Split-Second Persuasion

Summary Written by Judi Walsh
"…I began to unearth a tantalizing body of evidence – circumstantial, anecdotal, allusive – which suggested the possibility that there really might be black belts of influence in our midst. And, what’s more, they might not all be good guys."

- Split-Second Persuasion, page 12

The Big Idea

Cracking the Code of Persuasion

"There is a special kind of persuasion – split-second persuasion. It’s a kind of persuasion that can get you whatever you want. Reservations. Contracts. Bargains. Babies. Anything. In the right hands. But which in the wrong hands can prove disastrous and be as brutal and deadly as any weapon that’s out there."- Split-Second Persuasion, page 13

The Internet and social media have exploited all the well known norms of influencing. Now less is more. We are faced with drawing on our senses, intellect and timing to make a memorable impact in as few words as possible. Some of us are better than others at persuasion and there is a spectrum of talent along which each of us has our place. By learning about this mysterious strain of persuasion you can build upon your existing persuasive abilities and progress further along the spectrum.

Insight #1

The Anatomy of Influence

"No two people think alike. Successful persuasion depends on who you are and who your audience may be."- Split-Second Persuasion, page 213

Have you ever watched a sophisticated interrogator in action? It’s fascinating to watch. You would have noticed that they have much in common with the world’s most sophisticated con artists. They infiltrate the minds of their subject, drawing on street smarts to crack the code and get them to reveal pertinent details.

You don’t need to be an interrogator to elicit a desired response. The process is available to everyone. It depends on how aware you are of the process. Do you recall the spiritual song “Dem Bones” by James Weldon Johnson? It goes something like this: “the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone.” The tune is memorable and the words taught many about their anatomy. Well, influence has an anatomy too.

For those with persuasive talent, there are some constants otherwise known as the Three A’s:

1. The basic raw material for what you say – what your audience pays attention to.
2. The manner in which you deliver that raw material – a major predictor of how your audience will process or approach it.
3. Psychosocial factors relating to how your audience evaluates you, or appraises what you say, in the context of their relationship with others: the parameters of affiliation.

Dutton’s team found the Three A’s were integral to mapping the genome of influence. But by digging deeper, their analysis revealed five major axes of persuasion – SPICE for short:

1. Simplicity
2. Perceived self-interest
3. Incongruity
4. Confidence
5. Empathy

These five factors fit perfectly with the Three A’s.

  • Simplicity and incongruity mapping onto attention
  • Confidence on to approach
  • Perceived self-interest and empathy on to affiliation

Here was an influence that united all influences. That had an incubation period of seconds. A strain of persuasion so immediate, so dangerous, so ancient – it didn’t just turn the tables, it kicked them over. In the number of words you could slap on the front of a t-shirt.

The golden rule of any kind of persuasion – from politics to advertising, from negotiating that contract to preventing a large-scale race riot – is that it’s not what you say that necessarily wins the day, but how you say it. Often the simpler is better because our brains have a bias for simplicity.

If your persuasion spectrum is usually a 6 or 7, applying the combo of the Three A’s and SPICE can take you to a 10 and dramatically increase your chances of getting what you want.

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Insight #2

Horizons of Influence

"Unbelief is the friction that keeps persuasion in check. Without it, there’d be no limits."- Split-Second Persuasion, page 314

The principle of how our brains make up our minds is flawed. If belief and emotion are so deeply intertwined, could it be that our brains are somewhat less discerning than we think? That they leap before they look? That first they believe and then appraise and consider? And the views we espouse are not the views that we’ve reasoned ourselves towards – but instead are the views we’ve been unable to reason away from? Though such a notion seems crazy, there’s evidence to suggest that it’s true. And that the feeling we get when we’re served up new information – of chewing it over and deciding, morsel by morsel, whether or not to swallow it – is actually an illusion.

Our job as persuader is easier than we think. It’s not to get others believing what we say. It’s to stop them unbelieving.

Persuasion has acquired quite the reputation. To some it’s a dirty word associated with manipulation, coercion and deceit. To others it is an honest pursuit of mutual self interest where both sides benefit mutually and accountability is built into the deal.

Dutton’s work provides a thorough examination of influence – the what, why and how. It’s well worth reading if persuasion is a crucial business skill. However, if persuasion seems like a dirty word to you, then your biggest challenge will be to redefine what you perceive persuasion to be. With a definition that has meaning and relevance to you, your mindset will help you be an intentional communicator and a principled persuader.

When would split-second persuasion have made a difference for you?

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Kevin Dutton

PROFESSOR KEVIN DUTTON was born in London in 1967. He has a Ph.D in psychology, and is an expert on the science of social influence. He is a research fellow at the Faraday Institute, St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge, and Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychological Science at the University of Essex.

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