Have you ever noticed that sometimes—even when there is no logical reason for it—your staff or your customers simply won’t take actions that are clearly in their best interests?

Beneath all of the logical processing that occurs in our minds, runs a much deeper, almost primitive evaluation system. It is this unconscious system that often needs to be convinced before a person takes action.

In any situation, individuals are rapidly and unconsciously evaluating the circumstance they find themselves in.  Using bias and problem solving, we make assumptions and assessments far more quickly than logical processing can occur. Individuals will often make rapid decisions based upon these primal systems, and then use their ‘logical' systems to create a justification for why that decision is correct.

By understanding and pre-empting this unconscious process, we can influence our customers and staff to take actions, to consider things logically, and to shift to higher quality behaviours and choices.

It all comes down to us helping them answer 3 unconscious questions:

  • Is it safe?
  • Will I be successful?
  • Will I be satisfied?

The first question is about survival, the second about achievement, and the third about satisfaction, all three of which reflect Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Each individual will have their own answers to these concepts; what is ‘safe’ for one person, might be risky for another.

People also operate across a range of ‘cognitive domains’ at the same time—for example material, comparative, social, physical and emotional.  An individual may be asking themselves these unconscious questions in any of these domains, and can even switch between them.

For example, you could be selling me a car on its ‘material’ benefits (safe, successful and satisfying) but I could be evaluating it unconsciously on its emotional or relational aspects; What will my wife think? How does it compare to Mr Jones’ car next door?

What can you do?

Seek to understand what domains of thinking people are operating within. Is it comparative? Is it material?  Is it social? Is it emotional?  Listen; then use this framework to communicate the action or behaviour change.

To be influential, you need to structure your messages to address the three questions of survival, achievement, and satisfaction, in order. Use positive language and check that they have answered the question before moving on.

1. Make it safe

  • Remove ambiguity and increase certainty
  • Don’t offer too many choices at once
  • Clearly describe how and why it will be ‘safe’ after the action or change. People would rather stay in an uncomfortable circumstance than change to an unknown one
  • Tell stories of how others were ‘safe’ by taking the action

2. Show them how they will be successful

  • Give them an understanding of how the change will make them successful
  • Demonstrate how not acting will be unsuccessful
  • Tell stories and make apparent ‘how’ success will be achieved after the action
  • Pay attention to people who are fear-motivated. Making them realise that change will remove a feared stimulus can be more influential than offering an ‘achievement’.

3. Make it satisfying

  • Understand their expectations, and demonstrate to them how these will be met
  • Find and highlight where they are currently dissatisfied
  • Show how they will gain comfort, satisfaction and ease by taking action
  • Set realistic expectations that match the person’s beliefs.

If someone isn’t taking action, ask which of the three questions they haven’t answered, and how can you help them do so?

If you find yourself resisting taking action, ask yourself which question has been violated, and what steps need to be taken to resolve it.