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553: How to Change Minds and Organizations with Jonah Berger

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Jonah:

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jonah Berger Interview Transcript

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

Jonah Berger
Thanks so much for having me.

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

Jonah Berger
Oh, thanks. I appreciate that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah Berger
Oh, they do, right?

Pete Mockaitis
They’re after you.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Can’t have that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah Berger
You are.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Got to stay awake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
We both like drinking beer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
You’re relieved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah Berger
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah Berger
Thanks so much.

513: How to Persuade When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter with Lee Hartley Carter

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Lee Hartley Carter says: "It's not what you say that matters, it's what people hear."

Lee Hartley Carter discusses why facts alone won’t persuade others—and what does.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you need more than just facts
  2. The foundations of compelling persuasion
  3. How to craft your master narrative

About Lee

Lee Hartley Carter is president of maslansky + partners, a language strategy firm based on the single idea that “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.” As a television news personality and researcher, she doesn’t rely on traditional polling for her unique insights into U.S. politics; rather, she analyzes voters’ emotional responses to help understand and empathize with them on a more visceral level. The reaction matters, but the “why” behind it matters more. It was this approach that allowed her to accurately predict the results of the 2016 presidential election and primaries.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Lee Hartley Carter Interview Transcript

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

Lee Carter
I’m so happy to be here and excited about this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. And one thing that we share is that we both auditioned for The Real World. But I understand you were actually a finalist. What’s the story here?

Lee Carter
Okay. So, I was a finalist and it was a long, long time ago. I was obviously an infant when I auditioned. But I was in London and I was studying there while I was in college, and I was walking down the street, somebody asked me if I wanted to interview for the show. I had never seen it before. And I got all the way to the finalist selection of it and I was super excited to be at MTV headquarters at the time. And I got the paperwork, and they said, “You’re going to be one of the final 28 finalists. They’re doing a special and you have to sign this contract.”

And what I realized was that my parents and my grandparents would have to know that I drank if I were in this television show. So, I didn’t go for it because I was afraid that they were going to find that out, which is so funny of all the things because the world is so different now. I am so thankful that I made that decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me more. So, what would’ve been the negative ramifications of you having footage of yourself on The Real World fast-forwarding into the current year?

Lee Carter
I just don’t think at age, whatever I was, 18, that I would’ve portrayed myself in a way that I would want to be out there for all time because that becomes part of your story, right? And I’m not sure that who I was at 18 is what I want the whole world to see even though it is definitely part of my story that I like to talk about today. But it’s tough to be out there all the time for everybody to see.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s a great perspective. I remember my audition was very short. We waited in line for a long, long time outside this club in Chicago, and then we each had an opportunity, just like introduce ourselves in a group for like 20 seconds, and then that was it. And then they tried to reassure us, saying something like, “Hey, you know, we cast so and so, and so and so, really quickly just because we know they have it.” It’s like, “Okay. Well, yeah, some magical powers, I don’t know who has it.” And I guess now you bring up some great points. Perhaps I can be grateful that that never came to pass in my life.

Lee Carter
Yeah, the unanswered prayers, conversation, sometimes, are the biggest gifts, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your wisdom. You talk about persuasion, How to Convince Others When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter. And, boy, what a juicy topic. So, could you tell us, what’s sort of the state of play right now with regard to humans and facts and the extent to which they do or don’t matter these days?

Lee Carter
So, we’re in a place, and everybody says to me all the time, my clients or people in conversation knowing about this book, “It’s frustrating, facts don’t seem to matter.” And my argument is actually that they never really did. And I hate to say that because it sounds extremely cynical, and I’m not a cynical person. But the truth of the matter is, if you’re trying to convince somebody who has a different opinion than you do, who holds different beliefs than you, facts alone aren’t going to be enough to change their mind.

And the reason for that is human beings have all kinds of biases that are inside of us. And there’s behavioral science and all kinds of theories of why this is true, but, basically, we recognize patterns and that’s how we survive in nature. And we pick up the things that reinforces that, what we believe or what we need, and we reject things that don’t serve us well. And that’s just the way we work.

And so, when you are predisposed to believe something, you’re going to pick up all of the facts and all of the information that reinforces your existing opinion and you’re going to reject those things that don’t, and you’re going to move on with your day. The difference between now and anytime before that is how we consume information and how much information we get.

So, it used to be that we had to wade through lots of information on both sides and you would pick out the information but there were different authorities that you trusted or different kinds of things and ways that you would get information. You would even go to the library or go to the encyclopedia. You’d have to read the news, you’d have to do all kinds of things that we don’t have to do now, and you’re exposed to lots of different opinions and ideas.

That doesn’t necessarily have to happen now because everybody can sort of sign up for who they believe, who they trust, and just get fed that same information over and over and over again without even really having to wade in and find out how do people feel that disagree with them.

And so, because we’re so inundated with information, because, on average, we’re getting 5,000 marketing messages at us a day, and because we’re insular in who believe in and trust, and we’re getting more and more tribal, it becomes harder and harder to break through with facts alone. We have to find a way that disrupts patterns that makes people stop and say, “Huh, I never thought about that that way before.” And that’s not just going to happen because of facts alone.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing and well-said, and I like that notion of patterns being disrupted, and, “Hmm, I never thought of it that way before,” because that’s some of my favorite information in terms of it just gets you going. I guess I think about sometimes it’s just like sort of groups that exist. Like, let’s see what’s a good one. Let’s say, well, how about we pick abortion. There’s a juicy one, huh?

Just like the existence of groups like Secular Pro-Life or Democrats for Life or something, it kind of gets people scratching their head a little bit, like, “Wait a minute. My perception of that belief system and those who hold it does not match just the name of your group.” And then that just sort of like gets people intrigued to dig in more. Or just whenever you hear a potential, I don’t know, contradiction, I guess, it’s a contradiction to your set of perceptions of things, well, I just find it very intriguing to learn, “Well, what’s this group all about? Do tell.”

Lee Carter
Totally. And that’s really the goal, right? That is, it’s not necessarily provocative but it’s just enough to give people a reason to pause and say, “Wow, I want to think about that differently.” And that sometimes won’t be enough to change our mind but it certainly can be enough to interrupt patterns and get things moving in the right direction.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, then let’s kind of dig into it then. If we want to be doing some persuasion and do some pattern interrupting, how do we pull it off?

Lee Carter
So, there’s a few things. In the book, I talk about this nine-step process that you need to go through, but there’s a few steps that I think are most important to really focus on and highlight. And the first is being really clear on what it is that you want to accomplish. And I don’t think we spend enough time about this. Sometimes we’re just saying, “I want to get the job,” or sometimes it’s just, “I want to get this done,” sometimes it’s, “I want more people to vote this way.”

But I think we got to slow down and say, “What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? And what do I need to have happen in order that, and what do I want people to do differently as a result of what I’m asking them?” I think you just really need to slow down on this vision and be really specific. I don’t think we give enough weight to that step in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, could you maybe give us an example in terms of, “Hey, you might think that you have a clear idea at this level, but, no, no, a clear idea sounds more like this, more detailed articulation”?

Lee Carter
Yeah, one of my favorite stories that I use to illustrate this point comes from right after college. I went through a pretty bad breakup and I was really disappointed in how things had turned out. I was out with one of my friends. He was one of my best friends and still to this day, and he said to me, “So, Lee, in a few years, none of this is going to matter. I know right now you’re devastated. But let’s think about, what is your dream? What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?” And I said, “I don’t know. I guess I’d like to have a job that I like and maybe be married and have a couple kids, I guess.” And he said, “No, no, Lee. That is not a dream. That’s just lame. Let me tell you about a dream.”

He said, “In 10 years’ time, I want to be…it’s going to be sunset, and I want to be taking my boat, and I’m going to be coming back to shore, back to the marina. I’m going to have a great day fishing with my dad and my brother. We’re going to have caught a load of fish and I’m going to be playing Bob Seger’s ‘Hollywood Nights.’ The wind is going to be going through my hair and I’m going to be coming back to the marina where my wife and daughter are waiting for me. And I’m going to know in that moment that I’ve just made it, that I’ve got my marriage, I’ve got my kids, I’ve got my job, I’ve got my family, I’ve got everything just perfect. That’s my dream because, Lee, that is a dream.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lee Carter
And I was like, “You know what? You’re so right.” And so, when I tell people, when they’re entering in their persuasion, “Whether you’re trying to land your dream job, whether you’re trying to launch a new product, whether you’re trying to change someone’s political ideology, whether you’re trying to rebuild your reputation, I want you to be that specific. I want you to be that visual so that you know what exactly does it look like. What does success look like so that you can really spend time, visualize it. Not give shortcuts to say, ‘You know what? Here’s the three bullets of what I’m trying to accomplish.’ No, I want you to feel it.” That’s what I’m talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we get big, clear on that then. And what’s next?

Lee Carter
So, what’s next about that is getting real about what would keep you from doing that. So, a lot of times when we’re creating our master vision or our big what it is that we’re looking for, we’ll talk ourselves out of it before we can even get started. I don’t want anyone to do that. But what I do want them to do in the next step is start thinking about that. So, what are the things that are going to keep you from that? And this is about being really, really honest.

And so, I will say sometimes if you’re a business owner and you’re trying to get something, you’ll say, “I don’t have experience in that.” This is the time that you would try and say, “Okay, so I don’t have the right experience so I might need to reach out and get that kind of help, or I might even just need to lean into that. Legal might not allow me to say this or might not allow me to…” for whatever reason. The next step is about getting real about what might keep you from getting through your obstacles. Figure out how you can flip those on your heads.

Because one thing that I find often in persuasion is that we don’t address the problems that we have often enough in our messaging and in our language. So, if you’re a big company, you might be seen as greedy. If you’re a small company, you might seem as too small or you’re inexperienced. If don’t address all these things, they can really come back and bite you. But in effective persuasion, you address them.

So, sometimes, for example, if you think about President Trump, whether you like him or not, when he was running in 2015 and 2016, he knew that he wanted to be president, had a big clear picture, but his weakness was that he didn’t have the experience, that he was wealthy, and maybe many people thought he was out of touch, and there was a number of other weaknesses. But he flipped them on their heads. So, he used the fact he had no experience to his advantage, he said, “Look, I’m an outsider. I’m going to go in and drain the swamp. I’m a businessman, I’m going to make deals like you’ve never seen deals been made before.”

So, he took those things that would’ve been weaknesses and turned them into strengths. And so, I encourage people, when you’re trying to go out with your vision, figure out what it is that you want. If you’re going in and you’re interviewing for a job, and you don’t have experience in a particular category, say, “You know what, that’s to your advantage. I know I don’t have experience but I learn fast and my outside perspective, I can bring that inside the organization.” So, those kinds of things, I think, are really, really helpful and important to the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And what’s next?

Lee Carter
The third step is all about what I call active empathy. And this is if people take nothing else away from this conversation, this is what I hope people really take away. And that is that in order to have successful persuasion, it isn’t enough to know what you want to say and what you want accomplished. It’s really about understanding where the other person comes from, deeply understanding and caring about that.

Now, one thing I get all the time from people is saying, “I can’t have empathy for someone who holds such a radically different position than I do.” And I want to be very clear. Empathy does not equal endorsement by any stretch. What it simply means is you have a deep understanding of the other. And I tell people that they need to understand three different parts of the other person they’re trying to talk to.

The first is their feelings, why do they feel the way they feel. The second is their values, why do they believe what they believe. The third is their behaviors, why do they do what they do. Once you understand those three things, then and only then can you start to create a persuasion strategy that’s going to work. Otherwise, you might end up just talking in the dark.

So, let met just give you an example of what I mean by this. One, you brought up abortion so I’ll bring up gun control. This is another very, very important issue to most Americans and one that’s highly contentious. So, if you are a Second Amendment supporter, the value that is most important to you is one that we call liberty versus suppression. And so, the thing that you would hold most dear is freedom above all else, and you would say, “The worst thing that could happen is government taking away my freedoms.” Right? So, that’s the argument and that’s what you’re embedded in. It’s all about that.

Now, if you’re a pro-gun control and you say that, you know, your most primary value is about harm versus care, the most important thing is that people are safe. Now, if you’re not understanding each other’s value there, you’re going to talk over each other’s heads. So, the person is going to say, “How could you possibly want to put children at risk, and you’re such a terrible person that you’re putting yourself first?” And they’re saying, “Government is never going to make me safer. I’m the one that needs to make myself safer.”

Until you start talking to each other, listening to each other, and understanding where the other person is coming from, you’re not going to be able to have compromise, you’re not going to be able to persuade, and you’re not going to be able to reach each other. Instead, what you’re going to end up doing is putting each other in defensive postures and nobody is going to get anywhere. And so, I think it’s really important that we slow down on this step. And this applies not just to those most super emotionally-charged issues but it applies to almost everything that you do.

Pete Mockaitis
And you listed some of those values out there, harm versus care and freedom. So, do you have sort of like a checklist rundown or menu of values that you think through?

Lee Carter
Yeah. So, in the book, I lay it out. This is all based on Jonathan Haidt with a book called The Righteous Mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Lee Carter
He has some things that he talks about, the moral foundations theory. These are all the moral foundations that make us sort of program us to do anything. They play out in everything we do. And even when you’re thinking about how the company taught handles crises, for example. These narratives and these values play into it. They put people versus profits, all of those kinds of things.

But, yeah, there is a checklist in the book. And I think that the interesting thing is in politics, and I know this isn’t just meant to be about politics, is that Democrats and Liberals mostly, their primary value that they mostly talk about is harm versus care that’s why so much on healthcare, on welfare, on a lot of those things that are traditionally left-leaning issues is all around harm versus care.

On the right and the Republicans, the primary value, most often they’re talking about is liberty versus suppression which is all about freedom and giving people opportunity. So, if you think about the language that’s used on both sides, you’ll find that. And once you understand that, you’re going to be more likely to have conversations across the aisle. But, again, these issues just aren’t political. This plays out in a number of different ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Well, so we got some steps here, so we got really clear on what you’re trying to accomplish. We figured out the roadblock, what would keep that from occurring. We’ve got active empathy and a deep understanding of their view. And what’s next?

Lee Carter
So, then, after we have all of that, you’ve got a really good understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish, what’s going to keep you from getting there, and what’s most important to the person you’re going to talk to. Now, the answer, what the challenge is how do you come up with your master narrative? What is the one thing that you want to be known for?

And it’s really important here that you find something that’s not just about what you’re trying to say but what’s important to your target audience. And, oftentimes, what I see people do is they don’t have a master narrative. They don’t have the one thing that they’re trying to be known for. They try to list proof points, or facts, or lots of different things. You want to have one umbrella idea that’s going to come back over and over again, because I say most decisions that are going to be made about you, your company, your product, your politics, your politician is going to happen when you’re not in the room.

People are going to be having conversations elsewhere, or people are going to be thinking about it, so you want to have that one thing that sticks in their mind that you want to be known for, and that they’re going to just remember. And that’s what the next step is, about getting really clear on what your one thing is going to be.

And, in politics, it becomes very clear. You’ll always remember the winning candidate’s master narrative. So, with Trump, it was “Make America Great Again.” Elizabeth Warren, right now, is a very interesting one where she’s talking about not just, “I’ve got a plan for that,” but she’s very much doing this whole thing about, “It’s a system that’s broken that doesn’t work for all of us, it works for the few,” and she wants to change that. So, that’s what she is all about.

We want to know what is the one that you’re all about? Nike is about bringing out the inner athlete in all of us. You know the master narrative when it works, and it has to be that sort of one organizing idea. It’s not necessarily the language around it, but what is that one idea that you want people to be left with when they’re thinking about you and when they’re thinking about your company or your brand?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Understood. And then next?

Lee Carter
And then next, you’re going to have three things that are going to support that idea. That’s when you get to what I call pillars of the narrative. But others might just say, “Here’s three things that you need to know.” And they should never be more than three things. It’s the, “They’re the right person for the job because they’re scrappy. And how are they scrappy in three different ways? They work harder. They work tirelessly, and they work one other way.” Like, you’re going to get the three things that are going to come after that.

So, we have is one master narrative, that’s the umbrella idea, three things that support that. Now, none of this at this point is wordsmith so it has to be a big idea or has to be perfectly polished, rather it’s these are the concepts that you want to communicate. So, that is the next step in the process. So, if I were to give an example of a pharmaceutical company, so pharmaceutical companies right now are struggling because a lot of people are angry about pharmaceutical pricing.

One of the things that they have found out is that a lot of people don’t realize that pharmaceutical companies are the ones that are inventing a lot of cures, because most people think, and this is really fascinating, most people think that cures come from charities or comes from academic institutions. And that’s in large part because if you ever have anybody in your life that is fighting cancer or has another terminal illness or some kind of thing, the first thing you’ll do is sign up for a charity, a walk, a fundraiser, or something because you’re thinking the charity is going to help find the cure. You’re not thinking about the pharmaceutical companies.

And so, pharmaceutical companies had come to realize that, “We better talk about some of the things that we’re doing about where innovations come from.” So, the master narrative for a pharmaceutical company might be that they’re inventing cures that are going to help your life both in the big ways in cures, and in the short, have a better quality of life.

And then, underneath that, what are three things that you need to know about it? That they’re working to get people access, that they’re working on addressing some of the biggest customer needs, and that they’re innovating on the things that don’t have cures yet. That may be the three things that they’d want you to know. And that’s before you wordsmith anything, that’s really just about getting it on paper on how do you do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got you.

Lee Carter
And then, once you’ve done that, then it’s all about wordsmithing and making it polished, and getting to the idea. And there’s two tools that I tell people that they should use in order to bring these kinds of things to life. The first is visuals and symbols. So, I often say it’s not enough just to say something. You want people to be able to visualize it. When I talk about the dream in the beginning, it’s so helpful to have that visual.

But if you think about some of the most successful campaigns or if you think about some of the most successful turns of phrases, it becomes visual language or you have a symbol. So, if you think about Howard Schultz, for example, when he came back to Starbucks a number of years ago, Starbucks had lost its way, they didn’t have a consistent experience at Starbucks anymore, and a lot of people are complaining about the quality of the coffee. And they could’ve come back and said, “I’m back as CEO. I took a few years off, but now I’m back and we’re going to have a renewed commitment to coffee.” And, fine.

But what did he do instead? He came back and said, “You know what, I know we lost our way. I’m back and I’m shutting the doors of every one of my stores for an afternoon so that every barista that works in Starbucks can be trained in the perfect cup of coffee.” Now, that symbolic gesture, that visual became more powerful than anything else. That was a symbolic gesture, a moment, that really changed people’s minds. It caused that pause that we’re talking about earlier.

So, what I encourage people to do is, once you have your master narrative and your three supporting points, what are visual representations of that? How can you bring that to life? Now, if you’re interviewing for a job, leave a visual or tell a story that’s going to give you that visual representations that are going to break through the clutter no matter how that might come across? And I think it’s really important that people do that.

The other tool that I say is very important for folks to do that is there’s the visuals and the symbols, and then there’s just storytelling. It’s one thing to say that you’re super scrappy, it’s another thing to tell a story about a time that you were super scrappy. It’s one thing to say that your product meets a need, it’s another thing to tell an anecdote about how it met a need in a very specific space.

So, for example, we worked with an insurance company, and the insurance company wanted to show that they go above and beyond for their customers. And their whole master narrative was, “We’re looking for more ways to say yes,” which was a very sort of provocative and unique place in insurance because most people think about insurance companies saying no to claims, not trying to say yes to their customers. But, again, it could be hard to believe for people.

So, the story that they told, or one of the stories that they told is, “We look for ways to say yes and we look for ways to do more so that our customers are in a better place.” So, for example, we had a client, he was facing wildfires in California. They had to leave their home. So, we sent a crew to their home and we had their home covered with a flame-retardant foam, and when the wildfire fires went through their community, they were the only home that was left intact because it was covered with this.

And that’s something that we did because we wanted to do more for them to protect their home not only just so that when they came back, they didn’t have to worry about the claims, but they came back, and their home was in place. And that’s us going above and beyond ensuring a customer has the kind of service they can expect from us. It was a true story. It was a real story, and that does something so much more than just saying, “We look for ways to do more for our clients.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And this reminded me of there’s any number sort of eye-popping demonstrations. I’m thinking about the FiberFix It commercial right now where they made a real cage for a vehicle and instead of welding the joints, they just used this, the FiberFix It tape. And so, then they showed a car going off of a cliff with this real cage which totally snapped apart because it’s tape. But, whoa, what do you know, that thing is intact, and it really makes the point much more so than saying, “Hey, it’s really strong, really, really strong. Here’s a number on how strong it is,” it was tensile or whatever strength rating.

Lee Carter
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It leaves an impression. So, now, I’d love it if you could kind of walk us through maybe one or two or three demonstrations, top to bottom, from, “All right, I’m getting really clear on a particular goal, and then I walk through each of these steps, and I’ve executed a persuasive communication.”

Lee Carter
Sure. So, I’ll give you a couple of different examples that are in different categories. I have followed, professionally, I’ve been following election cycles since 2008. I did it for hobby before that, but professionally that’s one of the things I’ve been doing. So, you’ll always know who’s winning because they follow these steps and it becomes very clear. So, whether you’re talking about Barack Obama in 2008, or if you’re talking about President Trump in 2016, and likely you can follow who’s going to win in this time for the same reasons.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, tell us who’s going to win, Lee. Let’s have some fun.

Lee Carter
I can’t tell you who’s going to win in the head-to-head but if I were to say right now who’s going to win the Democrat nominations, it’s going to be Elizabeth Warren.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s because she’s doing a finer job of this persuasion beyond facts alone.

Lee Carter
Yes, she is. She is. So, I will walk you through from beginning to the end. So, the first thing is their big vision. You will always know why that person is running for President. You’ll always be able to answer this is part of their bigger story and part of their bigger vision. You will also always know that they have certain weaknesses that you’re willing to accept. So, with President Obama, remember he was a community organizer and he overcame that, right? He was able to do that. With President Trump, there were a number of obstacles before him. We talked about those.

The next thing that you’ll see is they always have a master narrative. President Obama had hope and change, and President Trump had Make America Great Again. And you’ll see that play out. Then you’ll always know they don’t have a laundry list of policies that they’re going to accomplish. They have a couple and you’ll remember what they are.

Barack Obama, you can still remember that he had Obamacare. He got a couple of others that he ran on. And President Trump ran on a few different policies. He ran on China Trade, he ran on jobs and the economy, he ran on the Wall, it was just a few. It wasn’t many. And that was something else that you’ll see over and over again.

The next step that you’ll see play out is that they will use visuals. And you can remember that Barack Obama always chose where he spoke very, very carefully. It was always symbolic and where it was. Where he gave his speech in Illinois, it was very carefully chosen where he launched his game. So, he understood the power of visuals as well.

President Trump, he didn’t just say he was getting tough on immigration, he said he was going to build a wall. That’s, again, the power of visuals. And then, anecdotes and storytelling, they both do it, right? So, you’ll see that throughout and that’s something that anybody, if you’re ever watching an election and trying to figure out who’s going to win, try and see and figure out if you can answer all those steps. You’ll probably going to see who’s winning, and Elizabeth Warren is the one who’s doing that right now. The rest of the candidates are not.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there’s the political view. Let’s catch another lens.

Lee Carter
Okay. So, another lens that I will give you is for an auto company that I worked with a number of years ago. They were coming after some safety concerns, and people were concerned about their cars. They had always stood for safe cars and people wanted to make sure that they were safe. And they thought that their cars would speak for themselves but they couldn’t.

So, their whole thing was trying to figure out, “How do you communicate differently?”They’re so focused on cars that were extremely safe, quality, reliable, dependable, that you knew everything in them worked. And so, we talked about their master narrative being “Built for how you live.” So, that was just this idea of like it’s everything you do is just going to work for you. And that was going to play out in three different ways. It was going to work for today, tomorrow, and together.

So, everything that they did was about using it today. And you could think about it, their quality, other cars today, it was going to be usable, everything you could do. A step in the future, whether it was electronic vehicles, whether it was flying cars, whether it was all different kinds of things, it was going to be highly usable. It was going to be practical innovation. Cars you could use. And together. It was going to be stuff in the community that they could all do together, which was all about they didn’t just give back to communities.

What they did is they said, “We’re going to use our manufacturing know-how, all of the things that we know how to do so well to make improvements in quality and reliability, whether it’s in the local emergency room, whether it’s in a local soup kitchen, whether it’s disaster recovery, and they need to get people back in their homes faster. We’re going to use all of the things that we know about manufacturing cars in order to make things more efficient in other ways.” So, they had their three things, and they would just hit them over and over and over again.

So, that’s another one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, let’s do a third.

Lee Carter
So, we were working with a financial services company who was selling a very complicated product. This product was a variable annuity and it was something that a lot of people did not understand. And so, a lot of people were talking about this variable annuity as guaranteed income for life, and that’s not something that was necessarily resonant with a lot of people out there. And the reason for that, I think, is really interesting because this goes back to the whole idea of active empathy, which is why a lot of people would say, “Well, I’m not looking for income in retirement. I’m going to stop getting income.”

And what we learned by talking to people is that they feel like in order to retire, in order to stop working, it’s not about generating more income, it’s about having a big enough pool of assets that they can live off of. So, they weren’t thinking about income in retirement, so it just wasn’t as resonant. What they needed to know is that they have protected growth. They wanted that pool of money to continue to grow while they’re in retirement, and they want to know that was protected so that they didn’t have any of the downsides that they might have otherwise.

So, we shift the master narrative, instead of being about guaranteed income for life to being about protected growth. Totally shifted the conversation and how we talked about it. The other thing that these companies were doing when they were talking about it, so you have the master narrative, was they’re often in what I would call an arms race, and I think a lot of folks do this as they try to sell, “Our debt benefit is better than your debt benefit. Our thing is better than yours.” And it’s just about listing a lot of features.

So, instead of telling them to just focus on a lot of features, we talked about starting to think about a few different things. So, let’s talk about three different categories that are underneath it or sometimes just two. In this case, it was just two – protection and growth. So, let’s talk about how your assets are protected, and here’s the different ways underneath it, rather than talking about all these different guaranteed minimum debt benefits and income benefits, and all these things that were confusing people.

There’s three ways that your money is protected, and there’s a number of different ways that it’s still going to grow because you’re still going to have access to the market through similar kinds of mutual funds than you will on the outside. And so, instead of having a lot of features underneath it, there was protection and there was growth, and there were the points to make underneath it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so throughout these, I guess what I’m really wondering here, with the active empathy bit, how do you go about, in practical tactical terms, getting after knowing what are their feelings, what are their values, what are their behaviors? Are there some favorite questions you’d like to use in surveys or interviews? Or how do you collect that insight?

Lee Carter
I think the most important thing, right, is that you don’t just try to assume that you know what the other person is thinking or feeling, that you do ask the questions. So, whether you’re hiring a research firm, or you’re doing your own Google survey, or whether you’re just engaging in conversations, it’s really important that you ask people who are in your target audience, not people who aren’t. Like, you really want to get clear on who they are.

And so, I think that what you need to ask before you start developing your message is you need to ask some questions like, “What do you think about the issue, the product, or the company that we’re talking about?” And when you’re asking the questions yourself, you need to make sure that you take all judgment out of it. And, in the book, I talk a little bit with a coach who is someone who coaches professional athletes on how do you help people stay curious and not get overly emotional, because that’s the key here. You don’t want to start reaching judgments. You really want to stay curious. And in your brain, you cannot be both curious and emotional at the same time. It’s impossible because of where the emotion is processed at the same place.

So, the job is, when you’re trying to figure this out, is to stay curious and just ask questions, and not try to make judgments until after you’re done learning. So, I say that you really need to start big, big picture. What do you think about the issue? What do you think about the product? What do you think about the candidate? What do you think about the company? Whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish.

Do you have any specific experience with the candidate, with anybody who supports the candidate, with the product, with the company, with whatever it is that you’re trying to do? And then you really want to dig in how they learned about it, where they get their information about it, how does it impact your daily life, how can it make it more personal, what matters most to you. But you just keep having that. It’s like you’re looking at it as an onion. How do you get underneath all of these questions until you’re actively listening? You don’t want to skim the surface here. You want to get really, really deep.

So, for example, I was working on a project once related to diabetes, and we were trying to understand why someone wouldn’t take their medication because it just seems so, like, “Why wouldn’t you? It’s so important. I mean, this is your health. Like, why wouldn’t you take your medicine, or take your injections, or do what you need to do in order to manage your diabetes?” And people don’t. And what we learned is that, by having a conversation, “So, why wouldn’t you take your medicine?” “Well, I’m busy,” or, “I forgot my needles.” And you keep asking the questions, and you get these surface-level things that you really couldn’t do anything with.

When you start asking more and more questions, more and more questions, getting underneath it, then you’ll suddenly find out there’s something underneath it. So, one of the things that we found by asking more and more questions, trying to understand why, “Tell me about that moment that you forgot, or tell me why you forgot. Where were you when you realized that you forgot?” “I was at my granddaughter’s birthday party, and I forgot. And I was sitting there, and I’m looking at her birthday cake, and I realized I can’t have her cake because I don’t have anything to manage my low-blood sugar afterwards.”

Then we asked some other people, we’re talking to them. It all came to these key moments that they weren’t able to experience the moment that was most important to them because they weren’t dealing with it in those moments. And so, what we found out is that empathetic insight, the under thing is like, “If you take your medication, you will be able to do the things that are most important to you. So, if you do this, you will also be able to eat cake. If you do this, you’ll also be able to enjoy your granddaughter’s birthday.” That became the empathetic insight not that they were too busy to remember, right? It’s just digging deeper and deeper in trying to uncover what’s really going on with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, in a way, they were too busy or they forgot kind of, I guess, points to a theme of it wasn’t enough of an emotional priority for them.

Lee Carter
That’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Until they missed out on something that they regret.

Lee Carter
That’s right.

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

Lee Carter
I just think that the key to all of this, right, is slowing down enough because I think, so often, in persuasion, what people try to do is write out the list of all the things that they want to commit to somebody of. And I think the most important thing that you can do is take it and say, “What is most important to the person I’m trying to persuade?”

So, if you’re going in to try and land the perfect job, what is the most important to that employer? If you’re going in to your boss, and you’re trying to get more money for a budget that’s really important to an initiative you want, what’s most important to them about that? If you’re trying to get resources to get a new hire, what’s most important to the executive committee about all of this? Because once you understand what’s most important to them, then you can start crafting your message around what’s most important to them and figuring out how to put the pieces together, but not the other way around.

Because you’re trying to persuade, you’re the one that needs to be doing more of the work than the person you’re trying to persuade. You want the insight to land on them, and be like, “Huh, I never thought about that. The answer is yes,” right?

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

Lee Carter
So, I think my favorite quote right now comes from Proverbs, and it’s Proverbs 18:2. It says, “The fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing personal opinion.” And there’s so much wisdom in that, and it’s such a timeless old, you know, Proverbs, there’s so much in there, but I think it’s so relevant for right now, it’s relevant for persuasion, but I think it’s relevant for society at large.

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

Lee Carter
You know, I really, really love Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. I find it helps me in so many different ways whether I’m trying to navigate political conversations, whether I’m trying to help clients for navigating corporate crises. It’s just trying to distill people’s beliefs down to the simplest terms in a way that helps you understand them so that you can speak to them more effectively. To me, that’s fascinating work.

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

Lee Carter
PowerPoint, which I think is a really wildly unpopular thing, but I think it’s a very powerful tool because it forces you to be succinct and visual, and both of those things are really important to storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Lee Carter
My favorite habit, frankly, is reading. I love to read whether it’s the news, or read books, or I start my day everyday reading, and I think it’s really an important habit.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for or is quoted back to you often?

Lee Carter
Well, what’s interesting, my company tagline is “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” And that comes back to me all the time in good and bad ways. So, even in my marriage, it’s sometimes when my husband and I are having a disagreement, “You know, honey, it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” And that can be hilarious. But it also comes back. It just sticks with people and it’s so, so true. It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what people hear.

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

Lee Carter
You can reach me at LeeHartleyCarter.com, or if you want to reach my firm, we’re at maslansky.com.

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

Lee Carter
Yeah, you know, the thing that I think is most important in leadership and most important in doing a great job is having empathy. It’s really trying to understand, whether it’s your customers, whether it’s your colleagues, whether it’s the people you’re trying to manage, the people that you’re trying to lead, spend time understanding them and what’s most important to them, and will pay dividends whether it’s in how you’re communicating with them, how you’re managing them, how you’re showing up.

Pete Mockaitis
Lee, thank you. This has been fun. I wish you lots of luck in all your upcoming adventures.

Lee Carter
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

502: How to Make Killer Pitches and Get What You Want with Oren Klaff

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Oren Klaff reveals the secret behind successful pitches—and how to persuade those around you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What most people get wrong about persuasion
  2. How to communicate your worth
  3. The surefire way to convince anyone

About Oren:

Oren is Director of Capital Markets at investment bank Intersection Capital where he manages its capital raising platform (retail and wholesale distribution), business and product development. Oren co-developed and oversees Intersection Capital’s flagship product, Velocity™. 

From 2003-2008 as he applied his pioneering approaches to raising capital and incorporating neuroscience into the capital markets programs, Oren raised over $400 million of investor capital from high net-worth individuals and financial institutions.

Oren is a member of Geyser Holding’s investment committee where he has been a principal since 2006. During its growth he was responsible for sales, marketing, branding, product development, and business development. Previously, he was a venture analyst and partner at several mid-sized investment funds.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Oren Klaff Interview Transcript

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

Oren Klaff
Well, I appreciate that, Pete. What a great radio voice you have. I’m going to try and equal that with tone, tenor, bass, but I might lose it at some point. I tend to lose it when I get excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be talking and I also hear you’re excited about fountain pens, you’ve got 17. What’s the story here?

Oren Klaff
Oh, I’m way up from that now. I actually have a safe which I have to keep my fountain pens in because I bought a couple that are super expensive and they have to be on lockdown. So, I have a five-year old. And I write him a note every night, so maybe when I die and maybe somebody will take it out and go, “Hey, Oren passed this way.”

So, I love the feeling of ink. It’s analog. Everything is so digital and that’s what I want to talk to you about today a little bit. Everything is so digital. People are losing the way of the sword, they’re losing the way of the pen, they’re losing the way of language, and I know nobody thinks that’s true but it is happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into it. So, can you orient us quickly to Pitch Anything and your latest Flip the Script?

Oren Klaff
Yeah, Pitch Anything really started with the realization of this: people, especially in business, but in life in general, they want what they can’t have, they chase that which moves away from them, and they only value that which they pay for.

And so, Pitch Anything was really about this notion of how information gets into the human brain, what the brain does with it and it’s extremely counterintuitive. In fact, it works the opposite of how you might think, right? So, you go you want to get a raise, or you want to impress a client, and you do all these things that should be recognized but maybe it’s like a court of law in a murder trial. No good deed goes unpunished.

And so, Pitch Anything was really about how do we get things done in an upside down world where you go to a client and you say, “Hey, we’re going to try really hard, I’m going to work really hard, I’m going to give you a good price. We’ll be the best supplier that you’ve ever hard. You’ll be our most important customer. The customer is always right here. We’re excited to have you on board.” All things are true, transparent you’re passionate about, but none of that is persuasive.

And so, how do you walk that fine line of wanting something, wanting to perform a task or a job or an assignment, wanting to get paid for it, and wanting to commit to it, and show that you’re good at it, at the same time showing that you don’t want it and you don’t need it? So, ultimately, I think if you had to put a subtext or a subtitle on this, it’s this, “Neediness kills deals.” And that’s what Pitch Anything was all about, how to want something and not want it at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really intriguing and it really reminds me of sort of the notion of playing hard to get in the romantic courting world. And so, it sounds like you’re on board that’s a winning strategy.

Oren Klaff
Yeah, so in the romantic world is very narrow range of activities in terms of playing hard to get. When you go into business, playing hard to get is very nuanced, it can backfire, and especially when the stakes get higher.

And so, as the stakes go up and somebody needs to talk to you, then you need to understand what’s happening both inside you and in that situation. So, it’s a lot more complex and nuanced than playing hard to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, before we dig into the particulars of how we walk this fine line and execute that well, I’d love it if you could frame things up a bit in terms of saying why is this skill super important. If you’re that career person who’s like, “You know what, I’m not going to march into a VC’s office and do a pitch, but I’d like to be more persuasive,” why is it so important for us and why are most of us not so great at it?

Oren Klaff
That’s a great question. I think I wrote Pitch Anything some years ago because basically I thought tens of thousands of people in my work just going in and supplicating to buyers, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Supplicating, what a word. It’s like we’re on our knees and, yeah.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. Supplicating is, maybe it rhymes with sucking up, but really if you unpack it, it’s confusion about who’s the prize in a business interaction, right? So, there’s a prize to be won, and we go in as an employee, or executive, or a salesperson, and this is why it’s important. We go in and the current framing in our economy, is that the boss, or the customer, is the prize.

Their signature, they’re giving us a raise, they’re giving us resources, they’re giving us a contract, they’re just giving us money, is the prize to be won so we have to perform at some level – performance. I do believe like we view our pitches as a performance. So, even though I’m against this framing, I still use it, that we have to perform for the prize of the money or the contract, right? Wouldn’t you agree that’s basically the standard framing in business today?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, I guess. And I’m thinking about all kinds of, you know, Glengarry Glen Ross or sort of big moments like the salesperson needs to wow with exceptional impressive persuasive power, like a rock star.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. So, we come in and even if we’re a rock star, we are trying to win the prize of the contract. So, Pitch Anything really made it important to understand that they’re not the prize. What can they give you? Money, some status, right? These are commodities. You can get status anywhere. You can get money anywhere. Sort of money is the ultimate commodity. You should not do things that are outside your value system, do things that you’re overreaching, you should not overextend yourself, you should not supplicate, which I think we decided was really a euphemism for sucking up, in order to win a commodity for yourself – money.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know what, that just checks out in my gut, like, “All right. Yeah, right on, you know.”

Oren Klaff
Okay. Sounds good, Oren. But let’s go. So, if they’re not the prize, and the money isn’t the prize, and their signature, and their approval isn’t the prize, and that’s really the key word – approval. Most presentations are based on approval-seeking behavior. When you’re seeking approval from someone else, you’re supplicating to them, you’re needy, neediness kills deals. On their side, people want what they can’t have. You’re letting them know they can have you, and so it’s all wired backwards.

The thing that’s important is to wire it up correctly, which is that you are the prize that they need. And so how do you come in? And everybody has to decide this for themselves. I can give you a couple ways and give you a head start. But how do you come in and say, “Hey, look, I’m going to show you a couple things over the next 12-15 minutes, I’m going to pitch you the big idea. I’ll do that very quickly”?

“And it’s important for you to evaluate it and see if you’re going to get what you want and if our circles overlap, and if it makes sense, and if we’re aligned. But as much as you’re evaluating me, it’s important for you to know I’m also evaluating you. Lots of options. I don’t know if I’m smart or if I’m just busy or lucky this time of year, but there’s lots of things that are pulling at me, and lots of customers who want us to deliver. And so, I’m just in a good place to be choosy about what I work on, who I work with, and why I’m doing things. So, as much as you’re evaluating me, I’m evaluating you.”

Now, probably people listening to this right now, going, “Oh, my God. I would never say that to my boss or the board of directors.” I think when I get that reaction from people, they’re saying, “I would never say it in that tone.” Now the good news is I say it in that tone every day, but I’m experienced at it, right? And it’s within my value system, it’s within my personality, and it’s part of my performance.

Now you might not say that in those words. But you can communicate the same things very nicely, very subtly, in a nuanced way, but say the exact same thing. That is the problem, is coming in and letting the buyer, or the boss, or the peer, or the colleague, or the situation know that they have a higher status and more value than you do, and that you are willing to work exceedingly hard, need the deal, even though you don’t, you’re willing to demonstrate to them that they’re the prize that you’re trying to win.

And that is ultimately what makes deals fall apart, be hard to win, or go sideways. So, that’s really the challenges that are happening every day.

And you say, “Well, how can I be the most valuable person at the table? They have the money, they have the contract, they have the company.” I believe, for most people, again, the buyer just has a contract, the money, the corporation just has the job, the colleagues just have the ability to jump in with you.

What you have is the most important thing and people should be trying to win that. It’s your experience, your integrity, your ideas, your know-how, your relationships, your willingness to invest, your commitment, your thoroughness, your value system, your “I don’t stop when I’m tired” mentality, the joy and ease of working with you, you can’t buy that. There’s no amount of money you can pay for those intangibles. And if you have that, then you’re the most invaluable person in that relationship, in that meeting, on that call, in that deal.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think fundamental to that is that it’s true, like the core fundamental value that you’re bringing to the table is significant, and you really are not sort of a commodity in terms of if it’s either yourself as a professional in terms of your skillset and what you’re offering there, if you kind of don’t have much special sauce, and hopefully everyone does if you’re listening to the show, then I think that the starting point is having it in terms of you’ve got something special and you can feel good and secure and confident in that offer.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. And so how to do that is really, you know, the question that’s not off-putting, that’s not confusing, and that really moves into what Flip the Script was about. So, Pitch Anything showed you that these things were possible, that people were doing these in high-stakes situations. You know what’s funny, I say this word high stakes but I didn’t really have a…because high stakes is different for everybody. Like, Pete, what would be a high-stakes meeting or a high-stakes feel for you?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking more so for the listeners, high stakes might be, “I want the promotion. I want the raise.”

Oren Klaff
Yeah. And so, is it really high stakes? Because you’re going to ask for it, they’re not going to fire you for asking, right? So, it feels high stakes. And when I think about things feeling like we…By the way, what part of the country are you in?

Pete Mockaitis
Chicago.

Oren Klaff
Chicago. Okay, I’m in San Diego. Have you ever been to San Diego?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. So, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Coronado but there’s this the Coronado Bridge, and it’s crazy. It’s not like normal bridge. It’s a span that like rises up into the clouds and it goes over the military base, and it goes over battleships. It’s huge. Two weeks ago, I was driving over it with my family in the car, a little boy and my wife, myself.

And I look out and there’s this pretty small retaining wall, concrete retaining wall. At least it looks small to me. I’m driving over this bridge seemingly like miles over the Pacific Ocean, like battleships look small beneath us like Lego toys, and I’m not going to hit the retaining wall, we’re driving 65 miles an hour. If they took that retaining wall away, then all of a sudden…yeah, I was never going to drive off the bridge in the first place or hit the retaining wall, or get anywhere near it. The stakes go way up, right, and I would slow down to three miles an hour or two miles an hour.

And so, when we get into situations and we feel like it’s so important to get this done, and we don’t have a blueprint or the path to follow, we revert to behaviors that are sort of the equivalent of slowing down to three miles an hour, being exceedingly cautious, being exceedingly tentative, being exceedingly careful, that’s what happens when the stakes go up. You don’t know what to do to maintain the language, and the framing, and the conversation, and the confidence, and the skills that you would have if the stakes were $3 and it didn’t matter. So, it’s not necessarily you don’t know how to do these things, it’s that you don’t know how to do these things when it really matters because your intuition is working against you.

I think the classic example is going to a meeting to talk about a raise or a project, and the guy you’re going to meet with is running late, right? This has to be something you’ve encountered. Everybody has encountered it.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Oren Klaff
And so, he’s two minutes late, he’s four minutes late, he’s eight minutes late, you see the secretary comes in, or he texts you, “Hey, sorry, be there in a few.” And now he’s like 15 minutes late. What do you do?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, I’m not pleased. It’s not fun. I, hopefully, have something else that’s kind of productive and worthwhile I can do. At that point, I’m sort of starting to wonder if it’s going to encroach in the other stuff that I’ve got scheduled. So, I guess you either reschedule or you hang out. What do you do?

Oren Klaff
Yeah. Well, this is kind of a beta trap, right? It’s the equivalent of if you’re a salesman and you drive across town, or fly to another city, you go to a company for a 10:00 a.m. meeting. You’re going up to the counter, and you’re saying, “Hey, is John ready?” “Oh, he’ll be out in a few.” And it’s a beta trap, right, because there’s beta and alpha. Alphas don’t have these problems, right? The president of a company, the president of a bank, maybe they do it at a different level but people come to meetings on time.

So, you’re stuck in the beta position, which is a status position. One thing I can assure you from the low-status position, you can do hardly anything. People don’t listen to you, they don’t take you seriously, they see you with a very superficial way, and, more importantly, they have high risk-taking behaviors when they believe they’re higher status than you, and they’re the alpha and you’re the beta.

So, there’s not a wrong or right that’s eight minutes, 15 minutes, one minute, three minutes. It is that if you accept the beta position and leave them in the alpha position, they’ll have status over you and it is incredibly difficult to get their attention and be persuasive from the low-status position. So, you have to signal, “Hey, I’m a peer, we are colleagues, we’re the same status, and we need to be in alignment.” So, in those cases, I’ll always recommend you say, “Hey, look, I set aside about an hour for this, it looks like we’re chiseling down to 45, 40 minutes. Probably not enough time to accomplish what we want to accomplish. Let’s reset and find another time to do this. I’ve got some key projects that I need to focus on.”

The easiest way to take yourself out of the beta is using the moral authority frame. And moral authority is always about work. If it’s about work, and it’s about delivering, and it’s about taking care of your team, and about taking care of your customers, you’ll always be in the right.

So, for example, I work with a lot of guys that are very high status, very wealthy, running large companies, and they always come late. It’s not that they’re rude, or they’re malevolent, or they’re trying to get their alpha status over me, right? It’s just they’re running a 700-person company. Two weeks ago, I talked to a guy, hopefully be a client of ours, running a $750 million company. He comes to the call at 10:06, it’s a 10:00 o’clock call. First thing I’ll say is, “Hey, John, you’re here for the 10:06 call?” And it’s great.

They always laugh at it. And the first thing out of their mouth is, “Sorry.” Right? Like, they know because you’re calling them out on professional behavior in a fun light way, and they always say sorry. And usually they’ll say something like, “Hey, we had 72 containers stuck in Hong Kong because of the protest. I had to sign off on some extra expenses to get them out otherwise we wouldn’t deliver diapers to the area of the world where it’s really needed and it’s a charitable effort. So, really sorry about it.” “Yeah, no problem.” But at least they’re not saying, starting off, “Hey, Mr. CEO, hey, Mr. Big, no problem. You show up anytime you want. I’ll just sit here and wait. And whatever is good for you is good for me.”

So, I’m very lighthearted and I go, “Hey, you’re here for the 10:06 call?” And then I’ll say, “Hey, why don’t we get caught up? It seems like we still got a couple people joining. We’re recording the call. They can listen to the recording and catch up. Let’s get started. We’re super busy. I carved out like half an hour and we’re eating into it. Here’s what I suggest. We get started. I’ve prepared a presentation. It’s 12, 13 minutes. Let’s go through it.

So, I’ve said that and I’ve taught that to audiences. You can see I say that very naturally and I’ll always get somebody raise their hand, and they go, “I can never say that.” Especially, women raise their hand, like, “Oh, that’s good for you, alpha male. Women can’t talk like that.”

And I will say, “You’re listening to my tone. You’re not listening to the messaging, because you can say that so nicely.” “Oh, hey, John. Glad you can make it. I was almost thinking that we should reset this call. We’ve got maybe like 28 minutes left and a lot to do. If you guys are ready to roll, I think we should start now because I’ve got about a 15-minute presentation, and I want to give you some time to really make your case.

And so, it’s the same messaging in a totally different tonality, and pace, and level of floweriness, but it’s the same messaging. “My time is as important, maybe more important than yours because we’re solving this very-hard-to-solve problem for clients, and we’re busy doing it.” Yeah, I understand, some of your use cases are internal, but you have even more power internal, “Hey, I set about half an hour for this meeting. I want to discuss some of the recent projects. I’m running my team, they count on me, we’re delivering a huge project. Currently, we’re on time but if I’m missing from it, we could slip, and nobody likes to slip. I really want to prioritize the work I’m doing. If we get started now in the meeting, I think there’s enough time for me to cover why I came, and then you can reflect on how you think it ties into the expectations we set six months ago. And if we have five, or 10 minutes left, which I believe we will, I want to talk to you about some career things that are going on with me, and you should be able to give an easy yes, no, or maybe. So, if that sounds good, let’s kick that off.”

But what I wanted to say is, although people are afraid of saying things that direct, the reality is it signals you’re not needy, it signals that you are not a beta, that you have as much status as the buyer, or the other side of the meeting, so those are all critical, right? It signals you’re a professional. And when I start a meeting like that, people put their iPhones down, they close their laptops, and they go, “Aha! Finally, I’m in the hands of a professional that knows how to run a meeting. This thing is not going to go on for two hours. There is a clear agenda and it’s not called the agenda, it’s called ‘This is how I like to have meetings with my peers. Let’s rock and roll.’ I love this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig that. And you’re right in terms of there’s many ways you can communicate that message to see what style and tone feels right to you but the core message is there that we are peers. And I’ve often recommended to folks I’m prepping for interviews that if the person who’s doing the interview isn’t really sort of paying attention to you, this does happen, like they are on their computer, they’re doing email, they’re on their phone, or they’re elsewhere, I’d say, “I think your best bet as the candidate there is to just pause or say, ‘Just let me know when you’re ready,’ or something to the effect of you convey the message that ‘I’m unwilling to be ignored and made sort of in the background as you do something else,’” you know? And you could say that kindly or in any number of ways.

Oren Klaff
Right. So, I think any number of ways except for a number of ways. So, I get this question a lot, like, “Hey, should I ask somebody to put their phone down or put their laptop down?” I can tell you, in the meetings that I go to and the presentations that I have, nobody is on their phone or on their laptop. What they are doing is engage in the presentation or in the meeting because there are stakes, there are things that are going to happen, and it’s clear, “Either I’m going to go away with my toys, my marbles, and go somewhere else, or they’re going to have the opportunity to use the things I know, the experience I have to solve their problems.” And that, the decision on go forwards or go away is going to be made today. And that decision has stakes and is meaningful. And when there’s high stakes, for the other side, not just for you, then the phones go away and the laptops close, and they pay attention, right?

One of the key tenets in Pitch Anything is that the span of human attention is 18 minutes. And that’s why we work really hard to get everything in to a compact period of time. Now I go to meetings where people spend 12 minutes trying to get rapport, talk about family and sports and weather. And this is all stuff that ultimately, you know, the fact that you like hockey and they like hockey is mildly helpful for alignment. But this is not 12 minutes of conversation for 18 minutes of attention, right?

Nobody increases your pay by 40%, nobody assigns you a million-dollar contract, nobody pushes you up to the board of directors for a presentation because you like hockey and they also like hockey. It is relatedness and it’s helpful. But this like old-world of like seeking rapport, it’s not the old boys network anymore where people do business because they like you and they’re affiliated with you through some organization. It is not the determinant. The determinant is what status are you, what value do you provide, are you an expert, have you solved this problem before, can you take pain away, and are the things you’re saying about the future, what’s going to happen in the future, really going to happen. That’s why people decide in your favor, not because you like hockey.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so understood there. So, you’re coming in with something legit to start with. You got great fundamentals and then you are not apologetic and supplicative as you are entering, and you are conveying the message that, “We’re equal peers. I am a professional. I know how to run this meeting. And here’s how it’s going to go,” and sort of navigating to that 18 minutes. So, let’s talk about within that timeframe, what are the critical things you want to convey? And maybe you could even give us a demo in terms of someone who had a pitch that was floundering and then we turn it around to have 18 minutes of excellence.

Oren Klaff
Yeah, maybe I can. I think my new book Flip the Script is really about solving the next level of questions, once you get clarity that you’re a high status, in the dominance hierarchy of monkeys, you are an equivalent monkey, right? Sort of as simple as that. Then, how does somebody know that you’re an expert in either the project you’re proposing in the next level? Because people want to pay more for your job or give you a raise because you’re able to take on more responsibility and solve different more difficult problems. Are you a car guy, by the way, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve not owned a car for 13 years.

Oren Klaff
Oh, my God. So, you are an ex-patriot car guy. Interesting.
So, you have to give people certainty that the things you’re saying will happen, really will happen in the future. And how do most people try and give certainty? They tell, right? They go, “These are the projects I’ve done. This is the commitment I have. This is the area I’m familiar with. I know lots of people with this problem. I’ve worked on it.” So, it’s telling, telling, telling. Before you turned in your car, what kind of car was it?

Pete Mockaitis
It was 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity.

Oren Klaff
Okay. Yes, you are officially the most not-car guy that I have ever talked to. But it’s good. It’s good for this example. So, that was not really a great car, right?

Pete Mockaitis
No, it shook when it went upwards of 70 miles per hour. I got a speeding ticket when I drove my mom’s car, and that excuse didn’t really hold with the police officer. I’m used to the car shaking when I’m going too fast.

Oren Klaff
It’s starting to shake, and you hear a noise, and so you go, “Oh, man, that’s unsafe.” So, you take it down to a local garage. You definitely don’t want to take it to the dealer, that’s something. So, you take it out to a local garage, and the guy looks at it, and he goes, “Yeah, you know, something is wrong here. Tell you what, leave it here, it’s $200. We’ll take a look at it. We’ll call you tomorrow and tell you what we think the problem is, and if you decide to get it repaired here, we’ll credit the $200 to the bill,” that’s the offer.

And you go, “Hmm, to me…” and then you go, “I’m not certain that my problem is going to be solved,” right? So, you go ahead. It sounds good. Nice and easy, and you move on down the road, and you to Eric Schmidt’s Repair Shop, and you go in and you pull in, and he comes out and he’s nicely-branded, and his nametag says Eric, and he’s got correct amount of tattoos up his left arm, and a hipster mustache. He comes out and he says, “Yeah, I don’t know. It’s shaking.” So, he goes press on the accelerator and go, it makes the noise and the squeak.

And he goes, “Listen, here’s the deal. This Chevrolet Celebrity, there was a fire at the GM factory in 1988 when this model was built so they had to move them over to Dearborn where they started manufacturing, which was fine and well, except they didn’t correctly put out the break throw-out bearing. This thing actually needs a 2740c throw-out bearing. You could see a little bit of oil leaking here. That’s a 27c oil leak. It’s not even the right oil in it. That’s going to serve a while but will be a $7,000 problem. But I can hear from the squeak they put the 17109-fan belt on it. The 171095c is the correct fan belt. We see so many of these, we keep about 50 of those fan belts in the back and the throw-out bearings. Leave it here, it’s 500 bucks, come pick up tomorrow morning at 9:00 o’clock. It’ll be ready.”

Pete Mockaitis
Much more compelling, absolutely. You’ve shared that you know what you’re doing.

Oren Klaff
I think it is, yeah, you have shown “I have solved this problem a million times before. This is boring for me. I can do this, no problem.” But, really, showing problem-solving, 501c fan belts, everything, it’s all about certainty. So, Flip the Script shows you those formulas or the scripts, getting away from the old scripts that no longer functioning, which is get rapport with someone, give them the features of the ideas, explain the benefits, suggest the stretch benefits or the pro forma, do a trial close, “So, what do you think? Is there something we can do? Go ahead with…” all the objections come out, try to overcome the objections, “Well, you know, we’re not really doing promotions this time of year. We usually do it in March. September is not a great time,” then trying to close and get stuck in, “Hey, send me a proposal.”

That old system, features, benefits, trial close, stretch benefits, objections, overcome the objections, close, is just no longer functioning. That was designed in the 1950s when buyers really had much fewer options and much less control of the process, or employers had many fewer options in terms of talent acquisition. So, those scripts are no longer credible.
How do you give people certainty that the things you say will happen in the future really will happen, and it’s worth paying me today for something that’s going to happen in the future?

And that is not a naturally-occurring skillset because when humans develop conversation, and not to into cavemen tech, but language was not designed to propose a pay raise in the supply chain management industry, right? Language was designed to communicate danger among humans in fast-moving situations.

And so, that’s very easy. You don’t need to study, or go to a course, or do any training on, “Hey, there’s a fire over there. Move in this way. Run or you’re going to die.” “Don’t eat those berries. The last people that ate them got sick and one of them died.” So, language is very effective. There are prewired pathways to communicate information about danger and risks and conflict. Information about supply chain management software is not prewired in the human mind. You have to think about it, and a lot of it can be counterintuitive.

Pete Mockaitis
And much of that is, you say, getting them to think it’s their own idea. How is that done?

Oren Klaff
Yeah. So, how it’s done is laid out in eight chapters in the book. So, it’s pretty sequential so I don’t want to read the book but I think, more importantly, is can it be done? Right? Can you put ideas in someone’s head, marinate them, percolate them, have them go around without you overtly saying, “So, what do you think?

And I’ll give you an example. This happens to us over and over. We had a client in over the weekend, that shows how high stakes it is, for me to come in on a Sunday, open up the business, we met for an hour and a half, and we sort of wrapped up and we’re packing ourselves up and our briefcases, and I say to the guy, the best close that I have.

Now, remember, I may be the number one sales trainer, and the best close I have is, “Hey, John, so what do we do to get this thing signed up?” because we use inception, we don’t rely on closing or we don’t argue with our clients on why they should do business with us. We put the ideas in their mind and we allow them to come through their own process to the notion that they want to work with us, right?

And so, I say, “What do we got to do to get this signed up or what the…?” I almost sound confused, which I’m not confused at all, but I’m not going to close the guy, trying to get him in a sales headlock. And he says, “Oh, I signed it an hour ago. It’s over there on the edge of…I signed the contract an hour ago. It’s over there on the edge of the conference table.” And so I go, “Oh, thanks.” And they leave.

But I can give you example after example after example of this happening over and over again, and that’s inception. When you correctly show someone that you’re a peer to them, you are not lower than them, you’re not less important, you’re not trying to win them, that what you have is invaluable, that they are fortunate to be able to have an option to convince you to provide your services to them, when you provide them certainty that the things you say will happen really will happen, when you show them that you have values that can’t be changed by their language, or the request for discounts, or their needs, that you stick to your guns, and you have unassailable values, when you show them how to buy from you, and when you authentically create time constraints in which you, well, just doesn’t work for you anymore, and you’re fatigued, then you’ll leave.

And so, when you put all those things together professionally at a high level in a way that’s not overtly visible to them and they just feel like they’re talking to some wonderful people who are very skilled, who are passionate about what they do, have real values, and have solved their kind of problem a million times before, they’re just going to, “Meh, this is awesome. How do we get going?” And that’s inception.

One power tool for regaining calm just before high stakes persuasion is Simple Habit! When I’m using Simple Habit, I feel like a have much greater mental capacity to think through the persuasive elements of my messages without distraction. Simple Habit is a meditation app that has hundreds of meditations available for free and thousands available for premium users.Simple Habit has convenient 5 minute meditations, with over 65,000 5-star reviews in the iOs and Android store. It won Google Play’s award for being a stand-out well-being app. You can get 30% off premium by visiting simplehabit.com/awesome. That’s simplehabit.com/awesome. To snag the 30% off, you’ll visit simplehabit.com/awesome…you can also tap that link in your podcast app by expanding this episode’s “details” and then “episode notes.”}

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Oren Klaff
There’s a book I really like called Riveted by a guy named Jim Davies. And he’s an academic but is quite accessible so I like that.

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

Oren Klaff
Oh, boy. So, here’s the one that I love, that I think, and maybe everybody knows about it. In New York, they test it over and over again. They dress up a guy in very high-status business clothing, and over and over again, they line him up in a crosswalk. And when it’s red, this tall, handsome, well-manicured, in a beautiful suit that’s well-fitted, terrific shoes and a great smile, and in his 40s guy, starts walking across the road, and everybody else follows him. They do the same thing with the construction worker or somebody looks shabby, or somebody eating a falafel slobbingly, and people don’t as much follow.

It shows that people follow and respect and get behind people of high status in all kinds of situations. So, to me, that’s the number one thing that makes life easy for you in upgrading your work life and making more money for your family is establishing either appearance, or messaging, or positions, or framing, or morality around status and getting people to go your way much more easily than if you had to convince them using logic.

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

Oren Klaff
The biggest thing that I have is when I say people only value that which they pay for. Most people have been in business for more than a day understand that lesson. No good deed goes unpunished. People only value that which they pay for. The more you try and give your service away, the less likely you are to close the deal.

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

Oren Klaff
Oh, that’s great. I’ll guide you to Amazon to buy Flip the Script.

But if you like the sound of what I’m saying, you can hop over to OrenKlaff.com and enter, I’m running a contest now to fly someone out to California, put them up on the beach here in a hotel for two nights, and then I’ll work with them on their business to use these principles to advance their own careers. So, that’s at OrenKlaff.com. And we didn’t really promote it that much, so I think my mom has entered and maybe two other people so your chances of winning are pretty high.

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

Oren Klaff
A hundred percent, start using this statement, “Oh, so you’re here for the 10:05 meeting.” It’s fun, you’ll get a laugh but will establish you. The first time you’ll be afraid to use it, but when people smile and laugh and giggle, and give you credit, that’s my first challenge to you. Start using that and defend your value in the equation of the business meeting. You’re going to love using that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Oren, thanks so much and good luck in all your pitches.

Oren Klaff
Hey, Pete, I really appreciate that. Great questions. It’s been fun.

501: How to Capture Your Audience’s Minds, Guts, and Hearts with Dave Decelle

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Dave Decelle shares insider perspectives on how to turn insights into compelling communication.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three foundational principles for capturing your audience’s attention
  2. The best disposition for presentations
  3. How to create engaging presentation slides

About Dave:

Dave Decelle was a Director of Consumer Insights at Netflix, focused on delivering insights that drive product innovation. Dave has over 20 years of experience in market, brand, and user experience research and consulting. While he was focused on the technology and media categories at Netflix, his past experience ranges across a variety of industries, including financial, automotive, food & beverage, retail, and general consumer goods and services.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dave Decelle Interview Transcript

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

Dave Decelle
Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve been excited to chat with you for a while, and I thought we would talk a lot about some of your adventures now and at Netflix. But you said your best job was working as a bike messenger in Philadelphia. What’s the story here?

Dave Decelle
Yeah, so I worked my way through college, undergraduate college, as a bike messenger in Philadelphia for three years, and I’ll tell you, it’s the best job I ever had. And if I could make an actual living at it, I would still do it. And the reason is it was just such a stimulating day every single day. So, three big things. I mean, first of all, just being able to eat a mound of spaghetti and drink a six-pack of beer at the end of every day without gaining an ounce was fantastic.

But what was really fascinating was just imagine biking through Philadelphia downtown traffic in the ice and snow and rain, and just having to constantly be making, like, instant always on the edge life-or-death decisions about, “Should I go left? Should I go right? Should I go around this guy? Should I pass him on the left or not?” that sort of thing.

And probably the most fascinating thing, too, which sort of projected into my future was this idea of visiting every level of society throughout my day. I’m street level all day long so I’m seeing the powerless homeless, I’m seeing your everyday blue-collar worker, but then I’m going up into the 56th floor of these high-rises and delivering packages for high-powered lawyers and that sort of thing. So, that was pretty fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, and the fascination continued over the course of your career as the Director of Consumer Insights at Netflix. And I’ve seen you present consumer insights and it was excellent. So, maybe before we get into the particulars of some of that, I want to hear from an insider, so Netflix has kind of a legendary culture. What was your experience there in terms of what was really cool and noteworthy and you wish all organizations did? And what are some of the drawbacks of that because every pro I find often has a shadow side in terms of cultures?

Dave Decelle
Yeah. I can’t say enough about the Netflix culture. It was something that really fit me extremely well. When I first read the culture deck when I was first interviewing for the position there, I was really taken with the culture deck and I was really pleased to hear in my interviews when I ask people, “Is it true?” Everyone said, “Yeah, we walk the walk here.”

And what was amazing about it was the core of the culture is freedom and responsibility, of course. So, what was amazing about it was the freedom, right, embracing that freedom and feeling just unleashed. In my first year there, when people ask me, “What’s it like to work at Netflix?” And I say, “I finally feel like I’ve been unleashed.” People aren’t telling me what I should be doing and how I should be doing it, right? I’m relying on my own wits, on my own intelligence to do what I think is best to do.

Now, the flipside of that is the responsibility part because never have I felt so much responsibility. I have no one to blame but myself if things go wrong. I can’t fall back on the platitude of, “Well, I was just doing what my manager told me to do,” because I had the freedom to do my job the best way I saw fit. Now that takes a lot of risk-taking, right? But Netflix balances that really well with a really high tolerance for failure.

Being an innovative company, they have very high tolerance for failure and, in fact, one of the favorite things I heard in all my years at Netflix was our VP of Innovation, Todd Yellin. He said something to the effect of, I’m paraphrasing here, but something to the effect of, “If every A/B test that a PM runs is a success, he’s not doing his job because he should be taking bigger risks and he should be failing because risk-taking involves failure,” and, of course, you want to learn from your failures and succeed the next time.
I mean, that’s a lot of pressure, right?

Pete Mockaitis
You just feel that each day.

Dave Decelle
Yeah, and the type of people that really thrive there are self-starters, people that really strive for hitting a really high bar, and so they end up putting a lot of pressure on themselves. But that’s weighed by the incredible amount of freedom that you’re given to do your job the best way you see fit.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I kind of wonder, so I guess there’s sort of like not an official vacation policy as well in terms of, “Hey, take the days you need,” but are like, “How’s that go?”

Dave Decelle
You know, that’s hit or miss and that’s completely dependent on the individual. I’m sure there’s plenty of people for whom that policy meant that they rarely took vacations. For me, personally, three years in a row, I took five weeks all at once, I went to Costa Rica. The very following winter, I took three and a half weeks, I went to Panama. So, I took advantage of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, glad to hear that was an enjoyable experience. And now you’re off doing your own thing. What is your expertise and offerings all about?

Dave Decelle
So, in my 20 plus years of doing consumer insights work, the two things that I’ve become really good at, if I can be immodest for a moment, is being able to tell stories based on consumer insights and being able to craft consumer insights into frameworks, frameworks that become thinking tools for business stakeholders and that they can apply to any problem space, and they work cross-functionally as well.

So, you come up with a really, really good framework and marketers can look at that framework and say, “Now I know how we need to market our product.” Product developers can look at it and say, “Now I know what kind of features I need to build.” Content developers can look at it and say, “Now I know what kind of shows and movies I need to produce.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Could you give me an example then in terms of, “All right, so here’s an insight we got,” and then how that turned into a framework, and how that’s useful?

Dave Decelle
Yeah. So, one of the big insights we uncovered in our work as the Consumer Insights Team for Netflix was the idea that it was pretty common knowledge and common sense that consumers really bought into the Netflix brand and what that brand stood for, right? It stood for innovation and consumer control.

We also saw, once we started creating our own original content, that people, of course, got very excited about certain big individual titles, like Stranger Things and Orange Is the New Black got big cult followings, and people just love those individual shows, right? But reading between the lines of many studies we did and many A/B tests that we did, what wasn’t quite so obvious what’s consumer appreciation for the diversity of our overall portfolio, because as we created more and more originals, we expanded them beyond just your typical sort of like binge-able dramas. We started doing reality and all kinds of things, sitcom, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
The game show Awake I discovered recently. Oh, that’s nuts.

Dave Decelle
There you go, yeah. Always expanding, right? And that started registering for consumers, is, “Hey, they don’t just like great individuals shows, but when I look at the overall portfolio of stuff they’re producing, it’s really diverse.” It’s not just diverse for the different types of consumers we have, but it’s really diverse for the different moments of truth that people have, the different viewing moments that people have. Sometimes I just want to sit down and zone out to a sitcom, sometimes I want to get really deeply involved in a dramatic series, etc.

So, that was something that I felt was being overlooked by the business. The business was paying attention to, “Our brand matters.” They’re paying attention to, “Our individual big titles matter.” But they weren’t quite catching onto the idea of the overall portfolio. We can tell stories about the overall portfolio and just how diverse it is and well it can serve many different types of consumers and many individual consumers’ many needs.

And so, I put together a great story about that and a framework that basically illuminated this notion of, “What if we could sync up all three of those things: our brand equity, the love people have for our individual titles, and the overall feeling people have about our overall portfolio? And what if we could sync those up in both our marketing and our in-app experience? That could be really, really powerful.”

Pete Mockaitis
And what happened?

Dave Decelle
Well, I ended up crafting that particular framework as the idea of three turntables spinning in sync, which was actually inspired by one of Netflix’s own originals, The Get Down, which was a story of the early days of the evolution of hip-hop. And there’s this great scene in the show where Grandmaster Flash is teaching one of his students how you spin two turntables in sync to always keep that groove going and keeping the party participants dancing. So, that’s what really inspired us so it became known as the three turntables framework.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then subsequently folks were looking at, “Okay. Well, hey, how does this perform or what does this do for us with regard to our three turntables?”

Dave Decelle
That’s right. So, marketers can look at that and think about, “Okay, maybe we need to integrate our various campaigns, our brand-focused campaigns, our title campaigns. And maybe we need to start generating some campaigns that speak about the overall portfolio.” Product people, designers, and PMs were able to look at it and say, “How do we elevate the brand within the in-app experience? Because right now it’s a big list of individual titles. How do we elevate the brand within that homepage? How do we maybe recategorize some of our rows or even the entire homepage to give people a sense of the overall portfolio and everything we have to offer?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that’s cool. So, thank you. I kind of understand what we’re talking about here with regard to these terms and how that can be really handy for folks especially at scale with a lot of cooks in the kitchen working on stuff and tweaking and finding, and having some cohesiveness there. I’d also love to know, you really had quite a privileged position in terms of, boy, all that data. I bet that would just be so fun, I’m showing my colors here, former strategy consultant. So, can you share with me, maybe for fun and for edification in terms of folks who are trying to delight consumers, what was maybe a counterintuitive insight, or two or three, that can serve us as we’re thinking about how to create hits for those that we’re serving?

Dave Decelle
That’s an interesting question. So, if I really think about that, I don’t think there really are any counterintuitive insights about consumers but there’s plenty of counter-logical insights. So, what I’ve experienced in doing insights work for 20 years with stakeholders is they often approach the assumptions they create about consumer preferences and behavior from a logical mind point of view. And we’ve known for a long time now that consumers are ruled as much, if not more, by their gut and their heart. So, it’s the job of a great insight professional to take the mind, the gut, and the heart all into account when analyzing consumer behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
And can we do maybe a nice contrast, distinctions, like, “When we say mind, we’re talking about these kinds of things, and gut are those sorts of things, and heart are these kinds of things”?

Dave Decelle
Sure. So, as someone who interviews plenty of consumers about how they feel about things, how they see the world, how they feel about products and services, etc. it’s so easy to see when they’re in a rational state of mind. They’re thinking through the answer to their question. But oftentimes you also need to read their body language, you need to read their tone of voice, you need to see when what they’re saying starts to really show up at an emotional level, they start to lean forward, they start to get excited, etc. And you also need to look at their behavior.

It’s well-known for a long time now that you can be in an interview in someone’s home and they’ll say one thing and, two minutes later, you see them do something that’s completely counter to what they just said, right? And that’s kind of their gut. They’re operating at their gut at that point, so you really need to pick up those cues of not just what’s coming out of their mouth because that’s often the most logical thing, but also what they’re doing, which is often driven by intuition, or how they’re either lighting up or not lighting up when they’re talking about something or when they’re doing something and engaged in something, and that’s the heart part.

And so, if you take all three of those together to uncover your insight and explain why consumers behave the way they do, it becomes very intuitive why they behave that way. It may be very counter-logical as to why they would behave that way, but when you take all three into account, you can be like, “Oh, right. That makes total sense why they behave that way.”

Pete Mockaitis
And could you maybe walk us through perhaps an instance of you did an interview and then you’ve got some great perspective on the mind and the gut and the heart to paint a full picture there?

Dave Decelle
So, we were testing out a new concept for a new type of story where the storyline would be randomized from viewing the viewing. And so, they way we did it was we had a group of people watch one version of the story in one room, we had another group of people watch another version of the story in another room, and then we brought those two people together, those two groups of people together, and we asked them to just talk about the show that they watched.

Now they had no idea that they were watching the same show, just different versions of the same show or the same episode, so they started talking about it. And as they were talking about it, on the surface they realized, “Oh, we must’ve been watching the same thing.” But, every now and then, one group of people would reveal a certain detail that wasn’t in the story of the other one, and the other group would light up around that, they’d be like, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That wasn’t in my story. What are you talking about? That sounds really interesting. Tell me more about that.”

Well, then afterwards, when we asked them, when we unveiled the concept of, “You guys actually did watch the same show, the same episode of the same show, but there were random variations in exactly how the story was told throughout. What do you think of that?” And their initial reaction was, “Oh, I don’t like that. We should all be watching the same things so when we get together and we talk about it afterwards we’re all talking about the same thing and there’s not confusion.” And yet 10 minutes earlier, we saw so much excitement and intrigue when they realized, “Hold on. We saw the same story but my story didn’t have that particular detail in it. Tell me more about that detail.”

So, there’s an example where if people thought about it logically, they would automatically say, “No, I don’t want to watch a story that’s a little bit different from the story that my friend is watching because when we get together, we want to know what each other saw.” But when we observed the actual behavior of them talking about it and realizing, “Hold on. Your story was a little bit different,” there was so much excitement and so much joy in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, that’s intriguing certainly and I guess a whole new concept there. Well, thank you for sharing that. And I guess I’d also like to get your view then in terms of we’re talking about story a lot and you’re looking a lot in sort of what’s resonating and what’s hooking people and what’s not hooking people. Are there some universals or foundational principles in terms of, “This is what makes for some captivating stuff”?

Dave Decelle
So, great storytelling, and I’ll keep it to telling great stories based on insights, which is my forte. So, it’s got three things, three things I’ve already mentioned before, right? It’s got the logical appeal, it’s got the emotional appeal, it’s got the intuitive appeal. So, too many times, professionals, when they put together presentations to try to persuade an audience or inform an audience, they stick to just the logical stuff, and they completely ignore trying to hit people at a gut level that helps them to intuitively really get something and also make them really feel it.

So, the way I think about it is whenever I craft a story and I want to appeal to both the logical mind, the intuitive gut, and the emotional heart, is they each have their role to play. When you present the logical data or insights about your topic, what that evokes in your audience is the “Hmm, mm-hmm” reaction, right? When you give them something like a framework that puts that data or that information or those insights into an intuitive visual model that kind of shows how everything hangs together and the inner relationships among things, that’s when they “Hmm, mm-hmm” turns into “Oh, I get it.”

And then when you layer on the emotional appeal, which is oftentimes in my world, “Here’s how consumers light up when you get this right,” that progresses then from “Hmm, mm-hmm” to “Oh, I get it” to the emotional “Oh, my God. Now I see what I need to do.” So, that’s the kind of story I try to craft. I try to take people on that journey of “Hmm, mm-hmm” to “Oh” to “Oh, my God.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that certainly sounds like a smashing performance when you can pull that off. And I guess in some ways that might be an hour-long presentation or it might be much shorter. Could you perhaps walk us through an arc in which we can experience these?

Dave Decelle
Oh, boy. Well, I’ll tell you, one of the things, one of the most powerful techniques that I learned from my longtime friend and colleague Ted Frank.

Pete Mockaitis
A fellow guest.

Dave Decelle
Yeah, pretty much everything I’ve learned about storytelling I’ve learned from Ted Frank. The thing that can tie all of that together and can really progress you from “Mm-hmm” to “Oh, I get it” to “Oh, my God” is tension, so when you can build tension. And oftentimes how do you build tension? When you think about Hollywood movies, how do they build tension? They often do it through foreshadowing, through suspense, through increasing action and conflict, right?

So, with the logical stuff, oftentimes with the logical stuff, you’re sort of setting the, “Here’s the current state of our hero and their world.” And then you start to add more and more insight that sort of ratchets it up and starts to unveil the kind of life they could be living, right? And then you ratchet that up even further and you really make them feel, “Oh, if only they were living that life. This is what the ideal would be like. This is their new bliss.” And I’ll have to give credit of the new bliss to Nancy Duarte right there.

So, building tension throughout your story is one of the most effective ways to progress people from just logical understanding to intuitive “I get it” to heartfelt “Oh, my God. I need to do something about this.”

Pete Mockaitis
And was there a particular application of that with regard to a product or service and then going through those three stages with great effect?

Dave Decelle
Yeah. There was a study I did at Netflix looking at many, many years ago when we first started creating our originals. We thought about, “Okay, as we create more and more of these originals and we start to kind of promote them within the app, always at a very personalized way, how do we make sure that we don’t tip over into this perceived negative advertising, this feeling that we’re just pushing stuff on people that we want them to watch as opposed to what they want to watch?”

And so, we did a lot of research around that, and we ended up coming up with seven factors that play into how you need to conceive of an in-app product promotion. And the story I told laid the groundwork of, “Here’s how people perceive ads today. There are good ads, there are negative ads. Here’s how people describe good ads. Here’s how people describe negative ads. Here are some examples of good ads. Here are some examples of bad ads.” And that was all like very logical stuff.

And then, as a I presented that, I surfaced, “Okay, at a conceptual level then, there are these seven factors that play into whether an ad is received as positive or negative. And here’s those seven factors. And there’s a subset of these that you want to lean into because they tend to have people perceive the ad as being a positive thing for them. And there is the other subset of factors that you want to lean back from because they’re the ones that put your ad into negative territory in people’s minds.”

But then the power of the framework became, “Look, you don’t have to always lean back from the bad attributes.” If you want to dial up one of those, so, for instance, one of those was frequency, you show somebody the same thing too often and it starts to become very tiresome in a negative ad, right? “Well, if you want to dial up frequency, that’s fine. But you also need to dial up one of the positive attributes.”

So, I’ll give you an example. One of the positive attributes was relevance. Is it relevant to their taste? So, if you’re going to go high on frequency, you better make sure it’s extremely relevant to them. So, the framework was, “Look, you can be setting these dials in combination with each other to create a really powerful promotion that not only helps promote the great original content that we’re creating but also pleases and delights the customer at the same time.”

So, creating that framework was the “Oh, I get it.” And then the emotional part was then being able to show stories of consumers reacting negatively when Netflix or other services got it wrong, and when they really lit up and reacted really positively when either Netflix or a service got it right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Thank you. And then I guess, maybe      to sort of back up in the chronological sequence of things here, do you have any favorite questions that you’re asking consumers in surveys or interviews that often seem to yield great stuff that’s super useful?

Dave Decelle
Yeah. So, I’m a qualitative researcher by nature. I know enough about quanti to be dangerous but I grew up as a qualitative researcher. So, that’s a lot of face-to-face interviews in people’s homes, in facilities, focused group sets sort of thing. And I’ll tell you, the most effective question that I ask is actually not a question. It’s a statement. It’s simply, “Tell me more about that.” And people just, they start to expound on their initial logical answer and you just get them talking about that, “Tell me more about that. Tell me more about that.” And it starts to unveil so many underlying psychological drivers and motivations and feelings. It’s the most powerful statement in consumer insights as far as I’m concerned.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Certainly, as opposed to, “All right. And the next thing in my script I will execute.” It’s like, “No, no, you’re going to hang there for a while.”

Dave Decelle
Well, no, worse is they give you their initial answer, and you say, “Why?” because what are you doing? You’re only engaging their logic then because then they’re like, “Oh.” “Well, why is that?” And they go back into their heads and they to figure out why as opposed to just simply, “Tell me more.”

Pete Mockaitis
That totally makes sense because, “Why?” they’d go, “Because that is what I’m looking to accomplish,” versus, “Tell me more about that.” It’s like, “I get such a rush out of…” you know, whatever.

Dave Decelle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
A totally different pathway. Cool. And then so I want to talk a little bit about sort of like the presence part in terms of what you’re bringing to your delivery of the story if you’re presenting in sort of a group or a meeting. Any pro tips there?

Dave Decelle
Yeah, definitely. So, when I think about presence, the best piece of advice I can give to someone is be bold yet humble. So, when you know what you know, be bold, have conviction, have a strong point of view. When you’re not sure or when you don’t know what you don’t know, be humble enough to admit that.

So, I’ll give you an example. I was in one of the product-strat meetings at Netflix a few months ago while I was still there, and the topic at the time was an extremely technical data science topic.

And I was listening to the whole thing, and we were debating whether this was a good direction to go or not in terms of data science analysis and ways of evaluating our A/B tests. And I raised my hand and I was very nervous when I did so, but I started with, “Look, I am way over my head when it comes to the technical aspects of this, I’m barely keeping up with this conversation. But if I understand the underlying concept of what you’re trying to do here, what I like about it is that this is a much more forward-looking analysis as opposed to simply relying on how we may have changed behaviors currently in the short term. And this is much more looking at how do we think we’re going to be changing behaviors in the long term. And we’ve always sort of wished we could do that, and so I’m glad that you guys are taking this step to really go out on a limb and try to predict the future, so to speak.”

So, I was humble in saying, “Look, I barely understand what you guys are saying, but I had the strong conviction that I think the concept of what you’re trying to do is a bold concept, and I’m a 100% behind it.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that also will do wonders for your credibility in terms of when you know something you know it, and when you don’t, you don’t, so they just don’t suspect you of yes-ing ever.

Dave Decelle
That’s right, yeah. And, in fact, that was one of the big a-ha’s for me, is that people find you more credible when you do exhibit that humbleness because they see you as more human, right? And when they see you as more human, they see you as more like themselves. There’s plenty of times that people are sitting in meetings feeling like, “I’m in over my head here. I’m barely understanding what’s going on.” But if someone else has the courage to admit that, they’re like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, that guy is like me,” and that just makes you that much more credible in their minds just simply because you’re perceived as more human.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. I also want to get your take in terms of, just super tactically, what your top do’s and don’ts when it comes to slides. You got a lot of rich information, you’re presenting it, what should we do and what should we not do?

Dave Decelle
Oh, my God. Do not put more than one thought on a slide. The most powerful thing you can do with slides is build. So, oftentimes I’ll create a slide that does have a lot of information on it or has a big concept on it with a lot of elements to it and a lot of moving pieces and a lot of interrelationships. And I create that slide, that one single slide, but then I copy it, however many times I need to, five times, ten times, whatever, and I build it up.

So, I create the ending slide where all the information is on there or the full-blown concept is presented, but then I create five or ten copies of it, and I delete what’s not needed until I get to that point. And so, I introduce the first point, and then I show how that point leads to the next point, and how that point leads to the next point, and how things hang together. So, by the time they do see the big slide that has it all, you’ve taken them on a journey and they understand it all.

The worst thing you can do is just put a slide up with a lot of words, or one big, like even if you come up with like this amazing visual model, putting that visual model up on the slide all at once. Because as you’re talking people through it, it’s human nature, they’re already trying to decipher the slide on their own and they’re not listening to what you’re saying. They’re looking at the slide and they’re trying to piece together everything that’s on the slide and trying to draw their own conclusions or interpret it themselves.

But if you can break it down into bite-sized chunks and introduce one piece at a time, and you show how that piece leads to this piece leads to this piece, they’re understanding and they’re grasping of it increases tenfold.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Well, I had a feeling that you had a lot to say about slides. So, anything else leaping to mind in the do’s and don’ts?

Dave Decelle
Let’s see. Do’s, yeah. Use a lot of light space, and in presenting, so this comes more to the verbal part, in presenting you need to use body language and you also need to be comfortable with and know how to use silences. Silence can be a very powerful tool, especially a powerful tool for building that tension I was talking about earlier.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Dave Decelle
So, for instance, in my presentations sometimes, oftentimes I use the tactic of throwing a hypothetical question out to the audience with a nice long pause and I let them think about it in their own heads how they want to answer that question. And then I show them how the insights we gathered answer that question, and then they get to see in their own heads, “Whoa, I was way off, or where they were off, or where they were relying with what consumers were thinking, for instance.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And much more engaging in terms of you are way less passive in terms of your brain is getting the wheels turning there.

Dave Decelle
Yeah. And with slides, the only thing you want to do is just keep it moving, and that’s why a build is so powerful. I’ll give you a truly counter-logical counterintuitive ratio. The fewer slides you have, the longer your talk is going to be. So, I presented a 20-minute presentation with 122 slides. When you do the math there, I only spent about 10 seconds on each slide, and so I kept it moving. There was always this feeling of forward progression, and there was always this sense of, “You can’t look down at your phone. You can’t look at your laptop because you’re going to miss the next thing. And if you miss that thing, you’re not going to understand the three things that follow that.”

And people cannot help but like lean forward, sit on the edge of their seats to see what happens next if the slide is changing like every 10 seconds, and you’re giving them something new every 10 seconds, as opposed to splashing one big busy slide up there and then talking about it for seven minutes straight, right? They’re going to zone out after the first one minute.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Thank you. Well, Dave, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we talk about some of your favorite things?

Dave Decelle
No, I think I’ve covered it.

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

Dave Decelle
Yeah. So, my favorite quote is actually the poem “Our Deepest Fear” by Marianne Williamson.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite study?

Dave Decelle
One of the most intriguing ones to me is there’s a famous study, multiple studies that actually show this, where charity donations are increased if you tell individual stories. So, if you present sort of mass statistics about one in four people suffer from such and such, you’ll get a certain level of donation out of that. But if you can then tell the story of one or two people who are suffering from that thing, individuals, and you show their photos and you tell their actual life circumstances, donation rates increase. So, that’s the power of storytelling as opposed to just presenting mass statistics.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Dave Decelle
Any book by Peter F. Hamilton, my favorite science fiction writer of all time. He’s amazing. In each of his books, he takes some kind of central technological breakthrough in the future and illustrates how that technological breakthrough changes so many things about society and culture when people take that breakthrough and they apply it in multiple different ways.

So, his latest book, for instance, is Salvation, and the underlying technology there is this idea of twinned wormhole portals and that just changed the world in innumerable ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Dave Decelle
My favorite tool is other people’s perspectives and ways of seeing things. So, using other people as sounding boards, especially when you’re creating frameworks and stories. Bounce those off as many people as you can and learn from that, “What are they not getting? What are they misunderstanding? How are they interpreting it? Are they interpreting it differently than I wanted them to?”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Dave Decelle
My favorite habit is my daily visits with humility. So, what I think anybody can do is, on a daily basis, or at the very least a weekly basis, go and visit something that is so vast and so much greater than yourself or even than humanity, to give you that sense of humble perspective. So, for me, that’s the ocean. I happen to be lucky enough to live on the coast of the Monterey Bay in California so just about every morning I ride my bike down to the ocean, and I’d walk along the ocean for half an hour to an hour, and I just look at the ocean and I just ponder how vast the ocean is, how deep it is, how dynamic it is, and how old it is, right? So much more vast. And it’s a power that’s so much greater than myself. You have to be humble in the face of something like that.

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

Dave Decelle
Well, I haven’t had the fortune of people quoting it back to me, but I like to think that one of my favorite nuggets that I try to pass on to other people is this notion of, “Celebrate your strengths and let go of your weaknesses,” because too many people try to fix what they perceive to be wrong with themselves at the great expense of not building upon what is right about themselves.

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

Dave Decelle
Well, as pedestrian as it sounds, LinkedIn is probably the best way to reach out to me, at least initially.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love LinkedIn. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Dave Decelle
Yeah, I would say this is relevant to anybody who’s in a role that wants to persuade other or that needs to persuade other people. Make sure that in your message and in your point of view, you target people’s heads, guts, and hearts, all three.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Dave, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for sharing the good word and good luck in your adventures.

Dave Decelle
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it.

499: Key Psychological Principles for Ethical Persuasion with Brian Ahearn

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Brian Ahearn says: "Stop telling and start asking."

Brian Ahearn breaks down the ethical way to getting people to say “yes.”

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to quickly attract people’s attention
  2. The simple secret to winning people over
  3. How to get others to follow through with their tasks

About Brian:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Brian Ahearn Interview Transcript

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

Brian Ahearn
It is my pleasure, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, one thing I learned about you is that you were born on April Fools’ Day. What has been the impact of this over the course of your life?

Brian Ahearn
I tell people I may be a fool but I’m not stupid. It was always nice to grow up and have your birthday be memorable.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, certainly because they just won’t forget, “Hey, when is your birthday?” It’s sort of locked in. Now, were there extra jokes, like, “You’re going to have a party. Nah, I’m just kidding”?

Brian Ahearn
No, I was usually the one who made the jokes because my mother told me I was supposed to be born on St. Patrick’s Day, so I did fool everybody by staying in the oven for an extra two weeks. And I always said it was good that I wasn’t born on St. Patrick’s Day because I’d probably be a drunk if I was.

Pete Mockaitis
And I don’t know if there’s any real research on this, but I’ve just kind of imagined that having extra time in the womb is probably handy with all the development that’s going on there.

Brian Ahearn
I don’t know. I never really thought that much about it but I was always revolving around, “You were supposed to be born on this day but you were born on this other day.” So, I’ll ask my mom. I’m sure she’ll take a lot of credit for my development.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom here with regard to influence and persuasion. And so, I think we’re going to get into a lot of great stuff. But maybe, as a starting point, how might you suggest we kind of gauge where we are today with someone’s influence skills in terms of like, “How do I know if I’m amazing in influencing or terrible at influencing or in the middle?” Because I think all of us just in real life, no matter how amazing you are, sometimes people are going to say no. So, how do you interpret like does a given person have a lot of room for improvement or not so much? And what are the telltale indicators?

Brian Ahearn
Tremendous amount of room for improvement. I’ve been teaching this for more than 15 years, I wrote a book on it, and I still am growing, or I still sometimes have somebody point out something, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s a great point. I didn’t actually see that.” So, I think if I can be deeply immersed in it like this and still say I’m growing and getting better all the time, well, then people who haven’t immersed themselves, they’ve got even more room to grow.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, maybe could you sort of establish our appetites a little bit by sharing maybe a dramatic transformation, or a before or after story, like what can be possible if you dig your teeth in and learn this stuff?

Brian Ahearn
Well, there’s a lot of things that we do, Pete, every single day that may not seem monumental but they are very important to move the ball ahead in our job, and I will give you an example. In my former corporate life, part of my responsibility was to help with the recruiting of insurance agents to come to the company that I work for. When we learned about…

Pete Mockaitis
That’s not always easy. Selling insurance doesn’t sound like a great gig for many people that you might be reaching out to.

Brian Ahearn
I’ve not yet met somebody who grew up and said, “I want to be an insurance agent.” Everybody’s got a story about how they fell into insurance. But it’s actually a wonderful industry, and if you do it well as an insurance agent, it can be very lucrative, so they are usually looking for good companies to represent. And part of our job was to help recruit them.

And when we learned about the principles of scarcity, which alerts us to the fact that people want more of what they can have less of, that we value things more when we think they’re rare or diminishing in some respect, well, we had been prospecting to these agents for many, many years and never thought to incorporate this principle.

And so, here’s what we did, Pete. We always had a limited number of agents that we would bring on any given year, let’s say it was 50. And we never thought to really promote that number. Fifty is not a lot when you’re only in 30 states. And so at the end of the third quarter, we sent a mailing, or an email message out to prospective agents, and the last paragraph would say, “Pete, part of the reason I’m contacting you today is to let you know we’re only looking to appoint 50 agents in our 30 operating states. As of today, we’ve appointed 40. We hope you’re one of the remaining few we appoint by year end.”

As soon as we sent that email, within the hour, my boss came over to me and he said, “I can’t believe it. I’ve already had eight agents call or email in response to that communication.” He said, “I have never had any respond within the hour.” And we knew the only thing that was different was that last paragraph, alerting them to the fact that there were going to be very few slots left by year end, and those agents who were considering it, all of a sudden had moved the needle. That was a big win for us. Not monumental in the scheme of the world but for what we were doing, that was darn important for our goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, that is exciting when you can pinpoint a result to a little change, and so that’s leverage. I mean, that’s exciting, that’s powerful, and I guess it makes sense if some folks were thinking, “You know what, maybe I’m looking to change industries or careers, get to another company,” as opposed to, “Oh, shoot. I actually better get on this right away or I guess this opportunity will disappear for me.”

Brian Ahearn
Exactly. And we all respond to it. I know sometimes people say, “Oh, that stuff doesn’t work on me.” But we’ve all had those times where we got off the couch on a Sunday, and we went to the store because we heard “Sale on Sunday,” or maybe we got there on Friday because we heard “While supplies last.” And the reality is we probably never would’ve gone to the store were it not for being alerted to the fact that something was going to be limited.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so that’s one principle. Let’s zoom out a little bit. So, you unpack a lot of this in your work, in one of your books Influence People: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical. So, how would you maybe organize or share kind of the main message as we dig into this?

Brian Ahearn
Well, the subtitle, as you said, “Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical,” that’s really foundational to what I talk about because I tell people it’s powerful because it’s research-based. This isn’t somebody’s good advice. This is backed by empirical data. It’s an everyday skill. I mean, most people realize, if they want to be successful at work, they need to get people to say yes to them. But when they go home, life is more peaceful and happy when they can get those people around them to say yes. So, it’s an everyday skill.

The real opportunities are the fact that, going back to what you asked at the beginning, “Do people have room for improvement?” most people don’t know the language of influence. And until you can label something, you usually don’t start seeing it with any consistency. But once you learn the language and you can label things, you would be amazed at how often you understand how the salesperson is trying to get you to buy, marketers trying to get you to store, politicians trying to get you to vote for him or her, so you begin to see these opportunities.

And then even when it comes to persuasion, most people don’t really have a handle on what that is. If I ask people, “What is your definition of persuasion?” What I hear most often is to convince somebody or change somebody’s thinking, and that sounds good, Pete, until you ask this follow-up question, “If you tell your son or daughter, ‘Clean your room,’ do you want them to say, A, ‘Mom or Dad, that’s a good idea,’ or, B, get in there and clean the room”? And everybody gets it. They want them to change their behavior.

And when I talk about persuasion, it’s about changing behavior, getting people to do something that they wouldn’t do if you had not asked. So, it really comes down to the ask. And if we do it well, it can have a lasting impact on people, and certainly we want to be ethical when we do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Now when it comes to ethics, why don’t we hit this right now in case there’s any resistance in the listener? So, ethics, I mean, I think we all like ethics. Can you share what are some kind of maybe golden rules that you keep in mind when it comes to using influence and persuasion ethically?

Brian Ahearn
Sure. First one is good for me, good for you. I can’t ask you to do something that’s not also in your best interest, otherwise I am only out for me. And I think any person listening to this, if they said, “That person is only out for themselves,” they wouldn’t want to do business with them. So, whatever I’m proposing has to be good for you, has to be good for me. If we use Stephen Covey’s term a win-win.

Second, we need to be honest. And not just honest in what we say, but also honest in what we know because it’s not enough to look you in the eye and say, “Well, Pete, I answered all your questions.” And you look at me and said, “Yeah, Brian, but you didn’t tell me when you sold me the house there was a crack in the foundation.” Me saying, “Pete, you didn’t ask that question,” wouldn’t cut the mustard. You’d say, “Hey, if I’d known that, I would’ve made a different decision.”

So, we’re honest about what it is that we’re talking about, what it is that we’re offering, but we’re also confident because even when there’s a shortcoming in something, if we are honest and we bring that forth relatively early in the conversation and deal with it, we gain credibility as a trustworthy person, and then we can segue into more of the strengths of our product or service.

So, we create win-wins, we are honest, and then the third thing that we talk about is we only use the psychological principles that are natural to the situation that we find ourselves in. And I think a good example of this is anybody who’s listening to this who’s a homeowner has probably had people who tried to sell them roofing, gutters, siding, painting, whatever, those things we all need for our homes. And they probably had people say something like, “Pete, if you sign today, you can save 15%. But if I have to come back at a later date, I can’t offer you that same deal.” They’re trying to invoke a sense of scarcity, like, “Oh, if I don’t act right now, I’m going to lose this great deal that he or she is proposing.”

And most of the time that’s garbage because whatever they’re offering is probably not in short supply. They’re only doing it to manipulate you into making a decision right then and there so they don’t have to come back or you don’t rethink it, so that’s not being genuine in terms of how you’re using the principle. There’s no scarcity there, but they’re trying to squeeze it in to change your behavior. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that. That’s a nice piece there in terms of like it’s natural and it makes sense. And so, not to trash talk but let’s trash talk, shall we, Brian? I think that there’s a lot of sort of online sales stuff with the funnel and a launch and a deadline, and it doesn’t feel so good. And I guess I’ve done it too, although there was a real reason associated with the deadline, it’s like, “Hey, everybody is starting the class at this time. We need to gather a sort of critical mass to have a community, and there’s going to be some live sessions, and you would miss them if you didn’t sign up by this deadline.” So, that was real.

But a lot of other times when it’s sort of like there’s a digital training course, and it is available for, I don’t know, 24 or 72 hours, I’m just like, “’Why?” And it just seems like the only reason that that deadline is there is to make me do this thing now, and I don’t like it. Now, at the same time, I guess it could very well be win-win. It’s like, “I know this is what you need to do in order to get off your butt and make something happen because I need to have a little bit of pressure here, but it doesn’t feel so good on the receiving end.” I just want to get your take on this.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think that’s a good example that there’s probably not something in short supply because you can access it 24/7, 365. It’s not like they ran out of something. Or your example of holding a class. You might say, “Early registrants are going to pay this price. If you register by this certain date, it goes up. And by this last date, it’s higher.” And somebody might say, “Well, a seat is a seat. Is that fair?” Yes, I think it can be because you’re having to plan, you’re having to ship materials, you’re having to secure a room with certain seats, so, yes, there can be additional costs for you.”

Pete Mockaitis
I buy that, absolutely, yeah.

Brian Ahearn
And so, you’re passing that on. It makes your life easier so you’re going to make their life easier by putting a deadline like that. I think deadlines are legitimate when you know that those deadlines will also help people. So, there were some work I read from Dan Ariely where they looked at students who were either given no deadline, “You have six papers all due at the end of the semester. You’re adults. Do them at your leisure.” There was a group that could choose their own deadlines, and then there was a group that was given deadlines.

And, contrary to what people might want to think, those who were given the deadlines actually performed best because we all, I mean, probably every person listening to this, had times where they delayed all their studying and crammed. And they had all kinds of times and it is such a common human phenomenon to do that. So, I think imposing deadlines there, you can say, “Yeah, you might’ve had to the end of the semester but it will be beneficial for most students if we set these deadlines and adhere to them.”

Pete Mockaitis
That is helpful. Thank you. I dig that. And then when it comes to products, let’s talk about digital products in terms of like, “Hey, I got this thing. I can flip the on/off switch whenever I care to, and I care to flip it on for three days once a year, and then flip it off to keep everyone in a ladder.” It doesn’t feel great to me. What’s your take?

Brian Ahearn
I would want to know more about the details of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it before just making a blanket statement to say, “You could create something and put it out there.” People could argue that there are a lot of things that are not truly scarce. You know, time. Somebody might say, “Hey, if you’re not doing something on this day, isn’t it better to come and speak for this and throw out some low fee than to get nothing?” They might say that’s fair.

Somebody else who’s a speaker might say, “Well, no, I’ve already charged other people a particular amount. I’m not going to go ahead and lower that just for you. That’s not fair to those people.” So, there’s always a tension there that you have to understand what’s behind it. So, I would want to know why are they only making it available for three days. Is it tied to something else that’s part of their offering or their services?

Now, if they’re laughing in the backroom going, “Oh, yeah, we just make it available three days every year, and people go crazy, and then we pull it from…” I don’t know that that’s really a very ethical way to go about doing things. It’s like you remember the Disney Vault? That’s all that was. It’s out for limited time, then it goes back into the vault. And the imagery was great because the vault is closed and the only people who know the combination worked at Disney. But the reason they did it is it worked. People would flock to buy those videos or DVDs, and they would always change them every so slightly. Blu-Ray Digitally Remastered with two scenes never seen before, then you’re like, “Oh, gosh, I got to have it. And if I don’t get it now, it goes into the vault and who knows when they’ll open the vault again.”
Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I think about DeBeers, that’s sort of their whole game with diamonds is that they acquire much of the supply, and then they trickle it out as they so choose.

Brian Ahearn
Well, we see it with tickets to concerts, right, where people go online, and they’re like, “I can never buy anything because these major corporations go in and buy them all up and then they jack the price.” Yes, so they buy them, they have the purchasing power, and then they leverage scarcity after that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s good rules of thumb for the ethics, and so even if there’s an on/off switch being flipped for additional good or the sales of a service, there very may be a nice valid reason in terms of the life of the provider and sort of the conveniences they get to enjoy or not, or it could be some folks cackling all the way to the bank as they’re utilizing this.

Anyway, so we talked about scarcity. Can you share what are some of the other most powerful principles, when you said once you see have a label for something, you can use it and identify it? Can we hear some more useful labels?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. Well, one of the principles that we talk about is called the principle of liking which tells us that we prefer to say yes to people that we know and like. Now, listeners might be saying, “Well, duh, we all know that.” What a lot of people don’t think about though is how to make that a reality. And most people will go into situations and work really hard to get people to like them, and that’s better than doing nothing.

But the most powerful thing you can do is to go into a situation to say, “How can I come to like this other person? And I’m going to, therefore, connect in what we have in common. I’m going to listen. I’m going to try to take it in. And when I hear something we have in common, like we grew up in the same town or cheer for the same team, I’m going to start talking about that because I want to like the people that I’m networking with, working with, supporting, etc. Or I’m going to look for things that I can genuinely compliment them about because I know that if I find those things, I’ll start thinking more highly.”

And here’s why this is so key. When that other person believes you truly like them, and you really are coming to like them, it opens them up because we all believe deep down inside that friends do right by friends. And the good news is we do right by friends. If you’re truly a friend, you’ll never want to manipulate your friends. And this is a powerful way to remove that whole question about manipulation because when I look to the people that I know and like, I want to help them. They know I want to help them. And it creates this really good virtuous cycle, so I think it’s a very, very powerful principle. But that key is don’t try to get people to like you. Try to come to like other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And so, then so part of that is just doing the research and zeroing in on commonalities. And how else can we get to like them?

Brian Ahearn
Well, there’s things like, I mean, certainly if you mirror and match. When you are with somebody, and you consciously mirror their body language, you kind of get into sync, when you make a conscious choice to pace your speaking along the lines of theirs, not to manipulate them or anything, but to say, “I want to make this person comfortable with me and I want to be comfortable with them,” because the more we see ourselves as similar, how we stand, how we talk, the things that we have in common, etc., all of those start to create this sense of rapport, like, “Hey, that person is like me and, therefore, I kind of like them.” It’s much easier to like people who are similar to you in multiple ways.

And then, of course, I mentioned paying somebody genuine compliments. Another thing that we talk about at times is when you work together in cooperative ways, and you have success, you tend to high-five and really look more positively upon each other, especially for people who are leaders who are listening to this. If you have employees who might not get along so great, put them into situations where they have to work together. Don’t put them into situations that would be hard to be successful in. You want them to kind of take baby steps. But as they work together and they have success, people pretty naturally start looking at the other person and say, “That was great. You did a good job,” and they start passing compliments. So, those are natural ways to make liking come about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Thank you. And how about some more?

Brian Ahearn
One of the really interesting principles, for salespeople especially, is the principle of consistency. People always ask, “What is the most powerful principle of influence?” And I always say it depends because it depends on the situation you’re in, and these principles aren’t always available, or at least every one of them are not always available. But if you’re a salesperson, the principle of consistency is paramount because the principle of consistency is predicated on asking good questions.

And we define the principle this way. We feel an internal psychological pressure but also an external social pressure to be consistent in what we say and what we do. So, to drive this home. Pete, have you ever given your word to somebody, friend, family member, someone, that you would be somewhere or do something with them but had to back out?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m certain that’s happened and I’m trying to recall a specific instance but I’m with you.

Brian Ahearn
Okay. You know, when I ask an audience on this, almost we can all recall a time where, “Oh, gosh,” we forgot it’s our kid’s recital, or, “Somebody got sick and I need to stay home.” Legitimate reasons that I’m sure when somebody says, “Hey, I can’t make it, and here’s why.” But friends say, “Don’t worry about it.” But the reality is how do we feel? Most people I ask that question, they say, “I felt terrible having to tell them I couldn’t be there. I felt bad or guilty.” And what do we do? We don’t like to feel those feelings. We work really, really hard to try to keep our word.

And when you understand that, then rather than telling people what to do, you start asking, because when you ask and they commit to you, it triggers that internal sense of, “I want to be consistent with what I say and do because, first and foremost, I will feel better about myself. And, oh, by the way, I’ll look better in your eyes.” So, it’s a powerful motivator of human behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, then when you are attempting to be influential and persuade, knowing that this is a powerful force within us, what are some key ways that this can be utilized?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. So, it’s very common for people in a business setting to tell somebody what they need. I may walk by you and say, “Pete, I need the sales numbers by Friday.” Now maybe you’ll get them to me, maybe you won’t, but I know this from the research, I will be more effective if I were to say, “Pete, would you be able to give me the sales numbers by Friday?” because if you say yes, the odds that you’ll do it are significantly higher than if you don’t say anything at all.

But a smarter way to go about doing this would be, “Pete, would you be able to get me the sales numbers by Tuesday?” Now, if you tell me you can’t, then I have fallback positions. I might say, “Pete, I realized it’s really busy around here. Any chance you could get them to me by the end of the day Wednesday?” Now this is tapping into another principle that we call reciprocity. And, people, when you come in with another request immediately after somebody says no, there’s lots of research that shows people will be more likely to say yes.

So, by starting to think about what it is that you need, how can I ask, how can I set fallback positions so that if that person says, “No, I’m too busy,” well, I can retreat to Wednesday, I can retreat to Thursday, I still can even retreat to Friday. And so, the manager who gets into that habit of asking instead of telling and setting themselves up with fallback positions will get what they need far more often than somebody who just tells people what they need on the due date.

Pete Mockaitis
And I also wonder, and I guess this could be risky, but if you were to say, “When can you commit to completing this by?” And then they generate their own due date, does that have even more power because it came from them?

Brian Ahearn
Yes, anytime somebody self-generates their own reasons, goals, they will be more committed to those. You may look at me and say, “Well, Brian is an expert in influence.” And if I tell you what you should probably do, you’d give that some weight because you’re like, “Hey, Brian knows what he’s doing, he wrote a book.” But if I asked you to write questions and you come up with the very same idea, you own it because you feel like, “That’s my idea.” And we all think our ideas are pretty good.

And so, that becomes another skill too, which taps into this principle, but asking those right questions to get people to come up with the answers themselves, it’s a huge part of the coaching process because coaching is about teaching people to think for themselves. And when they start coming up with their own ideas, then they feel more confident at generating their own ideas down the road, and they don’t need as much attention through coaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, so we’re really kind of taking down the six greatest hits here, we got the scarcity, liking, consistency, reciprocity. I guess we also got to hit the authority and social proof to round that out.

Brian Ahearn
Okay. Authority tells us that we defer to people that we view as more wise or experts when we’re making decisions. I mean, if we’re standing around at a cocktail party and we’re all complaining about taxes, and then somebody says, “Well, I’m a CPA,” and they start talking, we give that more weight because we know that person knows far more about taxes than we probably do.

Funny story that happened quite a number of years ago, my wife is a really, really good golfer, and when I say really good, she’s a single-digit handicap, usually she’d shoot in the upper 70s. She’s very, very good. I came home from a sales training event and I told her about a golf example that I had used during the training. A few weeks later, she’s reading a book, and she says, “Listen to what Corey Pavin says.” For those of you who are listening, Corey Pavin won the US Open in the early ‘90s, and he finished in the top five in all of the major golf championships.

She reads this paragraph, Pete, and it’s almost verbatim what I said. So, of course, I had to let her know that, and I said, “Jane, I told you that.” She said, “No, you didn’t.” I say, “Yeah, a couple of weeks ago. Remember I came home from the training event?” “No.” I go, “Come on, we were sitting right here having dinner. You don’t…?” And she had no recollection that I had told her that. So, finally, I threw my hands up and I go, “Oh, I guess if Corey Pavin says it, it’s true but when I say it it’s not?”

But here’s the reality. Because he was a golf pro and won the US Open, who would you believe? Corey Pavin or Brian Ahearn, a trainer? It’s a funny story but it really drives home the point. Two people can say exactly the same thing, the person who’s viewed as an expert, believed far more than the person who has no credibility at all in that area, and yet it can be every bit as true the statements that’s made from both people. So, it’s really, really important that people do what they can to get their expertise in front of other people.

Pete Mockaitis
And now I’m intrigued, do we think that this is the explanation for the mysterious phenomenon in a meeting, one person says something and it gets no response, and another person says just about the same thing, and other are, “Yes, yes,” and it’s are sort of all behind there? Do we think this is primarily driven by authority or there are some other elements that explain this situation?

Brian Ahearn
There could certainly be some liking that people might say, “Oh, yeah, you know, we love Joe.” And when Joe says something, everybody likes that. But it probably leans more on the authority thing. And in my corporate job, when I was reporting at one point to the vice president of sales, there were times when he would come to me and he’d say, “I’d like you to draft this and then send it to these people,” and I’d say, “I will draft it, but I would like you to send it,” because coming from the vice president of sales it will mean a lot more than coming from me. And he knew this stuff well too, and he’s like, “You’re right.”

And so, I had the satisfaction of knowing that the messaging was coming from me, I was building my skill, it helped me write the book and do other things, but I was humble enough to say, “The goal here is to move the ball forward, move the agenda forward for the company, and my saying the very same thing won’t help it as much as you, so I will save you time, craft the message, and together we will make this thing happen.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s so dead-on. And, yeah, this reminds me of just recently I started up a new training program with a group, you know, run it through The Enhanced Thinking and Collaboration Program, and so there’s some pre-work to be done and the majority of folks had not yet done it. And so, I have all the participants’ email addresses but they haven’t met me yet. So, I proposed that exact same thing, it’s like, “Hey, here’s the rundown of who has and has not yet finished the pre-work. I’d love to have them prompted, which I could do, but I think it would be much better coming from you.” And, sure enough, she prompted and the pre-work came rolling in, and mission accomplished.

Brian Ahearn
Yep. Hey, I think it’s just a matter of some people being humble enough to say, “It’s okay if the message doesn’t come from me. I’ll have my time, right? If I do things right and I help the corporation move the agenda forward, I’ll get my praise, I’ll be that one who’s looked on for the promotion. I will eventually probably be in that position where I’m the one doing the messaging.” But develop your skill at creating the message but allow the right person to bring that message forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about social proof?

Brian Ahearn
So, social proof tells us that we look to other people to see how we should behave in particular situations. We are heavily impacted by what other people are thinking, how they’re feeling, what they’re doing. And I always tell people the word to remember here is crowds. Large and small, crowds of people impact how we think, how we feel, and how we behave.

Now, it’s interesting, Pete, that in America, because we are more of an individualistic society, sometimes when we talk about this, people push back. And I’ve heard people say things like, “Nothing great ever came from following the crowd.” And I don’t disagree with that. Medical breakthroughs, great leaders, great things happen when people break from the crowd. But I would challenge people who are listening, how often in the day are you trying to accomplish greatness? And how often are you just trying to get your day moving along?

And in most of the time, if you’re driving home from work, and you see that the traffic is backing up and people start getting off on an exit, without even looking at a map, a phone app, you might just decide, “I better get off the exit too.” Why? “Everybody else is, it’s probably the right thing to do. It has nothing to do with greatness. I just want to get home quickly.” And we are confronted with those choices every day all day long. And humans have evolved to know, “Hey, if other people are doing something, yeah, it’s probably the right thing to do the vast majority of the time.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so that’s a nice lineup there. And I’d also love to get your perspective in terms of when you’re crafting the message, when you’re delivering the message, sort of what gets in there to see if you could sort of appeal to these dimensions? I’d also love to get your view on how can we sort of just grab people’s attention in the first place and sort of get them listening to our persuasive appeal?

Brian Ahearn
Well, a couple of things come right to mind. First is uniqueness. People are drawn to things that are unique. If I’ve got seven red balls and one white ball, people are going to notice the white ball, that’s the one that’s going to stand out. It’s unique among that. So, putting forth what is unique is going to help you in that regard. But this is where understanding the psychology of persuasion becomes really handy because it’s not always about touting, “Look at this unique thing here.” Sometimes it’s saying, “Nobody else has this.”

It’s the same thing kind of in reverse. It’s utilizing that loss frame, it’s part of scarcity, but by talking about what somebody is going to miss out on if they don’t come to your training, read your article, buy your product or service, is far more powerful than saying, “Buy our product or service because of this one unique feature.” The uniqueness, when it’s framed as, “And nobody else has it,” far more powerful. So, that’s one way.

Another way to grab people’s attention goes back to that principle of consistency by asking questions. So, here’s an example, Pete. Many, many years ago I was in a training session, and the trainer came in after lunch, about 40 people in this room, and he says, “Hey, before we get started, anybody know a good place to go for dinner here in Columbus?” And people start shouting out answers, and some people had their hands or waving their hands in the air.

He lets it go on for just a few seconds, and then he says, “Okay, time out. I come to Columbus all the time, and I know exactly where I’m going to dinner. I asked a question to prove a point. When you ask a question, people feel compelled to answer.” And he said, “Notice how many people shouted out answers and look at how many of you raised your hands.” And then he said, “For those who didn’t say something or raised your hands, were you thinking of a place?” And they started smiling and nodding. And he knew every person had answered that question either in their head or out loud.

So, the point here is if you ask a good question, it’s going to stimulate people to start thinking about what that answer is, and if it’s creative enough, it might have them really wanting that answer, in other words, open up your email, take a look at your brochure, something, whatever it is that you’re trying to promote.

Pete Mockaitis
And in the book Pre-Suasion it’s got all kinds of fun questions with regard to, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person? Or do you consider yourself an adventurous person?” So, then there’s some identifying of self in that, and then they’re kind of primed to if you happen to have something new that can appeal to adventure, and if you are asking for some help, if they’ve said, “Yes, I’m helpful,” yeah, that can line up there. I’m curious, what makes a great question? Because I think I see this a lot, and maybe it’s effective or maybe it’s not.

But when I say, “Are you looking for a way that you can improve the tidiness of your home without spending a fortune?” I don’t know. And when I hear those questions, I mean, maybe they’re very effective but I’m just like, “No, I’m not.” And then maybe it’s mission accomplished, they’ve sort of excluded me and they’ve pre-qualified the others who are. But I don’t know, what’s your take? Is a yes-no question like that fine or what makes an optimal question?

Brian Ahearn
It depends on the context. So, I think asking a question in marketing and the way that you just described is very different than asking somebody at work so that you can get something accomplished. When I talk about like leaders, and stop telling and start asking, some of the elements of a good interaction with somebody is to change a statement into a question, to give yourself the fallback, to use the word because.

There are studies that show when you use the word because, significantly more people will say yes because we’re conditioned from childhood, right? Parents say, when you dared to say, “Mom, why do I have to do this?” “Because I said so.” It’s not a valid reason but we started to learn, “Once I hear ‘Because I said so’ I better get going.” So, instead of making a statement, ask a question, have a fallback position, use the word because, tag it with a reason, that is a great way, in a corporate context, to get people on board and do what they need to do as opposed to, “Give me the sales numbers by Friday.”

When it comes to marketing, I’m with you. I don’t like some of those things that are just so overt that I think most people just probably start to shy away from it. One terrible example is “Ninety-seven percent of my friends won’t have the guts to repost this. Will you?” Nope, I will not because I feel like that’s manipulative, it’s probably a completely false statistic, and it actually works against people because if 97% of the people aren’t doing something, then why should I? It’s a terrible, terrible way to try to get people to take action.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d also be curious then, so we talked about being ethical. Is there anything else that you think is just a mistake that folks are making all the time with regard to, “Hey, this is an easy lost opportunity, so stop doing this or start doing that because most people are doing it wrong, and this is a quick fix”?

Brian Ahearn
Yes. Another example would be when we go back to that principle of scarcity. I will talk about this, we’ll talk about loss framing, they’ll all understand, like, “Yeah, I’m more motivated by what I might lose versus what I might gain.” But then they go back out and they do things completely wrong. So, here would be an example.

Sometimes I work with financial investors and wealth advisors. If I were to say to you, “Pete, given your age, your current income and how much longer you say you’re going to work, if we can find a way for you to save just 1% more, by the time you retire, my calculation show you’ll have an extra hundred thousand in your retirement account.” That’s pretty motivating, right? One percent of your salary to get an extra hundred grand.

But the smart wealth advisor would say this, “Pete, given your age, your current income and how many years you say you’ll continue to work, if we don’t find a way for you to save just 1% more, by the time you’re retired, you will have given up $100,000 of your retirement savings.” It’s the same a hundred thousand, right? But talking about it as loss frame, like it’s right there, it’s waiting for you, but if you don’t take this action of saving 1%, you’re giving it up. That will be far more motivating to get people to invest the 1%, and yet people go back and they always say, “Rah, rah, rah, look at all the positive things. Do this and you’ll have this wonderful life.” Sometimes they need to honestly say, “If you don’t do this, here’s what you’re going to be giving up in five years or 10 years,” and that will stimulate more people to get on board.

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

Brian Ahearn
I will just say I appreciate the emphasis that you have on the ethics. If it weren’t for ethics, I wouldn’t be doing this. And my story on that is simply this, when I came in contact with Cialdini’s material, when I was enthralled by it, it was a Stanford video. And when Stanford sent a marketing piece several months after I’d seen that first video, they used the word manipulation in the advertising for his video despite the fact that he was very clear about non-manipulative ways to move people to act. And I felt so strongly about that that I emailed Stanford to basically say this, “I don’t know anybody who wants to be manipulated, and I don’t know anybody who wants to be known as a good manipulator. That word cannot be helping your sales but it really could be hurting.”

I never heard from Stanford but several months later, my phone rang, and it was Robert Cialdini’s office. And one of his assistants called to personally thank me on his behalf for having sent that email to Stanford. She said, “They’re changing the marketing of our material because of you.” And I was like, “Wow! That is really cool.” And as fate would have it, he ended up coming to my company a few years later, and speaking to insurance agents that represented us.

So, the point here, Pete, is if it hadn’t been for that ethical part, I would’ve never sent that email, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today, and you’d be talking to a different guest right now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you.

Brian Ahearn
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brian Ahearn
When I read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, one of the quotes that stood out to me was, he said, “In the end, they can take away every freedom except for the last human freedom, which is the ability to choose to where to place your thoughts.” And that just really resonated with me, that nothing happens in life where we can’t shake our head and say, “Wait a minute. I can choose what I’m going to think here. They can break my body, they can do anything they want to me, but I can always choose where I will place my thoughts.” And that’s a pretty lifechanging concept when you really meditate on it.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Brian Ahearn
Viktor Frankl’s book is one of the top five books that I think that influenced my life and, primarily, it was that quote and several other things that I read there. But his overcoming and his ability to believe that there was a future beyond living in the concentration camps, and the fact that he made it, and there were certainly some luck involved, pointing one line or the other kind of thing, but he really was a huge influence on the world because of what he went through and how he kind of dissected it and what he had to share.

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

Brian Ahearn
Every day I get up and I work out. I run and lift every single day, seven days a week, and I’ve done this since I was very, very young. I feel like it gives me a huge edge when I’m up very, very early in the morning, and I get done running, and I get done working out. And that’s usually an hour and a half or so of my morning to get things going. It’s a habit. I mean, I’ve done it every single day for 25, 30 plus years, but it is also a tool that I use because when I’m done, I feel like I am way ahead of the game, and I’m ready to roll for the rest of the day.

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

Brian Ahearn
I think the biggest a-ha that I share that people come back and mention is the subtlety of not trying to get people to like you, but really trying hard to come to like people. And I see that play out for my life because people talk about what a good networker I am. And I don’t consider myself a happy go-lucky backslapping meet people all over the place, but I’ve learned to be social and I’ve learned to really focus on the other people, try to get to know them, allow them to tell their stories because it also helps me come to like them. And so, people just seem to naturally respond to me because of that, and that would be the nugget.

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

Brian Ahearn
Well, anybody who’s listening, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. If you don’t put a message in there, like, “Hey, I heard you on the podcast,” expect that you’ll see a message coming back saying, “Thanks for connecting. How did you find me?” I just like to understand why people are connecting with me. Certainly, my website which is InfluencePeople.biz, and out there you’ll find all kinds of resources, you’ll find my book, blog, videos, all kinds of information, podcasts that I’ve been on. There’s a wealth of information to continue learning about this.

Pete Mockaitis
Brian, thanks so much for taking this time. This has been a treat. I wish you excellent results in all the ethical ways you are trying to get people to say yes.

Brian Ahearn
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it, and you were a very fun host to speak with.