The science of getting a ‘yes!’

Getting people to agree to and act on what we say can be a tough battle in these times when people have instant access to information, and are encouraged to be more critical of what they see, hear, even feel. For many of us, this is a daily challenge in our personal and professional lives—from convincing your child to help in household chores to rallying your team towards a more ambitious sales goal.

The good news is, being persuasive can be learned, and there’s a book that will teach you 50 ways—all based on over 60 years of research into the psychology of persuasion—to learn exactly how.

yes_50scientificallywaystobepersuasive_goldstein_martin_cialdiniThat book is Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive, co-authored by Robert Cialdini, the world’s most cited social psychologist. The persuasion techniques in the book are practical examples of the six universal principles of social influence:

  • commitment (we want to act consistently with our choices)
  • reciprocity (we feel obligated to return favors)
  • authority (we look to experts to show us the way)
  • scarcity (the less available the resource, the more we want it)
  • liking (the more we like people, the more we want to say yes)
  • social proof (we look to what others do to guide our behavior).


Here are some techniques from the book:

When does offering people more make them want less?

Behavioral scientist Sheena Iyenger analyzed company-sponsored retirement programs for nearly 800,000 workers to know how participation rates varied as a function of how many choices are offered. Results show that the more choices offered the less likely employees were to enroll in the program: when only two funds were offered, participation rate was roughly 75 percent, but when close to a hundred funds were offered, participation rate dropped to 60 percent.

When so many choices are available, people often find the decision-making process frustrating, which may sometimes result in non-decision.

Does fear persuade or does it paralyze?

Health researcher Howard Leventhal asked students to read a public health pamphlet on the dangers of tetanus infection. One set contained only the dangers of tetanus infection (high-fear message), while another set contained the dangers plus an action plan to get a tetanus injection (high-fear message + how to avoid danger). The high-fear message motivated the participants to get a tetanus injection only if it included a plan identifying the steps how and where to get the tetanus injection.

The more clearly people see behavioral means for ridding themselves of fear, the less they will resort to denial.

How can one small step help your influence take a giant leap?

Social psychologists Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser asked homeowners in a posh neighborhood to hang on their fence the small, almost inconspicuous sign “Drive carefully.” Many agreed, as it was a small request to advocate the right thing to do. Two weeks later, the homeowners were asked to replace the small sign with a bigger sign, and a high 76 percent of homeowners complied. This is a stark contrast to only 17 percent of homeowners in a different neighborhood who were only asked to hang the large sign.

Getting people to first agree to a small idea makes it easier to get them to agree to a bigger idea. In sales, paving the way for full-line distribution can start with a small order—the person is no longer prospect; he or she is already a customer.

When is it right to admit that you were wrong?

After several studies in controlled and natural settings, social scientist Fiona Lee posits that people’s usual response to an embarrassing error is to blame someone else or some external factors to divert attention from the source of the problem. Doing so, she argues, creates two bigger problems.

First, it does nothing to prove to skeptics that you have any control over the problem or the ability to fix the problem. Second, even if you manage to distract attention from your mistake in the short term, the spotlight will eventually find its way back to you in the long-term, highlighting not only your mistake, but also your deceptive impulses.

 If you’ve made a mistake, an error in judgment, or a bad decision, admit the mistake, immediately followed by an action plan demonstrating that you can take control of the situation and rectify it. Doing so puts yourself in a position of greater influence by being perceived as not only capable, but also honest.

What persuasion principle have you used often in your work?

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7 ways to beat ‘senior’ moments


Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

People now commonly use the term ‘senior moment’ for situations when someone young or old forgets something. The adjective ‘senior’ can be a misnomer because while the difficulty to remember things can come with old age, adults in general can suffer from poor memory health without them being aware of it. 

Here are seven ways you can do, at any age, to boost your brain power for memory:

1. Increase your physical activity

In 2006, a study by the University of Illinois concluded that physical activity improves brain function in almost every way, including memory. Researchers in Netherlands likewise reported that simply walking for an hour, twice a week, could boost a person’s power of recall.

Do you recall the last time you took the stairs instead of the elevator?

2. Get enough sleep all the time

Chronic lack of sleep causes not only poor concentration, but also difficulty to introduce new information into the brain. Experts also say that sleep deprivation may prevent the brain from doing “memory housekeeping” essential to recalling information learned the previous day.

Do you recall the last time you slept for eight hours straight?

3. Sustain your social activities

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health published in July last year reports that older people with the most number of social activities had the slowest rate of memory decline over a six-year period. While experts cannot fully correlate social activities with a healthy memory, the inherent mental workout in social interactions (remembering names, engaging in conversations on a variety of subjects) seems to play a role in improving memory health.

Do you recall the last time you had a very engaging conversation with someone that you lost track of time?

4. Choose to be positive

A study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago concluded that people who are often stressed or depressed are 40 percent more likely to develop memory problems than people with more positive disposition. Depression, experts say, saturates our bodies with high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can damage regions of the brain crucial to memory.

Do you recall the last time you laughed your heart out?

5. Do easier puzzles

University of Pennsylvania scientists found that people who solved word puzzles had a boost of blood flow to the brain, but those who tried and failed had reduced flow. They say that frustration to solve the word puzzle may interfere with the brain’s ability to store new information.

When was the last time you answered a crossword puzzle and completed it?

6. Avoid editing your ideas

A new study in Neuro-Image shows that when people brainstorm without editing their ideas, more blood flows to a memory-processing area of the brain. When you think you can’t fully share your ideas in a meeting, remember it or jot it down on paper and then discuss it with your boss or colleague after the meeting.

Do you recall the last time you participated in a free-flowing discussion or brainstorming at home, school, or in the office?

7. Eat dark chocolates

In a British study, people who downed a cocoa drink had a 50 percent increase in the blood streaming into memory centers of the brain. Flavanol content in chocolate varies, so try a bar with a high cacao content percentage.

Do you recall the last time you feasted on dark chocolate?

Keeping our memory healthy isn’t a ‘senior’ concern; the sooner we start doing it the longer we can enjoy the benefits of a sharp memory for our personal relationships and professional career.

This article was first published in Unilab’s website. Check it out here.

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Soft skills for tough times

When times are tough, being smart is the minimum.



Sure, our aptitude and intellect are necessary to deal with mounting work demands, but if we can’t pull through as a united team to make the right things happen, our individual know-how is of little use. Let’s admit it, when it’s no longer business as usual, we need each other even more.

Yet teamwork isn’t as easy as it sounds, and no one understands this better than the leader or manager given the dual responsibility of keeping an eye on the goal and keeping the team together.

Enter soft skills—your personality and communication traits, which other people refer to as emotional intelligence quotient or EQ. EQ is not about being Mr. Nice Guy; it’s about being able to manage our emotions and being sensitive to those of others. It’s about being creative, flexible, even resilient in times of increasing pressure—soft skills that make you a better team member and an even more effective team leader.

Here below are some soft skills to help us keep our teams intact in times when we need them most.

a. Criticize without humiliating

Tough times compel us to toughen our work standards to sift outstanding ideas from the ordinary, and rightly so—if the business landscape has changed, so too must our ways of thinking and doing. But not everyone gets it right immediately; some don’t get it right the first time. When shortcomings like these surface in the face of tougher measures, some experts say it’s better to call a spade a spade but never to the point of humiliation.

Humiliation is tricky because while a good dose of it keeps us on our toes, psychologists say it is a poor motivator in the long run. Employees who are often humiliated feel belittled and diminished; they not only lose self-esteem, but they also tend to disengage from the team’s goal and keep good ideas to themselves.

So if you are quick to curtness because of a bad idea or work, take some personal time-out before communicating with your team member. Some people practice “tactful assertiveness,” which means that being tough about work standards doesn’t require that you be nasty, only that you be firm.

b. Face up to poor performance

We all have our bad days; even star players fall short of expectations sometimes. If we make bad days the default excuse for hiding behind our weaknesses, we’re not only being insincere to our teams, but we are also being unfair to ourselves—as if we don’t have the ability to improve.

Facing up to poor performance doesn’t just mean admitting a wrong decision, which admittedly requires some maturity to do, but it’s also about recognizing that we can be better and that we are open to opportunities for improvement. It’s not just owning up to a limitation, but also welcoming the prospect for personal and professional development.

c. Listen first and emphatically

Listening is arguably the most important element in the communication process, but it is often the most neglected. We pass over it in our rush to find the answers and in our excitement to get quick results, only to realize that we didn’t get it right or we overlooked the core issues. If only we listened well.

We think we listened enough if we hear the message and paraphrase it in our own words, only to realize that sometimes, the most important of messages are best not said at all. If only we listened well.

Listening is also about being open to other people’s ideas and not sticking to our own as the only best, thinking we are always better than others. Sometimes we get surprised by creative ideas that come from the most unlikely of team members. If only we listened to them well.

d. Energize the team 

Tough times doesn’t mean that meetings have to be a drab, and we become all too stiff and dreary. We’re not saying let’s take things lightly because we shouldn’t—it’s our jobs, our organization, and our collective future that are at stake; it’s just that tough times doesn’t necessarily mean that work and working have to be uninspiring.

Energizing the team means keeping the spirits high and alive, working on the side of optimism, continuing team traditions and rituals, and celebrating team accomplishments when called for.

Some experts say innovative thinking thrives in an environment where creativity is given enough elbow room, and so we can perhaps balance hard, serious work with the joy of camaraderie and opportunity for individuality to get the best out of our teams. Sometimes all it takes is not new technology like social media but a dash of humor and a box of chocolates.

Do you have other suggestions for a soft skill for the tough times?

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7 tips to improve team huddles

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

If you are a manager or leader who thinks that team meetings are for cascades, you’re so 19th century.

Cascades are almost always a one-directional, keep-quiet-and-listen leadership practice that gives you the illusion that communication is taking place. Maybe it does but there’s a big—and risky—possibility that you and others in the team will come out of the interaction with different, even contrasting, interpretation. And you wonder why your people aren’t so engaged?

Open, two-way discussions during team huddles are the way to go. This approach fosters better working relationships within the team and helps improve employee engagement. There’s research to prove this.

The Watson Wyatt Communication Return-on-Investment (ROI) Study showed that firms that communicate effectively are:

  • 20 percent more likely to report lower turnover rates,and
  • 4 times more likely to report high levels of employee engagement than firms that communicate less effectively.


“Workers’ frustration with an absence of adequate communication is one of the most negative findings we see expressed on employee attitude surveys.” –David Sirota in the article “Why Employees Are Losing Motivation” published in the Harvard Management Update

study of more than 1,400 leaders and managers by global consultancy Ken Blanchard Group supports this. The research showed 41 percent felt that inappropriate use of communication or listening was the biggest mistake leaders made when working with others.

So let’s avoid making that biggest mistake by improving our communication style. To start, here are seven questions to ask—and answer.

1. What’s the matter?

It’s not so much about how much you should say, but what your message really is. Sometimes we get lost in worrying about too much or too little information that we forget the key point. What’s your key message?

Managers are in the best position to put context and background to information for their team, to make sure that details are made relevant without losing the big picture. What does the information mean to your department?

2. So what?

The meat of the matter is essential, but have you communicated why your message is important? Some managers follow a 60-40 rule:

  • spend 40 percent discussing the “what”
  • the 60 percent discussing the “why”


The percentage doesn’t really matter; the point is not missing out on talking about “what’s in it for us?” Not doing so increases the risk of people speculating on the real reasons, or worse, concluding based on incomplete information.

Why is that action plan important? Why is the idea worth embracing? Why does the company need to focus on that strategy? Why that choice over another? Why now?

3. Now what?

We sometimes focus too much on the information that we forget what we want our people to do. Before starting out any communication activity, you can write on a piece of paper your central ideal statement separate from your results statement.

Central idea statement: “This (memo/speech/discussion) is about (your key message).”

Results statement“After reading/hearing my (memo/speech/discussion), I want my staff to (what do you want them to do?).”

The American Management Association goes even further with its Results Matrix format:

  • you first tell your people what you want them to know (facts),
  • then what you want them to believe (beliefs),
  • then what you want them to feel (emotions),
  • and finish it with what you want them to do actively (actions).


4. Are you done yet?

One misconception in leadership communication is that managers must do all the talking. Please pass the mic, so to speak. Encourage your team to raise questions, voice their concerns, share with you their impressions, give you feedback. This is one way for you to know if they understood your key message and what you expect of them.

A team huddle, after all, must be a dialogue, a discussion, not a monologue. It’s not just information dissemination, but also facilitating common understanding in your team.

5. Can you really hear me?

Opening the lines for feedback or bottom-up communication is futile if you only pretend to listen or pretend to care about what your team shares. Such pretentious behavior shows no matter how much you play up the performance—your people can sense if you are merely hearing them out or really emphatically and actively listening to them.

Do you notice the nuances in the manner of speaking? Are they telling you something they aren’t openly saying? Do you notice the fear in the tone? What about the excitement in the voice? Do they look bored? Words are not your only best source for feedback.

6. Can you really hear yourself?

Being authoritative is necessary, but when you overdo it by talking down on your people or making them feel stupid, they might fight back by talking about you behind your back. You become tagged as the monster boss.

But who gives a damn about labels, right? We can be a monster, alien, ugly old wart all rolled into one, but we don’t really care because we know what we are mandated to do as leaders. The labels might seem harmless, but these are surface indicators of deep-seated issues with long-term effects: your people withdraw support, they avoid initiating, they clam up during discussions, they don’t give their all, they don’t give their best.

7. Say that again?

When there is inconsistency between what you say and your non-verbal cues, your people believe the nonverbal cues more than your verbal message. So mind your manner, or better yet, be transparent. People can see through lip service or trying to appear authentic, and result is: they lose trust in you. And we all know the result when trust is broken, so do we need to say more?

We can’t be perfect managers or leader, but we can be more effective communicators so we can better engage our team with our idea, action plan, decision, vision, and ultimately, with the organization.

So when is your next team huddle?


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