Imagine your brand new customer sitting on the corner of his bed the night after he bought from you.

“I can’t believe I let that scumbag convince me to buy that worthless widget.”

That’s a customer who is defeated. Someone talked him into buying. Someone backed him into a corner he felt he could not escape.

Everyone has experienced this at least one point in their lives. It’s why we guard ourselves against sales and marketing attempts.

Now imagine a different scenario.

It’s the night after you sold him on your $2,000 widget. She is sipping some wine, maybe cooking a fancy dinner and listening to music. She’s excited. She did her homework and bought the best widget in her budget. She even got the salesperson to throw in some extras.

We have all experienced that too. We buy something that fulfills a desire. Nobody strong armed us or backed us into a corner. We made our own decision. It was 100% free-will.

The difference between the first scenario and the second is the difference between manipulation and persuasion.

The persuader in the second scenario led his prospect down a path. She came to a conclusion on her own to buy, preserving the self-esteem and dignity of the customer.

The manipulator strong-armed his customer. He backed him into a corner where a “no” would have been a contradiction.  He got the sale. Fine, but he stripped dignity out of the exchange.

Alternate Paths To A “Yes”

There are many ways to get to a yes.

In Zig Ziglar’s “Secrets Of Closing The Sale,” he makes a casual reference to persuasion. I’m paraphrasing here.

“Persuasion leads someone to change their mind while preserving their dignity.”

I’ve listened to that audio book several times over the years. I never noticed that profound comment until yesterday.

It’s an important distinction from manipulation. Manipulation is convincing someone to change their mind by stripping them of their dignity.

You can have a customer sitting on the edge of his bed sulking in regret, cursing you for tricking him. You can have a customer enjoying a glass of wine and fancy dinner, happy about her decision.


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Has it been six months since experiencing this level of angst? With the passage of time, you forget the negative feelings and remember only the positive. It’s human nature. Every few seconds I inched up a bit further. The color coded signals and lane assignments require laser focused attention.

Every few seconds I inched up a bit further. The color coded signals and lane assignments require laser focused attention.

Stay focused on “purple.” That’s what I told myself. Failure to heed your assignment disturbs the herd behavior. It invites a harsh tongue lashing. It’s something I’ve experienced once before.

Failure to heed your assignment disturbs the herd behavior. It invites a harsh tongue lashing. I experienced this once before. The crowd gets some perverse enjoyment from the public humiliation.

Finally, it’s my turn. I see the purple color flash with a number. I hurried my way over to the assigned station.

Of course, I refer to the checkout line at the Whole Foods near the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan.  I was in the neighborhood and decided to go there for lunch. At the checkout, there are six or seven aisles. A color coded board hangs from the ceiling. Each color flashes the cashier assignment. The numbers range from one to thirty.

If you miss your cashier assignment or go to the wrong one, customers waiting behind you let you know of your mistake. And they do it in a snobbish, scornful manner. I’ve seen powerful, rich, meat eating men in suits cut to shreds for paying more attention to their cell phone than their register assignment.

I get it. It’s lunchtime. People are hungry and want to eat. That feeling creates tension. It leads to irritable behavior.

The Power Of Angst

Nobody likes to feel angst, anxiety and tension. Like any feeling, you can exploit for positive or negative results. When you face scorn from your fellow customers for missing your check out assignment, there is no positive spin. In other cases, it gets us past inertia that keeps us from taking positive but uncertain actions.

In other cases, it gets us past inertia that keeps us from taking positive but uncertain actions.

It may sound evil to some but creating angst, anxiety and tension may do your audience some good.

Here’s what I mean.

I know all the logical arguments for eating healthy. I know I should do it. Here’s the reality. Knowing the facts isn’t enough to push me past my primal urges to gorge on cake and ice cream.

I need to feel the fear of eating unhealthy. I need to feel angst about the damage that will occur if I eat that piece of cake.

That’s how you get someone to take a painful, yet life-changing action. Create angst, anxiety and tension about their current, damaging behavior. Build it up to the point where their current path feels like a road to hell. Only then will she push past the natural inertia that craves the status quo.

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“Today marks my 46th year on earth. Holy crap!

46 years ago today James Taylor had the number one song in the U.S.A with “You’ve Got A Friend.”

To celebrate the day, my wife and I went out for a nice dinner. It’s an important story because it represents one of the few lessons I’ve learned in all these years.

We weren’t sure if we’d find a babysitter for the evening. Because of that, I avoided making a reservation – forgetting I could have just canceled it.

That morning, my dad said he could watch the kids. I looked up the restaurants in the area but none had availability at the time we needed.

I ended up booking a nice but boring restaurant. It’s in a shopping mall. There’s no ambiance at all. The food is good but forgettable. It’s also full of shoppers and their kids.

I told my wife where I made the reservation. She gave me a blank stare. I explained my reasoning. I want seafood and someplace new. Why not experiment on your birthday?

I thought about it for a minute. Then I said:

“You’re right. This is a bad idea. Let me try a few other places.”

We ended up going to a familiar restaurant. I wanted to eat a  new restaurant. I had to give up that desire. Instead, we ate somewhere familiar. But we sat outside surrounded by a garden, other adults and an attentive staff.

If I hadn’t admitted I made a mistake, we would have eaten at an overpriced, stodgy, loud restaurant in a shopping mall. Hardly the experience I crave for a birthday dinner.

My Goal For The Next Year

Admitting to your mistakes is a lesson (skill) some people never learn. There are other personal growth challenges I have yet to conquer.

In the next twelve months my focus is on one – overcoming part 2 of this equation:

Ignoring sunk costs and correcting mistakes.

What is the sunk cost fallacy? Here’s the thumbnail definition:

When your decisions are tainted by the accumulation of emotional investments. The greater the investment,  the harder it becomes to abandon it.

Here is how we typically verbalize it:

I’ve invested so much into this [job, project, relationship, etc…]. I can’t just walk away from it.

I have ten years of experience in this field. If I quit now it will all be for nothing.

Yes, I course corrected on my poor choice of restaurants. That was a low risk, low stakes change.

Here is where it gets high stakes. How do you overcome accumulated sunk costs? These are the ones we hang onto for months and years.

This is why I spent ten years in a career that didn’t suit me. It’s why I continue projects that serve no purpose or face no realistic shot at succeeding.

Sunk cost is an evil demon that hijacks good judgment. Here is my goal for the next 365 days. If I make it the entire year without saying these words or any of its first cousins, I’ll consider it a success:

…But I’ve already put in so much effort. I can’t quit now. That would kill me.

No, it won’t. I can quit. Let’s see if I will.


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