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The Trigger Chronicles


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!


Logic is Good… For Losing.

Several large surveys show that most people believe a logical discussion, with good data and the right logical supporting facts, is the best way to influence or persuade. Often, they break the process down to three main steps:

  1. Present your proposition clearly, with conviction.
  2. Present your supporting data, with the right facts, logic and information.
  3. Structure your “deals” and move on to closure.

But according to Dr. Jay Conger, Director of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California Business School, “Following this process is one surefire way to fail at persuasion.”


Neuroscientists have recently discovered that the brain waves we emit when we engage in logical thinking (for example, when we solve a math problem) are virtually identical to those we emit when we are forced to plunge our hands and arms into ice water. It’s painful! Further, these researchers have determined that our brains require 300 percent more effort—measured in calories burned—for heavy thinking, compared with “mental cruising.”

No wonder people hate a logical, reasoned approach!

Luckily for us, our brains are hard-wired with mechanisms that help us make good decisions without painstaking analysis and reasoning. These mechanisms are known as triggers, but you can also think of them as “instincts” or “gut reactions.” Essentially, they are the decision-making shortcuts we easily and naturally employ all day long. They are our automatic self-guidance systems. We often don’t even realize we’re using them!

Put simply triggers are our navigational aids. They help us make easy, non-analytical, yet correct decisions. There are seven major triggers we all depend on to help us easily make quick, automatic and right decisions. One example is the consistency trigger. Here’s how it works. We all have a kind of database in our brains that records past thoughts and actions. This database provides a roadmap for future decisions. When faced with a decision, our brain does an instantaneous search, and we are oriented to act in a way that is consistent with our past actions.

In short, we do what we’ve done before. A citizen who’s voted for the conservative slate in the past will usually do so again, without bothering to seriously analyze the rhetoric of all the candidates running. Spenders make decisions to keep spending, savers tend to decide again and again to save. Cautious people take careful actions, risk tolerant people do not.

That’s not to say that logic has no place in decision-making. But logic tends to come later, after the decision-maker has responded to his or her internal triggers. For example, when people are in the market for a house, they’re often attracted to one that “feels right.” (Maybe it reminds them of a place where they used to live?) Later, when they’re discussing the house with others, they’ll talk about more logical aspects—the great neighborhood, easy access to the highway, a good school system, etc.

Now, what does this mean for you, the persuader?

Knowledgeable persuaders don’t force persuasion partners into icy water! Skilled people don’t demand 300% more energy for decisions. They help their partners make good decisions by learning what they want, doing the heavy thinking, then determining how to position the discussion.

Skilled persuaders evaluate which of the seven triggers that will apply to another person. Then they carefully frame and deliver a presentation based on those triggers. They use facts and figures, only when needed, to support a triggers-based decision.

An example: We have a client who boasted that his company was successful because he was able to make and implement decisions quickly. An astute sales rep wrapped up her presentation to this CEO by saying, “Charlie, you mentioned that you like to make quick decisions—will that be the case here?” Essentially, the rep set up a prime situation for the consistency trigger to operate. The CEO had to be consistent with his prior statement, and the consistency trigger resulted in a handshake, and a $50,000 profit!

The formula is fundamental: Employ the seven triggers, the client’s navigation system for making correct decisions. Use facts, figures, and logic only when needed to reinforce a triggers-based decision. It may be the opposite of what you’re used to—but it’s a surefire way to win at persuasion.

The Most Researched, Most Misunderstood, Most Important Skill

Aristotle considered it a “human failing” that persuasion might involve an emotional appeal, and sought to elevate the value of logic and reason. What we now know is that Aristotle was in a no-win battle with biology.

Take a trip back to the Fifth Century B.C., when Athenians were experimenting with a new form of government. The Athenians quickly discovered that to succeed in a democracy, they had to be persuasive. Leaders used persuasion (then called rhetoric) to gain agreement and win support. Everyday citizens used persuasion before a new legal body—the jury.

Recognizing its importance, Athenian scholars, including Plato and Aristotle, began to study the powerful process of persuasion. Circa 435 B.C., they defined three elements of the process of persuasion: Logos, the appeal to logic, reason, and facts; Pathos, the appeal to emotions; and Ethos, the appeal of the speaker’s character and credibility. These scholars found that one or more of these appeals characterize any instance of persuasion.

Aristotle wrote three books about persuasion. Among his conclusions, he stated that logic is the most reliable appeal, and that it is a “human failing” that people sometimes tend to be persuaded less by logic and more by emotion. Scientists are now learning precisely why appeals to logic can be so unproductive. And they’ve learned that Aristotle had it all backward when he defined logic as the most reliable appeal to persuasion.

In ancient Greece, persuasion proved to be enormously effective in politics, commerce, jurisprudence and everyday life—so much so, that when the Romans conquered Greece, they continued to study and apply the skill of persuasion. Caesar Augustus became a master persuader. He magnificently used the Ethos appeal, starting every speech with the phrase “Vini, Vidi, Vici.” I came, I saw, I conquered. By establishing who he was and why people should listen to him, he was able to quickly win their support.

Fast forward to the U.S.A. in 1940s and ’50s. Explosive post-war economic growth led to more research into how people could make good things happen through others. Writers produced a spate of books based on the groundbreaking research of Carl I. Hovland of Yale University. Many other prestigious universities and business schools also initiated research into the science, art and skill of persuasion. The race for knowledge on how to gain agreement, compliance, to get to YES was on in earnest!

Politicians of that era also realized that the greatest power in the world was the power to persuade. Even President Harry Truman understood how central persuasion was to his ability to lead. “I sit here all day trying to persuade people,” he said. “That’s all the powers of the President amount to.” Condoleezza Rice added to this from her own position of power, “Power is nothing unless you can turn it into influence.”

In time, new and exciting facts about persuasion continued to appear. In the 1980s, Dr. Robert Cialdini, Arizona State University’s Regents Professor of Psychology, conducted extensive research into the emotional “triggers” of persuasion. By the late 90s, his book, Influence – the Psychology of Persuasion, had become Amazon.com’s best-selling business book. Soon, Harvard Business School and other leading institutions were offering executive courses in persuasion skills.

Today the quest for persuasion knowledge continues at warp speed. While some scientists are unraveling the human genome, defining how our chromosomes and DNA affect our physical bodies, others are unraveling the secrets of the brain, exploring how it processes decision-making information.

In this vein, Jay Conger, Director of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California School of Business, tells us why research into the “how to” of persuasion is so critical: “Today’s business contingencies make persuasion more necessary than ever,” he says. “Many businesspeople misunderstand persuasion and more still underutilize it.”

The art and science of persuasion continues to attract the world’s best minds. Why? Because today’s leaders need to know:

  • How do I motivate others to act?
  • How do I produce agreement, compliance, and results?
  • How do I generate change?
  • How do I make important things happen with and through others?
  • How do I sell my ideas, my products, and my services?
  • How do I trigger YES?

The brilliant minds of antiquity had many answers, and today’s scientists have even more. According to New York University Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, “The amygdala [the emotional part of the brain] has a greater influence on the cortex [the thinking part] than the cortex has on the amygdala, allowing emotion to dominate and control thinking.”

Similarly, the book and the PBS series “The Secret Life of the Brain” (funded principally by the National Science Foundation) distills the entire 2,500 years of persuasion research into a single sentence:

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

History and modern science agree. To persuade successfully, we must appeal to the listener’s inborn, hard-wired need to satisfy emotional needs and wants. We must frame our presentations to appeal to specific shortcuts, the triggers embedded in each of our brains. We must learn to work with the other person’s brain rather than against it as we have been doing for 2,500 years.

The brilliant minds of Greece and Rome recognized the need for persuasion, and set forth fundamental guidelines. Today’s scientists and researchers have defined the specific process that our brains use to make decisions. For the first time, we understand how to work with, not against, the brain’s decision-making process to help others make easy, non-analytical, yet correct decisions.

Today persuasion is more critical than ever. And for the first time we are learning how to persuade efficiently. For the first time we can see, in vivo, in real time, the brain’s blood, oxygen and neuron flows as it responds to decision stimuli. We can see distinct brain elements “light up” as they are brought into play. The exciting news is that we finally understand the persuasion process, a process we’ve been doing poorly for 2,500 years. And that understanding enables us to produce YES, agreement, action and results with and through others.

For the first time in history, we have the scientifically documented breakthrough to quickly, easily produce YES, and the results we want and need from others.