Summary Written by Jennifer Knighton
"Promotion focus is about maximizing gains and avoiding missed opportunities… Prevention focus, on the other hand, is about minimizing losses, to keep things working."

- Focus, page 3

The Big Idea

Change is Possible

"One of the key benefits of shaping a message to fit with your audience’s promotion or prevention focus is the enhanced motivation it creates."- Focus, page 167

Fit is the key. When a message fits with our dominant focus, it resonates with our internal motivations and guides us toward acceptance and action. Alternatively, non-fit messaging “disrupts motivation,” guiding us away from accepting and acting on the message we just received. This is why fit is so important as is our messaging – it will either attract or repel our audience, and it works equally well in our personal and home lives as in our working lives.

Fortunately for us, Halvorson and Higgins outline a three-step process for determining fit and crafting persuasive messages:

Step 1: Find Their Focus – What does my audience want? What is their motivation with respect to this issue? What is their goal?

Step 2: Craft Content That Fits – What do you want your audience to do? Is that action naturally promotion-focused or prevention-focused or either/both?

Step 3: Deliver Your Message With Language That Fits – Determine a delivery method that creates even more motivational fit, using one of the ten ideal methods:

1. Frame It In Terms of Gain/Loss
2. Emphasize Why or How
3. Use Adjectives and Verbs
4. Highlight Succeeding or Not Failing
5. Emphasize Change or Stability
6. Describe it as Taking a Chance or Being Cautious
7. Emphasize Feelings or Reasons
8. Use Animated or Reserved Gestures
9. Emphasize the Parts or the Whole
10. Let Fit Rub Off

Insight #1

Identifying Focus

"But how can you identify someone else’s motivation, so you can assign them to the right kinds of work, or so you can tailor your message content and delivery for maximum effectiveness?"- Focus, page 130

Knowing the best ways to craft messaging isn’t really enough to get the job done. Step #1 above is perhaps the most difficult step in the process. If you don’t understand your audience’s motivation, how can you possibly appeal to their focus?

First, we can start with a few assumptions like age, culture, careers, activities and hobbies, behaviors, choices and feelings, etc., which give us a starting point for understanding others’ motivations. And then, we can match those assumptions to what we know about focus.

Promotion-focused people:

  • Work quickly
  • Consider a lot of alternatives
  • Are open to new opportunities
  • Have a rosy outlook
  • Seek positive feedback and lose steam without it
  • Feel happy or sad

While prevention-focused people:

  • Work slowly and deliberately
  • Are prepared
  • Are stressed by short deadlines
  • Stick to known ways of doing things
  • Are uncomfortable with praise or optimism
  • Feel worried or relieved

Join our newsletter

Sign up for the very best book summaries right to your inbox.
We care about your data in our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Insight #2

Optimism Doesn't Work for Pessimists

"Our research shows, there are those for whom the best way to ensure success is actually to believe they just might fail."- Focus, page 21

We live in a world bombarded by messages on the importance of positive thinking, optimism, and happiness. Study after study supports the impact of optimism on health, work, and relationships. Which does work “for some people, some of the time.” But what about individuals with a prevention-focused mindset?

For them, avoiding mistakes and mitigating losses is far more motivating than the promotion-focused mindset of advancement and success. As we craft our messaging to the prevention-focused, we must remember that pessimism and fear will move them to action far more quickly.

Because I spend my working life among educators who are actively transforming public education, I found that the differentiation between motivations resonated. Whether they are focused on high achievement and bright futures for students, or focused on the fear of poor outcomes and the threat of school closures, my challenge is to make sure that my messaging meets their primary motivation and helps them move toward success and away from failure.

Read the book

Get Focus on Amazon.

E. Tory Higgins

Higgins received a BA degree in Anthropology from McGill University and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University in 1973. His early working included the study of priming, influencing social judgment through the unconscious activation of social categories. In 1980 he was hired by New York University where he was given the mandate to help build the social/personality psychology department. There he developed one of the leading departments in the study of social cognition of that era. Among his hires at NYU during this time were John Bargh and Shelly Chaiken. In 1989 Higgins returned to Columbia, his alma mater.

Subscribe to digest
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.