PRE-SUASION: GAINING INFLUENCE IN THE WORKPLACE
By Bruno Boksic, Staff Writer for James McPartland
Have you thought of your next move?
Ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said that “every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought”. In the same manner, the highest achievers in any company close the sale before the proposition even comes on the table. The best salespeople accomplish this by spending more time crafting their pitch before ever making any formal request.
It’s just like farming. We need to prepare the soil before we plant the seeds, or else the results will be mediocre. But if we both properly cultivate our land and use the best quality seeds, then the results of our efforts will be 10X.
And that’s what the most effective influencers know, understand, and internalize. They are the best persuaders because they are the best at pre-suasion — “which is the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it”, according to Robert Cialdini, author of Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.
We need to understand that what we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next.
What we do before a fight affects the fight.
What we do before a sale affects the sale.
What we do before a run affects the run.
And while we’re on the topic of running and pre-suasion, there is no better example to bring up than the one of Bill Bowerman.
EVERY BATTLE IS WON BEFORE IT IS FOUGHT
There was Edison in Menlo Park, Da Vinci in Florence, Tesla in Wardenclyffe and then, there was Bill Bowerman in Portland, Oregon.
Bowerman was a track coach back in the 1970s, and he had a particular problem with the new running surface introduced at the time — polyurethane (the same red surface on which athletes run today).
But back in 1972, polyurethane was a modern invention, one which required both the runners and their gear to adapt.
The track shoes that were used back in the days had strong spikes at the sole which would tear up this new running surface, yet the shoes still needed to have a strong enough grip to give the runners the best possible advantage in the race.
Bowerman tried coming up with a solution for years, failing multiple times. Until one day it dawned on him while he was eating breakfast of waffles his wife made him using a waffle iron. The answer he was looking for to the shoe problem was there all along.
The waffle iron’s grid pattern was perfect. Bowerman immediately rushed to his garage and tried creating a shoe using a mold with the same kind of grooves. After some trial and error, he finally got it just right.
Bowerman, who is the co-founder of Nike, created what was called “The Waffle Trainer” — Nike’s first running shoe and one of the biggest innovations in the industry. Phil Knight, Nike’s other co-founder and author of Shoe Dog, hailed Bowerman as Daedalus of sneakers, as he was making history, remaking an industry, and transforming the way athletes would run, jump, and perform their craft all over the world for years to come.
The innovation Bowerman created trimmed the running time of athletes, and that’s what connects this story with the concept of pre-suasion.
Pre-suasion follows the principle where the effects of persuasion (the race) are increased by the work done before the act of persuading (creating the Waffle Trainer shoes). And there is a scientific background to these claims.
THE ART OF PRE-SUASION
If I asked you if you’re a generous person and you nodded your head with affirmation, and then I asked you for a small donation to a charity of your choosing, you’d be more likely to go along with the request.
In fact, two scientists who were doing a company study conducted similar research. They wanted to increase the willingness of consumers to try an unfamiliar brand of a fizzy drink by using a pre-suasion opener — a simple question that focuses the mind on a single matter in a moment’s notice.
What the two researchers did was first ask people for their email addresses for the sole purpose of sending instructions on how to obtain a free sample of the soft drink. Most people were reluctant, and only 33 percent responded favorably.
That was the control group.
The other test subjects were approached with a different question first:
“Do you consider yourself to be somebody who is adventurous and likes to try out new things?” Almost everyone said yes, and the results varied drastically from the control group — 75.7 percent gave their email addresses.
Pre-suasion works, and it’s a tool we need to master in order to influence our colleagues, coworkers, bosses, peers, team members, and staff. To learn how to apply these concepts properly in the modern workplace, let’s dive right into the intricacies of using pre-suasion.
HOW TO USE PRE-SUASION TO INFLUENCE CORPORATE WORKPLACE
There are multiple ways you can use pre-suasion, but most of them fall into the following three categories:
1. The Power of Focus
Just like the saying, “the media can’t tell you what to think, but they sure tell you what to think about”, the power of focus is one of the strongest pre-suasion techniques, and the biggest weapon in its arsenal is called “target chuting”.
Target chuting is a process of asking questions to focus one’s mind on a particular activity, leading them to associate their character at that moment with certain memories.
It’s just like the fizzy drink research example above where the subjects were asked about their adventurousness. The mind immediately starts to go over memories to find instances of times when you behaved in an adventurous way, ignoring anything else. As soon as the brain finds an example or two, it gets the confirmation that the person’s character matches the statement.
Put another way, it’s like asking a group of people to imagine the continent of Australia, then 10 seconds later, to name 5 different animals. The percentage of people naming a kangaroo as one of them would increase dramatically.
Target chuting can be applied in our workplace as well. When leading a team meeting for example, if you focus on a matter you feel is of primary importance, and repeat it multiple times, everyone else will start thinking more about it too. You don’t have to tell people what to think, but you can nudge them into what to think about.
Most of the time, that is enough.
2. What is Salient is Most Important
Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, was once asked in an online forum to specify one single scientific concept which, when applied properly, would change the world for the better.
He responded with a 500-word essay which can be summarized with its title:
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it.”
People tend to believe that what is most salient is most important and thus needs immediate attention.
There is even a quirky name for this tendency — “satisficing” — coined by Nobel laureate and economist Herbert Simon, which serves to blend the words “satisfy” and “suffice”.
Problems that look like fires need to be dealt with, and they need to be dealt with now. Solutions need to satisfy and suffice enough in order to remove the problem from our minds.
As a business leader, if you want to pre-suasively create saliency toward tasks that are associated with your primary goal, you should paint those activities as fixes that will remedy the biggest hole in the ship — because that is the one that draws the most attention. So use it to your advantage.
3. Trust and Unity
An excellent business model and several unique advantages of scale are not the only things that separate Berkshire Hathaway from all the other holding companies out there. Chairman and CEO Warren Buffet, along with his business partner, Charlie Munger, have been steering the ship for the past 50 years, yielding incredible growth year in and year out.
Having a great model or product is not enough on its own. We need to present it compellingly — and Buffet does this far better than most by using his annual reports. How? By instilling trust and unity to not only the company name but also toward himself.
Buffet does something brilliant — something which annual reports from other companies usually bury by minimizing or papering over. To establish credibility right away, he describes a mistake or a problem which the company faced in the previous period and explains how the problem will affect future outcomes — on the first or second page. He shows all the cards immediately which makes him not only honest but also displays that he understands where the company lags behind and is fully aware of it. A communicator who presents weaknesses early on is seen as more trustworthy, and in most cases, it takes the power of the same weakness away.
Buffet then continues with a sentence, which creates a sense of connection and unity:
“With that warning, I will tell you what I would say to my family today if they asked me about Berkshire’s future.”
The key characteristic here is the oneness that members feel toward others in the same group — we are the family which is known as Berkshire Hathaway. This experience of unity is not about similarities, it’s about “shared identities”.
It’s the point where the “WE” becomes shared “ME.”
A medium can be a message, same as multitude (social proof), and authority (expertise). But the one which brings the most results is the concept of unity as a message — the merger of self and others as a message.
The way you can employ the concept of unity in the corporate workplace is by having team members share the same identity toward a group goal. The company Clickfunnels ran by Russel Brunson, has those who use the product call themselves “Funnel Hackers”, creating a shared identity. Global youth leadership movement AIESEC utilizes the same strategy, as their members proudly call themselves AIESECers.
If we can harness this immense power to galvanize those around us, the power of pre-suasion by shared identity would be tremendous!