Tag Archives: persuasion

The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind by Jonah Berger – Here are my seven lessons and takeaways

The Catalyst, BergerOne definition of persuasion:
Changing someone’s mind, attitude, or behavior.


Have you ever changed your mind?
Have you ever shifted your thinking?  A little?  Or a whole lot?
Have you ever been persuaded to buy a product or service?  Maybe a product or service you did not even know that you needed?

From the earliest days of any thoughts about communication, we have been interested in how to persuade others.  One wording for the definition of rhetoric, from the classical genius Aristotle, was “rhetoric is the art of finding the available means of persuasion.”  And, he recommended three primary means of persuasion:

  • logos – the logical appeal – your message makes sense; is logical
  • pathos – the emotional appeal – your appeal stirs the emotions of your audience, pointing in the direction of your message. And, you demonstrate emotion in the delivery of your message.
  • ethos – the ethical appeal – you come across as credible; you know your stuff; you are trustworthy; and you come across as trustworthy. You do not seek to mislead.

Though we do not know the source of this, there is also a fourth appeal (some near-contemporary of Aristotle), a fourth means of persuasion:

  • mythos – the narrative appeal. Your use of stories, you inclusion of the audience into the ongoing story, can be a very persuasive tool.

And, this is critical:  no one of the four is likely to get the job done.   A combination of the four is likely what is needed.

All of this is ancient wisdom.  And yet people do not change their minds very often.  And a whole lot of experts, with their very best efforts, do not succeed at persuading others as often as they would like.

Here is one reason;  I am fully convinced that persuasion is not something that I do to you or you do to me; persuasion is something that I do to myself; and you do to yourself.

In other words, all persuasion is self-persuasion.

That idea – that all persuasion is really self-persuasion – is an idea worth keeping top of mind.  And if it is true, how does one persuade others.  Maybe we don’t.  Maybe we simply act as a good catalyst for that other person, to help them persuade himself/herself.

This role of catalyst to help others persuade themselves is pretty much the much the heart of the excellent book by Jonah Berhger:  The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind.  I presented my synopsis of this book for the May First Friday Book Synopsis (delivered on ZoomYou can watch my presentation by clicking here).

As with practically all for the books I present, I fully recommend this book.  If you are in sales; if you are seeking to gain agreement with team memebrs, of a client, or…anybody..this book would be worth a careful reading.

The book is filled with good, truly illustrative stories; to many to mention in this post.  But here are some of the elements of my synopsis (I included these in pretty much all of my presentations):

  • What is the point?
  • Use all the strategies you can, but understand this:  all persuasion is self-persuasion.  Your job is to be the catalyst to help enable self-change.
  • Why is this book worth our time?

#1 – This book explains why persuasion is so very difficult.
#2 – This book explains why so many messages attempted messages of persuasion have practically no chance of working.
#3 – This book provides some strategies that make persuasion possible; while demonstrating that all persuasion is self-persuasion.

• Some Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages:
• Everyone has something they want to change.  But change is hard.
• People have a need for freedom and autonomy.  …Consequently, people are loath to give up agency.
• Before people will change, they have to be willing to listen. They have to trust the person they’re communicating with. And until that happens, no amount of persuasion is going to work.
• Change is hard, because people tend to overvalue what they have.
Everyone is worried about the risk of doing something new. …they tend to spend less time thinking about something equally important: The risks of doing nothing.
• When the status quo is terrible, it’s easy to get people to switch. They’re willing to change because inertia isn’t a viable option. But when things aren’t terrible, or are just okay but not great, it’s harder to get people to budge. …Terrible things get replaced, but mediocre things stick around.
• If we just share more evidence, list more reasons, or put together the right deck, people will switch. But just as often this blows up in our faces. Rather than shifting perspectives, people dig in their heels.
• Venture capitalists often refer to products and services as vitamins or painkillers. Nice-to-haves (e.g., vitamins) that can be put off until later, or need-to-haves (e.g., painkillers) that people can’t live without.
• Give people a choice between a certain, good thing and an uncertain but potentially better thing and see what they pick. You probably said you would pick the sure thing. … Why? Because people are risk averse. They like knowing what they are getting, and as long as what they are getting is positive, they prefer sure things to risky ones.
• New things almost always involve uncertainty, so if it’s not clear how much better something new will be, might as well play it safe and stick with the status quo.
• The one that explained the most variance in the studies he (Rogers) reviewed, was a concept he called “trialability.” Simply put, trialability is how easy it is to try something. The ease with which something can be tested or experimented with on a limited basis.
• The easier it is to try something, the more people will use it, and the faster it catches on.

Here are some of the key points I pulled from the book:

  • Get this — this is the whole ball game:
  • all persuasion is self-persuasion.To lower this barrier, catalysts encourage people to persuade themselves.
  • the “persuader” is simply a “catalyst” for self-persuasion
  • Pushing harder does not workWhether trying to change company culture or get the kids to eat their vegetables, the assumption is that pushing harder will do the trick.
  • The problems; the enemies of persuasion
  • the power of inertia – Just like moons and comets, people and organizations are guided by conservation of momentum. Inertia. They tend to do what they’ve always done. 
  • The Five Principles — Reactance, Endowment, Distance, Uncertainty, and Corroborating Evidence can be called the five horsemen of inertia. Five key roadblocks that hinder or inhibit change.
  • These five ways to be a catalyst can be organized into an acronym. Catalysts reduce Reactance, ease Endowment, shrink Distance, alleviate Uncertainty, and find Corroborating Evidence. Taken together, that forms an acronym, REDUCE. Which is exactly what great catalysts do. They REDUCE roadblocks. They change minds and incite action by reducing barriers to change. 
  • Principle 1 – Reactance — Restriction generates a psychological phenomenon called reactance. An unpleasant state that occurs when people feel their freedom is lost or threatened.
  • When pushed, people push back — people have an innate anti-persuasion system.
  • telling people not to do something has the opposite effect: it makes them more likely to do it.
  • To reduce reactance, catalysts allow for agency. Four key ways to do that are: (1) Provide a menu, (2) ask, don’t tell, (3) highlight a gap, and (4) start with understanding. 
  • Principle 2: Endowment
  • People are wedded to what they’re already doing. And unless what they’re doing is terrible, they don’t want to switch.
  • The status quo bias is everywhere.
  • So how do we ease endowment? Two key ways are to (1) surface the cost of inaction, and (2) burn the ships.
  • Principle 3: Distance
  • Another barrier is distance. If new information is within people’s zone of acceptance, they’re willing to listen. But if it is too far away, in the region of rejection, everything flips.
  • the zone of acceptance and the region of rejection — Different people not only have different positions on the field, their zones of acceptance and regions of rejection vary as well.
  • people have “confirmation bias” – they believe what confirms what they already believe…
  • How do catalysts avoid the region of rejection and encourage people to actually consider what they have to say? (1) find the movable middle, (2) ask for less, and (3) switch the field to find an unsticking point.
  • When trying to change those who are further away, we need to start by asking for less, – Start with a place of agreement and pivot from there to switch the field.
  • Principle 4: Uncertainty
  • reducing risk by letting people experience things for themselves.
  • the birth of Zappos (Shoesite.com), and the idea of uncertainty – consider free shipping; and free and easy returns…
  • the one that explained the most variance in the studies he reviewed, was a concept he called “trialability.” Simply put, trialability is how easy it is to try something. The ease with which something can be tested or experimented with on a limited basis. (Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovationsauthor)
  • The question, then, is how to reduce uncertainty by lowering the barrier to trial.
  • (1) harness freemium, (2) reduce up-front costs, (3) drive discovery, and (4) make it reversible.
  • Principle 5: Corroborating Evidence
  • Some things just need more proof. More evidence to overcome the translation problem and drive change.
  • The “translation problem” – and, who, in your mind, has credibility (Aristotle: ethos)
  • repeat ideas; pretty quickly — Trying to change the boss’s mind? After stopping by her office, catalysts encourage colleagues to make a similar suggestion right away. Concentration increases impact.
  • is it a pebble, or a boulder – The more expensive, time-consuming, risky, or controversial something is, the less likely it is to be a pebble and the more likely it is to be a boulder. 

And here are my lessons and takeaways:

#1 – I’m not sure I’m going to be able to actually learn – i.e., implement; put into practice – these lessons.
#2 – People do not like to change. Much of anything.  We have to recognize this reality.
#3 – Big asks/big changes are much more unlikely than small asks/small changes.
#4 – Make your “next step” request easy; convenient; tolerable. – “Free,” trialability, returnability/refundability/reversibility helps.
#5 — Get really good at asking questions; and then listen to the responses. – Learn to pause, in order to listen!
#6 – The most obvious lesson is this – persuading others requires a strategy to assume the catalyst role, in order to make self-persuasion possible, and more likely.
#7 – AND…you could be wrong about something.  Where, about what, do you need to persuade yourself to change?

We are all, pretty much always, in the persuasion business.  We start by persuading our ourselves.  Then our family members, and our colleagues, and customers, and…pretty much everybody.

So, have you become a good catalyst for persuasion.  It not, this book is worth studying carefully.


My synopsis, with my comprehensive, multi-page handout, and the audio recording of my presentation ,will be available soon from the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  Click here for our newest additions.

Pre-Suasion is November 4 Book Synopsis Selection

At our November 4 First Friday Book Synopsis, I will present the blockbuster best-seller pre-suasionbookcoverentitled Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini (Simon & Schuster, 2016).  This book has been on the Wall Street Journal business-best selling list for two consecutive weeks.  It debuted on the list at # 2 on September 17-18, and stands at # 7 in the edition published September 24-25 (p. C10).

As of this writing, the book is #74 overall on Amazon.com and # 1 in three different business book categories on the list.

You can read a review of this book by Carol Travis that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on September 17 by clicking HERE.

The book receives acclaim due to its heavy reliance on experimental evidence to support its claims.  It has three major sections:  (1) key elements of attention, (2) mental processes of association, and (3) best practices.  While not foolproof, the message in the book is that preparing the influencee to receive the persuasive message is the most important part of convincing someone.

robertcialdinipictureCialdini is a social psychologist whose first book, Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion, was published in 1984.  That book was included on the list of the best 100 business books of all time.  He received his Ph.D from the University of North Carolina.  He is the CEO and President of Influence at Work, which focuses on ethical influence training, corporate keynote programs, and his own certified trainer method.

You can bet that this book will be a major draw at our event.  I look forward to presenting the synopsis on November 4.


What’s Logic Got To Do With It? – Thinking About The Role Of Emotion In The Pursuit Of Persuasion

How many commercials have you seen for Coca-Cola in your lifetime?  Something close to a gazillion (to adapt Forrest Gump’s word).  I’ve seen many of them and the ones for Pepsi, and 7UP, and… But given a choice, I always buy the Dr Pepper product.  (What can I say?, I’m from Texas!  In my youth, it was actual Dr Pepper.  Currently, it’s the Diet Cherry version.  Oh, for my youth back!).

I’m convinced that Coca-Cola (and a host of other companies) would pay you close to that gazillion figure, in cash, tomorrow afternoon, if you could do one thing:  create a commercial that, after one viewing, would get every viewer to buy their product, and only their product, for the rest of his/her life.

But you can’t create that commercial.  I don’t care how creative you are, how brilliant you are, you can’t create that commercial.  Why?  Because persuasion/rhetoric is not a science, it is an art.  It is imprecise, never guaranteed.

For example, Barack Obama was elected President with 52.87% of the popular vote.  That means, after all that campaigning, all those debates, he was unable to persuade some 47.13% of the people to vote for him.  By the way, my favorite illustration of this comes from Nolan Ryan.  Arguably the greatest candidate ever for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he had 5,714 career strikeouts and 7 career no-hitters.  Sandy Koufax, with four, is #2 on that list.  Ryan got 491 votes out of 497 votes cast.  (This was only the second highest percentage in history, at 98.79%.  Tom Seaver beat him with 98.84%, 425 out of 430 votes).

Now, I readily admit that it is an open question as to who the greatest pitcher of all time is.  But did Ryan’s accomplishments, his fame, qualify him to be in baseball’s Hall of Fame?  What idiot could possibly have failed to vote yes?  Yet, six idiots did exactly that.  (I searched, but could not find the quote – but as I remember, Nolan Ryan said something like this:  “I’d just like to find those 6 guys who did not vote for me.”)

According to Aristotle, rhetoric involves discovering and using the available means of persuasion, and are three primary means of persuasion – logosthe logical argument, the content of the argument itself; ethos, the ethical argument:  the quality of, the believability, the character, especially the credibility, of the speaker; and pathos, the emotional argument:  the passion of the speaker, the “I really care about this issue, and you should to” nature of the appeal.

We tend to believe that the “logic” of the argument should win the day.  But it’s not that simple.  And, frequently, the credibility of the speaker is more important than the logic of the argument.  But, even with those two in agreement (logic of argument  + credibility of speaker), the emotional appeal can still trump them both.

These thoughts all flow from my reaction to a short blog post, and then the video (below), from the Freakonomics blog.  I watched the video. It is really, really good.  It is unanswerable.  The logic is perfect.  But – the logic of the argument has not actually won the argument (I suspect it will be a long time before it does). The logic is unassailable.   But, as the ranter says, we won’t take this step because of “sentimental reasons.”

To reject the argument of this speaker is not logical.  It is an emotional rejection.  The subject — should we get rid of the penny?  Of course we should!  But we haven’t yet, and probably will not, anytime soon.

Here’s what Stephen Dubner wrote:

The Best Anti-Penny Rant Ever?
I’ve already used up
too much of your bandwidth complaining about the uselessness of pennies, but allow me to share with you a wonderful vlog rant by John Green on the many, many reasons why the penny (and the nickel, too) should be abolished. He is good.

And here’s the video. It is very, very funny.

All help is self-help – all persuasion is self-persuasion

Mincing no words, Seth Godin gets to the point (as he frequently does!).  Here’s part of what he wrote:


If you read a book that tries to change you for the better and it fails or doesn’t resonate, then it’s a self-help book.
If you read a book that actually succeeds in changing you for the better, then the label changes from self-help book to great book.
By the way, the only real help is self-help. Anything else is just designed to get you to the point where you can help yourself.

I agree.  And, just as all real help is self-help, all persuasion is self-persuasion.  A lot of people write and speak a lot of words hoping for one thing – that you will listen to their arguments closely enough and well enough to change your own thinking, feeling, or behaving/acting.

They can’t make you change (maybe they could – but that would be coercion, not persuasion).  Their best hope is to give you tools to help you change for yourself.

The First Step Toward Persuasion is Getting Someone’s Attention – The Idea Behind those Quiet John Hancock Commercials

In my classes (I teach speech) I teach that persuasion is to change someone’s mind, attitude, or behavior.  Of course, I can never change anyone’s mind, attitude, or behavior.  And neither can anyone else.  The best we can do is to provide the message so that an individual can change his or her own mind, attitude, or behavior.

And persuasion is the whole ball game.  In a marriage, in a family, in a job, in sales and marketing, I am always trying to get the other person (my wife, my children, my boss, my customer) to agree with me.

You may have noticed – we have a lot of messages thrown our way.  A whole lot.  And the message clutter is perpetually overwhelming.  Getting someone to pay attention to “my message” over the noise of all the other messages is a great step toward persuasion.  But this is no small task.

Quiet in the midst of noise -- from John Hancock

Which is why this is really interesting.  Slate.com has an article about those quiet, understated John Hancock ads: Soft Sell:  Why quiet, understated TV ads are so effective by Seth Stevenson.

These ads have been airing for almost two years now. They continue to be the quietest moments you’ll find anywhere on television (save for the occasional CBS Sunday Morning segment consisting solely of static wheat-field footage). “The reality is that very few people only watch TV today—they watch while they’re reading a magazine, looking at email, or answering a text,” says Jim Bacharach, vice president of brand communications for John Hancock. “What we have found, and confirmed in our tracking studies, is that the quiet of our ads makes people lift their heads and look up.”

Getting someone to look up, to listen, is a great first step.  And until that happens, persuasion is simply impossible.

The Long View vs. The Short View; or, the old “Forest for the Trees” issue – A Reflection on Learning from Reading Books

I have actually read a fair amount of Aristotle.  Not in the original language (although, a little bit of that too).  But in my graduate work in rhetoric, we had to read Aristotle.  And he is really, really important.  But, now, centuries later, his main ideas are usually summarized by others.  And the summaries are accessible, make sense, and are profound.  For many, a good summary is enough – enough information, enough to launch the thought processes that lead to real-world ideas and changes for the better.

From Aristotle, for example:  to be persuasive (rhetoric is all about finding the available means of persuasion), you need logos (a good logical argument), ethos (a good ethical case/argument — true credibility on the part of the speaker/writer), and pathos (a good emotional argument – an engaging “this matters to me” by the speaker/writer).  And a few others back from around the time of era of Aristotle add the power of a fourth element, mythos (the narrative appeal – this rings true to our story as a people/nation/company…).  Now Aristotle wrote on many other themes, but you get the point.  A person writes a book.  Others read it.  And with the passage of time, they are able to summarize, really effectively, the truths and principles and insights from books.  And it helps us understand.

I thought of all this as I read this excellent summary of a series of recent books on the financial crisis. What Caused the Economic Crisis?  The 15 best explanations for the Great Recession by Jacob Weisberg.  (from Slate.com and Newsweek – I read it on the Slate site).

Though the crisis is recent, there is a large number of books proposing explanations for the economic crisis with clear themes and explanations proposed for consideration.  Weisberg summarizes many of these, dividing the suggested explanations into themes and explanations, and concludes with this phrase:

But if we haven’t at least learned that our financial markets need stronger regulatory supervision and better controls to prevent bad bets by big firms from going viral, we’ll be back in the same place before you can say 30 times leverage.

I think the article is worth reading.  I have perused a few of the books mentioned, and the article does a good job summarizing the key explanations.  And learning these is important – we would really like to dig out of this crisis, and certainly to avoid similar crises in the future.

But the purpose of this post is more about the process of reading books and then learning something important from what we read.  None of us (ok – very few of us) can remember all that we read.  But we can remember key points, extract the most important principles and themes, and then allow these to inform our thinking and direct our practice.  That is why we read (at least, why we read nonfiction and business books) – to learn, to keep learning.

I have learned this from my own experience from reading, and presenting synopses of, business books.   In the last few months, I have read Outliers (Gladwell) and Talent is Overrated (Colvin), and learned that it takes 10,000 hours to get really, really good at something, and that those hours have to be spent in deliberate practice – practice for the purpose of getting better.  I have read 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch, learning that decisions can be better made if we look at their impact in the next 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years.  I have read The Opposable Mind (Martin) and discovered that to make the best decisions we need to hold two opposing ideas in our heads at the same time.

These are just a few of the “summaries” that I think of just from the last few months.  Are these books worth reading in their entirety?  Absolutely.  But with all of the stories, supporting information and data in the books, it is the key principles that matter, that shape my thinking, and that I remember most from reading these books.