says: "People's default is actually to say yes, not no."

Vanessa Bohns talks about how all of us have hidden influence and how we can use it effectively.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we end up underestimating the willingness to say yes 
  2. How to get more comfortable with asking
  3. How to say no without feeling guilty or awkward 

About Vanessa

Vanessa Bohns is a social psychologist, an award-winning researcher and teacher, and a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University. She holds a PhD in psychology from Columbia University and an AB in psychology from Brown University. 

Professor Bohns has been a Visiting Scholar at the NYU Stern School of Business and has taught at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and Harvard Business Review, and her research has been published in top academic journals in psychology, management, and law, and featured by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Economist, and NPR’s Hidden Brain. 

Her first book, You Have More Influence Than You Think, will be published in September 2021. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two daughters. 

Resources Mentioned

Vanessa Bohns Interview Transcript

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

Vanessa Bohns
Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And I’m curious, so you’re a social psychologist, and that’s one of my favorite types of guests. And I’m curious, how did growing up on a farm influence that world? Because I think of farms, I think of not so many people and more so animals. Did that provide any insights or background for you to enter into social psychology?

Vanessa Bohns
Unbelievably, it actually did. So, I grew up on a bird farm, and we had all sorts of birds – pheasants and quail and peacocks and geese and chickens – and I would spend my time kind of sitting with my notebook, very Jane Goodall style, and just watching the birds and recording them, and kind of watching their birdy behavior.

And so, yes, they weren’t humans that I was observing but I was taking the sort of the meticulous approach of studying behavior that is kind of funny, now that I look back at these documents that I had of just all these bird behaviors that I would categorize.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a bird behavior most of us don’t know about but maybe would find interesting?

Vanessa Bohns
Well, I will say, if you didn’t grow up on a farm, and I feel like anyone who did or grew up with chickens and roosters will understand this, roosters can be very protective. And so, I spent a lot of my high school years with my friends and I running from the door to the car before the rooster saw us and started coming up, started pecking at our ankles. So, yeah, running away from roosters, and their territorial behavior is definitely a bird behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good to know. Thank you. Well, that comes in handy maybe in the future. And so, let’s talk about your book here You Have More Influence Than You Think: How We Underestimate Our Power of Persuasion, and Why It Matters. I’m curious, could you kick us off by sharing maybe one of the most surprising discoveries you’ve made about influence across your career studying it?

Vanessa Bohns
I think this whole book is really a catalogue of all the things that I found surprising in my own research and in other people’s research, and there are actually pieces of research that are the things that people have been surprised at when they try to influence other people. So, for example, my research is on asking people for things, and what I find is that when people go out and they ask people for things, they think they’re more likely to be rejected than they actually are.

And so, what we do is we have participants in our studies make guesses about how many people they’re going to have to ask to get someone to do a particular task. And then they go out and they ask people, and we compare what they predicted to what actually happens. And what we find again and again is that people think it’s going to be a lot harder to get people to do things than it actually is.

And the thing that’s been most surprising in that work is how far you can kind of push the effect. So, for example, we started small, so when people went out and asked people to do things, they would ask people to fill out a survey. Then we had them ask to borrow people’s cellphones. Then we had them ask for charitable donations.

And then we started designing studies that we were sure could never work, like we had them go out and ask people to vandalize library books, by walking into a library, and saying, “Hey, I’m playing a prank on my friend. With your own handwriting, will you just write the word pickle and pen on this library book?” And even in those extreme cases, where you’re asking people to do things they actually find pretty uncomfortable, they are more willing to agree to do those things than we expect.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy, there’s so much here. Well, can you give us some numbers here in terms of writing pickle on a library book, for example? Just how many people, what percent of people would do that just for my own edification? I might need to draw on this knowledge someday. What proportion of people will write pickle on a library book if I ask them to?

Vanessa Bohns
Okay. So, our participants, before they went out and made this request, they thought they’d have to ask about 11 people before three people would agree to vandalize a library book. In fact, they only had to ask fewer than five people to get three people to agree. So, basically, more than half of the people they approached agreed to do this thing even though they actually didn’t really want to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, this is fascinating. And so then, I’d like to frame up some additional numbers if you could. I remember I experienced some of this firsthand once when someone randomly reached out to me on LinkedIn and wanted to talk about a career in consulting, and I thought, “Well, I got some time. Let’s go. Why not?” and so I chatted with him.

And then, to my surprise, he had this very detailed notebook about all the people he contacted and how many people responded and all these things, he said, “Can you tell me?” because we had like no connection. It might’ve been in a LinkedIn Group which isn’t the strongest of bonds in most groups. And he went ahead and pulled the data or tabulated data for me from his notebook, and like the number was 28% of the time, total strangers were willing to give him career advice when he asked, and I was blown away by how high that was, and you may not be because you’ve seen it again and again that we do have more influence than you think.

I’d like to get your take on those figures and how they compare with other kinds of compliance rates you’ve bumped into for different kinds of requests?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, I’m impressed. That’s not a bad number for a form like LinkedIn where it’s all text-based because one of the things we looked at is the difference between asking people face-to-face and asking people through like email or through some sort of messaging app, and we usually find that people are much less likely to agree over text requests. So, that’s really not a bad number, the 28%. It might’ve been because there was already this connection through LinkedIn, it’s not just sort of a random email.

But when we looked face-to-face, so we have people ask other people to do favors, like the donation to charity, or a survey, or, for example, walk them to a place they can’t find at a location that’s a few blocks away. And in those cases, we see compliance rates of about 50% on average. So, really, every other person that our participants asked is agreeing, and it’s twice as many as they expect to be agreeing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, can you unpack that then? So, that is quite an interesting finding, we do have more influence than we think. When we ask, we’ll get yeses more than we think we will. So, then what are the implications of that? Like, in terms of career, should we just ask a whole lot more or how shall we think about this?

Vanessa Bohns
Yes, so it’s interesting. There’s a lot of implications but you kind of, first, have to step back and think, “Okay, what’s going on here?” to be able to decide, “Should I just use this sort of superpower to ask people and get what I want all the time?” And so, what we find is, I’ll start sort of the context that when we bring participants into the lab to do this, they hate it, they don’t want to go out and ask people for things because we all hate asking. And so, they have this sort of just intense fear about it.

They go out and they do it, and they find it much easier than they expect. And then they come back into the lab and they’re like bound back in and they’re so happy. And their takeaway is, “People are just so nice, they’re so much nicer than I thought.” And I’ll say there is research that shows that, that we underestimate other people’s sort of pro-social inclinations and how helpful they’ll be.

But what we don’t really tell our participants at that point in time is that what we find is that the reason people agree more than we expect is that it’s really hard for someone to say no. It’s not necessarily that people are super excited to agree, although they quickly sort of reframe the situation to feel good about themselves. It’s that when someone is standing in front of you, asking for something, it’s really awkward and uncomfortable and you have to come up with the words and excuse to say no, and it’s often just easier to go ahead and agree.

And so, once you sort of know that that’s what’s going on, you can think about sort of how do you use this, again, sort of latent superpower that when you ask for things, people are more likely to do them for you than you think. Do you really want to use it all the time if people are complying, in part because they feel uncomfortable saying no? Or, do you want to sort of think about when it would be most useful and then use it best in that way?

And so, I’m happy to talk about some ways in which it makes asking easier and then some other ways in which it might make us want to double-check and kind of reconsider what we’re really asking for.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, yes, I’d love to hear all your perspectives in terms of how to think about the ask in terms of, “When should we ask? And how should we ask optimally?” Lay it on us.

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, sure. So, when we sort of think about the ask, many of us, again, it’s a pretty anxiety-provoking thing to have to ask someone for something, and we often think that we’re sort of in an uphill battle, that the other person is sort of inclined to say no, and we’re fighting that tendency. But, in fact, as I said, it’s actually hard for people to say no. People’s defaults, research show, like when we mindlessly just comply with a request, people’s default is actually to say yes not no. The easier thing to do is just to go along with what we’re being asked.

And because of that, when we ask for things, we often don’t have to put the kind of sort of extraordinary effort we put into making those requests. So, for example, people will write out this long-winded email, laying out all these rationales for why they’re asking someone for a favor, and apologize a thousand times, and have their friends re-read it a thousand times, and then get back a quick response, it’s like, “Sure.” Or, come up with the exact way to ask in person, and someone is like, “Okay.” And we don’t really have to put all that sort of exorbitant effort into these things because people are actually inclined to say yes.

Another sort of piece of this is that, because we think that people are less likely to agree than they actually are, we kind of negotiate ourselves down before we ask for something. We think that, “Okay. Well, if I ask for something just a little bit smaller, maybe they’ll be more likely to agree and I won’t be rejected.” But we actually find in our studies that the size of the request doesn’t make as big of a difference as we think.

And so, asking for something bigger or smaller, it’s still hard to say no, it still makes someone feel guilty saying no, it’s still hard to find the words. And so, instead of sort of negotiating ourselves down before we ask for something, we should really assume, “There’s a good chance I’m going to get what I actually need or want, so I should ask for that before I start asking for less before I even do the first ask.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’m curious, with all these things, is there a different kind of like mode our brains go into in terms of like, well, tell me if this is accurate, are we talking about favor mode as distinct from sales mode? I think in some ways we feel readily comfortable if someone is asking us for money for a product or service, I think we feel great about saying no. I don’t know, it seems like there’s less remorse or guilt or discomfort associated with saying, “No, I don’t want that,” then that’s that. What’s your take here?

Vanessa Bohns
I think, in some cases, when people ask us for a favor, sure, there’s this extra element that, “I feel like a jerk if I say no because it’s going to reflect on sort of whether I’m a good person or not.” So, there is this like added layer of this inclination to say yes. So, it’s not just because it’s hard to say no, it’s also, “Because I want to look and feel like a good person, and I want to help this other person out who’s in a bind.”

But, at the same time, even with like a sales pitch, for example, imagine – this happens to us all the time – you get a knock on the door when you’re home, and someone’s like asking you to sign a petition or sign up for something, and you open that door and they’re making that request, and it’s not that easy to say no. Like, you’re trying to find the words, it’s such an awkward interaction, you feel really awkward and guilty, and you might get to that no eventually but it’s a lot harder than we tend to think in the abstract.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, it’s funny, and this happened a couple of times with, I think, there’s electricity deregulation. I don’t know, these guys really came out again and again. And, I don’t know, that might be legitimate, it may not be, but like, “Hey, can you show me your electricity bill because, well, actually there’s the transmission fee but there’s also this fee, and we can get this fee down to…” And I was like, “I never have even read my electricity bill. I just give them the money they say they need from me. I don’t know who you are and this kind of sounds like a scam,” so I’m thinking these things.

But, you’re right, I won’t say that. I won’t say, “I think you’re lying to me, and I want you to go immediately,” even though that’s what I’m feeling and thinking inside. And maybe they’re not. I don’t know the details of their company. But, so, you’re right, I am not delivering the full candid blunt truth of my thoughts and feelings on the matter to this person who I don’t even know.

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah. And if you have the chance to avoid that awkward interaction or not have to say no, research also shows that people really jump on that.

Pete Mockaitis
We try to hide, yeah.

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, exactly. Right. So, there’s research actually showing that if you give someone a head’s up before they show up at your door that people are less likely to open the door because they don’t want to even have the interaction where they have to say no.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. So, this is just kind of mind-bending. All right. So, keep talking here. So, we don’t need to plan a whole lot with regard to perfectly structuring the request in order to get compliance because sort of the wind is at our backs, and we can sort of feel a dose of confidence, just given these psychological facts on the ground. So, then is there anything you do recommend that we do in order to make our requests optimally?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah. As you said, I think that’s a great way to say it. The wind really is on our backs. The stars are kind of aligned for the yes, so I think you want to reframe things that way, but there are still things that you kind of do wrong to disrupt that sort of state of affairs. So, one of them is not asking directly. So, it’s interesting, when we ask people what they think is going to be the most effective way to ask, we often find that people think that hinting or sort of beating around the bush, like, “I can really use help with this thing,” is the better way to ask. I think they think it’s the more polite way.

But what we find is that, of course, not surprisingly, people are much less likely to agree if you’re not actually asking them a question, if you’re just kind of hinting and hoping that they’ll volunteer. And so, actually making that request direct, and saying, “Will you do this thing?” makes it harder for them to say no, and also clear in what you want. And so, that’s one thing, is to be direct when you’re making a request even if you don’t have this huge speech that you’re delivering, but just make it clear, like, “Will you do this thing?”

And the other one goes back to asking in person. So, again, I think we think that crafting the perfect email so we can put all our arguments out there and say it exactly right so someone can’t say no, it’s actually pretty easy to say no to an email no matter how perfectly crafted it is.

Pete Mockaitis
You can ignore it. Just don’t look at it anymore.

Vanessa Bohns
Exactly. It’s a lot harder to ignore or say no to someone who’s standing in front of you, and I think that we often forget that. We forget that our presence matters more than the specific words we’re saying half the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, so that’s super. And then tell us then about the implications of people saying yes even though their heart isn’t into it. How does that mean we should play the asking game optimally in a professional environment?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, this is a really important sort of aspect of understanding that mechanism, that reason that people say yes, and that it’s not always enthusiastic, sometimes it’s because it’s so hard to say no. And that really means that instead of focusing so much on exactly how to get people to say yes, we should kind of assume that there’s a good chance they’re going to say yes, and make sure we’re asking for things that are okay and appropriate and things that we don’t want someone to feel obligated to agree to.

So, for example, we started with these favor requests and we had people make requests, and then we moved onto things like the vandalism study, and that was to kind of show it’s not just about asking for favors. It’s also asking for anything, including things that people don’t really want to do or make them uncomfortable. We sort of extended that research to making romantic advances at work.

And so, we’ve also shown that when people ask someone out on a date, for example, at work, who isn’t interested in them, we tend to underestimate how hard it is for that person to say no to us, and we underestimate how uncomfortable of a situation that creates for that person that they then have to sort of cope with.

So, we think, for example, when we ask people who had been rejected by someone at work, they thought it was pretty easy for them to reject them, and that they didn’t really do anything different afterwards. But when we asked people who rejected someone they weren’t interested in at work, they said that it was really uncomfortable to say no, and then they started avoiding that person, they did things differently, they avoided that person’s contacts, and they kind of did adjust their behavior in all these potentially meaningful ways.

And so, sort of knowing that asking for things directly does put people sort of on the spot, and sometimes it’s okay if we’re asking for something good that makes them really feel good, but you also want to kind of think twice about the things you’re asking for because if you’re asking, for example, a subordinate to do something that could be a little bit sketchy or inappropriate, or even a colleague for those things, it’s actually a lot harder for them to come out and say, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t feel comfortable with that,” than we tend to think.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay. Excellent. Well, I’m also intrigued as you talked about these studies where you say, “Okay, guys, you’re going to go ask people to vandalize library books,” and they go, “Oh, no, I don’t want to.” So, I guess you’ve seen this cycle many, many, many times, of folks feeling the nerves, the apprehension, associated with just doing the asking. So, tell us, what are some of the patterns or best practices associated with if we’ve got the case of the nerves and some reluctance to do some asking, how do we get over it?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, and you’re right, I’ve seen this so many times. The last time I calculated, our participants had asked 15,000 people different requests, so we see it all the time. And I’d say, first of all, that just asking more makes you more comfortable with asking, and it does sort of help you to see that people don’t get as upset as we think they will, people don’t judge us as harshly as we think they will, and they’re even more likely to say yes than we think they will be.

And so, getting that practice, particularly when we’re asking for things, again, that are beneficial to everybody, like favor requests and things that bring people closer together, can really help you get more comfortable with asking. So, in the book, I talk about this thing called rejection therapy that was started by Jason Comely and then Jia Jiang got into it and sort of made it a bigger thing. But it’s basically, the idea is that you’re supposed to try to get rejected every day. And Jason Comely came up with all these kinds of random things that you go out and you ask people.

So, for example, ask somebody to race you down the street, just a random stranger; go up to random strangers and ask them to give you a compliment; ask a police officer if you can sit in their car, just all sorts of random requests. And the thinking is that these requests are supposed to be chances to get rejected so that you aren’t so worried about rejection.

But Jia Jiang, who kind of documented his experience with rejection therapy on his blog, showed that actually when he asked a lot of these things, a lot of people were agreeing. And so, he partly was getting over rejection, he partly was learning that rejection is less likely than you think. And he really kind of saw this as a major intervention and really an exposure therapy of getting over this kind of fear of asking.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Okay, that sounds like that’ll do it. And then, I’m guessing it might be prudent to start small and get more challenging as you go down the path. Any starter asks that are great for people if they’re really feeling skittish?

Vanessa Bohns
Sure, I mean, simple things. Right now, I don’t know how people feel about asking someone for like a piece of gum or something little like that, directions, just anything where you kind of have to interrupt someone and actually make that ask. And so, for example, just to give you another sort of sense of how hard people find that, and another set of studies I talk about in the book, which gets away from the asking piece, we also have people go up to strangers and give them compliments.

And so, in some ways, it’s a similar setup. They come into the lab, they go out onto campus, and they go up to people and say, “Excuse me, I really like your shirt,” and we tell them what to compliment the person on. But there’s this same sort of hesitation to go up to a stranger, interrupt whatever they’re doing, make them interact with you, and our participants actually think that complimenting someone, literally making them feel good with a compliment, is going to annoy them.

And so, there is a lot of sorts of tension that we feel and anxiety we feel about just going up to strangers and initiating a conversation or a request or even a compliment. And so, I’d say you could even start, if you’re not just asking for things, you could ask for, as I said, directions, something small, a piece of gum. You could even start by going up and giving random strangers compliments and sort of exercise that muscle of just interacting with people more.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Vanessa Bohns
Especially, as we come out of the pandemic and we forget what it’s like to interact with other people.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess I’m also curious, if you’ve gained a deep understanding of our tendency to not want to say no, saying no is a completely different skill but it sounds like you know a lot about it so I’ve got to ask. How can we say no better given that you have an understanding of these psychological forces within us?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, absolutely. So, I get asked this a lot because so much of my research is about how hard it is to say no and how hard it is for other people to say no to us, but, of course, we also experience that. And so, I basically give the opposite instructions for people who want to say no as I give to people who want to ask and get a yes.

So, for one, it’s really hard to say no in person. And so, if someone is asking you for something in person, you can ask them to follow up over email or some sort of way that makes it easier for you to say no. So, for example, if someone is like, “Oh, I’d really like you to be part of this committee that no one wants to be part of,” you can say, “Okay, I’ll think about it. Can you just follow up with me over email and I’ll get back to you?”

And what that does is it buys you the space so that you have time to think of what to say. A lot of it is in the moment, “What am I even going to say? Do I have a good excuse? It might not be a particularly strong excuse, and I’d like to come up with a better one?” But, also, it’s just really hard in that moment to say no to someone’s face. And so, you buy yourself that space if you kind of create that distance through the email so you can think of what to say, you have time to formulate your words and whatever excuse you want to use, and you don’t have to say no to somebody’s face.

Another sort of recommendation I often give is to blame somebody else. So, often, we hate rejecting people and saying no because we feel like it looks bad on us and that we’re somehow conveying something about our relationship to that other person. And the more that you can sort of put the pressure off of you and the relationship with that person asking, the better. So, if you say, “I can’t do that because I have this other obligation, the sort of external attribution, because somebody else wouldn’t be happy if I was doing that. Someone else asked me to do something else,” anything that sort of points your reason for saying no away from that immediate relationship.

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

Vanessa Bohns
I would say the one thing, I kind of focus on experience as a way to learn about asking. But one thing I do talk about in the book is that we also need to sort of reflect on those experiences. So, just asking a bunch of people is not the end-all-be-all. We also have to sort of think about what those people are really truly feeling and get their perspective, and sort of get out of our own heads and be able to recognize the impact we’re having on them and on the situation.

And so, as much as I love these sorts of experiential sort of challenges that we give people, it also takes a little bit more than that to sort of integrate the knowledge and really sort of learn to recognize your influence.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to that world of empathy and recognizing what someone else is feeling and how that maps to our own influence, do you have any particular pro tips on, I don’t know if it’s like categorizing or gathering intel on what are the hot buttons for somebody? How do you think about knowing your persuasive target all the more such that you are asking well while not going overboard with the thousands of revisions like we talked about before?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah. So, Nick Epley and his colleagues have looked at the difference between taking perspective and getting perspective. So, one thing that people try to do when they’re trying to figure out, like, “What can I really do that will resonate with this other person? How can I influence someone? What impact am I having on them?” we try to take their perspective. And what that really means is we try to figure out what’s going on in their head, but we do it by searching our own heads, we’re like, “What would that person think?” and we base it on stereotypes of that person or what we’ve seen that person do in the past.

And what I talk about is that, actually, instructing people to try to take someone else’s perspective isn’t actually a way to make people more accurate at understanding what someone else is thinking and feeling, and, instead, you need to what they called get perspective. And it’s actually pretty simple to get someone’s perspective, and that is actually asking them, so actually talking to them and saying, “What do you care about? What do you want?” And often we forget how easy it is to just actually come out and ask someone, and how open someone is likely to be, and how the things they’re likely to tell us, that then we can sort of play off.

So, for example, one thing we talk about in my negotiation class is you can ask people, “What do you really care about here? What are your values?” And then when you actually make an ask during the negotiation, you mirror those values, “You told me that this is what you cared about, so this is a way to meet those values,” for example.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Perfect. Well, now, can you tell me a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Vanessa Bohns
Sure. Actually, this fits really well with what we were just talking about. So, my colleague recently reminded of a famous quote by Kurt Lewin who was a big psychologist back in his day, “Experience alone does not create knowledge.” And so, it really gets at what we were just talking about, that we kind of hold up experiences as this pinnacle, that once you experience something, you’ve learned something profound, and now you understand it in this way that people who only imagine it couldn’t possibly understand.

But, in fact, lots of times when we have an experience, we have our own very specific experience that might not match other people’s. We still need to understand what other people are experiencing. We still need to try to reflect on that experience and how it might be different from somebody else, and gather information about other people’s experiences.

For example, there’s research showing that people who got divorced assume that other people who are getting divorced are having the same experience that they did, but that’s not always true. Other people have a totally different experience with the same sort of life event. And so, it’s basically this idea that experience is great but you have to integrate your experiences with knowledge and with an understanding of the rest of the world.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a favorite study?

Vanessa Bohns
Sure. actually, this is not a study but it’s a re-interpretation of a bunch of famous studies. So, I have this favorite paper, it’s been my favorite paper for almost 20 years, by Sabini, Siepmann, and Stein, called “The really fundamental attribution error.” And what it does is it revisits these classic social psychology studies, like the Milgram study, where an experimenter is asking someone to shock another person; the bystander intervention studies, where people don’t want to get up and tell the experimenter that smoke is rising in the room because everyone else in the room is sitting calmly.

And so, these have been classically taught in any intro psych class or social psychology class that someone has taken. They’re usually taught as displaying the power of the situation, that we basically underestimate how powerful situations are and how whatever we want to do as individuals, it’s kind of washed away by the power of the situation. We underestimate that.

But this paper reinterprets all that as the power of embarrassment, that, in fact, people sat there, shocking this other person because they felt too uncomfortable and embarrassed to challenge the experimenter who was standing right there; and people sat there, letting a room fill up with a smoke and didn’t say anything because everyone else was sitting there looking calm, and they didn’t want to look like fools by standing up and making a big deal out of it. And so, I just have always been fascinated by this idea that embarrassment can play this huge role in so many of our behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Vanessa Bohns
I only read it this past year but it’s quickly become my favorite book, it’s Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s ostensibly a book about writing but it’s really more of a book about life, but also writing. And it’s just so funny and just emotionally resonant, and, actually, a really great book about writing as well.

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

Vanessa Bohns
I’d say just a pen and a notebook. I am constantly on a walk and coming up with an idea, or in the middle of the night when I’m trying to sleep, I come up with an idea, and just having a notebook nearby to jot things down is the best thing, the best tool, I think, for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Vanessa Bohns
Going on long thinking walks. I try to go for a walk every night. After the kids go to bed, I try to walk around for like an hour and just think, and it’s very calming, and I come up with a lot of ideas that way as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to resonate and get quoted back to you often?

Vanessa Bohns
It’s this piece about asking in person that I think usually resonates with people the most, because I think that a lot of people struggle with how to ask, the best way to ask, “Should I write an email?” And a lot of us gravitate towards that because it’s kind of easier to be rejected over email, if you’re going to be rejected. But people find it really helpful when I talk about the fact that asking in person makes such a big difference.

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

Vanessa Bohns
So, I have my website which is VanessaBohns.com, and I’m also at @profbohns at Twitter.

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

Vanessa Bohns
I think you hear this phrase “Start from a place of yes all the time,” and I kind of like the idea of a play on that, which assumes that other people are starting from a place of yes. So, instead of assuming that other people are immediately going to say no or reject the things that you ask for or arguments you make, assume they actually are going to be pretty receptive, and then sort of reframe whatever you’re going to pitch or ask for accordingly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Vanessa, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all your influencing ways.

Vanessa Bohns
Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.

672: How to Ask For and Get What You Want with Heather Hansen

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Heather Hansen says: "There's always another way to look at things."

Trial attorney Heather Hansen shares the top ten tools from the courtroom to help you get what you want.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to advocate like the pros
  2. How to turn your inner critic into your biggest ally
  3. How one question can get people to agree with you

 

About Heather

Heather Hansen gives her clients the tools to advocate for themselves, their ideas and those around them. She has been a trial attorney for over 20 years and was consistently named one of the Top 50 Female Attorneys in Pennsylvania. Heather uses her psychology degree and her years in the courtroom to help her clients ask for what they want and get it. She’s also an anchor at the Law and Crime Network and has appeared on NBC, Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, CBS and Sirius Radio. Heather has helped thousands of keynote audience members in Kuwait, Ireland, Mexico and across the U.S. become their own best advocates. 

Heather is the author of the best-seller The Elegant Warrior: How to Win Life’s Trials Without Losing Yourself, which Publishers Weekly calls a “template to achieving personal and career goals” and the host of The Elegant Warrior podcast. Heather’s next book, Advocate to Win-10 Tools to Ask for What You Want and Get It comes out May 25th. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome

Heather Hansen Interview Transcript

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

Heather Hansen
I’m so excited to be here, Pete. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy, me, too. Me, too. Well, I’m sure you have a lot of stories in your career in the courtroom. Could you maybe share with us one of your most exciting tales of advocacy?

Heather Hansen
Oh, my goodness, there’s so many to share. But I will tell you one that seems to resonate with a lot of my audiences. And it was a recent trial before COVID, of course, since COVID, very few cases have been tried. But this was a case where I represented a podiatrist, and one of the dirty little secrets about trial law that you might not know unless, maybe, you’ve served on a jury is that jury members fall asleep and a lot. It happens worse after lunch, it happens worse when we turn off the lights if we’re playing a video for them of an expert or something, and it happens in almost every case.

And in this particular case, I represented a podiatrist, and I always represent doctors when their patients sue them. The patient had alleged that he had a skin cancer on his toe that had gone undiagnosed and he sued two primary care doctors and two podiatrists. And so, I represented a podiatrist, the patient himself was a middle-aged man; the attorney for that patient was a middle-aged man; the first podiatrist was a middle-aged man; his attorney was a middle-aged man; the primary care doctor, a middle-aged man; his attorney, a middle-aged man; secondary primary doctor, same deal; my doctor, middle-aged man; and then there was me.

And when the trial started, we almost immediately saw that this jury was a sleepy jury and, to give them their due, it was very difficult medicine, talking about the doubling time of cancer cells, and so they were falling asleep even more than usual. But I noticed, Pete, pretty early on that every time I got up to speak, they would wake up even if it was just for a minute. And can you, I bet you can, you of all people, guess why they were waking up?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, you’re a beautiful woman.

Heather Hansen
Well, thank you. That’s very complimentary. But it was really my voice. My voice sounded different than all the other voices that they were seeing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, contrast.

Heather Hansen
That’s right. And like the surprise of it. They’re like, “Oh, boring, boring, same, same, same. Oh, look at that. That’s something different.” And so, I decided to maximize on that. So, usually when I ask my questions, I start with going through resume and going through the foundation, and then I hit with the big punching question towards the end of my questioning. And you have to sort of lay a foundation but I worked really hard to get to the good stuff first because I wanted to take advantage of the fact that the jury was awake.

And at the end of the trial, the jury found everybody, including the patient, was negligent except for my doctor, and I don’t think that’s because of the fact that I am a woman and my voice sounded different, but it couldn’t have hurt. And the lesson that I learned from that is to use your differences. So many people say, “Is it hard to be a woman as a trial attorney because less than 5% of trial attorneys are women?”

And I think it’s an advantage if you choose to see it that way. And no matter what your differences are, I think that you can choose to creatively use them as advantages and use them to win.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Well, that is a nice illustration and a clear point and a happy successful outcome there. Well, cool stuff. Well, maybe let’s start with some exciting stuff. What would you say is perhaps one of the most surprising or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about persuasion, advocacy, and negotiation over your career?

Heather Hansen
So, one of the things that people are always surprised at is that we win our cases not by arguing. You know, when I tell people I’m a trial attorney, almost always someone will say, “Oh, I should’ve been a trial attorney, I’m really good at arguing.” And we don’t win by arguing. The way that our trials are set up, Pete, the openings are supposed to be opening statements. They’re meant to be an outline and you’re not really allowed to argue. The closing is the closing argument and that’s a small fraction of the case.

The majority of the case, all I do, all day every day, is ask questions. And so, the surprising thing is that asking questions is how you win. Asking questions is magic, and so that’s a lesson that I have taken from trials and carried on into my life outside the courtroom.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so asking questions is huge. And what are the kinds of questions we should be asking? Any special top faves, or scripts, or principles?

Heather Hansen
So, I have one favorite question that has become a huge calling card for me in my keynotes and so forth, and it’s not even my question. It’s a question that was asked by a woman named Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. Judge Aquilina was the judge in the Larry Nassar hearing. Larry Nassar was the gymnast doctor accused of molesting all of those women in Michigan. And one of my hats that I wear is I’m an anchor at the Law & Crime network, and I happen to be working the week of that hearing. And we only intended to cover it for a day because only a few women were planning to come forward and most of them didn’t want to use their names or their faces, which makes it not such great TV.

By the end of that hearing, over 100 women had come forward to tell their stories and most of them used their names and their faces. And I attributed that, having sat there and listened and watched, to Judge Aquilina and, specifically, to one particular question that she asked each woman as they came forward. Because, Pete, she didn’t say, “Why are you here?” She didn’t say, “What happened to you? What do you have to say?” She said, “Tell me what you want me to know.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Heather Hansen
And that question allowed the women to tell their story the way they wanted to tell it. Some of them talked about the way it impacted their relationships with their husbands. Some told the way it impacted them physically. Some told the way it impacted them in their confidence. They told her what they wanted her to know and that changed everything. And now I believe that question, with your clients, with your customers, with your bosses, with the people who report to you, and with your friends and your family and your children, that question can be magic. So, that’s probably my favorite question.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, it is beautifully broad but also points us in a direction. It’s a lot better than, “So, what’s up?” which is also wide open, like that can go in any number of directions that they can choose their own adventure with, but, “Tell me what you want me to know” is really hitting that sweet spot. So, thank you for that. So, that’s just one of many tips you’re putting forward in your book Advocate to Win: 10 Tools to Ask for What You Want and Get It. What’s kind of the main idea or thesis behind the book here?

Heather Hansen
Advocate to Win shares the 10 tools that I used in the courtroom that every one of your listeners can use to ask for what they want and get it. So, the 10 tools are elegance. The root of the word elegance is to choose. And so, elegance, to me, is choice. And when you’re advocating, you have to choose who you want to be, how dirty do you want to get, how difficult do you want to be. So, the first is elegance.

The second is words. The choice of words makes such a difference. Words that speak to your jury of clients, or customers, or bosses, friends or family. It’s really important to choose your words carefully. The next is perspective, making sure that you understand your jury’s perspective because you can’t change their perspective until you understand it. The next is questions. We just talked a little bit about questions.

The next is credibility because if you don’t believe me, I can’t win. The next is evidence which is the facts that we use to build our case. The next is reception. That’s reading body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Number eight is presentation. That’s using your body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Number nine is negotiation and number ten is argument.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Heather, I love the speed you’re cooking with so I might just go for the gold and say can you give us a top do and a top don’t inside all ten of these tools?

Heather Hansen
So one of the things that I should sort of lay as a foundation is I mentioned that every listener has their jury. So, their jury is going to be their clients or customers, anyone they want to persuade or influence. It could be your boss. It could be your direct report. Right now, your listeners are the jury that we want to influence and persuade.

But every one of those tools in my book I recommend that you use it first with your inner jury. And the inner jury is the part of you that chooses. Now, a lot of my coaching clients think the inner jury is the part of them that is critical, and that’s not really true. In the courtroom, the jury listens and they choose, and that’s what your inner jury does.

And so, you probably have an inner voice that says, “You’re not smart enough. You’re not good enough. You shouldn’t do that. That’s not safe. Stay in the cave. Don’t go out. Don’t take that chance.” And you want to also give your inner jury the choice of a voice that says, “Go for it. You’re good enough. You can do it. Why not try?” And then the inner jury gets to choose. So, for each of those tools, I go through and apply it first to the inner jury and then to the outer jury.

Heather Hansen
So, elegance, the root of the word elegance is to choose, and I believe you choose your elegance. And I think it’s really important to recognize, before you start advocating, what you’re advocating for and who you want to be when you’re advocating. Those are choices. In the book, I have a three-step process to make good choices, to make sure that you’re choosing.

And the first is to know that you’re choosing. So often we fly off the handle, or we react out of anger, or we hit the snooze button in the morning rather than getting out of bed, and those are all choices that we make. And when you know that you’re choosing, you’re more likely to make the best choices.

And then the next step is knowing who is choosing, because too often it’s our moms, our partners, or habit, or our egos, and you really want the best part of you, your inner jury to be making that choice. And then the last thing is to know your reasons. I encourage my clients to list out their reasons on each side. And, usually, if you sit down and look at a list of reasons for a particular choice, the choice becomes much more clear.

So, that sort of summarizes what we talk about in the elegance chapter of the book. It’s really about making choices and making choices that are going to serve you well. Because, in the courtroom, you make so many choices when you’re trying a case and you always think like, “Maybe I shouldn’t have crossed that person. Maybe I should’ve asked this question.”

And in life, too, you always think, “Maybe I should’ve stayed in that relationship. Maybe I should’ve left that job.” You’re never going to know whether a choice was right, and I’m putting air quotes here, “right or wrong.” But if you like your reasons, then you can at least have confidence in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well said, as opposed to, “Oh, we just never knew,” because you didn’t do the work in advance to think it through and take the time.

Heather Hansen
That’s right. The words chapter, words are the tools of an advocate, and the words that we use matter. Maya Angelou believed that words had energy, and if someone was using words like racist words, negative words in her house, she would make them leave her house because she didn’t want those words to be in her home. And I think that words have energy as well.

And so, you want to be careful with the words you use with yourself, with your inner jury, and the words you choose with your outer jury. So, with your inner jury, your self-talk, you just want to be careful of those negative things that you tell yourself, that you’re not good enough, that you’re not smart enough, or worse, that you’re ugly, dumb, old, too old, those types of things. You really want to be conscious of that.

And then when it comes to the words that you use with your outer jury, there’s an idea, I can’t really find the research to back this up, but I have read that if I say one word that my jury in the courtroom doesn’t understand, they don’t even hear the next ten words I say. That makes sense to me, Pete, because if I get up and I said, “This is a case about osteomyelitis,” the jury immediately is going to…

Pete Mockaitis
“What the heck is osteomyelitis?”

Heather Hansen
Right. Or, “I told this lady I shouldn’t be on this jury. I don’t know anything about medicine,” then they start to get angry, and it’s gone. So, you want to recognize that everyone has the curse of knowledge, everyone knows something so well that they forget what it’s like not to know it. And with words especially, like if you’re in a business with acronyms, I work a lot with real estate people and they have so many acronyms, and they know them so well that they forget what it’s like not to know them. But their client, who is their jury, might not know those acronyms. And so, the more that you can be really conscious with the words that you’re using and how they will best resonate with the jury, the more likely you are to win.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Keep it going.

Heather Hansen
All right. Okay, the next is perspective. So, perspective is it really is so important. Viktor Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, which is one of my top books of all time. He was a psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz, and while he was in Auschwitz, he wrote his book. And a lot of the book is about how the only choice that he had in that dire circumstance was he could choose his attitude or his perspective. He could choose how he saw the world. And he actually talked about this bowl of “soup” which was really just brown dirty water with a fish head floating in it, and how he chose to see it as this delicious bowl of soup.

And that’s where your inner jury is choosing perspective. There’s always another way to look at things. And as much as that doesn’t always feel true, it’s where your power lies. It’s where your choice is where your power lies. And so, choosing a different perspective when you’re feeling down or negative or defeated is a really important thing. And then, to change your outer jury’s perspective is your ultimate goal.

One of the quotes that I often use in my work is that, “When you communicate, you share perspectives. But when you advocate, you change them.” And so, the first step in that is really understanding, getting to know your jury’s perspective because you can’t change someone’s perspective until you know it. And then once you know it and understand it, then you can get to work asking the questions and using the evidence and future things that will allow you to change it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious, when with a jury, how does one elicit that? Because, to my knowledge, you can’t just sit down and have a chat, “So, where are you coming from? Where are you coming in on this so far?“

Heather Hansen
It’s such a great point and I always say that because in life and in business, you can. You get to talk to your jury and ask questions, which is an advantage you have. We have to base it upon those few questions we get to ask during Voir Dire at the beginning of the trial, when we sit down with a jury and ask them questions and, also, to be honest, some presumptions.

I know, for a fact, that every single one of my jurors ever is a patient or has been a patient. Everyone in the courtroom has been a patient, including the doctor, and I know that that means that they are going to see the world through a patient’s eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, as opposed to a hospital executive or a doctor, yeah.

Heather Hansen
Or a doctor. I’ve never had a doctor on my jury and that’s a different perspective so I can’t talk to them as if they’re a bunch of doctors and just show them all the studies that support my case. I have to talk to them about the relationship between the doctor and the patient, and why the doctor did what he did, using words they understand, and maybe remembering, “Oh, yes, that juror told me that he liked to do woodworking, and that juror told me that she used a contractor and she builds buildings. Let’s compare the surgery to putting up a house, and speak to their perspective in that respect as well.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Cool. Okay. So, then questions, we hit a favorite. Any others you want to mention?

Heather Hansen
Well, I just want to mention that you can use questions to challenge as well. I have a young associate who was struggling a little bit, and I said to her, “Tell me how you would respond if you were the partner in that situation.” And that question sort of made her realize that she wouldn’t respond very well to the thing that she had done. Instead of saying, “You did this thing and it was bad, and you should recognize that it was bad,” asking the questions, “What do you think you could’ve done better? How do you think this felt to that person?”

Questions are just magic and you can use questions to challenge. They don’t always have to be, “Tell me what you want me to know,” is a very friendly…I would think of it as a direct examination question to a friendly witness. But the cross-examination questions are sometimes deadly, and you can do them as well. Just really considering where you want to get to with the question and then just crafting a series of questions that get you there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And so, that goes a lot farther than saying, “Hey, how do you imagine a partner would feel in that situation?” versus, “Well, you got to remember, partners, they’re concerned about their clients and their credibility…” It’s like, “Okay, yeah, I don’t want to be lectured. I would rather make them do the work and think a little bit there.”

Heather Hansen
Exactly. There’s a great study, and my mentor is John O’Brian, and he used to always say that about juries, like, “Don’t shove it down their throat. Make them feel like they’ve discovered something.” And there’s a great study that shows that if I make a piece of origami, I’ll price it at a higher price than if someone else made that. And so, when you ask questions, the people are speaking the answers, and by speaking it, they own it. And so, now, all of a sudden, they’re agreeing with you where maybe they never would’ve.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Let’s talk about credibility.

Heather Hansen
Credibility is…I also have what I call the five Cs of an advocate. One of those Cs is credibility and it’s a double. It doubles up because it’s so important because if you don’t believe me, I can’t win. If the jury, they can think I’m smart, they can think I’m nice, they can think I’m cute, they can think I’m funny, but if they don’t believe me, I will lose.

Well, let me just start first with the inner jury because you have got to believe before you can make anyone else believe. A lot of times, people will say to me, “What do you do if you know a doctor made a mistake?” And my answer is, “I find a story that I can believe.” Sometimes that means admitting that the doctor made a mistake but then arguing the case on damages, “You know, it’s not worth what the other side wants to be paid.”

Or, sometimes it’s explaining exactly how the mistake was made. But I have got to believe in my story before I can make the jury believe it. And that means that when you’re advocating for yourself and your ideas and your bank account, you have got to believe in those things before you can make anyone else do so.

And then you want to make them believe. And the way that you make people believe is, with you, it’s two things. You want to believe in you, which means that you start to collect evidence, which we’ll get to in a minute, but you want to start to collect all of the things that you have done in your life that support your ask.

Like, I waitressed for years and years and years, and I always look back at waitressing and say, “You know, I was good with people. I was good with numbers. I was quick on my feet. I could remember things.” And that, for me, has allowed me to believe in my ability to do things affiliated with everything I just listed.

So, building your credibility by really looking…and it doesn’t have to be in the same business. Your listeners are looking to switch jobs or switch complete industries. What’s transferrable? I coached some women who have been out of the workforce to be moms to raise children, and then going back into the workforce. And I can give a bunch of examples of the things that they’ve done as mothers that are evidence of their ability to do things in the workforce. And we talk about those to help them believe in themselves, build credibility with themselves.

And the other part of credibility with yourself is believing yourself. When you make yourself a promise, you have to keep it. And when you set an expectation, you have to meet it because, if you don’t, you lose your own credibility, and that’s pretty deadly.

Pete Mockaitis
Say more. Deadly how? Because I think many have said, “Okay, I’m going to wake up tomorrow. I’m going to go for a run,” and they don’t. What’s the consequence of that?

Heather Hansen
Yeah, every time you do that, the next time you tell yourself you’re going to do something, you believe it a little less. And if you don’t believe it, then how are you going to persuade anyone else to believe it? I lost a hundred pounds when I was 18 years old.

And I always say, “I’m so grateful that I had the weight to lose,” not for losing the weight, which, of course, I am for a million reasons. But that I had the weight to lose because, at a relatively young age, I built so much credibility with myself. I know that if I make myself a promise, I will keep it. And if I set an expectation, I will meet it because I’ve done that, and I’ve done it in a pretty big way.

And it doesn’t mean…so it’s the same with your outer jury. Those two, you want them to believe in you, and we can talk about how to do that. You want them to believe you, and it’s the same thing making promises, setting expectations. But the fastest way to build credibility with yourself and with others is when you can’t keep a promise and you can’t meet an expectation, you own it.

Like, in the courtroom, if I say, “My expert disagrees with my doctor on this point.” Immediately, the jury is like, “Wow, that lady just told us the truth even though it doesn’t help her.” And then when I tell them other things that do help me, they’re more likely to believe them. And it’s fast, and it’s easy once you put down your ego.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. And how about evidence?

Heather Hansen
So, evidence is all of the things that you use to build that belief in you. And when it’s yourself, I give my clients, when we start working together, an evidence journal, and I ask them at the end of every day to write down evidence of their skills, their talents, their capabilities, their resilience, their power, anything they can think of, three things a day. And then you go back and look at that when you’re feeling less than credible. So, that’s for the inner jury.

For the outer jury, there’s a famous maxim in advertising that says that, “In order to make someone remember something, you have to repeat it seven times.” And I think that that’s true. But in the courtroom, I feel like if I repeat something seven times, the jury is going to fall asleep, as we discussed, or hate me. So, I’ve kind of expanded that and I say that you need to say it seven times seven ways.

So, as you’re collecting evidence to give to your boss or your superior or your investors or your clients or your customers, what ways can you present that evidence? Can you make a chart? Can you use pictures? Can you make a video? Can you bring in someone else as testimonial? Can you tell a story? In trying to really come up with seven ways to share that evidence to make sure that you’re hitting all of the different inputs, all of the different sentences that people might understand information through but, also, that you’re actually repeating it seven times.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And then reception.

Heather Hansen
Reception is so important and everyone wants to lead with presentation. Like, a lot of times I’ll get consults to start coaching with me, and they’ll say, “Well, I really want help on camera. I really want help with my body language. I really want help with my tone of voice,” and we’ll get there. I mean, that’s the next tool. But listening, the best listener in the courtroom wins.

If I’m in the courtroom, so focused on, “How am I going to look, sound, and move my face the next time I ask a question?” and I’m not listening to the answer, I’m missing out on important vital lovely evidence. And it’s really important to listen to tone of voice. So, you could read body language a little. I mean, body language is a lot of context and you don’t have a lot of time with many people to build up that context to do it well, but tone of voice.

There’s a study out of Yale that tells us that tone of voice tells you more about a person’s emotions than their body language and their facial expressions combined. So, if you really are present and listening, you can often tell if someone is faking a smile, if they’re tired, if they’re angry, if they’re frustrated, and then you can use that information to advocate, and it’s super effective. So, really, listening and paying attention and receiving the other person is a key tool to advocating.

Pete Mockaitis
And any tips on how to train that skill or your ear to zero in on the emotion behind the tone?

Heather Hansen
I think that it’s being present. So, there’s actually recent studies that show that when people are talking on the phone, they may be better at turn-taking if it’s like a group rather than Zoom, which is interesting but people are really tuned into verbal cues if the phone is down and they’re not writing other things. The main problem with the phone is a lot of times people will start doing other work when they’re on their phone because no one’s watching them.

But that’s why when you’re listening…I meditate so I try to be very mindful when I’m listening, and I try to be very aware of my feet and fingers, my toes and fingers. When I’m meditating, my toes and fingers will sometimes tingle, and so I will really tune into, like being present in my body. I will often say to myself, before the call, “Be where your ears are.” That’s based on the old saying, “Be where your feet are.” Be where your ears are and just really being present.

And then, also, thinking, like making it into a game, “What am I hearing in this person’s voice? What are my guesses as to how they’re feeling?” And the more that you do that, it becomes a habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, beautiful. Okay. Well, now let’s talk about presentation.

Heather Hansen
So, presentation is all of body language, tone of voice, facial expression. There’s lots of things to talk about there. One of the main things that I would talk about is the use of hands, and I’ll tell you a story from the courtroom. This is a great way to talk about this. My doctors are often very nervous before they testify. They’re very confident, competent, fabulous doctors but this is different. They’re fish out of water in the courtroom.

And so, normally, Pete, what I try to do is, right before they on the stand, if we’re at lunch break or if it’s the beginning of the day, I’ll try to be like, “What TV show are you watching?” or, “What book are you reading?” trying to sort of divert their attention from what they’re about to do.

So, this particular doctor was going out to the stand after a lunch break, and I tried to sort of distract him, but I had just read in this book Captivate, which is by a woman named Vanessa Van Edwards, that she had studied TED Talks, and she had compared the most-watched TED Talks and the least-watched TED Talks. And the major difference between the two was, in the most-watched TED Talks, the speaker used hand motions and gestured with their hands many, many, many more times than the least-watched TED Talks.

I was captivated by this, just like the book said, and I made the mistake of telling my doctor about this study right before he went up to testify. He went up to testify and he proceeded to conduct an orchestra from the witness stand. He knocked over the microphone twice, I was like, “If the jury was looking at my body language, they would’ve seen like a grimace on my face and tight muscles and shoulders as earrings.” But the jury loved him.

Now, it wasn’t just because he moved his hands a lot. But when you see my hands, and for the listeners, if you’re still in Zoom world, the world is starting to wake up, but some of us are still in Zoom world, or if you’re in person, if you could find a way to naturally use your hands, and especially on Zoom, so that your hands occasionally get into the screen, it makes the other person feel at ease because when I can’t see your hands, Pete, I don’t know if you’re holding a weapon.

Pete Mockaitis
I could be.

Heather Hansen
And so, you are a threat to me. You could be.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got a sword down here.

Heather Hansen
I also don’t know how far away you are. You could be close enough to hurt me and I can’t sense you because our reception is not on in a computer. And even in real life, if you don’t see my hands. So, there’s a great study, it’s in Joe Navarro’s book, which is What Every Body Is Saying, and he talks about the use of hands, and says that, “If criminal defendants have their hands on counsel table, rather than under counsel table, for the majority of the trial, they’re more likely to be found not guilty.” So, there’s something about our brains that wants to see hands, and that’s just one of many little tips that you can use to help yourself be a more effective advocate.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And let’s talk about negotiation and argument now.

Heather Hansen
Yeah, so negotiation, there are so many great books about negotiation and I don’t want to take anything away from those. I do think that we need to, both with ourselves in our inner jury and our outer jury, be aware of our non-negotiables. Like, we talked a little bit about hitting the snooze button when we wake up in the morning. If you make getting up at 5:00 a.m., which is what I do, a non-negotiable, you no longer sit in bed and say, “Oh, should I get up? Should I wait? Maybe five more minutes.” It’s not a negotiation. You just do it.

I think that that’s why, you know, Mel Robbins is famous for her 5-Second Rule. She’s a speaker and an author who says that, and she’s done enormously well, but she talked about this 5-second rule where she goes, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” and then she does the thing. And I think that the value in that is you don’t give yourself time to negotiate with yourself.

So, having non-negotiables and having non-negotiables with someone else too, having your boundaries. But then, with others, making sure you also have negotiables. If you’re going for a job and you want a certain salary, think of other things that would make you just as happy as that salary. So, maybe you’re willing to take 10K less if you can work from home two days a week, or you can take more PTO, or you can get a daycare center that is partly paid for. There’s a million things that you can start to think about how, “What’s a negotiable for me? What else would I take?” And that makes it a lot easier to negotiate and, ultimately, get what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, right on. Okay. And argument.

Heather Hansen
So, argument is the last resort of the advocate and, hopefully, you never have to get there because the thing about argument is it’s only really effective if a third party is deciding. So, if I’m arguing with opposing counsel and the judge decides the motion, then arguing makes sense. And if you’re sort of fighting with a competitor for a raise or an opportunity, then arguing makes sense. But if you’re trying to convince the person you’re arguing with, it rarely works.

All of the other tools that we’ve talked about – questions, evidence, perspective, words, credibility – those are the tools that are going to help you to persuade someone to share your perspective, to come along to your perspective. When it comes to argument, you just want to be very careful that you don’t win the argument and lose the relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, Heather, that’s quite the rundown. Much appreciated. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Heather Hansen
No, I mean, I think I’ve gone through it pretty well. You’ve tested me. It’s great because you write the book, and then there’s like a period of time that you’re sort of not paying as much attention to it. So, to go through those ten tools has been a fabulous opportunity for me to talk about them, and I’m glad you gave me the time.

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

Heather Hansen
So, I’ve already mentioned it but it’s something that really works for me, and that is to, “Be where your feet are.” I really think that so many times, our heads are off in the clouds or we’re looking at our phones, not present with the person in front of us, not present with the task in front of us. And when I remind myself to be where my feet are, it really helps me to be present, be focused, and be productive.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a favorite experiment or study or piece of research?

Heather Hansen
My favorite study is one that I talk about a lot in my keynotes and I’ve written about, and I read about it in Daniel Pink’s book To Sell Is Human, which is a fabulous book. I highly recommend it. It is a study that you ask the people, and we can do this now, Pete, you want to ask the people to snap five times with their dominant hand, looking at the person in front of them, and then draw a capital E with their index finger on their own forehead.

Pete Mockaitis
On my own forehead or your forehead?

Heather Hansen
On your forehead.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m drawing.

Heather Hansen
See, that is phenomenal. So, Pete, drew the E facing me so that I could read the E.

Pete Mockaitis
Am I a sweetheart?

Heather Hansen
Yes, you really are. You could have drawn the E facing yourself, Pete, and that’s not…I often do say, “The people who drew the E facing the person in front of them are very empathetic and very good at perspective-taking and the other people are selfish jerks.” But that’s not really true. We all have times that we’re more focused on ourselves and what we’re thinking. But when you can do what you just did and see things through the other person’s perspective, it’s going to make you a better advocate. And Daniel Pink says, “Make you better salesperson.”

The research is really based on whether it’s going to make you more empathetic. But the point is that that little exercise I use in a lot of my keynotes, and it’s interactive and it’s fun, and it really shows how often we are in our own heads.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s intriguing because I think it…well, I guess I’d have to run the experiment again a few times but, yeah, I have a feeling, like if you were boring me, and I were thinking about dinner, that my thoughtless means of doing this could very well just go my way just because I’m not fixated on your face.

Heather Hansen
I think you’re 100% right. I was going to see Daniel Pink speak, and I stopped at a bar before because I was early, and there were two bartenders working, and one was starting his shift and one was leaving his shift. And I told them about the study and I asked them, “Snap five times, draw the E.” The one who was coming on to his shift, drew the E facing me because, of course, he had to be focused on me and his customers. The one who was going home drew it facing himself because he was going to focus on his dog and his laundry, so you’re 100% right about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And a favorite book?

Heather Hansen
I would say that, right now, the book that has been most impactful for me is Chatter by Ethan Kross. It is about the chatter in our brains and it really resonated with me because it’s a lot about what’s in my book about the inner jury. So, that’s probably my current favorite. To Sell Is Human is also a favorite and I really love The Law of Divine Compensation by Marianne Williamson. It’s more of a spiritual book but it’s really about the abundance of the world and how, if you can see things that way, it often becomes that way.

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

Heather Hansen
Calendly is really helpful for my calendar. I definitely love that one. I just switched from…I won’t say what I switched from, but I switched to Asana, and that’s a project management tool that my team really loves, and I’m trying to get used to it. I use a Blue Yeti microphone for podcasting and I love that. So, those are probably some of my tops.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Heather Hansen
Meditation. The other day I posted I had meditated, not in a row, but I had meditated, per Insight Timer, 1,111 times. And it’s definitely changed me. It makes me more present. It allows for that space between stimulus and response.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Heather Hansen
The one that resonates the most, and that I hear about the most, and I get emails and letters about the most is Judge Aquilina’s “Tell me what you want me to know.” And, also, as a reminder, you can use that question with your inner jury as well.

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

Heather Hansen
Okay. So, the best place to reach me is my website. It is AdvocateToWin.com. And if you go there, you will see my podcast, you will see my books, you will see some videos, and you can contact me through there. Oh, and the other thing, I’m sorry, the other thing I would add is my Instagram. I post really regularly and a lot of it is the tips that I share in the book and in my keynotes. And my Instagram is @imheatherhansen.

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

Heather Hansen
Yeah, I think that my call to action would be to recognize that you are your own best advocate. I think that we often look out, especially women, we want someone else to do it for us. Like, “If someone else would just get me that raise, ask for that raise, get me that thing, get me that opportunity,” and that seems like it would be nice, but no one can do it better than you can. No one knows your needs, your passions, your competencies, your skills, no one knows your heart better than you do. So, have confidence in that, that no one can do it better than you can. And then use these tools and get advocated.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Heather, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much in all the ways you’re advocating.

Heather Hansen
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you.

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/. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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.

659: How to Get More by Saying Less in Negotiations with Fotini Iconomopoulos

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Fotini Iconomopoulos says: "No is not the end of the negotiation. It truly is the start of the negotiation."

Fotini Iconomopoulos shares the unconventional negotiation approaches to help you get what you want out of work and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The four magic words of negotiation
  2. The surprising power of the pause in a negotiation
  3. The script to use when you hear “no”

About Fotini

Fotini is a speaker, trainer, advisor, and author. Fotini helps people get what they want,  by channeling her energy into her passion for the power of forward thinking. Today business executives partner with her to achieve their business goals, increase profitability and create a competitive advantage. She empowers their teams through her expertise in negotiation, communication and persuasion. 

To share her strengths with more business leaders, Fotini occasionally returns to the classroom as an instructor of MBA Negotiations at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. For the last 5 years, she’s been invited to share her messages with audiences from all industries in keynote addresses across the globe. Fotini’s first book from Harper Collins is Say Less, Get More: Unconventional Negotiation Techniques to Get What You Want.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

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Fotini Iconomopoulos Interview Transcript

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to have this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. And I’m excited to hear a little bit about your time on Canadian Idol.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
You had to start there, huh?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
That came up because I was dating somebody who has kind of dared me to do it. His family was really big on karaoke at Thanksgiving and stuff like that, and he’s like, “Oh, you have to do this.” I’m like, “Oh, what for? It’s just going to be ridiculous.” And I said, “If you wake up at 4:00 in the morning to drive down,” because I didn’t live in Toronto at the time, “…to drive down to Toronto, then I will happily go do it.” And I didn’t think it would ever happen because he woke up at 2:00 in the afternoon usually, so. We were students.

And when he did it, I was like, “Damn, I guess I have to follow through with it.” So, it was a very interesting day. We went from 9,000 people wrapped around what was, at the time, called the SkyDome where the Blue Jays played their home games, and the second day we were 900 people. And I can tell you that all of those folks who you see on television you go, “No, they don’t really think they’re good. They’re doing this just to get on television.” I can assure you they really think they’re great.

And so, there’s a lot of people in that 900 who were chosen because it made good television and there was a lot of really talented people who never made the finals. So, ever since then, I just can’t watch reality television.

Pete Mockaitis
Because you just sort of feel the cringe and emotional connection to those who are being embarrassed or is that the driver there?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, it’s like you can see how they’re curating it for television, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s not reflective of like…” The people who won were fine but the people I’ve met in the lineups and who I made friends with there, they were amazing, and I was like, “How are you not making it through?” and they didn’t have that ugly-duckling kind of story that the television producers were looking for. So, ever since then I think reality TV just isn’t for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is disillusioning. So, you’re not actually seeing the greatest singers there are. You’re seeing good singers who have a compelling story.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, I think the Kelly Clarkson’s, because American Idol happened way before Canadian Idol did, I think that was likely compelling, a very talented person without needing to scrub the story. But what we saw in Canada wasn’t really reflective of what our talent pool is like.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for peeling back the curtain there. I auditioned for The Real World once but it was not much of an audition. I just waited in line for a really long time and sat in the room, and then introduced myself. That was it. It didn’t come to pass. Probably for the best, I think.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I was actually on The Real World once, kind of accidentally.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no kidding?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, I was in Cancun on vacation and we met a bunch of people out and about, and they’re like, “Come back to the hotel with us.” Like, “What? Are you crazy? I’m not coming back to a hotel with a bunch of strangers.” They said, “Look around you. We have a zillion and one camera people. Nothing can happen to you.” And I was like, “That’s kind of fair.” It was actually quite boring because I was like, “I’m not going to do anything stupid that’s going to appear on television. I’m out.” So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, it sounds like you said less and you got more when it comes to your life results.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
The poor segues is not my favorite part of the show, I think. And so, that’s the name of your book Say Less, Get More: Unconventional Negotiation Techniques to Get What You Want, and that’s pretty cool. And I think negotiation is one of those topics which sounds just kind of sexy and fun. We got Chris Voss, an FBI hostage negotiator, on the show some time ago. And so, I think some of those skills just can make you feel like a cool Jedi with powers if you know these negotiation moves. But I’d love to hear the practical considerations for your everyday professional who maybe doesn’t make deals on a regular basis, they’re not in sales or an agent. What is the case for why most professionals could benefit from sharpening their negotiation skills?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I think most people don’t realize that they are, in fact, negotiating a lot of the time because what we hear on TV and pop culture, it’s all about people asking all the time, “Ooh, your life must be like the show ‘Suits,” right?” And I’m like, “Actually, it’s quite boring. If it gets to that point, it means they’re in deep trouble and they should’ve called me a long time before that.”

So, it’s not about the slickest salesperson who does the negotiating, we’re actually negotiating constantly. Every conversation you are having where you’re trying to get somebody on board with your idea, so, in essence, leadership is a negotiation. Every time you are dealing with a toddler who’s having a temper tantrum, you are, in fact, having a negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, what’s up with that?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
And it happens with our peers. It’s not always about money exchanging hands. It’s often qualitative things that we’re talking about as well. So, I think people don’t recognize that they are, in fact, negotiating more than they think they are, but there’s also opportunities to improve your life and reduce your stress if you can spot them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, tell us about spotting those opportunities. Like, what might be an opportunity that just passes us by and didn’t even occur to us, like, “Oh, maybe I should speak up or speak less, I don’t know, and negotiate that”?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Well, I would say, pre-COVID, one of the big questions I was often getting was, “How to negotiate more flexibility?” People are so stressed out and burnt out at work, so time is our most important component of negotiation, it seems, these days. And so, when it comes to that time factor, it’s, “How do I get some of my time back? How do I create some boundaries? If my colleague or manager at work is constantly asking me for additional things, ‘Can you do this extra thing for me? Can you work late on this?’ how do I spot the opportunity to go, ‘You know what, I can say no and I’d actually get both of us quite happy about it because I can do it in a way that’s going to be cooperative and come up with an alternative solution for us”?
So, those are the most obvious ones to me that are most often overlooked for most people. And, especially, those folks who find themselves constantly burnt out and going, “Why am I getting all this stuff piled on me?” Well, it’s because you need to have a more appropriate conversation to manage the flow of work and to help people understand how to create that empathy and make sure that they are thinking about some of those things that perhaps you haven’t raised and vice versa.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Fotini, please tell us this magic in which we can say no and the other person will be pleased. Can you maybe give us a demo of how it can unfold in practice?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Well, there’s a couple things that come to mind. One is what I call the four magic words of negotiation. And it is very simple, and it is, “If you, then I.” And by using those four magic words, you are introducing conditional training. So, when someone says, “Hey, can you help me with this project?” you could go, “Absolutely. If you can help me with this other project or if you can take something else off my desk, then I’d be happy to help you with your current project.”

Or, “If you can give me flex days next week then I’d be happy to stay late today.” But it seems like it’s a gift, it’s a more collaborative conversation when you finish with the “then I” piece, I think, that you’re going to get out of it. But if you start with the “If you…” the thing that I need to get out of this, this is where I tell people you can be a little bit selfish because you want to take something first and then you want to finish with the gift, and it sounds like a gift.

But if you do the reverse of it, if you go, “Yeah, I’ll do that but only if you do this thing for me,” now it feels like a punishment even though it’s the same proposal. So, those four magic words are going to be really important in terms of helping people move forward and create some trades whether it’s trades for time or trade for effort or reduce stress levels and so on.

And then the other thing that comes up frequently is this comes straight out of the Persuasion textbooks.

Pete Mockaitis
We got Bob Cialdini coming up on the show. Woohoo!

Fotini Iconomopoulos
He’s one of my favorite people in the whole wide world and I cite him in my book and I talk about so many of his lectures all the time. And I guess this is a bit of a spoiler in case he does come on, but one of the things that comes up frequently when I’m speaking, in women’s groups especially, is people are wondering, they’re like, “Why am I always getting all of this extra work piled on me?” And I ask them, “How are you responding when people thank you in that moment? When you’ve done something nice for someone and they say, ‘Thank you,’ what’s your natural response?”

So many people say their response is, “No problem.” Well, if you’ve just told me, “It’s no problem,” then it’s not going to be a problem for me to come back and dip into the well all over again. But if you were to pause for a moment and think about all this whole say less, get more concept, take a second to think about it, you have a moment of power where you could say, “I’m sure you’d do the same for me.” And, now, suddenly, one of two things are going to happen.

They’re going to go, “Yeah, I would do the same thing for that person,” and then we log this into my subconscious brain and, when the opportunity comes up, I will do something for that person. Or, they’re going to go, “Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that thing for her. I’m definitely not going to go back to this person because I don’t want to feel guilty about it.” So, you’re preventing them from burning you out and continuously dipping into this well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Fotini, I want to talk about that specific phrase actually because I’ve said it before and I felt a little weird when I did. It’s almost like I feel like I’m saying and they know I’m saying, “Yeah, well, you owe me, buster.” And so, I don’t know if that’s how it comes across, and maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But are there any alternative ways you like to express that? Sometimes I say, “Hey, of course, we’re all on the same team,” which is a little bit, it’s not as direct in either way in terms of me feeling weird or the reciprocity power I’m trying to extract from it. But how else could we say that phrase?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, there’s definitely other ways to say it. And one of the things that you tapped into is it’s got to be authentic no matter what is coming out of your mouth. If I’m giving you advice, or the FBI guy is giving you advice, or Mr. Cialdini is giving you advice, whomever is going to be telling you these things, if it doesn’t feel authentic, it’s not going to work because you’re going to stumble all over your words and it’s going to just come out like verbal diarrhea, so it’s got to be authentic for you, but the principle is the key.

So, what you did there is you didn’t do the “No problem” and threw away your power or gave them power. You neutralized it. And so, the issue I have, more than anything, is the “No problem” moment. So, what you said works perfectly, and other things are. When people thank me at the end of a session when I’m doing a keynote or Q&A or something like that, one of the things I like to tell them is, “I appreciate that.” It’s not a “No problem.” I made the effort to show up here today but I appreciate that. It’s neutralizing it as opposed to just throwing it away.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like that because I think I even said to my wife a few times, “Thank you for thanking me,” and that just feels a little cheesy and almost like…but “I appreciate that” sometimes the specific words make all the difference, and I love that because you are acknowledging that you appreciate the thanks, which some people just don’t give. That’s a free tip, thank people. And it’s true. So, I do, I do really appreciate it. Words of affirmation, I like them, one of my love languages. So, game on. I appreciate that. That’s good.

So, boy, we’re already getting so much good stuff here. So, sometimes though it’s not about saying a particular phrase. The title of the book is Say Less, Get More. What do you mean by say less?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
So, it’s two-fold. One is you really actually have to stop talking because people will think and talk at the same time and talk themselves out of a deal. I see this happening all the time whether you’re a junior account manager or you’re a C-suite executive, people will constantly be talking, assuming again, that we’ve absorbed this messages that the one who speaks the fastest, and the one who’s the quick-witted one is going to get the best deal. That’s usually not true.

And so, I tell introverts, “You can rejoice. This is your moment. This is your opportunity to actually pause.” And the reason I say “Say less” so much is I talk about our mental pause button, and I ask people to channel that mental pause button. Because when we’re faced with stress, and negotiation is one of those moments that most people find very stressful, we have this primitive way of handling things where our cave person, our ancestors, we have the same brain as they did. When they were faced with a saber-toothed tiger, all rational thought would leave their brains and that’s what allowed them to run like hell, that super human strength to run from their threat.

Today, we don’t have physical threats. We have psychological threats. So, whether it’s a threat to our ego, or a threat to our security and so on, our brains still respond the same way. And that’s what has those moments that make you go, “Oh, God, why did I do that?” and your palms were sweaty, and your heart was beating faster, and your breath was more shallow, and all of that rational energy left your brain.

But instead of having those moments of “Why did I do that?” instead, you could just pause and give yourself a moment for maybe it’s a meditative breath, maybe it’s a positive mantra, maybe it’s a visualization of some kind, just that chance for your brain to catch up to what it needs to do. And so, you will be far more capable. You can actually change your brain in that moment by reframing things.

There was a really interesting study that was done. Back in 2013, Harvard did a study where they had participants sing in front of a group which, for most people, can create a lot of fear. I don’t get it. If you put me in a karaoke bar, I’m then good to go. But they made them sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” but before they did, they put them in three separate groups. And they told the first group, “Tell yourself that you are anxious,” and they told the second group, “Describe yourself as excited,” and then they told the last group to say nothing at all.

And what they found was when there was a computer that measured their volume and pitch, the group that described themselves as excited outperformed the other two groups. And they not only outperformed them when they were singing, they also outperformed them on a math test and a speech test. They were perceived as more persuasive, more confident, and more persistent.

So, what that tells us is when you can take yourself out of a fear mindset and into an opportunity mindset, you can change your cognitive abilities. You can actually change your brain. So, if you’re going in for that negotiation or that stressful moment or that toddler who was having a temper tantrum, if you can just press your mental pause button and go, “I can handle this,” or, “I’m excited about this,” “I’m excited for the resolution,” “I’m excited to show them what I’m made up,” “I’m excited to finally put all of this preparation to good use,” you can actually change your brain in that moment and get better results. So, that’s one element of saying less.

The other element of saying less is actually using fewer words or being more measured in your words because you don’t want to be doing that whole talking yourself out of the deal thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, well, one, that’s a fascinating study. Do you remember who did it or where it was published because we totally got to link to it?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I know I cited it in the book. It was 2013, it was Harvard, that’s what I recall off the top of my head.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Okay. So, then when are taking that pause, that breath, that mantra moment, that reinterpretation “I’m excited,” I think I’m a little reluctant sometimes to do that because I assume the other person on the other end that I’m talking to expects words to come from me pretty shortly after they stop saying words. So, do you have any go-to, like pause phrases, scripts, like moment-takers, like, “That’s a really interesting point. I’d like to think about that for a moment”? Or, I don’t know, like what do you say?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
That’s one of them. You can call it a crutch if you want to, you can call it a tool, whatever you need. One of the biggest things though is you need to own that moment. And so, you could do it in the form of your body language if you’re face to face or you’re doing something virtually on the camera. Of course, you can have a look of pensive, deep thought on your face, and they’ll go, “All right, she’s contemplating it. I’m going to give her a second to do this.” You can frame it and say, “I need a moment to think that through,” or, “I need a moment to make sure that I’m providing an option that’s going to work for the both of us.”

And so, by owning it, and saying, “I need a moment,” versus asking for permission, it’s not about saying, “Can I have a moment?” because I don’t think you need to ask somebody for that time. But saying, “I need a moment,” or, “I’m going to take a moment to make sure that I think this through. I want to give you a thoughtful answer to this.”

And then if you say something to the effect of collaboration, of course, they’ll think, “Oh, wow, she’s considering my needs and she’s taking the time to think about this. She’s not just coming with something off the cuff. Well, now, I feel like she’s somebody that I can trust.” So, it’s thinking through, framing it up to go, “I am owning this time,” as opposed to, “Oh, no, I don’t know what to say.”

So, you also want to make sure that your body language is consistent with that. You don’t want to look like the deer-in-the-headlights when you’re taking that moment of pause. You want to look like it is intentional and you own it, and they’re the ones who are going to be hanging on your every word when you can do that because there’s a very different message that you’re sending with one set of body language versus the other.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like it. And there’s so many ways you can convey that and just see what works for you. And part of me is just thinking, just like a noise, like, “Hmm,” like that kind of means I’m thinking, and I didn’t have to use any syllables at all, “Hmm,” and then stroking your chin or whatever. There are so many ways that even looks like I’m thinking and that’s great.

And I’ve actually appreciated it on the receiving end. When I say something and someone else just pauses to think for a while, I like it. I kind of feel valued, it’s like, “You’re actually chewing on that as opposed to just feeling the need to fill the space.” And it does make me more curious, like it’s a bit of suspense, like, “Well, what’s he going to say? It sounds like it might be pretty good because he’s cooking it up for a little while here.” So, that’s fun.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
That’s the beauty of psychology, right? So, that you’re creating what is hard to obtain. People value things that are hard to obtain. So, even if you know the answer in the back of your mind, and you can say it quickly, taking your time and showing that little bit of reluctance means that you’re in charge of the schedule here. And I think that can also speak volumes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about taking charge. And I think when it comes to negotiations, I think sometimes there can be a tension in that you really do, let’s just say everyone is coming at it and from a good place, they have good faith, they want to work something out and find a win-win.

And so then, I wonder, sometimes when it comes to disclosing information, on the one hand you could say, “Hey, information, knowledge is power and the more you have an advantage in that department, relative to your other person, you have strength and the advantage.” And then the other side of it though is like disclosing is sometimes absolutely just necessary, like, “What are we even talking about here? We gotta get on the same page to like move forward.”

So there’s that tension, if this makes any sense, in terms of if you have information and disclosing it would be a helpful collaborative thing that you’d like to do, but it’s also something that is in and of itself can shift a bit of the power dynamic, how do you think about these things?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, so there’s two things to think about. One is, “What type of negotiation is it?” And so, I talk about negotiation as a spectrum, so I came up with a model to help my MBA students and my clients think it through. So, there’s kind of like a spectrum of light. If you can imagine that there’s a more competitive side of the spectrum, that is when you are talking one dimensional, it’s really just about price and nothing and else. Those are the toughest, coldest, there’s no relationship, there’s no real trust to speak of.

So, if you can imagine you’re on a beach in Mexico, buying a souvenir, or in Thailand buying a pair of elephant pants, it’s a done-and-done really quick negotiation. And when you’re talking about those types of negotiations, again, say less, get more comes in here because you don’t want to give away any information, you don’t trust this person, and anything you do say will likely be used against you. So, you’re never going to go in there and say, “Yeah, I’m trying to propose to give you $10 for this item but, really, I have $50 in my pocket. Feel free to take advantage of me.” That’s just not what we do.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. “This is my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal in the world and in her favorite color. She’s absolutely going to love it. Hey, how much?”

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, “She’s going to have a temper tantrum if I don’t get it. What are you going to charge me?” So, those are the scenarios where you’re not going to share very much information. And as you move along the spectrum, you build more trust, the consequences to the relationship are greater. It is a more complex and creative negotiation so it’s not just about cash.

So, if you think of in the middle of a spectrum, I would call like a job offer negotiation would fall in there, where, yeah, salary is still going to be likely the most important thing, but there’s other things in the mix that we’re going to throw in there, and maybe it’s bonuses, and maybe it’s a car, or maybe it’s flexibility and other things that I can attach a tangible value to. And if you don’t share with them what would be important to you, well, then it’s going to be very difficult for them to come up with a solution that’s going to be tasteful to you.

Pete Mockaitis
“If I don’t know what you want, how can I give it to you?”

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Exactly. And then, of course, when you have the closest of collaborative negotiations, those are the ones where there’s a merger perhaps happening, or you’re talking about the negotiations at home with your spouse or your child or somebody with whom you have the greatest amount of trust, you’re going to be a lot more transparent there.

So, it depends on where you are in the spectrum and the amount that you’re going to share with them but you also still have to pause and say less in those moments, to go, “What information is going to be helpful to moving forward and what information is going to be harmful that they can use against me?”

So, even in that job offer thing, there’s a balance. And so, with most of my clients, when I’m working through high-stakes negotiations with a lot of these corporate folks who hire me, we actually come up with a list of, “What information are we going to share now to build a little bit of trust? What information are we going to hold back until later to make sure that, well, I need to know that I can trust them and they’re not going to take advantage of me? And what information is completely off limits altogether? Never going to tell them what the secret family recipe is, or raw material costs and that kind of thing.” And we’re very clear on those things before we go into any type of negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. The raw material cost, well said. Well, so then let’s hear are there any particularly unique, novel, unconventional approaches or recommendations that you put forward that we should know about while we’ve got you here?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I would say one of the easiest ones is that there’s too often this assumption that negotiation has to be this tough and nasty, banging-my-fist-on-the-table kind of conversation, and that is rarely the type of approach that is going to get you the best results. I’d say the one that gets you the most results is going in and asking questions in a curious mindset. If you can go in there and be curious about somebody instead of defensive or instead of tough and arrogant and so on, that is likely going to get you much further.

And I would say when you can make them be curious about you, then they’re going to want to find a way to deal with you. And I will tell you from personal experience that when I used to work for a consulting firm, and I worked for large corporations before that, and when I left and I quit my job and I went into self-employment, it was actually unintentional. I just quit my job because I knew I needed a change of some kind in my life.

And when I quit, I had all of these clients who called me up and said, “Fotini, when are you going to come back and work with us?” And I’d say, “I don’t work for that company anymore.” They said, “We didn’t hire the company. We hired Fotini. We liked dealing with you. We want to deal with you.” And the reason they were doing that is not because I was giving them these massive discounts, and not because I was puffing up my chest and being demanding, like, “You must do things my way.” It was because I was taking the time to get to know them a little bit. I was curious about them and I was understanding a lot more and acknowledging some of the challenges that they were facing.

They were learning a little something about me as well and they got to know the person behind the negotiation title, if you will, and that made them want to deal with me. So, my entire business exists today because I thought of the person and not the Excel spreadsheet. We don’t conduct negotiations on spreadsheets. We are dealing with humans, and humans are crazy and psycho at many times so we need to think of the psychology more than anything.

Pete Mockaitis
Humans are crazy and psycho. That’d have to be our pulled quote for the interview.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I’ve been known to say people are psycho in my MBA classes, and my students loved that one. I don’t live that down.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you bring this to life for us with a story in terms of, “Okay, we’re putting into play some of these principles and we saw a cool outcome”? Like, “Oh, it was more than about just price. There was some emotional elements. Saying less was helpful.” Can you tie it together with a bit of a finale story? No pressure, Fotini.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
So, for example, a couple of years ago, I renovated a house and it was one of the most awful experiences of my life. I don’t recommend going through, living through renovations and leaving your house.

But there was a lot of negotiations that had to be done in that moment. And I was pulling out carpets and I needed to match the exact same hardwood in the rest of the house to the bedrooms that I was removing the carpets from, and it’s hard to get a perfect match when you’re doing this type of stuff and you’re trying to avoid having to redo the entire house.

[27:05]

So, I go in, there are two retailers in the entire Toronto area that had this very specific brand of hardwood floors and this very specific color that I needed to match. And when I went to the first one, I said, “Here are the specs? How much do you think it’s going to cost me?” And the guy went, “Hmm, it’ll be about 1500 bucks.” I said, “Okay. Thank you very much.”

I went to the other one, and I said, “Here are the specs. How much do you think it’s going to cost me?” And he spent some time and he’s looking at his calculator and he’s punching things in, he said, “It’ll be 1725.”

Pete Mockaitis
$17.25?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I wish. So, $1,725.00. Which one sounded more credible? The reality is that unround number and that time that he took to make sure that he was thinking through that analysis, if in fact he was, sounds far more credible to most of us versus that cheaper one that goes, “It’ll be about 1500 bucks.” When he came up with that answer really quickly, I went up, “Huh, that doesn’t sound accurate. I bet you I’m going to have some surprise fees and things like that in the mix.”

So, by using things like, these are tactics, like unround numbers, and by using that hesitation, that saying less, and taking your time to build up that anticipation, you can change the credibility factor. If I was looking at it just on a spreadsheet, I probably would’ve made a very different decision. But when I’m looking at it from a holistic, “Okay, this one sounds more credible than this one. The rounded number sounds like it has more risks attached to it. It’s probably going to cost me a lot more. Will it be the same quality that I wanted, and so on?”

We can provoke people and make them think and change their perceptions in many different ways. So, it’s all about considering all of the entire holistic picture rather than just that cell on an Excel spreadsheet.

Pete Mockaitis
And I also want to add, when you talked about renovations, that reminded of the time that I was getting a new garage door put into the garage. And so, I don’t know what the heck that’s supposed to cost but I got a number from my contractor who’s working with a garage door person, and I said, “Well, I mean, I don’t know anything about garage doors, but that number is higher than what HomeAdvisor.com says it should cost, so I’m going to call somebody else.” They said, “Wait, wait, wait, let me go back.”

And so, this happened like three times, I was like, “Well, I really appreciate that you’ve reduced the price and we’re getting closer, but again that’s higher than the HomeAdvisor range, so, yeah, just to check, I’m going to check some others.” They’re like, “Well, let me get back…” It was comical to me in terms of like because I had no idea, had I not spent like two minutes pulling up that page on HomeAdvisor.com, I’d probably say, “Okay.”

But because I did, I was able to save a few hundred bucks. And I think that’s just wild how, in my experience, I’d love to get your hot take on this, it rarely boils down to a genius psychological maneuver or charismatic Jedi mind persuasion trick for me and more so boils down to, “Hey, I’ve done my research and this is sort of like the alternatives and I’m just going to do that if you can’t work with that,” and then that’s that.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
You’re demonstrating your credibility by saying just very few words, you’re going, “Oh, well, when I checked such and such website…” and they’re like, “Oh, crap. Now he knows the jig is up. Now I have to make sure that I appease this person,” and all you said was very few words. You mentioned one website and, all of a sudden, the whole thing changes.

I actually have a really funny story that, again, when I moved into house living, I lived in a condo for many years, and, in fact, I hate house living and I moved back into a condo last year. But when I moved into this house, I forgot how much I hated shoveling snow, and I live in Toronto where we have a ton of snow, and you have to have your sidewalk shoveled within 12 hours of snowfall or you get ticketed by the city, and so I was like, “Screw this. I’m going to find somebody else to do this for me.” And so, I’m very good at outsourcing, and I did some research, and I asked around, and people said, “To get the driveway the size of yours done for the entire winter, you should spend no more than $400 for the next four months.” I was like, “Great.”

So, I put a post up in a local Facebook group with the specs so everybody knew how small the driveway was and that’s when things got really interesting. And one gentleman replied and said, this is all over text, this is Facebook Messenger, and he said, “I would take care of your property for $800 for the season,” and I was pissed. I was so angry, I was like, “You think I’m a woman and you’re going to be able to take advantage of me and treat me like a statistic and get all aggressive? I don’t think so.”

But I pressed my mental pause button and, instead of saying all those things, I said, “Wow, that’s a lot more expensive than other quotes. Thanks for reaching out but that’s too much for me.” And then he came back, and he said, “So, how much are you looking at spending?” And I said, “Well, I’ve got students in the neighborhood willing to do it for $200. I’d be willing to pay for someone more reliable but you’re just way too far outside my price range.” And that was true, I had a neighbor kid who was willing to do it for 200 bucks.

And he said, “So, what do you want to spend? I live at Woodbine and Gerard. The lowest I can do for you is 500.” And that was all in one text box. So, he asked me a question, and before I could even see that question, he answered that question, which means he’s now negotiating against himself. And he gave me his location that if I needed to, I could use to my advantage to go, “Great, then you can work into the very beginning or the very end of your route. No problem.”

And then he said, “The lowest I can do for you is 500,” and it’s almost like cue the dramatic music, it’s “Dun, dun, dah,” because I know the highest I would spend is 400, and if the lowest he would go is 500, that means that we can’t get to a deal. So, I said, “Thanks but that’s still way too much. I’ll have to settle for one of the kids.” And then I put my phone away because this happened first thing in the morning, and I was running a workshop that day with a client, and I never look at my phone when I’m with clients.

And so, what I found was, later on that day, when I checked my phone, the negotiation wasn’t, in fact, over. And many hours later, I saw a message that was waiting for me and it said, “400.” And then, because I hadn’t seen that message, at 5:18 p.m. that day, there was one more message waiting for me, “300.” And that is the beauty, that is the power of saying less and getting more. The less I was saying, the more I was getting rewarded, right?

And so, that’s just that little extra hesitation that you can put in there, and I didn’t have to yell at him or shout the obscenities that were running through my mind earlier. It was diplomatic, it was polite, and it was still fruitful. It didn’t have to be that banging-fist-on-the-table stuff in order to get the best possible deal.

I will tell you, however, I didn’t go with that guy. I just didn’t trust him and I ended up negotiating with someone else to get my driveway and my neighbor’s driveway done for 240 bucks each for the season. Yeah, so she was pretty psyched to have a professional negotiator living next door.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, congratulations. And that is a lovely story in terms of tying those things together nicely. And it all started because you had some idea, okay, 400. Like, had you not inquired, even like, “Huh, 800.” If I had to, you’d probably part with 800 bucks to have the snow handled but you didn’t have to. And the reason you knew you didn’t have to is because you’ve got that upfront info and then you just let some silence bring it on down.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah. I mean, that’s one of my favorites just to show you the value of saying less, and the power of just taking your time for things whether it was intentional or not. That is what people need to learn is that you can talk yourself out of a deal or you can say less and you can get a lot more out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any other recommended scripts, or phrases, or key gems of things you find yourself saying often in negotiations?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Well, I have kind of an automatic reflexive response to the word “No” or the words “I can’t.” And so, my automatic response is, “How could you?” “Under what circumstances?” “If I could wave a magic wand and make everything happen, what would it take in order to make that happen for you?” So, for me, no is not the end of the negotiation. It truly is the start of the negotiation.

And I think that’s something that I learned when I was negotiating with my dad as a kid because, quite frankly, I grew up with the strictest of dads and that was just the only way to get out of the house, “Well, what would it take? Does it mean my sister has to come? Does it mean so and so has to be there? Does it mean my big cousin is going to pick me up? Any of those things. What other scenarios can we come up with?” But by asking really great questions like that and having them in the back of your mind, kind of like as my mental rolodex of, “What could we do to make that happen? How close can we get to my proposal?” Those are all some of the things that are my response to a “No” or “I can’t.”

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I think the one that sticks out to me most when it comes to negotiations, specifically, is the kind of infamous JFK one, “Let us not negotiate out of fear.” It’s about “Not negotiating out of fear but let us not fear to negotiate.” Because if you negotiate out of fear, it’s a Harvard study that I mentioned to you earlier, you’re not going to get great results. And if you avoid negotiating altogether, you’re going to get even less results. So, what can we do to psyche ourselves up instead of psyching ourselves out?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
One of my favorites is probably a lot of the stuff that Cialdini talks about. He is definitely one of my favorites. He talks about a study on MBA students and likability of negotiation where they put them into two separate groups, and they told one of the groups, “Start negotiating right away,” and they told the other group to, “Spend a few minutes getting to know each other.”

And the group that started negotiating right away, 55% of them managed to close a deal, and that’s not too shabby. But the group who started negotiating after they got to know each other for a few minutes, 90% of them managed to close deals. And I know most people will go, “Oh, sure, you get to know each other, you like each other, you give them a better deal, and that’s how you close it,” but that’s not true.

What ended up happening is not only that 90% of them closed deals, they also closed better deals. They closed deals that were 12% greater in value, which is pretty remarkable when you think about just spending a few minutes before the negotiation even starts, getting to know the other person, being curious about them, sharing something in common with them. Those are the things that are going to help you move further ahead versus that being very aggressive and trying to be super demanding. It’s likability before the negotiation starts that’s going to get you much further ahead than getting straight down to business right away.

And in our temptation to do things over email and try to be efficient, we kind of skip over that stuff in a virtual world now. And so, we have an opportunity to use that study to our advantage and go, “What can I do to just warm things up a little bit at the beginning of the email or the beginning of our conversation and so on just to get to know this person a little bit more?” That, for me, is the sweet spot of being able to maximize negotiations. And so, Cialdini is one my favorites to lean on over and over again.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite book?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Surprisingly, right now, I’m reading one called Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, and I never expected to enjoy it as much as I did. So, that’s been my most surprising book this year.

One of my favorites though that I feel that I recommend a lot to my audiences is Presence by Dr. Amy Cuddy, which I think is a phenomenal one for loads of great tips to build your confidence and show up and be really credible.

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I use my mental pause button. Really, that’s it. It’s taking my time to take that meditative breath and think through what I need to say next.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
My favorite habit is reading. Absolutely, 100% it is reading. I read audiobooks now to get even more books when I’m going out for a walk, for sure.

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
It really is the pause button that people seem to resonate with most, and that’s where the whole “Say less, get more” mantra came from. So, when I talk to my MBA students, or my audiences in keynotes, or even my corporate folks, when I’m seeing people live, I actually give them a little card that has a pause button on it. And so, some of my students even tell me, they’re like, “I have your card on my bathroom mirror,” and, “I have it on my night table,” and, “I have it on my bulletin board.” I’m like, “Why is it on your night table?” They’re like, “It prevents me from getting into arguments with my spouse.” So, that one, I think, is the favorite from everybody in my audiences.

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
They can go to my website FotiniIcon.com or they can find me on Instagram where I’m sharing loads of stuff all the time @fotiniicon there, and LinkedIn is also one of my favorite social media sites where I share loads of information.

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I do. So, I always leave my keynotes and I give my audience as a challenge to put saying less and getting more into practice right away, and there are two very easy ways to do that. The first is ask yourself, “What kind of a question can I ask to learn a little bit more about this person and get more out of this conversation?” And the other is, “Is there a moment where I can be quiet and say less and maybe let my body language do the talking to get more out of a situation?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Fotini, this has been a pleasure. Thank you. And I wish you all the best and much luck in all the ways you say less and get more.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Thank you very much. I hope it comes in handy for you with your kids as well.