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Leadership & Management

Great Ideas Don’t Persuade

A great offer coupled with a well-reasoned presentation will get your audience engaged and your customers lining up, right? Yeah, not so much.

The world’s most creative and important products, inventions, and solutions were nothing more than ideas until someone persuaded someone else to do something. Great persuaders bring ideas to life. Persuaders make things happen.

The greatest historical achievements ever created are the results of persuasion. The empire builders, the Caesars and Napoleons, won by persuading others to follow. Cities and civilizations were built with persuasion. Columbus persuaded Queen Isabella that he could reach the East, India, by sailing west; then persuaded her to finance his ships.READ MORE

The Sweet Spot in the C-Suite Skill Set: People

C-Suiters can no longer expect chain-of-command to be enough of an incentive for team dedication and productivity. People today must be persuaded.

Business professionals seeking to climb the corporate ladder face a wide array of obstacles and challenges… Internal candidate competition, market conditions affecting budget, difficult-to-maneuver company policy – all of this and more can trip up fast-rising stars on their way to the C-Suite. Of course, once you reach the corner office, everything is jake, right? Think again.

C-Level executives not only shouldn’t stop learning, they must continue learning even to stay where they are, according to a study consisting of 32 interviews with top talent search consultants at a global executive placement firm. What kind of skill sets should goal-oriented executives focus on? A “strong combination of technical skills and soft skills” comprises the core makeup that recruiting seeks in C-Level players.

Of special note in the survey were team-building skills, which rely on persuasive ability as one of the great building blocks of the executive skill set. Creating common ground and cooperative interaction, as well as providing motivation and inspiration, are leadership attributes that revolve around an understanding – whether instinctual or conscious – of the role the emotional brain plays in human decision and action.

This dependence on the “emotional skill set” has only grown as organizational hierarchies have become flatter. C-Suiters can no longer expect that chain-of-command is enough of an incentive for dedication and productivity. Today’s business team members need to be persuaded. Smart executives will leverage the power of emotion for persuasion and lean on an understanding of people rather than process.

According to the study, though, a natural ability for dealing with people – for emotional intelligence and emotional triggers – may not be enough. Star candidates for the C-Suite are “expected to apply an analytical lens to team management and to be familiar with best practices, as opposed to just managing by gut,” according to the HBR study. In other words, even those executives with an instinctual understanding of how to influence, motivate, and persuade would do well to categorize and quantify that knowledge and skill so as to be able to effectively transfer them to others and help build a culture of competence.

Lifelong learning is an ideal across the organization; C-Suite candidates would do well to add coaching and mentoring to the mix.

This is one of ways 7 Triggers training helps prepare those bound for the C-Suite. When the courses are brought in to an organization, there is invariably a spark of recognition by the seasoned professionals – folks who’ve been there and done that, whether in leadership, marketing, or sales.  “This is what works” is the common observation. Only, with the 7 Triggers formula it’s no longer instinct or trial-and-error. It’s a structured approach validated by science. Practical, flexible, and repeatable.

The jump from team member to team leader can be both subtle and precipitous. As a leader, it’s no longer enough to assume a collegial, cooperative stance, using good communication and conflict resolution skills. There’s an important perspective shift that involves seeing your colleagues as customers, and your ideas and vision as a value proposition. Oarsmen just need to row. Captains have to navigate – and compel the rowing direction not just at a group leader level, but with each individual participant.

As one consultant in the study said:

Leaders need to be constantly testing how people are responding to them… and open to adjusting their style—both in how they communicate with different groups of people and how they change their leadership approach to suit the situation.

When it comes to how to categorize and define the inevitable emotional factors intertwined with business – meaning, belief, motivation, inspiration, decision – a formula like the 7 Triggers helps codify without confining. In other words, it’s a formula that’s both reliably structured yet highly flexible, allowing methods and techniques to be easily tailored across a spectrum from entire markets to unique individuals.

Account Leaders: How to Persuade for Performance

7 Triggers was recently engaged by a Fortune 200 company to help solve a range of challenges endured by account managers. The issues will be familiar to anyone working with teams comprised of both internal and client-side people with diverse roles and expertise levels:

How to build account momentum and drive growth without the operational authority to hold others accountable.

Everyone agreed that better influencing and persuasion skills would help. And, indeed, Influencing Without Authority was the working title for the training workshops. But skills and tools don’t just leap out of the box and start performing. One doesn’t just launch techniques on a smartphone and solve problems with a few clicks.

Influencing skills, persuasion techniques – emotional triggers – as powerful as they are, are best learned and applied toward a particular purpose, within a specific context. Selling is the easiest and most common example. But crew coalition? Team member motivation? Getting alignment and agreement across a highly diverse group of differently-motivated individuals? Not quite as obvious an application as closing a sale.

How do you set a frame and establish objectives – not to mention measurements and milestones – for what is essentially the quality of a relationship..?

Set Goals and Define Roles

The precursor to change is a shift in perspective, which can often be achieved by characterizing organizational roles according to relationship parameters rather than operational frameworks, or roles. To be in an ideal position for influence and persuasion, account managers need to see themselves as leaders, yet treat their cohorts as both customers and as engines of potential. If “mentor” feels too presumptuous, account managers still need to adopt the role of guide and even guru, remembering always the wisdom of Lao Tzu:

To lead people, walk behind them.

See others. Observe. Ask questions. Support, feed, and fertilize as much as, or even more than, setting an example.

The marvelous Margaret Heffernan offers great insights into the importance of social capital to leadership and team success, based on her consulting experience with companies around the world. Her essential premise is that although we tend to lionize the stars of a business, those who she refers to as the “super chickens” (based on a famous experiment by William Muir at Purdue University), extraordinary organizational achievement is actually driven by the trust, rapport, and values shared by everyone.

Heffernan draws perspective from looking at many different pursuits and professions, and found particular insight at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, of all places:

I went there to watch and I was just amazed because, actually, what all the teachers there were looking for were not these spectacular fireworks of individuals. They were looking for actors who had something to give each other because, of course, in drama, it is what happens between people that is really exciting.


Influence and persuasion is about getting beyond the obvious to the things that really matter to people. About getting beyond the facts and features and data that don’t connect with the emotional brain, and which demand a level of analytical energy the brain is reluctant to expend. With colleagues and teams, the level of interest and motivation needed to drive commitment and success must be based on goals and roles that really mean something.

“What’s the driving goal, here?” Margaret Heffernan often asks when she’s invited to consult with client companies. “And they’ll say $60 billion revenue next year. And I’d look at them and I’d say, you have got to be joking. What on earth makes you think that everybody is really going to give it their all to hit a revenue target? You know, you have to talk to something much deeper inside people than that. You have to talk to people about something that makes a difference to them every day if you want them to bring their best and do their best and feel that you’ve given them the opportunity to do the best work they’ve ever done.”

You may have to do some digging to learn what really drives each individual, and a company has to stand for something more than just revenue generation, but with emotional triggers as guideposts we have a way to communicate that’s more personal than vocational, and with forms the foundation for influence.



Want to Be More Influential? It’s Not Your Style.

You can immerse yourself in the complexities of psychological and behavioral analysis, or you can use some brain-science basics and just start getting results.

One of the most interesting and useful aspects of learning and activating emotional triggers for the purpose of influence and persuasion is that they tend to cut through more intricate or complex approaches; those offered by, say, behavioral or sociological observation. The neurological mechanisms of the human brain are not subject to external constructs like cultural cues or personality styles.

One of our consultants tells the story of a senior sales vice president at a large and well-known corporation who had invested in an elaborate and costly process of customer segmentation as a way to improve selling performance. I wish I could report that our consultant didn’t have to heart to tell him that from a customer persuasion standpoint, the effort and expense was a waste. But he told him. We didn’t get the account.

The research reported by Chris Musselwhite and Tammie Plouffe in a Harvard Business Review article on “Influencing Styles” is an example of how, without a central neurological framework to use as a reliable driver for what actually works in persuading others, we are relegated to interesting but ultimately vague classifications.

These categories are behavioral, not neurological – useful, perhaps, in determining what our “go-to” approaches might be, assuming we lack any real knowledge or insight into the science of emotional triggers:

  • Rationalizing: Do you use logic, facts, and reasoning to present your ideas? Do you leverage your facts, logic, expertise, and experience to persuade others?
  • Asserting: Do you rely on your personal confidence, rules, law, and authority to influence others? Do you insist that your ideas are heard and considered, even when others disagree? Do you challenge the ideas of others when they don’t agree with yours? Do you debate with or pressure others to get them to see your point of view?
  • Negotiating: Do you look for compromises and make concessions in order to reach an outcome that satisfies your greater interest? Do you make tradeoffs and exchanges in order to meet your larger interests? If necessary, will you delay the discussion until a more opportune time?
  • Inspiring: Do you encourage others toward your position by communicating a sense of shared mission and exciting possibility? Do you use inspirational appeals, stories, and metaphors to encourage a shared sense of purpose?
  • Bridging: Do you attempt to influence outcomes by uniting or connecting with others? Do you rely on reciprocity, engaging superior support, consultation, building coalitions, and using personal relationships to get people to agree with your position?

As a self assessment I think this is potentially useful. “We are all aware that people use different influencing tactics,” the authors suggest, “but did you realize that we each naturally default to the same tactics every time?” Yes, humans are habitual. And it takes effort to develop new and more effective skills and techniques.

If you see yourself in this list, just know that any success you have in persuasion and influence comes not from your style itself but from the emotional triggers that are likely to emerge from, or be employed as a result of, that particular style.

The “Inspiring” style for example, is very likely to be activating one or more of the Friendship, Contrast, and Hope Triggers. Even “Rationalizing,” which we know from neurological studies is definitively not influential on its own, can nevertheless play an important role in activating the Authority and Consistency Triggers if properly deployed.

HBR’s “influencing styles” is an interesting exercise, but hardly applicable if your goal is to actually become more influential and persuasive.

Read the entire article here.



Key Leadership Triggers for Creativity and Innovation

At its core, great leadership relies on a combination of three emotional triggers: Friendship, Authority, and Hope.

Pixar president Ed Catmull is revered among business development and leadership experts for his remarkable success, but more so for his approach to making others successful.

In a Forbes article, Professor David Slocum reviews Catmull’s book, Creativity, Inc., as “one of the…best books that have been written about creative business and creative leadership. Ever.” Here’s what he says:

Reading Creativity, Inc., one can easily appreciate Catmull’s gifts as a leader whose style – deft, open, humble, caring, trusting, purposeful – has built, shaped and sustained an exceptional creative culture…That combination of effectively bringing creativity to his leadership challenges and leadership to his firm’s creative work is rare.

Note the key adjectives used to describe Catmull’s approach: “deft, open, humble, caring, trusting, purposeful.” A generation or two ago, these attributes would have been seen as too soft, even weak for a leader. But in today’s flatter business environments, these values become invitations for contribution rather than directives for duty.

And, they are powerfully persuasive.

We know from neuroscience that people are far more willing to agree, support, and follow your lead when they perceive your proposal as a shared solution; one that includes, respects, and involves their participation. Slocum refers to Catmull’s “tireless communication” and credits Catmull for his “intensive, democratic collaboration” as a central tenet of his leadership style. This is rooted in a mindset that begins with the value and perspective of others.

Even in leadership it’s not how we sell, but why others buy.

Creativity, Inc., coauthored with Amy Wallace, has been nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award: Best Business Books of 2014.


Trigger Basics: How to Engage the Emotional Brain

The most successful people in the world are those who can get things done with and through others. By applying new scientific breakthroughs, it’s easier than ever to get “Yes!” decisions and actions.

Getting others to act on our ideas, proposals, solutions and offers is what business is all about. Even the most solitary professions eventually have to rely on engagement and support from others if success in the wider world is to be achieved. Marketers, salespeople, and entrepreneurs rely even more on the ability to get attention, engagement, and decision. If we hope to become more successful at influencing others’ decisions, it stands to reason that we might start with a deeper understanding of the human decision process in the first place. Easiest place to start? How about a brief look at our own decisions…

Life’s Challenges

Let’s face it, life is a challenge. But it would be worse – much worse – if it weren’t for the role the emotional brain plays in making our lives less chaotic.

Consider this: Every day is an avalanche of decisions. Get out of bed now or snooze? What to wear? What for breakfast – stick to the diet or enjoy? Which route to work? Stop for gas now or on the way home? Listen to the news or some new music? Which music? At work it’s the same. Get that report out first or answer the emails and voice mail? Take a call or let voice mail pick up? What are the boss’s priorities? What are yours? Whose do you execute first?

All day long, requests and decisions drive activities. The need to decide is incessant; the issues never stop, never let up.

Dealing with this many decisions sounds difficult. It could be. If we had to use logic, reason, and cognitive thinking – if we had to rationally evaluate and think through each decision – we’d be trapped, locked in place, unable to move in any direction as we analyze, evaluate, contemplate, measure, and critique the options. We’d wind up dazed and immobile.

Nature’s Triggers to the Rescue

Fortunately, nature – by way of our brain’s limbic system – has provided us with a highly effective, simple solution to easily get through so many decision-making moments. This system resides in the most primal area of the brain, and is activated by our own personal databank of internal “triggers.”

The take-away summary from recent brain research focused on this “emotional center” is this:

We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.

What is a trigger? What is this powerful internal navigation tool that initiates quicker, easier decisions? A trigger is an emotion-based, “gut-feeling” shortcut that helps us avoid the pain of rational thinking, of laborious cognitive mental analysis. We are pre-programmed to comply with offers, opportunities, and requests when those request activate the appropriate triggers.

The secret for persuasion success is to determine which triggers can be activated for each situation. The odd irony of this need for quick, easy, emotion-based decisions is that the more sophisticated and complex our lives get, the more information we have, the more we need and rely on simple ways to help us make those decisions. The smart entrepreneur, executive, or sales rep understands this need and communicates accordingly.

The exciting science of live brain imaging reveals that one emotion-based brain component, the amygdala, is the first to receive most outside stimuli – requests for decisions. The amygdala has two choices. It can make an immediate emotion based decision tapping into the life long database we build. Or, if no prior emotion is triggered it can send the request to the pre-frontal cortex for lengthy, rational, time consuming cognitive evaluation. Here’s a newly discovered scientific fact: Reason and logic do not persuade. They might back up an emotional decision, but they do not heavily influence the decision.

To get what you want through others you must activate their emotional triggers.

How Exactly Do You Activate an Emotional Trigger?

Triggers are activated when communication engages the emotional brain faster, easier, or more strongly than it does the analytical brain. Triggers remain dormant when communication gets “stuck” in the pre-frontal cortex, in the “brain pain” of analysis. Persuasive communication makes a beeline for the limbic system, where the amygdala can drive perceptions and decisions with such irresistible force as to be completely oblivious to facts or evidence.

Of course, it’s ideal if facts and evidence also support your “triggerized,” persuasive messaging. But if all you have is facts and evidence alone, your likelihood of being persuasive will be extremely small.

Although persuasive communication can function in every mode or dimension of message transfer – across all five senses and through the elements of every media channel (e.g. words, symbols, pictures, audio, etc.) – a lot of persuasion can be accomplished through essentially two aspects of written or verbal communication: what we say and how we say it. A simple way to think about this is activating triggers by either topic  (the content of our communication) or tactic (the style of our communication or the words we choose).

Understanding what the triggers are and why they work is like getting the essential strategic guidelines for persuasive communication. But then it takes some practice to fill in all the tactical details to really make it work. Here’s a classic example of a tactical (versus topical) persuasive communication solution, a brief video we often use in our learning programs as an especially compelling example of “words matter” when it comes to persuasion:



Maya Angelou: Making Emotional Connections

Here at the 7 Triggers we have a special affection for Maya Angelou, who died on Wednesday at age 86 in North Carolina. One of her most famous quotes provides an essential insight for the importance of the emotional connection in business and in life:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Although it may seem at first glance that the quote distinguishes feelings from words and actions, one concludes that Angelou was in fact suggesting a strong correlation, even a caution, about the power of words and actions to evoke an emotional response. And it is the emotional response that remains when words and actions are forgotten.

In addition to her role as one of our era’s most inspirational figures, Angelou was a genuine symbol of human achievement in a most original and authentic way. Born Marguerite Johnson, she grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and Stamps, Arkansas. It was her brother who first called her Maya, and the name stuck. Angelou left a troubled childhood and the segregated world of Arkansas and began a career as a singer and dancer. She toured Europe in the 1950s with a production of Porgy and Bess, studied dance with Martha Graham, and performed with Alvin Ailey on television. She wrote more than 30 books, the most famous of which was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” an autobiographical coming-of-age story about strength of character, love of literature, and overcoming great adversity. Angelou was a Grammy winner for three spoken-word albums. She was a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University, and was honored with many literary accolades throughout her remarkable career.

It may be easily argued that Angelou’s achievements were based almost entirely on a unique ability to connect emotionally with people, her audiences, and perhaps never more so than in her writing and speaking. She had that unique gift – the gift of the greatest artists and communicators – to use their medium as a source of true kinship, as a way to bridge the illusory gap between us. Emotional connection is about using modes and formats in such a way that the means of connection disappear and all that’s left is connection itself.

Maya Angelou will continue to create those connections through her work for generations.

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Create Employee Bonding and Trust

Susan Sobbott, President of American Express OPEN, values emotional triggers very clearly when she says, “Businesses everywhere recognize the need to maximize the potential of their greatest asset—their employees.” She adds that top companies “have found innovative ways to keep their employees engaged and satisfied.” You maximize employee productivity by activating various emotional triggers – Friendship, Reciprocity, Consistency, Hope. Emotional triggers create bonding, trust, and productivity. When you bond with employees and create the right environment, they’ll do anything for you.

Danny Meyer puts a fine point on the persuasive elements of employee bonding and friendship. Meyer owns thirteen high-end New York restaurants. “A productive day for me is much more about human transactions than it is about technical accomplishments,” says Meyer. “It’s looking people in the eye and connecting with them in a way they feel seen.”

Do your clients, employees, associates feel connected with you? Do they feel “seen?” Do you know and record relevant information about every one of them? Are you employing the Friendship Trigger to reach their emotional decision and action motivators? Create trust and great relationships by bonding with all your contacts and your productivity will soar.

The Friendship – Influence Equation

The idea that facts and logic are not very powerful influencers has long been suspected. But not until the advent of live brain imaging has there been such strong evidence to support this theory.

With real-time imaging technology, we are learning more than ever knew about how the brain really processes information. We know more than we ever have before about what really influences others’ decisions and actions.

“Your brain is not a logic machine,” reports top neurologist,Dr. Richard Restak, author of the book and PBS series The Secret Life of the Brain. “Emotions and feelings about something occur before you’ve made any attempt at conscious evaluation.”

The Friendship Trigger

Of the seven primary emotional triggers, the Friendship Trigger is both critical on its own and as a prerequisite for activating the other triggers.

Since birth, the emotional part of our brain has stored data for the friendship trigger. Infants bond with whomever cares for them. Bonding creates trust and liking. We are emotionally hard wired to respond quickly and favorably to those we like, trust and are similar to us.

The secret to successfully activating the other person’s friendship decision trigger is, well, to be a friend. How do we do that? We must share common interests, common feelings and common bonds. When we share common interests, we become friends, we activate the trigger. The great news is that activating the friendship trigger is easy.

Does the Friendship Trigger work?

Bill, a sales rep, needed a critical operation and wanted the world’s best surgeon. Problem: The surgeon took few new patients and would only operate on perfect candidates. Bill didn’t fit his mold. The doctor was a real curmudgeon, and as Chairman of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at one of the worlds top hospitals, a very busy guy. Bill was told to be brief, quick and deal only with the data and facts – no small talk.

Bill violated all he was told. Entering the office Bill asked, “So doc, what do you like to do when you are not working so hard?” The rather surprised doctor glared at Bill for a long minute, and then motioned him around to his side of his desk. He said, “I love blue water sailboat racing.” He logged into his yacht club’s Web site where his 65-foot ocean racer was featured with all his racing credits.

Now Bill is not a sail enthusiast, but he is a boater. They talked about the pleasures of boating. They bonded. They became friends. At each meeting Bill asked, “What’s new for the yacht? He regaled Bill with new GPS equipment, new Kevlar sails and racing stories. Wow! They’re friends.

By activating just one persuasion trigger, Bill persuaded the world’s top surgeon to operate on him. And thanks to that trigger, Bill is alive today. Is the Friendship Trigger powerful? Bet on it!