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Sticky Ideas Workshop (Part 5): Emotional

Sticky Ideas Workshop (Part 5): Emotional
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

    If you want to connect — I mean, really connect — with an audience, you have to hit ’em square in their emotions. Movie makers know this, and exploit it to the fullest, making us laugh, cry, punch the air in triumph, jump out of our seats in terror, and even swell with love for all humanity — almost on demand.

    A lot of times this is pretty cheap, and leaves us feeling manipulated and used. This is because the movie (or novel, or TV show, or commercial, or whatever) seems to play on our emotions for no other reason than because they can. The emotional response is triggered without satisfying any real need.

    But the emotions roused by the greatest works of art — whether in film, paint, words, or stone — do satisfy a need, and it is for that reason that we return films like Casablanca or paintings like Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring after decades and even centuries.

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    Enlightened Self-Interest

    Chip and Dan Heath refer to Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” to explain why some emotional appeals fall flat, and others not only succeed but can even change lives. Abraham Maslow, a mid-20th century psychologist, theorized that human behavior is driven by a number of innate needs. What’s more, these needs are hierarchical; that is, the most basic needs (food, water, sleep, sex, etc.) had to be met before higher needs (friendship, family, self-esteem, and ultimately “self-actualization”, where we turn our attentions to the needs of our society and its members). Maslow represented his idea with a pyramid (itself a pretty sticky idea) placing the basic needs at the bottom and the higher levels built on top of them. Although few psychologists today still hold to the hierarchical nature of needs — recognizing, for instance, that seeing to the common good is often necessary to assure that more “basic” needs are met — Maslow’s schema is still useful as a rubric to measure our ideas and their presentation against.

    For example, let’s say you are offering a recipe for a super-healthy cookie. Yes, a cookie meets a basic need — the need for food. Notice, though, that you rarely see commercials for cookies with the tagline “You can eat this” or “it’s a kind of food!” Instead, ads for cookies or articles on cooking try to appeal to the higher stretches of Maslow’s pyramid. They might appeal to mothers’ need to provide for their family (like the peanut butter commercial: “Choosy moms choose Jif!”) or to our need to protect our environment (“these cookies are made with 100% organic ingredients”) or to our need to feel independent and self-reliant (“don’t eat store-bought cookies — stick it to the Man by making your own!”).

    In these examples, we are looking for ways of engaging our audience’s self-interest — their need to fulfill their needs — in ways that allow them to be the kind of people they want to be: better parents, better eaters, and better citizens. Instead of offering something to eat, we offer self-fulfillment. Not bad for a cookie!

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    Who Am I, Anyway?

    In order to be effective, emotional appeals need to engage with individuals’ identities in a profound way (which is why the horror gross-out, while momentarily effective, is rarely remembered longer than a few sleepless nights). As the Heaths point out, people make decisions based on their identities, so emotional appeals have to confront them with their own selves. The best ask us to consider who we are — and more, what do people like us do in situations like this?

    Consider those late-night famine relief commercials, the ones with the swollen-bellied children staring into the camera with huge, liquid eyes and Sally Struthers begging us to help. These commercials are pretty effective — effective enough to have been run most of my life, anyway — because they force viewers to either act or face an uncomfortable disconnect between the kind of person they think they are and the kind of person they are acting like. If it’s important to you to be the kind of person that helps those in need, then it’s going to be hard not to do so when given the opportunity to contribute.

    What this means in practical terms is that you have to really know not just who your audience is but who your audience thinks it is. It also means that we have to be especially on guard against the Curse of Knowledge. We may be blinded by the brilliance of our own ideas — which always seem innately useful — so that we don’t consider the ways our ideas meet our audience’s actual needs. Or, for that matter, that our ideas may well meet needs that are far different from the needs they meet for us.

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    Caring is Sharing

    No idea gets picked up and passed around unless it meets somebody’s needs. They have to care, and it’s your job to make them care. When people care about an idea, they become its greatest advocates; in marketing terms, this is called “going viral” (which is, of course, deeply offensive to people who deal with actual viral transmission and its often horrific consequences).

    In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point (the book the Heaths credit with inspiring them to write Made to Stick), one of the phenomena the author returns to again and again is the sudden revival of Hush Puppies, the somewhat dorky shoes popular in the ’70s among white-bread middle-class American moms. In the ’90s, a handful of East Village hipsters started sporting Hush Puppies and, in the blink of an eye, sales suddenly boomed, bringing the brand back from the brink of obscurity.

    The company that makes Hush Puppies had little to do with this revival; they’d failed for years to make Hush Puppies relevant again. Instead, it was a handful of people who found something in these goofy shoes to care about — likely a way to distinguish themselves from the rest of their scene and show off their sense of irony and nostalgia. These trendsetters, in turn, managed to make others around them care as they did, setting off a ripple effect that eventually reached the malls of Middle America and put the Hush Puppies brand back on the map.

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    Ideas don’t have to spread like wildfire to be effective (though it doesn’t hurt!) but they do have to spread, and ideas don’t spread unless people care enough about them to a) integrate them into their own lives and b) sharing them with others. In one way, this makes our job easier — if we can figure out who the trendsetters are, we can focus our energies on crafting an appeal specifically to their sensitivities and let them do much of the legwork. At the same time, though, it means that ideas have to be over-loaded with emotional resonance — they have to meet a number of different needs to spread widely enough to take off on their own.

    It should be clear that “emotional” doesn’t mean that our goal should be to make our audience weep, necessarily, but rather to grab them where they live, wherever that is. This is probably the hardest part of making ideas stick. Let us know how you do it in the comments or kick off the conversation in the forum.

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2019

    How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

    In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Step right up, don’t be shy!

    Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

    The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

    Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

    Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
    So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

    A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

    Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

    Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

    When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

    Culturally Conditioned

    We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

    I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

    The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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    Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

    Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

    Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

    1. Broadens Your Network

    After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

    2. Improves Your Communication Skills

    I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

    Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

    3. Continually Learning

    So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

    Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

    4. Increases Self Confidence

    Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

    Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

    So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

    How to Talk to Strangers

    Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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    1. Say Hello

    Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

    Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

    Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

    2. Ask About Them

    Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

    You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

    As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

    3. Just Do It

    One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

    When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

    Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

    4. Don’t Take It Personal

    One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

    When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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    5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

    I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

    One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

    6. Detach

    A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

    Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

    7. Share Your Stories

    Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

    To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

    So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

    8. Give a Compliment

    Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

    When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

    9. Relax Your Body Language

    If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

    When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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    If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

    10. Practice, Practice, Practice

    Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

    Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

    After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

    The Bottom Line

    As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

    There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

    Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

    More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Reference

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