When I was growing up in the Chicago suburbs, the Cubs shaped (warped?) my character every summer.
The team, needless to say, was awful, but we had our great players: Sweet swingin’ Billy Williams, pizza-sellin’ Ron Santo, and, more than anyone else, Ernie Banks, who was the perfect athlete hero for young kids. He was a great player (“Just think how good he’d be if he got to bat against Cub pitchers!” we’d exclaim to each other), he loved playing the game, and he was perennially optimistic and cheerful.
Whenever Jack Brickhouse interviewed Ernie Banks before a game, Ernie would say, “It’s another great day for baseball at beautiful Wrigley Field!” And at the end of every season, Ernie would say, “Next year will be a great season for the Cubs!”
Ernie was a wonderful ball player. I don’t think he’d have made a great executive, though. If I’ve seen one character trait that, more than any other, differentiates truly great executives from the rest of the population, it’s their refusal to let emotions blind them to reality.
Here’s a reality many of us are unwilling to face, but that every successful communicator knows: Your message must be aimed primarily at your audience’s emotions, and only slightly to the intellect. Otherwise, your audience will lose interest and won’t absorb your message.
Sales professionals live and die on this insight. Pretending the world is otherwise, or being unwilling to play the game to win, simply means you don’t belong in sales. (If you’re wondering, I’m not capable of it, and I got my coccyx out of the sales profession just a few months after entering it for that exact reason.) If you deny the validity of this insight into your own decision-making, you’re vulnerable to every sales shyster who learns how to yank your chain.
OK, brace yourself. Here’s an earlier version of the same advice, along with its authoritative source:
“Propaganda’s effect must be aimed primarily at nonintellectual elements of the mind and only, to a limited extent, at the rational intellect. We must avoid excessive intellectual demands on our public.” – Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf
No, this doesn’t mean the sales representatives you deal with are Nazis, Nazi sympathizers, or Nazi dupes. It means they’re willing to embrace the realities of their profession, including tactics their competitors will use against them – even if Hitler explained those tactics in Mein Kampf.
How do you deal with uncomfortable realities? Hitler’s actions were horrifying. His effectiveness, though, was unquestionable, and that means you can’t just write off his insights into human behavior as psychotic ravings.
My friend Curtis Sahakian has written a white paper on this subject, titled “Business Application of Propaganda” (The Corporate Partnering Institute, Skokie, IL). It’s practically an inventory of human frailty. By reading it you’ll learn (among other facts) that people:
- Change their beliefs more easily than their behavior;
- Filter out messages that conflict with their beliefs;
- Are strongly influenced by name-calling and innuendo;
- Have a strong predisposition to perceive patterns in random events; and
- Will do more out of fear, or to avoid pain, than for any other source of motivation.
Am I advocating unethical behavior by telling you these facts? Are you being unethical by learning them? If you learn the rules of propaganda and use them to your advantage, is that unethical, or are the ethics determined by the consequences of your actions?
I can answer only the first two questions with certainty: No, I’m not advocating unethical behavior by presenting these facts, and no, you aren’t displaying poor ethics by learning them.
NaÃ¯vetÃ© doesn’t make you ethical. It just makes you an easy victim.