Persuasion: Let’s look at it my way

Persuasion, communication and making the world a better place. Cindy Wagman reviews Stop Being Reasonable: How We Really Change Our Minds by Eleanor Gordon-Smith and Follow the Feeling: Brand Building in a Noisy World by Kai D. Wright. Christopher Barry ties it all together with a review of Communication: How to Connect with Anyone by Gill Hasson.

Where lies the power of persuasion?

By Cindy Wagman (November 28, 2019)

Stop Being Reasonable: How We Really Change Our Minds by Eleanor Gordon-Smith, Public Affairs, October 22, 2019, 240 pp., $29.28

How do we convince someone to change their mind about something? 

That’s the question that writer and philosopher Eleanor Gordon-Smith asked herself when she confronted men who catcalled women on the streets. As a former high-school debater, Gordon-Smith undertook a project for the podcast This American Life, to try to get men to stop catcalling using calm rationality to convince them to stop. 

Through her (spoiler alert) unsuccessful attempt, Gordon-Smith launches into an exploration of rationality and beliefs and how the two are mostly unrelated. 

This book is equal parts story-telling and philosophy, using stories of those who have changed their minds or beliefs to explore what can (and what doesn’t) compel us to do so. At the heart of it is the simple truth that humans are not rational.

 The story of the catcalling shows us that words have power but not everyone’s words have the same power. “Authority” is something that has been taken away from groups of people, systematically throughout history (and continues today) so that we don’t believe the source of information. 

While for others, like the story of Dylan, a man who grew up in a cult, some authorities are so exalted that we lack the ability to trust our own thoughts and ideas and instead follow the “wiser” cult leaders. It was only when one of them deeply broke Dylan’s trust that a cracked open the potential for questioning authority.

There’s Alex, whose story teaches us that each of us is living our own narrative and that we are constantly seeking evidence to support that narrative (and ignoring evidence against it). Alex’s ability to throw out that narrative and live without one helps him find “who he really is”. 

Then there’s the story of Susie who didn’t know she was married to a pedophile. We learn that it takes courage to accept evidence and conclusions that “we cannot bear” and that “we take steps back from reality in order to avoid the things we fear will shame us.” Shame is a powerful tool that can manipulate our ability to judge or be “reasonable”.

Through Nicole’s story, we learn that our beliefs and memories cannot always be trusted and that it’s harder to live with ambiguity or not knowing. Nicole’s story alleged child abuse and the subsequent evidence that questions what really happened, shows us that our memories are not an accurate representation of truth. But it’s hard to live without a truth, the unanswered questions hanging over us as we go about our lives.

And finally, there’s the story of Peter, who at nearly 50 years old abruptly discovers that he’s adopted. Peter’s upbringing is described almost like The Truman Show, where everyone around him knew that he was adopted but he never found out. What’s remarkable about his story is how this new truth, new information, didn’t destroy those trusted relationships, as it often does for people. 

Ultimately, what Gordon-Smith concludes is that there is no “guide” or method to getting people to change their minds. That as humans, we are complex, emotional and deeply irrational. 

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

Debates, whether public or private, are mostly a drama that has no real impact on how we see the world. The real power of persuasion lies in propaganda (I highly recommend watching the documentary One Child Nation for a recent and extreme example). But how do we connect with people on a one-to-one level and find common ground? Change minds? Be productive across differences? That’s a great question!

(The founder and CEO of The Good Partnership, Cindy Wagman is currently the host of the #1 podcast for non-profits in Canada: the small non-profit podcast.)

This is a brave new(ish) world where companies are starting to espouse the values of non-profits

By Cindy Wagman (November 28, 2019)

Follow the Feeling: Brand Building in a Noisy World by Kai D. Wright, Wiley, August 6, 2019, 304 pp., $31.32

You may have heard the term “monkey brain” when referring to how humans act and react to situations. It describes our most basic responses to fear and desire and the process is almost like our brain on “auto-pilot”. In essence, Follow the Feeling by Kai D. Wright acknowledges that consumer behaviour is driven by our “monkey brains” and provides a framework to leverage that for brand success.

The framework created by Wright, pulled from a suite of thought philosophies including behavioural economics and systems thinking, is called LAVEC, which stands for: Lexicon Triggers; Audio Cues; Visual Stimuli; Experience; and Cultural Connection. 

While the content is not new or unique to Wright, his framework is meant to pull the information all together and guide readers through their own brand building. 

Lexicon Triggers: Words are powerful when it comes to marketing and branding. Wright identifies that words have the power to make people feel like they belong to a community. Importantly, he argues, your role is to use language to create a brand personality and to use words that your community is already using.

Audio Cues: Perhaps the most interesting (and least talked about) part of the formula is how humans respond to audio cues. From atmospheric sound (think mood-setting) to triggers (when you hear a phone ring, you answer) to aligning with those who make music (like famous musicians), audio is a major leverage point to connect with audiences that is largely underused in our sector. 

Visual Stimuli: While audio cues is the least talked about, visual stimuli seems to be the most talked-about part of this formula. We are all familiar with the important role of colours, icons, and logos as emblematic of a brand experience. Video is a rising trend that is here to stay and allows us to connect more meaningfully with our audiences. Interestingly, the rise of emojis, marking a return, of sorts to hieroglyphs, also represents an often un-used leverage point in our sector. 

Experience: We hear of brand experience and this part of the formula maps out various ways to think about creating that experience. From personalization to seamless processes, Wright argues that the goal of experience is to create “normative behaviours” between members of your community. A normative behaviour is a “bonding behaviour shared between all members” of your community. As an example, Wright sites a Texas campaign to eliminate littering with the slogan “Don’t mess with Texas” and to “Google it”.

Cultural Connection: Wright argues that the conspicuous consumption of the 80’s has turned into conscious consumerism – people wanting to have a positive impact with their purchasing power. With Toms, Ben & Jerry’s, and other examples, we see that people are choosing to spend their money with companies that create a strong culture and value system. Companies and organizations with a strong narrative and a clear “why” are winning in connecting with their customers.

Finally, Wright concludes the book with a note about technology as a tool to measure our feelings and provide meaningful brand feedback. He argues that the goal of both the brand and the consumer is to create a better experience for the consumer, and as such, the more accurate our measurement of that experience (through facial recognition tools, biometrics, etc.) the better off we’ll all be. Of course, this reader is a little skeptical until it becomes a “normative behaviour” of brands to put good before profit, which is not true at the time of writing this review.

Kai D. Wright

And charities and non-profits beware – Wright’s main thesis is that for businesses to thrive, they need to good – build an authentic and earnest community around impact. This is a brave new(ish) world where companies are starting to espouse the values of non-profits. There is much we can learn to stay competitive and leverage this as an opportunity to serve our communities.

While I buy-in to the overall premise and framework of the book (as I said, Wright is not the first to share these ideas), he loses me in that he fails to heed his own advice. Instead of writing to a community and connecting emotionally with his audience, Wright’s book is mechanical and academic, making it a slow read.  

(The founder and CEO of The Good Partnership, Cindy Wagman is currently the host of the #1 podcast for non-profits in Canada: the small non-profit podcast.)

Avoiding the problem of miscommunication

By Christopher Barry (November 28, 2019)

Communication: How to Connect with Anyone by Gill Hasson, Capstone, November 5, 2019, 208 pp., $19.12

Peter Drucker once said that in his experience 90% of any business or organization problem was a result of miscommunication: whether misunderstanding, misstating, or misinterpreting information. 

If we can’t communicate effectively, either organizationally or personally, we are working at a considerable disadvantage compared to those who do.

Ms. Gill Hasson is a best-selling author whose focus has been on helping individuals advance their careers through better use of emotional intelligence and mindfulness. In her latest book    Communication: How to Connect with Anyone, she turns her attention to effective communication and the difference it makes.

This book is in two parts — Part One is concerned with the principles of effective communication. It describes what gets in the way of effective communication and it explains how, when you’re talking to someone else, you can do it in a way that makes it easy for them to listen and to understand what you mean. Part One also teaches you ways to better understand what other people say and mean.

Part Two of this book shows you how these principles of good communication can be put into practice and help you better connect with others.

Gill Hasson

Ms. Hasson makes the important point that effective communication is a dynamic process, neither simple nor easy. Why? It is influenced by all the complexities and uncertainties of human behaviour. We are emotional beings, and not creatures of logic. We are influenced by all the complexities and uncertainties of human behaviour. As she explains, even with the most simple of communications, both people may think they understand what’s passed between them, but often what’s occurred is a miscommunication.

Chapter 1 identifies some of the issues that contribute to miscommunication; it describes how cultural, generational (not for nothing do millennials like to use the expression “Ok, Boomer!”) and individual differences in how we communicate often lead to misunderstandings.

In this book, the emphasis is on assertive communication. Assertive communication encourages each person to take part in a shared process; one that helps promote a genuine connection between people; a connection that involves respect and trust, confidence and sympathy between individuals. Chapter 2 – “What To Say and How To Say It” – describes assertive communication. It emphasizes the need to be clear and direct when you’re talking to someone else; to do it in a way that makes it easy for them to listen and to understand what you mean.

Chapter 3 explains how to write effectively. And, as a bonus, once you have developed the ability to write more effectively, you’ll find that what and how you say things also improves.

Chapter 4 is about listening. As Hasson points out, Dolly Parton once said “it takes an awful lot of work to look this cheap”. The same is true for listening. It takes a lot of work to do something that appears to take no effort. But it’s always worth it.

Chapter 5 explains that it’s not just what a person says. What they don’t say is important as well. Someone’s non-verbal messages can emphasize and support what they are saying, but they can also contradict what they are saying. This chapter explains how to better understand where a person is coming from; how you can read between the lines. You’ll learn that you can’t rely on a single gesture, facial expression, and so on to confirm what someone does or doesn’t mean or what they’re feeling.; you’ll need to take a combination of non-verbal signals into consideration. 

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 offer practical examples about communication in social settings, in times of great difficulty and stress, and those occasions when persuasion is required.

Chapter 8 on persuasion is worth rereading several times, and offers diamond value for your attention.

Persuading is an acquired skill and essential for every not for profit professional to use effectively. There are better and worse ways of doing it, and Ms. Hasson has six suggestions:

  • Set up the listening
  • Prepare who you are talking to for what you want them to hear
  • Get people to listen as a possibility, rather than a problem
  • Be inspiring, and help the other person visualize what success will look like and feel like
  • Be patient. Urgency and immediacy are often the enemies of persuasion. People are best brought on board in their own time
  • Negotiation is not the same as compromise, and compromise is not the same as persuasion

This is a useful, succinct volume with plenty of practical suggestions and advice for the reader. Ms. Hasson offers a tone and an attitude which is refreshing and positive, and in communicating with anyone that is the hallmark to strive for. It’s worth the read.

(A former combat paratrooper and Logistics officer in the Canadian Army, Christopher Barry has worked as interim CEO or COO for a wide range of charities.)

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