The Psychology Of Selling

Consider the following scenarios:

Every day hundreds of people die due to a lack of treatment for preventable diseases.

Yesterday a woman by the name of Sarah Hart, a mother of three, was found dead outside her home after missing for twelve days.

Which one affected you more? The hundreds of dead, or wife and mother Sarah Hart?

Chances are you were much more affected by Sarah Hart than the untold hundreds. This is the identifiable victim effect, which is when we have a stronger emotional response to the traumas of a single identified person versus a group. But this isn’t limited to just traumatic experiences, it is also used when attempting to persuade someone to buy something, in that case it’s called testimonials.

Weight loss infomercials excel at this. It begins by presenting you with an ‘overweight’ everyday Joe or Jane and presenting a story that ties you emotionally to them. Once you have identified with the person they then show you what was achieved in thirty, or sixty days later. By changing things such as the music, lighting, angling of the camera, clothing, stance etc you are immediately filled with a sense of hope, excitement, pride, and within the next few seconds longing; as the narrator tells you, that you too can experience the remarkable transformation.

Identifiable victim effect is also one of the first forms of persuasion that we learn. Back when are children we quickly discover that by producing tears where there are none, or twisting our faces into the deepest frowns imaginable we can convince our parents to comply.

Another aspect to consider when persuading someone is source characteristics. Source characteristics are the attractiveness, perceived credibility, and expertise of the person delivering the message. This is when the halo effect can come into play and have a powerful role in determining whether we believe what is said.

In our infomercial example the source characteristics come from both  the narrator and the participants. Comparing the before and after pictures highlights the gains in attractiveness, this is heightened by showing the extremes of each case.

In the before pictures the person will appear in a general state of unhappiness, darker lighting, loose baggy clothing, slouching, these factors combine to gear our thinking toward unattractive. In the after picture the participant appears well dressed, usually in something that highlights their weight loss, they are beaming, the lighting is significantly better, even the music is more upbeat. All of this combines to gear our thinking toward attractive.

Credibility comes from the pictures and short documentaries that accompany these programs. Expertise comes from the narrator that rattles off a number of endorsements and statics which help to create the general appearance of being knowledgeable about the topic.

Top this all off with the influence receiver characteristics have and you now have a powerful piece of persuasion. These infomercials tend to play late at night or early in the morning, automatically targeting a certain population, and given the time we are more likely to have negative thoughts toward ourselves and be in lower states of arousal which can slow down our ability to fully think. It is no wonder we are willing to commit to three easy payments of $____, thanks to an offer that only last if we call within the next ten minutes.

Implanting the desire to be like the participants, and imparting a sense of urgency through a time sensitive offer is an excellent way to put a stop to our ability to fully process and think about what we are being told. Making us much more likely to go with whatever urges or desires we are experiencing at the moment.

The ability to persuade is a powerful tool that can be used anywhere and at any time, by setting up the correct source characteristics,  timing your pitch when the receiver is most susceptible, and supplying someone or thing for the receiver to identify with, it becomes surprisingly simple  to persuade.

Being aware of the fundamental aspects of persuasion will help you to better detect when it is occurring to you, and may even keep you from completing that impulse buy at four in the morning.



Estimating and Guesstimating The Power Of Mental Shortcuts

Everyone likes a shortcut, whether its a faster way to get home from work in the evening or a quick weight loss diet plan. We all like to get results fast. Our brain’s are no exception to this. While there are some things such as regulating heartbeat and blood pressure that our brain’s can’t skimp on there is plenty that it can. This is estimating and guesstimating come in, in the psychology realm their known as heuristics.

Heuristics are the processes the brain uses to make estimations about something but only after it has stockpiled enough support through previous instances. While heuristics are helpful since they allow for snap judgments and ‘gut feelings’ they can also be very damaging since our snap judgments and ‘gut feelings’ are not always right.

Right or wrong heuristics come in three basic variations, representative, anchoring, and availability.

Representative Heuristics: Where stereotypes are born…

The representative heuristic is what allows us to say, if it looks like a dog, and smells like a dog, it’s a dog. It’s also what allows jurors to decide that the blurred man they watched on the video of the store robbery is the same man sitting in front of them awaiting conviction. Or that the brown-skinned man speaking on his cell phone in line behind you is a terrorist, despite those conclusions being entirely false.

Anchoring Heuristics: Why it’s so hard to change someone’s mind…

As the name suggest the anchoring heuristic involves making estimations on how likely an event is to occur based on a previously determined likeliness. Consider the following, it has rained all week, it’s now Saturday morning and you’ve been invited to the beach. You may have already decided that it is extremely likely that it is going to rain today. Your friend tells you that it’s a beautiful day outside and that there isn’t a rain cloud in sight, you may now shift  from thinking it is extremely likely to thinking it is likely. This subtle shift based off of your previous estimation is the anchoring heuristic at work.

Availability Heuristic: The media’s best friend…

Take a moment and recall as many instances as you can of the media reporting a successful flight.  You probably can’t think of many if at all, now take a moment and recall as many instances as you can of the media reporting an unsuccessful one. This is much easier to recall, if you’re having trouble with that one try this one. How many instances can you recall of the media reporting economic growth an increase in jobs etc. Maybe a handful of instances, now try to recall instances of the media reporting economic collapse, decreases in jobs, increases in unemployment etc. Those instances are so fresh that they require almost no effort to bring forth.

This is the availability heuristic, it is the mind’s tendency to make decisions and judgments based on how easily it is to recall something, regardless of how often it occurs in life. The availability heuristic is why it’s so easy for you or your significant other, or parent, or child to recall all the instances of wrong doing, and to label each other as a ‘horrible person.’ For the most part the majority of people treat their loved ones good, so good that good becomes the norm, and the few times something that is perceived as wrong occurs it becomes a spectacle in the victims mind that will be remembered.

Heuristics are only one of the many techniques used by the brain to process all the information we are constantly exposed to. And while for the most part they are employed to our benefit, such as skipping the first gas station in favor of the second which is usually cheaper they can also be used against us. Being aware of them and being able to identify when your brain is relying on them is one more step in becoming more aware of how your own mind works.

Whether you are anchoring yourself like a ship coming to a stop, allowing your affection for someone to grow by recalling their love, or relying on stereotypes and assumptions to avoid dangerous situations, heuristics are there to be used. So use them.

Grabbing The Bull By The Horns

Today we’re going to look at different coping mechanisms that people use to deal with problems that arise in their day-to-day lives. In general there are two types of coping styles, problem-focused, and emotion-focused both of which come with their own pro’s in con’s.

Pro’s and Con’s of Problem-Focused Coping

When taking this route a pro would be eliminating or reducing the issue, a bonus, for those of you who are action oriented people is the feeling of doing something, and getting something accomplished. Whereas a con for is that you may come off as insensitive to others, or take a course of action that does more harm than good.

Pro’s and Con’s of Emotion-Focused Coping

For those out there who are more in tune to their emotions and the emotions of others this tends to be a preferred method of dealing with issues that arise. A pro is that you become more aware of how the issue is affecting everyone on an emotional level, as well as, strengthening social bonds and achieving some measure of personal growth. The con’s however are that if your attempts to resolve the issue fail you may be overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness, you also run the risk of alienating yourself from those who want to do something about the issue.

Problem-Focused CopingWhat’s It Like

The simplest example of problem-focused coping is confronting the issue as soon as it arises, also known as confrontation. An example would be if you live in an apartment complex and have neighbors that are extremely loud, all the time. You might go over to them and ask, or tell, them to keep their music and noise down, and your neighbors, may or may not comply.

A more advanced and effective version of confrontation is going with a planned solution. Instead of demanding that your neighbors keep it down, you can come up with a plan of action on how to reduce or eliminate the noise problem. This could involve contacting the land lord and informing them of a noise violation.

Both of these solutions have faults. In the confrontation solution you run the chance of escalating the situation to something more by aggravating your neighbor, by coming off as insensitive or rude.

In the planned solution not only do you run the chance of aggravating the neighbor, but you also run the chance of falling out of favor with the land lord who, depending on how you present the problem, may come to see you as a demanding tenant who will be difficult to have.

Emotion-Focused Coping: What’s it Like

Using the above example of the loud neighbor there are a few ways to approach it from an emotion-focused point of view. The first of which, and the least effective, being wishful thinking which is essentially hoping that the neighbor will eventually stop or get tired of their own music. Adopting this route will only cause you more discomfort as the issues persists, you may even confide in friends about the issue which would give you so measure of relief but ultimately does not resolve anything and may lead to your friends becoming frustrated with your complaints.

Another form of emotion-focused coping is reappraisal. Which is to change how you view the issue, this can be extremely useful in certain situations and is most commonly called looking at the silver lining. The issue with this is that some issues, such as an overly loud neighbor may not have enough silver lining to permit a successful reappraisal.

So What Can I Do?

The key is to be flexible, there are a number of different types of problem and emotion-focused coping styles that people use everyday without even being aware of it. Those with the most success are the ones who combine both problem and emotion-focused coping and are able to adapt it to any situation.

In our example, a way of combining the two would be to adopt the planned solution style of problem-focused, and combine it with the reappraisal style of emotion-focused coping. By changing how you view the situation you may glean some possible insight into why your neighbor is creating so much noise in the first place.

Chances are they are really bored and need something to do, or they don’t realize how loud they are. The planned problem-focused coping comes in handy by, under your new frame of reference, allowing you to think up possible solutions to the problem in which everyone is happy.

One such solution may be to go over and find out if your neighbor really is bored, and perhaps befriending them. If they aren’t, or they aren’t someone you would like to be friends with, you can still go over and in a non-aggressive way let them know how loud they are.

You can also always have them come over when their music is playing so that they can hear just how loud they are. There aren’t many people out there who aren’t willing to compromise, especially when approached in a way that doesn’t immediately put them on guard.

Coping is something that we use everyday, and almost all the time, although people don’t pay it much attention until something drastic like a death or a big break up occurs. The best way for anyone to go about coping is to first figure out what they primarily are, problem-focused, or emotion-focused.

Once you’ve become aware of you’re particular type of coping, you can tweak it to address its weaknesses and adopt it to various situations. and tweaking it to address its weaknesses, and becoming flexible enough to adopt other coping methods when necessary.

Remember not everything can be resolved with a punch, or with a kind word, sometimes it takes a bit of both.

So tell me, how do you cope with things?


How’s Your GAS?

Everyone knows that everyone’s GAS is a little different, and today we’re going to talk about how you can become more aware of your own GAS and use it in a way to make your day a little bit easier. GAS is primarily a stress response, it can be, and is, triggered by any degree of stress and any type of stress whether it be good or bad.

But before we get too caught up in GAS, it’s worth taking a moment to explain what GAS really is…G.A.S, stands for General Adaptation Syndrome, what’d you think it stood for? The thing happens when you’re digesting food? General Adaptation Syndrome, more commonly referred to as GAS is not a syndrome, it simply has the word syndrome in its name.

It was first discovered by psychologist Hans Seyle, and that’s all we’re going to say about that. GAS is the combination of physical and emotional responses your body goes through when introduce to stress of any level. GAS is composed of three levels, or phases, level 1 or the reaction stage, level 2 or the resistance stage, and level 3 or the exhaustion stage.

Level 1 GAS the Unexpected Surprise: Reaction

Most stressors (stressful event) that we experience throughout the day come and go so fast that they don’t make it past this stage. An example would be getting surprised by someone sneaking up on you, you react with a shout, your heart rate spikes, and your senses may jump into a temporary state of hyper-arousal. However, the shock of being snuck up on is usually gone in less than a minute.

Just like the reaction stage, which is, as the name suggests, the stage in which your body initially responds to the stressor.

Level 2 GAS the Chronic Offender: Resistance

If the stressor persists past the reaction stage, your body begins to launch its long-term defenses, which essentially involve pulling up reserves of energy to maintain whatever physical and mental state is needed to combat the stressor.

An example that just about everyone can relate to is the morning traffic-filled commute to work. During these commutes you are constantly exposed to two main stressors, the first of which being time, the clock is always against you when you’re stuck in traffic which makes for a very common and very persistent stressor. The second constant stressor is the traffic itself, having to constantly stop and go, and sometimes stop at the last second creates stress on its own as your hopes are repeatedly raised and crushed.

The body’s reactions to this is to enter a state of hyper-awareness, of not only your surroundings but of the impending feeling of doom of being late to work yet again. The cost of maintaining such a high level of arousal is seen in the frustration and anger of being stuck in traffic. Combined with the other stressors this can, and does lead to impaired judgement, unnecessary risk, and in some cases irrational behavior.

Level 3 GAS the Executioner: Exhaustion

The name says it all, your body has used up all of its emergency resources and then some and the stressors still haven’t gone away. Your defenses have fallen away a long time ago and you’re wide open for any infections, colds, flues, diseases, or any other bad guy out there.

Hopefully no one is reaching level 3 on a day-to-day, or even year to year basis. An example of this, and a phenomenon that is on the rise is the development of PTSD. The common thought is that PTSD is triggered by one overwhelming traumatic event, the truth is, it can be triggered by this but it is also triggered by prolonged exposure to chronic stressors, and you don’t have to be in the military to develop it.

Another way to determine if you’ve reached level 3 or not is if your dead. Sadly enough, this stage is also indicated by death, such as starving, or freezing to death.

So what’s the point? GAS is nice but what’s it have to do with me?

Good question, the point is now that you’re aware of the levels of GAS and how it relates to you, you can do something to combat it. The simplest thing to do when confronted with a chronic stressor is to, if possible, set it aside. Often enough just setting aside whatever is stressing you out at work, clearing your head and coming back to it, is enough to eliminate or reduce the stress part of the task.

But what if I can’t put it aside, what if I need to address it here and now?

Another good question and here’s the answer. If you’re confronted with a chronic stressor that you can’t set aside, like your boss demanding to know why such and such failed, or the progress of project x, then the simplest and most immediate solution is to take a mental step back.

No matter how angry or impatient your boss is taking those few seconds to distance yourself mentally will do you both some good. Look at it this way, would you and your boss prefer it if you spit out the first, and probably inaccurate, thing that came to mind, and then had to apologize as you scramble to find the right answer. Or would it be better to take a deep breath, take a step back mentally, get your thoughts in order and provide your boss with the correct answer.

IMHO the answer is obvious.

A note about taking that mental step back, I don’t mean shift your thoughts to something else entirely. What I mean is to take the emotion out of it, get rid of the sense of urgency (deep breaths help here), get rid of as much of the dislike you have toward your boss as possible, get rid of the annoyance at being interrupted, set it aside for later and focus on the facts, the rest will be ready and waiting for you as soon as you’re done.

And if your boss is one of those extremely impatient ones that don’t believe in not being ready 10 minutes ago just politely ask for a second to gather your thoughts. Phrasing it as a question “may I have a second to gather my thoughts,” instead of a statement “give me a second to gather my thoughts,” goes a long way. The question style immediately makes your boss feel empowered, and makes him/her more likely to calm down, and shows them that you’re responsible/mature enough to know your limits and know when you need a second.

In the end, don’t let your GAS get the better of you, cause no one likes to be around someone whose gassy.

Feel free to post what techniques you use to manage your own GAS.