There are three sales expressions that have consistently been shown to work in almost any situation. They’re practical, easy to use and based on years of study.
People don’t want to be persuaded. They don’t want to be ‘forced’ to do something, so the first of the three expressions is simply this: ‘You are free to choose’.
Why does it work so well? Because it tags onto the end of your request a phrase that reaffirms people’s freedom to choose.
When my sons were young I would use this technique to stop them from swinging from a dangerous tree, trying to jump over a fast running stream, or just discouraging them to test the temperature of a domestic appliance by holding it against their bare skin. ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you. But it’s up to you’ I would say. Okay, so maybe it didn’t always work but, on the upside, I did get good value out of the Harrogate and District Hospital A&E service.
Chris Carpenter of Western Illinois University carried out research in this area involving some 22,000 people. What he discovered was that by simply adding the phrase ‘But you are free to choose…’ doubled the chances of people saying ‘yes’ to a request. The only phrase that achieved a higher success rate was ‘Or I’ll kill all your family’.
But that would probably work too.
The word ‘but’ is inherently confrontational BUT, when used with the second most successful expression it works well.
Sales expression number two is: This might not be right for you but…’
It comes from the same basic psychology that we don’t like to be hemmed in and have our choices reduced. That only serves to make us even more closed-minded. The important thing is that the request is made face-to-face, otherwise the power of the technique diminishes.
As with all effective methods of influence rather than persuasion, this whole technique is about ‘helping’ other people come to the decision you want through their own free will. They need to feel like it was their decision. And it means they are less likely to change their mind later. Respecting people’s autonomy has the happy side-effect of also making them more open to your influence.
And the third expression is “When you say..”. Whenever someone makes a statement or gives you an objection the best way to progress the conversation is to use what psychologists call ‘linear questioning’ where you repeat back – in part – what they say so that the other person really feels that you are truly listening to them. And ‘When you say…’ helps you do exactly that.
Article by Phil Hesketh, an expert specialising in Persuasion and Influence