Recently, while in a short Lyft ride, my driver, a mechanical engineer, asked me what I do. I explained that I study and apply processes of influencing others (career of generating revenue). He shared that he and his friends were designing a juice dispensing machine and would like to know more about what I’d learned. He explained that he needed to understand more of what I learned to help secure the commercial success of his invention. I thought to myself, how do I distill 30+ years of experience and study into the remaining 25 minutes of our drive? What follows is a summary of what I shared.
I knew that there wasn’t time to review all the details I learned on the study of influence or negotiation. Moreover, most efforts at swaying someone assumes a level of relationship with them to gain credibility. Since there was no time to describe the fast friendship model I’d produced (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141023194340-33996-one-secret-of-success/?lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_profile_view_base_post_details%3B3NwTSnH0T8%2BNfROCu7M1rA%3D%3D), I settled on explaining how people avoid decisions. Understanding and overcoming some of these types of barriers opens opportunities to influence, without the need for an existing relationship. An existing personal relationship nearly always ensures we’re half way to our goal influencing.
We are easily swayed by those who have a relationship with us. To these people, we know, there is relationship power. Absent this, we can build a relationship and enter a person’s sphere of influence. Making the simplest of connection, like a friendship, for most, is a lengthy process, even if one uses the fast friendship process. However, what do we do to influence nearly total strangers? Not possible, many would argue.
Read on and see if you agree.
Removing the barriers to influencing a stranger has only a few simple dependencies. First, you need a person willing to engage in conversation and be agreeable to answer your questions. Second, we must understand a process called the Socratic method (more on this shortly). Finally, we need to be practiced in the Socratic technique ensuring we can keep our full focus on the other person versus being distracted by the Socratic method itself. A high level of empathy, in these conversations, is needed, in my experience, to ensure success in executing the Socratic method.
Salespeople need to know how these influence processes work at a logical level, as it’s core to their work. The same is true for marketers and advertisers. Moreover, we all need to know this information or suffer the disappointment of seeing others (or ourselves) choose less than ideal options in trades.
None of this information precludes the reality that others frequently make decisions contrary to their best interests. But please do not be confused, what I am sharing here is intended to influence people towards making decisions in their best interests only. Said another way, this is not a method to get people to do things, contrary to their interests. But still, people often make decisions, not in their best interest, right? We all have! There is an explanation for this behavior.
We frequently make less than ideal decisions, even when we think we’ve considering our best interests. It’s important to understand why this happens to us, so we avoid thinking others are stupid or lazy – most times they are not! How often do we make suboptimal decisions, rooted in laziness, ignorance or stupidity? Of course we all have some examples, but for me it’s not the majority. Assuming laziness, stupidity, and ignorance of others is almost always a mistake if you consider the following.
People make non-optimal decisions due to a flaw in our fast thinking (subconscious) and slow thinking (thoughtful, conscious) decision-making process (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow). Our brains get wired, over time, to conserve energy, this benefited our survival and ensured our species lived another day (through procreation). Imagine millions of years ago how one of your early ancestors was able to avoid certain death, moving quickly out of dangers way, from a predator leaping out of a tree (you are alive thanks to that fast-thinking). Fast forward to today, we see that quick thinking is what our subconscious does when we drive a car, alternatively imagine having to be thoughtful about when to apply gas/brake/turning force to the wheel to operate our vehicle. We all went through this experience when learning to drive and thank heavens we don’t use that same method now, right? The thoughtful, slow thinking process, if used repeatedly, turns into a fast-thinking subconscious process in short order (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psycho-Cybernetics). This is the core assumption used in selfhelp’s emphasis on repetition in positive behavior.
We use Fast thinking (subconscious decision making) often because it uses less energy. However, many times we use this thinking even though a more thoughtful approach would yield better results. We do this because our brains burn large energy stores (our brains burn some estimate 20% of all calories, in a resting state, although just 2% of our mass – https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/thinking-hard-calories/). Using our fast-thinking subconscious is our bodies way of conserving valuable energy stored up inside our bodies, so it’s our default ddecision method in most cases. Consider that it’s only recently in our history that we haven’t had to worry about where we get our next meal. Energy conservation inside our body was critical for survival for eons, and it naturally still dictates much of our behavior.
We still operate by many of the “old rules.” Learning this allows us to avoid mistakes more often.
Next time you think about how someone is lazy or dumb, consider how the fast thinking process is likely to blame. We are designed to use our subconscious most often. Is that “lazy, ignorant, or stupid” person just doing what all humans are wired to do, conserve energy through the use of fast decision making, pattern-based processes?
Bias, exposed in our fast-thinking subconscious decisions, prevents us from making better replacement decisions. Our preference is just an error in us choosing subconscious fast-thinking. The trick is to help those we seek to influence by engaging their conscious slow-thinking process.
Getting others to think. That’s easy, right? Like giving a cat a bath!
We choose what we have for good or bad (that’s the easy subconscious fast-thinking at work or conscious thoughtfulness); we often avoid what we do not understand because that requires us to “turn on” our conscious slow thinking and high energy burning mind.
Maybe this is what all the craze is behind mindfulness is?
Being exposed to pain, in our choices, help us become conscious and mindful. The fear of suffering is potent, more than benefits or pleasure, in allowing our subconscious to drive our behavior. I’ve heard it said that pain is seven times more potent than benefits when it comes to influencing a person. Consider the early example of a predator in the tree, and assuming we are the evolutionary product of the last millions of years, the last few centuries are nearly meaningless. We are hard-wired to avoid danger and only recently exposed to seeking pleasure (i.e., soft-wired to find fun). Our ability to become activated by danger has ensured our survival and is as powerful today as it was ten thousand years ago.
The fear of pain wakes our conscious mind.
Even with this truth, we still tend to reject data given to us from unknown sources. An unknown source is untrusted, so it natuarly carries risk leading to fear of unknown pain. Unknown sources (like with you talking to someone just introduced to you) avoid trust risk through the Socratic method (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_method) tied to a focus on exposing the fear of pain. Exposing fear of the pain, in decisions we make, using the Socratic method, opens our mind to conscious slow-thinking about new possibilities without the need for a credible external source. The observer (the decision-maker) becomes the source of conclusions. Self-actualizing, through fear of pain, means we convince ourselves.
Who’s do you believable more than yourself?
Creating or imagining sources of pain, leading to fear, through the Socratic method enables the listener to feel pain by opening their own eyes to what they are ignoring (e.g., they have an epiphany). Remember that your current preferences have evolved into subconscious fast-thinking choices. Using the Socratic method forces a conscious reexamination of the consequences of personal preference decisions by our stranger. If that reexamination exposes enough pain from their existing alternative, the person we’re trying to influence will open up to new options offered through an awakening of their conscious mind.
Existing bias, or preference, is the barrier most difficult to pass through. It is protected by our need to conserve energy in the fast-thinking mental process built up from some thoughtful prior process. Then, by awakened consciousness, we can argue in favor of new alternatives.
How we argue for the new alternative isn’t being addressed here. Drawing our listener towards a desired new state is the center of the topic of argumentation. This is a topic broad and deep and best studied separately. An excellent source, I found, is a course called Argumentation by the Learning Company. However, now that you have activated your conscious and thoughtful stranger, the argumentation process to influence them has a higher likelihood to succeed than with a close-minded stranger stuck in a fast-thinking and subconscious state. That said, one effective method of argument is the Socartic Method.
I like to think of the Socratic method as a way to draw others toward conclusions of their own, through a questioning process, on the road to a destination that I have chosen. Socratic questioning is like that of someone who’s thinking many moves ahead on a chess board. One question leads to another, each a small step toward the destination I have in mind. It’s not a simple process and isn’t characteristic of a single question-answer process often discussed in sales training as high-value open-ended questioning (https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/the-art-of-asking-open-ended-questions). I am not saying that process is wrong or doesn’t provide a valuable tool in influence. Both methods share the common trait of forcing a respondant to think, with the Socratic method avoiding the risk of appearing as an inquisitor (someone without relationship power should avoid this appearance).
Power of the Socratic method is best exemplified IMHO by Plato’s Republic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_(Plato) ) which, to me, is the story of how Socrates convinces his friends that death by drinking poison is the only choice he has after the Senate convicted him of sedition. Most of us have read a small part of the Republic in grade school. You may recall reading a thought experiment regarding people raised in a cave while only seeing shadows on the wall in front of them. Teachers usually start with this story to begin a conversation on what we think is real. Sadly, the real meaning of the story, or the real purpose of the writing is rarely discussed. Listening to this powerful writing of Plato helped me understand the power and the difficulty, through example, of using the Socratic Method.
How I got these ideas across in a short Lyft ride is surprising to me. My driver was kind to me with his words of appreciation. Although, it’s altogether possible that I sounded the village idiot, and just wanted me to get out of his car. You are likely the best judge of that, given what you take from my feeble assay here.