Ep #102: Understanding Persuasion Could Save Your Life

by | Podcast

As leaders, persuasion is a central, important element of our ability to serve. Influence is an integral part of leadership.

The thing is, we humans have the impression that we are independent thinkers, that we come to our conclusions cleanly and logically, but the research says otherwise.

We are influenced and persuaded from so many directions, in ways we often aren’t aware – as is our audience.
Understanding persuasion helps us access our own BEST ideas and knowing – as well as serve others with those ideas.

The goal is to get some distance from the unconscious influence of these persuasion factors – to see how they really work for virtually all humans — so that we can use these powers of persuasion for good in our own lives and in the lives of those we serve with our message.

In today’s episode, we are going to talk about exactly what persuasion is, how it works and how it can actually SAVE YOUR LIFE, your relationships, and help you avoid a lot of heartache and pain. Of course, you’ll also see how you can use these same persuasive elements in service of your leadership in the world.

What You’ll Learn from this “Understanding Persuasion” Episode:

  • What persuasion is and how it works
  • The many factors that go into how we are influenced by persuasion from others
  • The six elements of persuasion according to Robert Cialdini, author of The Psychology of Persuasion
  • How to stop persuasion from negatively influencing your relationships and causing unnecessary heartache and pain
  • The impact of groups on our opinions and identity
  • How we are unconsciously impacted by “confirmation bias” and “attachment to identity”
  • The benefit of standing back to create space in order to connect with your own cleanest and clearest thinking
  • The beauty of truly listening to someone from a place of open neutrality in order to make a positive difference, to be a force for good in your relationships, your life, your connections, and your leadership

Listen to the Full “Understanding Persuasion” Episode

PREVIOUS EPISODE | Ep #101: Own Your Voice with Rhonda Khan


The Full “Understanding Persuasion” Episode Transcript:

Those messages that speak to the highest identity, like not just who you are, but who you see yourself as in your best moments. That is how we want to be upheld as humans. That's how we want to see ourselves. And that's how we want others to see us as a very good, whatever it is that we think we are welcome to the Brilliance at Work Podcast, where we shine a light on where great work, charisma and growing a thriving business you love really comes from. I'm Michelle Barry Franco. I've been a speaking and thought leadership coach for more than a decade from TEDx stages to world famous conferences. And I've helped some of the most beloved business leaders grow their businesses and serve in the biggest way possible through their business and through their thought leadership. I love that. I get to share the best of what I've learned with you here on the Brilliance at Work Podcast.

Hello? Hello, my friends, my brilliant friends. How are you? We are in the way back machine, like at day 27, maybe we're back to day 12. I don't know of quarantine here in California. We have been rolled back from whatever phase we were in, was it three? We were just starting to open restaurants and I think some people could go indoors. We hadn't done any of that, but we went once and sat outdoors and a pretty spacious area. But anyway, we're getting shut down again. We have been shut down again. I think we're back to phase one. Anyway. I don't know. What I do know is that I got my hair cut and colored on Thursday during the teeny little window that my hairdresser was working again. And right now I'm feeling pretty lucky. I mean, I really, really appreciate my hair and that it is cleaned up because I was kind of cutting it myself.

But when you have curly hair, my curly-haired friends out there may know what I mean. You can kind of grab a curl and just cut it, trim it in different spots and it adds a little shape and it doesn't show too much. Right? I think that's one of the advantages of having kind of wild curly hair, unless you make a big dent somewhere. And then I don't know, I've had, that's gone awry for me too. I love my hairdresser. She's been my hairdresser for, I think it's about six years and I really do want her safe and I want her to safe way more than I need my hair done. So yes, I'm grateful that that worked out and that we both seem to be alright, but I want her safe. And I'm glad that we are making decisions right now that increase the chances of safety for people we love and care about.

So I'm glad that we're rolling back, I suppose, but that doesn't mean that I, that I like not being able to go places. It does not mean that I don't terribly miss getting on airplanes because I miss airplanes. You know, you've heard me talk about on this podcast that I travel a lot or I did travel a lot and I was scaling that back and partly scaling that back for sure by choice. But, you know, I didn't really want to swing the pendulum this far. And so the point being that I think all of us across all decision-making and belief systems, and this is what we're going to talk about today. We're actually going to talk about how understanding persuasion and how persuasion and influence work, how understanding that could save your life and could certainly save your relationships, and save a lot of heartache and pain.

So that's what I want to talk about as really helpful. Can we understand how persuasion works? And I'm talking about this because as leaders and thought leaders, this is our mechanism of making a difference and we are human too. It is working within us as well. Of course. So the greater insight, the greater view we have into how this whole persuasion and influence thing works, the more we can use our voice and use our leadership for good in the world, and also for clarity and connection to our deepest knowing within us as well; because these same factors of persuasion and influence can actually get in the way of us listening in to what's really true for us too. So I'm going to talk about all of this in a more systematic way, I hope, because it's a big, big topic. So I'm going to try to touch on the things that I think are most relevant for us as leaders and thought leaders in the world, but it is, of course, highly contextualized by the current situation, because there's so much misunderstanding going on in the world, so much arguing and fighting, and I've been inside these conversations.

You've heard me talk about that in a few episodes. And I have had other conversations that I haven't mentioned where it's very clear to me, even though they didn't get, you know, confrontational or whatever, very clear to me that we are, myself and the other person in that conversation, being highly influenced by factors outside of our own cleanest, clearest thinking. And I've seen that for myself as well as seeing that for people who I don't sort of agree with on some of the fundamentals. So that is our topic for today. We're going to talk about persuasion and how understanding how persuasion works can actually save your life. So this isn't really about coronavirus or mass squaring or the weird political divide that has, I guess – I was going to arisen – but I know the political divide was there, but wow, has that chasm grown?

So it isn't about that, but it is. It's rising up within that context. And I think becoming so much clearer and in many ways, the hard way maybe, but it is making it even more obvious where we can make a difference here. At least that's how it's looking to me. So I've had four conversations in the last few weeks that have reminded me of just how powerful persuasion is. See, we think that we are independent thinkers, that we come to our conclusions cleanly with logic. That it's just that this is what I believe. And I believe it because I've thought this through and I have done that independent of, you know, anyone else's influence and it can really feel like we've done that, but you know, we are fish and water. We are humans in air, whatever, we are people of our environments and of those that we are around.

And so we are therefore influenced all the time in the tiniest ways to think and feel and desire, particular things. And there's just so much research to support the fact that our decision making is way more complex than the kind of clarity that we think that we have. So let's start with what is persuasion. And it's funny, I looked it up in the dictionary and even reading the definition of persuasion in the dictionary is kind of exhausting. So here it is, the definition of persuasion is, actually, I had to pare it back to the definition of persuade – to move by argument, entreaty or expostulation.

So let's go look that one up to a belief…

Position or course of action. So that's the first definition. The second one, this is Merriam Webster online, is to plead with or to urge, but essentially it is to change someone's belief position or course of action. That's how I'm going to go ahead and translate that for us. So if I hail back to my early graduate school days when we were studying rhetoric and the, you know, fundamentals of persuasion, we talked about it. And we talk about this in public speaking, especially in the college classroom, around the three elements of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. And of course, far more user-friendly words we generally use. Now in, especially in the business world, we have ethics, we have the, you know, ethical persuasion, which includes things like credibility. And then we have logos, which is logic. Often we think of this as the research, the data, that part of a great argument, a great persuasion.

And then we have pathos, which is emotion. This is bringing in the stories, bringing in the heart and soul. Sometimes we bring this in through compelling images. So this is how we build a case case for something. And you can even see in this, that logic is only one piece of it, right? We've got credibility, but what makes someone credible to us? And they're all kinds of interesting research even about that around and who, whom we allow to influence us. Right? And there's things like, do we like them? Do we consider them to be like us? For example. So Robert Cialdini wrote a book called Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion. And in this book, he talks about the six elements of persuasion and they are, I'll just go over them really quickly. Cause we're not going to dive deep on these.

We could do a whole podcast episode, a whole semester long course on this, but reciprocity. So the sense that we are giving, you know, when you give me something, I give you something back. Scarcity, is this going to go away soon? Consistency, so when we see something over and over again, I talk about that a lot. We talk about that a lot in leadership, especially around thought leadership. One of the things you want to do is be everywhere because that builds credibility. Credibility is built through consistency, and then there's an authority. And again, we talked about credibility, this sense of authority and how does a person establish that sense of authority? And then we have social proof and we have liking, so social proof is things like testimonials, or this is what influencers do, right? They're like, okay, “Hey, look at this amazing product. I love it. My friends love it.” That's what social proof looks like. And then there's liking, as I said earlier, and these are definitely not mutually exclusive.

Do I like this person? Yes. And I'm really going over this, not so much, dive deep on each of these, as I said, but you can see that there are so many factors, jurors that influence how we are influenced, seeing that you see how even just seeing that it's not just me or you or the person you're in an argument with. It's not just us sitting over here having a logical thought process that starts with some absolute truth, leads to a next trip truth and an ex truth. And we know that because we're disagreeing, right? So we're looking and saying, how can this person possibly be thinking what they're thinking? Well, maybe this starts to give you a picture of how they might be thinking what they're thinking. They have all, all different kinds of inputs in. They have different references for social proof.

For example, they have different people in their world who they consider authorities that they are looking to, to affirm their beliefs or to teach them new things, to help them find the newest version of their belief system. See, so we have all of these factors they're happening with most of the time, without us even realizing that they're happening, I have them, you have them and all the people that you're wanting to serve have them. And also the people that you're struggling to be in communication with or in relationship with, right? They have these things going on as well. So is that okay with gathering research for this podcast episode, it was fascinating. Just kind of digging around. There's a Berkeley lab where they study decision-making and the brain processes. And essentially what this article I found and we'll link to it in the show notes, but it was just basically saying, yep.
We try to study decision making in the brain. And we just keep coming up with more questions than we have answers for, which I know happens a lot with academic research, but there are so many different inputs, so many different parts of our brain that are involved in the process of decision making. Now, you might be thinking, “but yeah, this is about persuasion.” But think about, what is persuasion about leading someone to have new beliefs have a new way of seeing something, believing something, and then often making decisions based on that new belief system? So all of this it's decision-making that is a huge part of this. The next step after persuasion happens after the influencing is happening. So the point is that it's very complex inside of our brains, just ask Berkeley, UC Berkeley, ask Harvard. They did this interesting study on politics and how we choose our political candidates and it seems like we would choose them based on the best person for the job.

Right. But it is even more true than we realize it is that we choose people who seem kind of like us, like they're in our camp. They use the word tribe, which I try not to use, but it's kind of like, okay, this person seems to believe the way I do and does this match up with my identity? Does me voting for this person match up with my identity? And I think this is where things get really… they start to feel a lot more solid, a lot less fluid. So many of us when we talk about identity and confirmation bias. So that's really where I want us to focus our energy. And one of the best books that I have read about this, you've probably heard me talk about it lots of times, is Made to Stick by chip and Dan Heath. And the way they talk about this was really an insight for me.

They talk about identity and how our connection with our own identity is so powerful that it will literally have us not be open to seeing or hearing things that might mess with that identity. And that could be that, you know, the identity of, I am a Midwesterner, I'm a Californian. This is what we do. It can go all the way down to regional. I am from West Marin. This is how we do it in West Marin. And you hear this kind of language all the time. I mean, we, I hear it in our West Marin area. This is who we are. This is what we believe. This is what we care about, but you also of course hear this in politics all the time. You know, those liberals, those extreme liberals, you know, the extreme conservatives, the far-right people. And then, with that, we're creating this whole concept as like an externality, like those people over there.

Well, when we are inside of these groups ourselves, we also take on this identity. And when we take on this identity, it's very hard. If we don't see that we're doing it, it can be very hard to hear and open ourselves up to ideas that are outside of what a person would consider, who is of that identity. So if I'm a feminist woman, I remember when I was in graduate school, I cannot for the life of me, remember the name of the book, but I studied communication and I was doing some research on interpersonal communication and I was studying marriage. And I read this book about how a wife should be in marriage. And it was definitely like, have dinner on the table, greet your husband at the door with a big bow on your beautifully adorned body. And I remember the desire, the strong desire in me to shut down, to literally like, not try to understand this the author or the people to whom she was speaking.

And yet, because I was doing academic research, I kind of needed to come at this with as much openness and understanding as possible. And it was really fascinating and valuable. I think that's one of the first times that I dove deep on really having to break through my own identity as a feminist woman who believed in a kind of equality in my marriage and relationships that was not reflected in that book. And I think that has served me well at other times, but I forget all the time, of course, because I too am wrapped up in my identity. So we've got this sense of identity and in Made to Stick the way that they talk about it, because their book is really about how to create messages that stick and messages that stick, by the way, are the kind that create the greatest influence and persuasion.

Right? So that's what they're talking about ultimately to those messages that speak to the highest identity, the like not just who you are, but who you see yourself as in your asked moments that how we want to be upheld as humans. That's how we want to see ourselves. And that's how we want others to see us, as a very good whatever it is that we think we are. Right. So a very good Californian, a very good conservative, a very good liberal, again, the words aren't always very good, but clear. Like I fit into my category with my people. Well, and I'm saying all of this, not so that you can point fingers or I can point fingers at other people and go see what they're doing. They're just like all the other, you know, whatever's there, just like all the other stay-at-home moms who blame us, moms who are working or think it's wrong to be working, or they're just like all the other working moms who don't understand our desire to, and our belief around raising our kids ourselves.

It's not about pointing the fingers. It's actually even more about us seeing this for ourselves. Because when we understand that these powers of influence, these six factors that I named compete today in our brain, that's like continually creating inputs to reinforce this static. Yeah. The idea of who you are and what you believe have this seemingly static identity. That is our biggest problem. That's what gets in the way. Most of them, our ability to live our best life and in some cases save our own lives, right? So as we're trying to make decisions, and again, this brings me back to thinking about coronavirus and, you know, world pandemic and our own health and wellbeing. We're surrounding ourselves with people who reaffirm. You've heard me talk about confirmation bias before. Our brain wants to keep thinking what it was thinking before. Our brain is an efficient machine and it’s to save our life.
And its goal is to burn as few calories as possible. And so it's looking for anything that affirms what it was already believing, as long as it's consistent with the idea that this will continue to keep you not just, you know, alive physically, but also alive from an ego perspective, in a place of power and authority or influence, because that is where your greatest life saving is, right? It's like, Hey, if you're in a position of power, then you'll be able to save your own life. If you get into a difficult situation. So we have this idea that we are a static identity. Again, we're not thinking these things consciously most of the time, even if we know it. I mean, I know these things, maybe, you know a lot of these things, but the more we can see that these factors of persuasion are working on us all the time, just like they are working on the people who we are interacting with, who we want to influence in a difficult conversation or in our leadership.

When we can see that, then we create space. We create space around these concepts, space around these factors, these unconscious factors. And when we create that space with a better view, think of it. Like, you know how when you're standing up super, super close to something like your view of it gets foggy, you just can't see the detail of it. You can't see the whole picture of it, right? But if you just step back a little bit, put a little space between you and the thing you're trying to see, everything comes into a better view. You get a better context for it. You can kinda zoom in on the details a little bit better, and at least also see how they work together. Well, that's true too, about the people that we are in these conversations with, and it's true too about ourselves. So when we are willing, really from a neutral position as neutral of a position as possible, maybe like a college student, who's about to write a paper.

Like I was writing a paper about that, very, I would say, traditional view. Gosh, I wish I could think of that book. If I find it, I'll put it in the show notes. I tried to find it, but I couldn't find it. Like that college student, everything in me said, “Oh my gosh, this is not, this cannot be helpful.” But when I got distanced from that, there were beautiful things that I was able to see. I saw a strong desire in this author and the people she was writing this book for to have a connected relationship with their partner. I saw a really powerful willingness to try different things. There was a lot of experimentation in there around what would help keep the spark alive. What would help support the relationship and support their partner in them trying to do the things that they valued out in the world.

Now, again, it's not the way that I would have done it, but I immediately went to, “Wow, this is not who I am. This is not what I believe.” These people are, you know, have no ability to think logically that I couldn't have seen those things and really learned from the book. And I did, it was kind of a sweet experience. It was cool, and I've had this experience in conversations that I've had lately in these last four conversations. I mentioned a few of them were with people that I really love. One of them with someone very, very close to me that I care a lot about. And I know that we believe, we’re politically on opposite ends, but in my mind, this relationship is more important to me than anything that either one of us believes. And so normally we avoid the conversation entirely.

And I have to say over the years, it has created, especially these last couple of years, it has created a greater distance. It's like there were more and more things we couldn't talk about until finally recently I said, “You know what? I really want to talk about this. I want to hear you. And I promise you. And I said, I love you. And I respect you. So I know that there is a reason that you believe what you believe. And I just really want to hear it. And I promise you, I won't counter it. I promise you. I won't tell you all the reasons I think you're wrong.” And it was hard at first because I really did want to have this conversation. And I got to learn some really cool things. No, I did not walk away agreeing, but I know we felt closer. I certainly did. I felt closer and I definitely felt like I understood better where they were coming from. And in fact, they invited me into a challenge.

They said, why don't you watch my favorite news channel? Why don't you watch my favorite news channel for 10 days? I would love to know what you think. And I haven't done this yet. Not quite there yet, but I'm really on the verge. I don't know if I could do 10 days, but if I did it for three, like literally turned away from my news channels, from my people, my sources of information, my places of influence and just tried to understand what might happen. And honestly, so yes, from a place of relationship, but also as leaders, as people who want to influence the world, we can preach to the choir all day long. We can speak in our echo chambers as we call it, but that's not where real change is going to happen. That's not where new connections, new growth and possibly shrinking these chasms is.

And yes, I'm talking about the political one, but I'm also talking about any of them that you might be experiencing. You've got a room full of people who, you know, their lives could be powerfully changed if they understood the way that food is impacting their health and wellbeing in a very real way and a life-changing way. If you're not willing to listen to where they're coming from to really, really hear what gets in their way, what they're ready to hear right now and what they're not ready to hear right now, the likelihood of them opening up to what you have to say is significantly smaller. See that place of understanding how they work and how you work gives you so much ability to make a positive difference, to be a force for good in your own relationships, in your own life, in your own connections, but also in your leadership.

All of us are working inside of, especially when we're not conscious of it, confirmation bias and attachment to our identity. The six factors of influence that have been studied over and over and over again. It's not like we can't do anything about it. The power is in seeing it just like it always is. So there's so little to do. I'm not going to tell you now to go study influence and see if you can put all these factors into play. No. Understand persuasion and understand how persuasion is playing out in your own life and in the life of the people you care about. And the people you want to influence so that you can see the spaces where connection is possible, where that influence, where that persuasion, especially the unconscious parts of it, start to fall away. It doesn't have the same power when you look at it.

It's kind of like they say, not that persuasion is a monster, but you know how they say like in, I dunno, old kids’ movies and cartoons and stuff, you turn on the light and the monster is gone. It's like that, like, “Oh, I see what's going on here. I'm super attached to my own identity. You know, I'm focused on, I actually kind of like this person better. That's why I'm believing them. I see them as an authority. And I don't see this other person as an authority.” Why is that? Just because of my identity, my sense of identity. And we can just start to ask the questions. I don't want you to go do a big assessment. I don't want you to write a big paper about this. Your ability to see this gives spaciousness around it such that you will be able to talk to people and make a difference in their lives in a way that has so much more positive, thoughtful, caring, loving energy, and that can absolutely change someone else's life.

And honestly, when it comes to making decisions around our own life, decisions around our health decisions around whether you, you know, go to that party or don't go to that party right now, wear a mask or don't wear a mask right now, if you can see what is influencing your decision making and put some space around it, it allows you to more cleanly tap into what you believe, what you believe underneath all of those external factors. And that's where life-changing stuff happens all around. So there it is. This is how an understanding of persuasion in your own life and in the lives of others can save your life and certainly change lives, yours and others, in really positive ways. And you know that I want that for you because I know that you're here listening to this podcast and in my world, in this world with me, because you care deeply. And because you want to make a difference in the world in a way that is compassionate and thoughtful, and that isn't about a bunch of external factors, you know, guiding you without your awareness. Here's more spaciousness for more of that insight of your own around your own leadership. Because my friend you're here, you're listening to this, you're doing this work because you were made for this. And I know that because you know that. Now get out there and make that difference. I already can't wait to be here with you next week.

Thank you so much for being here with me on the Brilliance at Work Podcast. If you want to know how to tap your own most natural charisma as a business owner, leader and speaker, you can download a free copy of my book, Beyond Applause, Make a Meaningful Difference Through Transformational Ppeaking. This includes a free short course that helps you get crystal clear on the message at the heart of your work. You can get a free copy of this book and that short course at brillianceatwork.com/free book. I hope you'll love it.

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