Why making a case for a decision that is emotionally appealing rather than congested with data and reason can win people over faster and more easily.

By Mark Powers and Michael Hammond, Practice Advisors

what-drives-decisions300Success in business and in life often requires getting “Yes” decisions from others. The most successful people get things done with and through other people; they always have and they always will. Many of the best lawyers we know also happen to be the most persuasive people we know. They are the ones who build law firms, grow client bases, increase their referral sources, convert prospects into clients, and convince juries to see their view of the case. The world’s best attorneys have at least one thing in common: the ability to persuade. Persuasion is critical to many areas in a legal career. Your success in family law often hinges on your power to persuade. 

Aristotle Was Wrong

Aristotle was so fascinated by the power of persuasion that he wrote three volumes on the subject, surmising that logic, reason, and cognitive thought were always the best ways to persuade others. He believed it was a human failing to allow ourselves to be persuaded by emotion. Scientists, psychologists, and researchers have followed the Aristotle line for 2,500 years – until we discovered he was wrong!

Dramatic developments in neuroscience in the last decade have provided startling insights into how the brain really works. We can now see – in real time – how blood, oxygen, and neurons flow, activating various parts of the brain. We can actually watch the various components of the human brain light up as they are activated. By introducing a decision request, we can watch the brain’s decision-making process at work. Logic and reason have their place, but just not the place we always thought.

In fact, emotions rule our decision-making. From birth, we each build an emotional database of past experiences and actions. As we mature, we create our own internal navigation system from this emotional database of human experiences. This individual navigation system for our lives triggers immediate, automatic decisions that are right for us based upon our accumulated experience.

The Amygdala Rules 

The brain’s emotional trigger point is a small almond-shaped component called the amygdala. The emotion-based request for a decision triggers a subconscious emotional memory from our database, and we get a quick, automatic “gut feeling” for the right way to go, the right decision to make. The amygdala is so central to decision-making that if it is damaged, a human being can still have 100% of his or her rational, cognitive brain functions but be totally incapable of making even the simplest decision.

So, how do these triggers for our internal navigation system work? A trigger is a decision shortcut that our brain uses to avoid the time-consuming and laborious effort required for analytical evaluation. Think about it: our human need for decision-making never stops. Our brain is bombarded every day with literally thousands of decision requests – some simple, others complex, a few significant, many trivial. If we had to analytically evaluate each decision we are confronted with every day, we would be overwhelmed and probably go insane in short order. Our triggers help us make quick, automatic decisions in an efficient and effective way based upon our own unique database of accumulated personal experiences.


The Seven Triggers 

In his book, The 7 Triggers to Yes: The New Science Behind Influencing People’s Decisions (McGraw-Hill, 2007), author Russell Granger makes the case that instead of using the old, logical Aristotelian approach, we should instead tap into these emotional triggers when attempting to persuade others. He goes on to say that in order to benefit from the triggers, we first must activate them. “Remember that the triggers lie within the other person. We evaluate each of the 7 triggers, then determine which triggers are most likely to activate the other person’s decision process,” Granger says.

In his book, Granger provides a chapter for each of the seven essential triggers, which include: Friendship, Authority, Consistency, Reciprocity, Contrast, Reason Why, and Hope. Let’s take a look at the first two triggers. The first, Friendship, is an important one for attorneys. Many attorneys do not take the time to initiate a friendship – or, activate the Friendship Trigger – when cultivating a new client or referral source.

Granger explains that the Friendship Trigger is a cue that was built into our emotional system at birth. “We bond with and trust those who care for us. We are more easily persuaded by those we believe to be like us. To activate the Friendship Trigger, we need to find common interests. Friendship generates trust and trust activates a powerful internal trigger.” Not surprisingly, the Friendship Trigger makes it easier to activate every other trigger.

When meeting with clients for the first time, it’s also important to activate the Authority Trigger. When clients have complex issues to resolve, they need to believe that their attorney has the necessary legal knowledge and experience to solve their problem. Everything the attorney says and does will either add to or subtract from this initial impression. Believe it or not, basic visual cues like diplomas or certificates on the wall can help to activate this trigger. Though maligned by some as “ego walls,” diplomas, awards, and plaques on display underscore the attorney’s education and expertise, which helps trigger the belief that they are an authority in their field.

Activating both the Friendship and Authority Triggers at the same time generates a powerful first impression, which, in turn, can lead to a higher number of potential clients being persuaded to become paying clients much more quickly.

Feeling Machines That Think 

Perhaps the whole concept of emotion-based decision making is much more obvious to family law practitioners who spend much of their time trying to understand and deal with families, spouses, and children involved in complex, emotionally-charged situations. But, bottom line, the important point for all attorneys to remember is that most people do not act on logic and reason. Human beings make emotional decisions and then justify them with reason and logic. This is why persuasion techniques that stimulate the amygdala – making a case for a decision that is emotionally appealing rather than congested with data and reason – can win people over faster and more easily. When it comes to persuading others, using logic is like taking the long way around the block. In the words of Dr. Richard Restak, neuropsychologist and author of the book and five-part PBS series The Life of the Brain, “We are not thinking machines; we are feeling machines that think.”

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Mark Powers (MA), Founder and President of Atticus, Inc., co-authored How Good Attorneys Become Great Rainmakers, Time Management for Attorneys, and Hire Slow, Fire Fast: A Lawyer’s Guide to Building a High Performance Team and is a featured marketing writer for Lawyers Weekly.

Michael Hammond (JD) is a “founding father” of Atticus and is a Certified Practice Advisor. A licensed attorney since 1983, he has spent his entire career either practicing law or supporting and promoting the practice of law. He is currently a featured writer for Lawyers Weekly and a number of other publications. www.atticusonline.com