Life skills
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Life skills

How To Persuade The “Obnoxious Driver” Type

Already running late, I hit traffic at a tollbooth on the New Jersey Turnpike. It took me eight minutes to drive the first eight miles and twenty minutes to drive the last two. So frustrating but nothing you can do. There’s always a temptation to pull out of the lane and into the wide open shoulder. Tempting? Sure, but I risk getting a ticket. More than that, it seems unfair. Why should I get to cut all these other cars?

After several minutes of inching up I spotted a car in my passenger side mirror. He went for it. I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. A few seconds later another car ventured into the shoulder. A third car then took the plunge. Within a minute there was a steady stream of cars.

“Screw it. I’m going” I said to myself

By the time I made that decision the traffic backed up in the shoulder. The advantage vanished.

Examples like this remind me that some of us fall under the rebellious label. Others land in the follower column. Followers often yield to social norms. Rebels often break social norms when they feel it’s in their best interest. In reality, most of us fall somewhere on a continuum.

The old gods of persuasion listed social pressure as one of their commandments. It’s still found in just about every book on influence and persuasion… and with good reason. It usually works.

When I write a sales letter for a new audience this is something I spend a good teal of time researching. A lot of experts tout social pressure as a powerful persuasion tool. In most (but not all) cases that’s true.

When you craft your persuasive message getting this wrong could unhinge all your efforts. In my traffic example today, one driver took the more rebellious approach. He broke the ice by becoming the first car to ride on the shoulder. The second driver, feeling a jolt of confidence from someone else going first, reached a point where he felt comfortable. The third driver saw two other cars and then figured “I guess it’s ok to do this”.

After a dozen or so cars passed by I felt a comfort level too. I bet a few drivers decided they would avoid driving in the shoulder under any circumstances. I respect those fools.

When you write for persuasion, know where your audience falls on the continuum. Are they more likely to break a taboo? Maybe they prefer to follow the crowd and wait until that taboo becomes acceptable? Or, will they hold to their principles no matter how extreme the social pressure?

My own experience tells me that most people lean towards the follow the crowd mentality. We need some sort of indication that a taboo, illegal or ill-favored action feels socially acceptable. That cue often comes from someone else going first.

A select few operate at the rebellious end of the spectrum. These are the ones who feel no qualms about being the lone driver who dares to ride on the shoulder of a highway.

Before you write, do your homework. Learn about your audience. Does your product appeal to those who follow the crowd? Or, does it appeal to the rebellious type? Once you understand your audience you can position your product or service accordingly.



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Barry Davret

Work in Forge | Elemental | BI | GMP | Others | Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com. Join Medium for full access: