If I'm In Charge, Why Don't People Do What I Tell Them To?
Understanding The Three Underlying Principles of Persuasion
By Steve Martin, Author, "Heavy Hitter Selling - How Successful Salespeople Use Language and Intuition to Persuade Customers to Buy"
The customer had said all the right things. They were very interested in your software. They acknowledged its superior functionality and validated its business benefits. Yet, you didn't win the deal. Back at the office, you left your executive staff meeting with the gnawing feeling that the agreed upon action items wouldn't get done. Later, you check your voice mail only to hear the job candidate you had wined and dined for months inform you of his or her decision to join another software company. To make matters worse, you already told the board the new vice president had accepted your offer. As the day closes, you wonder why the venture capitalist didn't return call again today. He seemed so interested last week. You ask yourself, "What's going on here? If I'm in charge, why don't people do what I tell them to?"
You communicate thousands of different messages on any given day. For example, during the average business phone call you deliver hundreds of unique thoughts. These thoughts are manufactured on the internal assembly line of your mind that starts with a purpose and ends with words being enunciated in the optimum manner. The receiver of your message has to disassemble your package of words to interpret them.
Whatever your age and experience in life, you have already mastered how to use language. As a child, you learned the complex process of conveying your thoughts, how to tell the truth, and how to lie. Since then, you have become an expert on the nuances of how to say something with maximum impact, and understand, that sometimes what's important isn't necessarily what you say as much as how it is said. You already know how to create a message with a clear and a compelling sense of urgency.
Now you find yourself in a leadership position. You have the authority to tell people what to do and what needs to get done. Yet even with your executive power and all the practical communication experience you have gained over your lifetime, you find people still won't do exactly what you want or are hesitant to believe in what you say. How can this be? How can you be important but not influential?
Influential speakers are able to amplify their use of language by adding an additional dimension of meaning and structure within normal conversation. By doing so, they instill their suggestions into the listener's thought process with what seems like telepathy. The common term for this is "persuasion." Persuasion is not solely a recital of logical arguments or factual information to a non-believer. Instead, it is process of projecting your entire "beliefs and convictions" on another human being. And, at the foundation of persuasion are three underlying principles.
Principle #1 - Speak With Conviction and Congruence
Most people in the software industry associate persuasion solely with the logical aspect of decision-making. This shouldn't be a surprise to us since our formal education backgrounds are in the sciences such as computer science, engineering, mathematics, and finance. We have been trained to speak rationally. Over time, we have adopted the attributes of objective reason for all of our communications. Unfortunately, logic alone will not win the argument nor will it convince the non-believer to believe. It requires the "human element" of persuasion to truly change someone's mind. Whether you are courting a potential customer or negotiating with a venture capitalist, the most important message you send your conviction and congruence.
During recent times, we have had several presidents that were accomplished orators but only one was known as "The Great Communicator." President Ronald Reagan was a prolific speaker with unique talents. He was a master of projecting "congruence." Whatever the topic and regardless of the situation, he was able to align his
entire body and being to deliver the message. Consequently, you believed that he believed in what he said.
President Reagan had a natural ability to create rapport with a wide spectrum of people. He was able to attain support from both political parties and from people from all walks of life. Although his political enemies may have heartily disagreed with his agenda, they found it hard, if not impossible, to hate him personally. As a result, he was able to accomplish more of his agenda.
Recently, a book of Ronald Reagan's personal writings was published. Reagan In His Own Hand, offers some unique insights into the president and provides examples of persuasive prowess. In the book's foreword, Secretary of State George Schultz recounts the following story about the Geneva Summit in 1985.
"Mikhail Gorbachev suddenly began to harangue us about our Strategic Defense Initiative, our plans for missile defense. President Reagan exploded. The two leaders went back and forth, interrupting each other and expressing their views with vehemence.
Then Ronald Reagan got the floor. He spoke passionately about how much better the world would be if we were able to defend ourselves from nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles. He was intense as he expressed his abhorrence at having to rely on the ability to "wipe each other out" as the only means of keeping peace.
The depth of President Reagan's belief was vividly apparent. Ronald Reagan was talking from the inside out. Translation was simultaneous. Gorbachev could connect what Reagan was saying with his facial expressions and body language.
When the President finished, there was total silence. After what seemed an interminable time, Gorbachev said, "Mr. President, I don't agree with you, but I can see that you really mean what you say."
The congruence and conviction with which President Reagan spoke made an immense impression on Mr. Gorbachev. These two men would go on to develop a very personal relationship and the rapport they built literally changed the world. George Schultz credited this conversation as tipping point from which many future successful negotiations resulted. It was clear to Mr. Gorbachev that President Reagan meant what he said and said what he meant.
Whether you are courting a potential customer or negotiating with a venture capitalist, the most important message you send your conviction and congruence."
Principle #2 - Guide the Skeptic's Internal Dialogue
I have worked with executives from many enterprise software companies and they have all shared one thing in common-- they were very eager to tell me about their technology! Since they honestly think they have built a new and innovative software "mousetrap," they believe that once they explain product features and functionality I will become equally enthralled. In other words, what I was thinking to myself about the product wasn't as important was what they were saying to me. Unfortunately, facts, features, and functions by themselves won't change anyone's mind. It is the ability to understand what is on the non-believer's mind and address what they are saying to themselves that's important.
Your internal dialogue is the never ending, honest, unedited conversation within your mind that represents your deepest feelings. Basically, you are always talking to yourself. This discussion is the real you and the summation of your personality. However, we don't usually expose this dialogue to the outside world until we pass it through our own editing process. The editing process interprets and validates the information we receive and approves the messages we send. In essence, we use the editing process to protect ourselves.
However, it is possible to lead or manage another person's editing process. First, you have to speak with the conviction and congruence knowing that you are working with that person's best interest in mind. In other words, what you are asking the skeptic to do or believe in is truly for his or her own benefit. Then you have to be able to guide the person's internal dialogue. To help understand this concept, let's once again examine President Reagan's use of language.
President Reagan was an impressive politician. He utilized his communication abilities to win over his customers -- the American people, Congress, and foreign leaders. He possessed an extremely balanced communication style that he used effectively to create complete rapport. He spoke with conviction and a natural command of language that amplified his sincerity. He was also a master at guiding his listener's internal dialogue.
During his Presidency, he wrote over six hundred different radio addresses by himself, in his own handwriting. They were not the work of a team of speechwriters. The structure and content of these addresses are well worth examining and understanding. "Looking Out the Window" was delivered on January 27, 1978, the text that follows is exactly as he wrote it, with his punctuation and spelling. For the sake of brevity, some cuts have been made. If you can, try to imagine yourself listening to his voice over the radio as you read it.
It's nightfall in a strange town a long way from home. I'm watching the lights come on from hotel room window on the 35th floor.
Right now however I'm looking down on a busy city at rush hour. The streets below are twin ribbons of sparkling red & white. Tail lights on the cars moving away from my vantage point provide the red and the headlights coming toward me the white.
But I wonder about the people in the cars, who they are, what they do, what are they thinking about as they head for the warmth of home. Come to think of it I've met them -- oh -- maybe not those particular individuals but I feel I know them.
Someone very wise once wrote that if we were all told one day that the end was coming; that we were living our last day, every road, every street & all the telephone lines would be jammed with people trying to reach someone to whom we wanted simply to say, "I love You."
The first paragraph of all his radio addresses helps create a personal receptive state for the audience. The words, "nightfall, strange town, long way from home," provide the mental imagery that enable the listener to be quickly transported to Reagan's place and mood (in an unfamiliar place, a long way from home).
Although you probably have never thought of car lights as "twin ribbons" before, you have seen the taillights of cars as they are lined up on the highway. This analogy also draws you closer into Reagan's world. What was the first thought that came to mind as you read the words "sparkling" and "ribbons?" Did you associate them with patriotic events such as "the rockets red glare" or the ribbons on the "Medal of Honor?" Did you link them to something highly valued such as a first-place ribbon or to the sparkle of a diamond and ruby? These words convey another level of meaning, which is transposed onto the content of the message. It's up to each individual's internal dialogue to discern the relevant meaning from all the possibilities.
When he "wonders" in the first sentence of the next paragraph, this causes the listener's internal dialogue to also wonder. Everyone has driven a car and can relate to the nighttime traffic. You've also probably wondered who those people are in the cars next to you on the road. What do they do for a living and where are they going?
Who is this "someone very wise" that he mentions? His listener may have performed a quick memory search of well-known wise people. Remember, he previously told you to "wonder."
In the final paragraph, what's the difference between a road and a street? The listener is forced to make a distinction between the two. Notice how he associates the word "jammed" to road, street, and telephone lines. He is using a single word with completely different interpretations.
Throughout the example, Reagan has been guiding the listener's internal dialogue, directing it to create certain images and specific feelings, keeping it busy and engaged, and telling it what to think about. His message is irresistible and nearly impossible to ignore.
"Facts, features, and functions by themselves won't change anyone's mind. It is the ability to understand what is on the non-believer's mind and address what they are saying to themselves that's important."
Principle #3 - Address Both the Conscious and Subconscious Minds
Recently, I participated on a panel to discuss enterprise software sales strategies with the CIO of a billion dollar company. He said three very important things. First, he doesn't want to hear another sales pitch or see another PowerPoint presentation. He lamented they all say the same thing and make the same exaggerated claims. Second, he doesn't believe the ROI used to validate your software's value. "Every software company has them and they all stink," he said. Finally, he doesn't believe your product claims. He explained that there is only incremental technical differentiation between software solutions in reality. He is a prime example of the skepticism you must overcome daily. Unfortunately, the software industry is enamored with bits and bytes and has forgotten the human nature of persuasion. Persuasion is accomplished by convincing the logic intellect and emotional subconscious to buy.
The skeptic's conscious mind acts like an emotion suppressing system. It is full of doubt, cynicism, and distrust. It is the cautious cynic that is continually protecting the decision-maker from making bad choices, embarrassment, and pain. Therefore, even truthful, helpful information that is presented in the person's best interest tends to be discounted or ignored.
In every conversation, both conscious and subconscious communication is being transmitted, assessed, and cataloged by each participant. And, each layer of the human communication model is capable of sending observable (conscious) and unobservable (subconscious) messages simultaneously. Although each listener can only receive a finite amount of information at any one time, very little of the information that is transmitted across all layers is lost. What isn't consciously received is processed subconsciously.
One of the most effective ways to communicate with subconscious mind is through metaphors. Underneath the surface, these anecdotes, parables, and stories have layers of interpretations that convey moral and spiritual lessons. Let's examine two metaphors from President Reagan.
October 10, 1978
It may not be the shot around the world, but the US has finally told the U.N. to stop pushing us around.
The "shot heard round the world" is the phrase given to the first musket fire of the Revolutionary War. Metaphors deliver a lot of information quickly as they link to past recollections. In this example, the skirmish on the Lexington Green was the start of the American fight for independence from an oppressive government. It's a source of national pride and patriotism. Transposing these feelings of independence onto a United Nations that is "pushing" us around is a very powerful transference of meaning.
September 21, 1976
In a dinner at Mt. Vernon back in revolutionary times, Layfayette turned to his host and said, "General Washington, you Americans even in war and desperate times have a superb spirit. You are happy and you are confident. Why is it?" Washington answered, "There is freedom, there is space for a man to be alone and think and there are friends who owe each other nothing but affection."
From the story above, you could infer many different meanings. To a historian, it is an account of an intriguing conversation between two great statesmen. To a patriot, it is a story about the importance of freedom. To the insecure, it is a message to be confident. It's also about the importance of friendship, gratefulness, and the American spirit. From a single story, listeners each derive their own personal meaning. Their subconscious mind also derives an additional layer of interpretation and meaning. For example, the concept of freedom would have a different psychological impact on a military veteran versus, conscientious objector, and an immigrant who escaped from a repressive society. Connecting with both the conscious and subconscious minds is a critical element of persuasion.
"The software industry is enamored with bits and bytes and has forgotten the human nature of persuasion. Persuasion is accomplished by convincing the logic intellect and emotional subconscious to buy."
We mistakenly assume that our consciousness is binary by nature and works like a light switch-- it's either on or off. We're awake and conscious or asleep in subconscious suspended animation. In reality, we experience different degrees and a wide spectrum of consciousness. Normally, we don't even think of our subconscious mind. When we do, we believe there is a clear division between our conscious and subconscious minds when in fact, they are intimately integrated and in continual contact.
We have also been trained to think of ourselves solely as rational decision-makers who use logic and reason exclusively. This isn't surprising since we spend nearly the first two decades of our lives in schools that indoctrinate us with the scientific method of investigation and technical theories to explain the phenomena of life. Our training continues throughout adulthood as our employers teach us the processes and procedures to fulfill our duties. Therefore, we think of persuasion solely as an expression of logic.
However, we are not as objective and analytical as we think, and even the most well-thought decision is ultimately determined by subconscious influences. The subconscious mind's role is undeniable and it was Sigmund Freud who surmised that the subconscious will was equal to or greater than the conscious will.
You can explain the technical merits of your software until your blue in the face and the skeptical customer still won't change his or her mind. You can tell your enterprise solution story until the cows come home and the venture capitalist, employee, or business partner will remain unconvinced. But if you speak with conviction and congruence, appeal to the non-believer's internal dialogue, and message to both conscious and subconscious mind, you will convert doubters into doers.
Steve Martin has been personally responsible for over a quarter of billion dollars of high technology sales while working for leading edge Silicon Valley companies over the past twenty years. During this time, he has participated in thousands of sales calls and worked with hundreds of salespeople in roles ranging from salesperson to Vice President. His new book titled "Heavy Hitter Selling - How Successful High Technology Salespeople Use Language and Intuition to Persuade Customers to Buy," is the first book to truly explain the human nature of high-tech selling. Visit www.HeavyHitterSelling.com or email Steve directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to provide article feedback.