A few years back, I gave one of my talks at a Ladies America conference in Washington, DC. Once I was offstage, a small line of people formed to ask me questions. One woman had in her hands a marketing mailer she had put together. She was planning on starting an executive coaching business and intended to send out the mailer to drum up business. Sadly, her mailer was not destined for success. It essentially played off the supposition that “you are failing” and that by hiring this woman, she could guide you from failure to success.
I pointed this out to her and said that it is never a good first step, on the way to a relationship, if that first step, for one of the parties, is to feel bad about themselves. In this case, a person had to agree that they were failing… as a first step to un-failing. I told her, “So let’s call that Option A: I am a failure and I give you my money. BUT there is an Option B: I don’t agree that I am a failure and I keep my money. I’m liking Option B; I feel better about myself and I keep my money.” (And, to be clear, for most people, most of the time, choosing Option B is unconscious – it just feels better.)
You’d be amazed how many relationships are offered this way. Commercial relationships and personal relationships. Too many offerors forget that the other person always has an “Option B” – and that it can be triggered by our words, positioning and brand.
Some time ago, I was hired to consult with a non-profit doing very valuable work around implicit bias and educational equity. They asked for my counsel because they were not having much success in soliciting donations from large donors. I explained to them that their name (which I am withholding) was provocative, in such that it suggested a line between doing good and not good and that people with money would see this organization as judging them to be on the not good side. Also, the way that they told the story of their constituents was one with significant guilt to be found for any listener with money and power. So, the Option A would be “I am guilty, perhaps even bad, and I give you money.” Option B would be, “I ignore your message and/or I blame your constituents for their predicament and I save my money.” (Or give it elsewhere). You know how that movie ends….
Much as the executive coach could have told her story with the idea of “would you like to have the tools to climb higher?” who’d say no to that? – this non-profit could tell a story about building a stronger workforce and stronger families – who’d be against that? Guilt and entitlements have many enemies and those enemies are not stopping to ask if the guilt is real or imagined, earned or incidental. The light-switch disconnect of Option B is both reflexive and easy.
In spite of all our personal work to make it otherwise, people are mostly just sacks of feelings, mated to a life-support system. And much of day-to-day, minute-to-minute life is navigated via what feels comfortable (which, sadly, can be very different from what is correct or healthy…) So when building relationships, whether it is with brand creation, a 30-second commercial or that delightful person you just met, be purposeful about what your Option A offering really is. And never forget that they always have an Option B.
Behavior change can come about from many motivators, including negative ones. However, as motivation wanes, the behavior change will go with it. If you’re interested in true, long-lasting behavior change, the key is in identity.
The way we imagine our personal and national identities makes us liable to act and think in certain ways and, just as importantly, makes us liable to interpret other people’s actions through the prism of our own imagined identity – not through theirs.
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