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Can you convince a chatbot? Exercising influence through motivational interviewing
Psychology shines a light on how we can be our most compelling
A recent opinion piece in The New York Times by Arnaud Gagneur and Karin Tamerious titled “Your Friend Doesn’t Want the Vaccine. What Do You Say?” is now required reading for anyone in sales. With the aid of a chatbot, the authors provide a whirligig tour of motivational interviewing, an evidence-based approach to changing behavior. As the authors point out:
Research shows that many common persuasive styles — commanding, advising, lecturing and shaming — not only don’t work but also often backfire.
Reflect on the last time you tried to persuade someone of something. Which style best describes your approach: commanding, advising, lecturing, shaming, or motivational? Be honest with yourself.
Customer-facing stakeholders are recognizing that selling wine and spirits in the 21st Century is not strictly transactional. Good business requires true collaboration. It’s not about selling a client a case of booze; it’s about selling them the idea that you’re the one they should turn to when they need to buy one.
There are many similarities between motivational interviewing and selling via long-term relationship-building.To quote William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick, the two clinical psychologists that developed the technique, motivational interviewing:
“…is a guiding style of communication, that sits between following (good listening) and directing (giving information and advice).”
“…is designed to empower people to change by drawing out their own meaning, importance and capacity for change.”
“…is based on a respectful and curious way of being with people that facilitates the natural process of change and honors client autonomy.”
So, what does motivational interviewing look like in practice?Well, see if you can convince the chatbot to get a vaccine. It’s not as easy to intuit the best possible answers as you might think. If you’re not inclined to try the simulation, here are five lessons in persuasion distilled from the exercise. What follows are quotes from the piece’s authors Arnaud Gagneur and Karin Tamerious.
“When you dismiss people’s concerns, they take it personally. As a result, they’re likely to reject what you have to say, even if it’s true.”
“Listen to… concerns without judgment and then offer compassion. They’re more likely to trust you if they know you understand their fears, respect their perspective and care about their welfare.”
“Giving advice doesn’t work because it triggers a desire to resist. Humans have an innate need for autonomy. When people sense that we’re trying to control them by telling them what to do, it generates distress and anxiety.”
“Briefly summarize what they said to show you are listening and understand why they’re hesitant. When appropriate, it’s also good to highlight their ambivalence.”
“[A] nonjudgmental response validates their concerns and elicits more information, with an open-ended question about what they need to feel more secure... Asking a curious, nonthreatening question and listening to the answer will enable you to address their specific concerns later in the conversation.”
Being convincing isn’t rocket science. Of course, that’s all too easy to forget when you’re looking up pricing details and ferrying around a supplier from one account to another. It’s understandable why one would fall back on antiquated ideas about closing a sale or overcoming objections. The problem is that those techniques are goal-oriented to your goals and not those of your customer.
Motivational interviewing is, in part, about listening. What are an account’s needs? Those needs are everything: the route to trust and, with it, eventual sales and success. Actually hearing those needs requires humanity. Even a chatbot could teach you that. Hopefully, one just did.
My six-year-old is already beyond shame. I fear my success with counting to three to compel him to do something—the command approach—is nearing its end. Now the order of the day is coercion via motivation. Kids, like adults, yearn for more than blind attention; they want to know you’re actually hearing them.
Here’s a great description of how a trained social worker translated motivational interviewing skills to sales.
So glad you asked! Here’s a comprehensive, straightforward guide to motivational interviewing that should serve the sales professional well.