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Date archive for: November 2017

Summary – Win Bigly – Persuasion in a world where facts don’t matter by Scott Adams

Dilbert creator Scott Adams gives his take on why Donald Trump is President.  In Adams view, Trump is a “Master Persuader” and through this lens, it is easier to see why he won the Republican nomination and beat Clinton.

The popular interpretation is that Trump understood the American people and devised policies they wanted. Adams argues Trump convinced people his policies were the ones they should care about most.

Adams sees Trump as a classic “deal-maker” who starts with an outrageous position, but is willing, and expects to moderate that position.  But people remember the outrageous position.   Trump was never going to build a “Wall” but people saw that Trump agreed with them on an emotional level, and that immigration was a big problem that needs fixing. That is all they needed to remember.

Adams argues that in debates and interviews, Trump was a master of the High Ground Maneuver, which takes the discussion out of the weeds, and elevates it to the high ground where no one can disagree.  Say something that is absolutely true while changing the context at the same time.  Once the move has been executed, others risk looking small minded if they drag the debate back down.

In contrast, Clinton had success when she effectively tagged Trump as “Dark”.  However, most of her communications attempts missed the mark.  Trump branded his campaign as something for all Americans and successfully tagged the “Deplorables” comment as “Contempt”.

Facts and reason?

Adams challenges the common world view is that we can understand reality through facts and reason.  We think we are the enlightened ones and people who disagree just need better facts because this view makes us happy.  But we all have movies in our heads that we believe are accurate views of reality.  And all those movies are very different.

People don’t change opinions about emotional topics just because some information proved their opinion non-sense.  The worst thing your brain could do is reinterpret your reality into a whole new movie with each bit of information.  That would be exhausting.  Instead, your brain takes new information and puts it into your existing worldview.

Thus, it is not easy to change someone’s aspirations, but you can improve the power of your persuasion by grafting your story onto people’s existing aspirations.

Adams weaves together familiar themes from Cialdini’s Influence and Pre-suasion, findings of Behavioral Economics Thinking Fast and Slow, and Made to Stick and other top books on psychology and persuasion to argue Trump just had a better understanding of human nature than the other candidates.  Concepts like anchors, cognitive dissonance, filters, imagination, pacing, and confirmation bias, are all discussed as persuasion tools, often using examples from Trump’s campaign.

Some other ideas Adams puts forward:

  • When there is confusion, people gravitate towards the strongest, most confident voice. We don’t like uncertainty, so we are attracted to those who offer clarity and simple answers.
  • People gravitate towards the future that they are imagining most vividly, even if they don’t want the future they are seeing.
  • Humans need contrast in order to make solid decisions and turn to action. People make decisions in the context of alternatives.  If you are not framing the alternatives as bad, you are not persuading at all.
  • People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.
  • You need to surprise the brain or make it work a bit harder to form memories. We more easily remember things that violate our expectations.
  • In general, people are more influenced by visual persuasion, emotion, repetition, and simplicity than they are by details and facts.
  • Cognitive Dissonance – people rationalize why their actions are inconsistent with their thoughts and beliefs. It is a common delusion, but we can only see it in other people.  Having lots of reasons why something did not go your way is a sign of cognitive dissonance.

Of course, Adams has the benefit of 2020 hindsight, and can fit his narrative to reflect Trump’s victory, but there is a lot to chew on here as we increasingly communicate in a world where “Facts Don’t Matter”.

Pre-suasion – A Revolutionary way to influence and persuade – By Robert B. Cialdini, Phd

Presuasion Book Cover

This book builds on concepts in “Influence” and other ideas recognizable from behavioral economics studies.

The essence of Pre-suasion is that in many ways, the effectiveness of your communication is determined before you even open your mouth or make the pitch. The presentation and the recipients state of mind and focus when receiving a message can be large factors in determining if it will be accepted.

Pre-suasion “best practices” reflect the main principles from Cialdini’s “Influence”: Reciprocity, Liking, Authority, Social Proof, Scarcity& Consistency.

He also adds “Unity” defined as “Acting Together” is a new principle he felt needed to be added as a principle with a powerful influence on persuasion.  Shared identities and giving advice build a connection. Social Proof works, especially with those we are connected to in some way.

Key to Pre-suasion is state of mind.  What are people focused on? or what is top of mind when they encounter your information?  Things that are top of mind seem more important and more causal.  Pictures on your website can focus people on either price or quality.   Single Chute Evaluation keeps people focused on only one product or issue.   Focus can determine the factors people weight most in deciding, and block other considerations.  This is why framing the “ballot question” is so important.     However, sometimes the more attention people pay to something, the more polarizing the topic can be.

Acknowledging weakness/drawbacks in your case early on in a conversation will make a communicator seem more honest.  Especially if the audience may be aware of them.  Words like “yet” and “but” can take people from perceived weakness to counteracting strength.  Especially if you challenge the relevance of the weakness.

People want to be consistent. Put the honesty pledge/verification at the beginning of a form, not the end. One test – people were more than twice as likely to give an email address to try a new product when asked if they were “adventurous”.

Other arguments Pre-suasion makes:

People don’t want to know how much you know until they know how much you care. Tie pitches and persuasion to the target’s language and values.

  • Mentally, people focus on hits, rather than misses-what is there, or what they are prompted on, rather than what is not there or not asked about. You can focus on satisfaction, or dissatisfactions.  You can also prime people.
  • Digital display ads can persuade even though people do not recall seeing them. Lack of notice can actually make them more effective.
  • You can write better for your target audience when surrounded by pictures of your target audience.
  • The more relevant something is to someone, the more attention they will pay. Replace “people” and “they” with “you” when appropriate. Personalization is effective. Adding the names to Coke cans boosted sales for the first time in a decade.
  • Mystery and Lack of closure holds attention.
  • Counterarguments beat out arguments, especially if the source of the argument is shown to be untrustworthy.
  • People perform better and achieve more when working in the presence of “winning” photos.
  • Trust is a big factor – positive trust gains compliance. Untrustworthiness is the most damaging thing for any company or communicator.
  • Rhyme can enhance persuasion. Things seem truer, and are more likely to be remembered.

Cialdini’s argument, backed by many findings from behavioral economics and psychological tests, it that “by guiding preliminary attention strategically, it is possible for a communicator to move recipients into agreement with a message before they experience it.  The key is to focus them initially on concepts that are aligned associatively with the yet to be encountered information. “