Kevin Hogan

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HANDEL interviews Kevin Hogan in Warsaw, Poland

Can the new democracy of Poland compete in the international world of commerce?(Reprinted with permission – from the March issue of HANDEL)

HANDEL: What would be your advice to people who want to take up some of your psychological techniques? Where should they start?

Dr Kevin Hogan: Number one: be very attentive to what other people want and need. Find out ways to help them get that. If you find out what people’s values are, what’s important to them in life, it’s very easy to get that help anything else. If you tell me what’s most important in your life, and I help you get that, would you do something or give me something in return? Of course you’re going to say yes, and that’s the essence of persuasion.

H: The famous reciprocity thing.

KH: Exactly.

H: Our largest group of readers are grocery stores. Are there any specific techniques that could help small stores in their business?

KH: We know that when people walk into a grocery store, they want to walk in a clockwise order: they enter at six o’clock and go to seven o’clock etc. Successful stores are successful because they have stopped people from doing what people want. What they do is they make you go counter-clockwise, and that slows you down. Another thing is that they have you go to produce first. All successful grocery stores have you start with carrots and lettuce, and as this slows your pace down, it keeps you in the store more and it increases the probability you’ll spend more time. If you spend more time in a grocery store, you spend more money. People do not want to talk to sales people in grocery stores, but how grocery stores can really utilize the tools of the brain is to slow people down and get them to stay for longer. Put the more difficult items to manipulate first and have people walk in a reverse fashion: those are the two really powerful tools for success in your business.

H: Do you see any specific business psychology situations in Poland? There are foreign companies operating here which not only have the advantage of financial means and logistics, but also they are psychologically skilled, they undergo trainings such as yours. Polish companies do not have that. Do you see an ethical problem in this advantage?

KH: No. An advantage is not unethical, it’s wise. Everybody should always seek to educate themselves. Whatever you do, you should become totally educated in your field, so that you always have the advantage. When two people sit down to play chess, the better player will win the majority of the games. The same is true in business. That enforces people to make more money, it is the base of capitalism. What happens is that when I get good, that forces my competitor to get as good as me and exceed me, then I keep getting better and he gets better etc. As we compete, we also have the possibility to share knowledge. So we should never stop competing, never stop looking for an advantage, because it benefits everybody.

H: You have been working with Polish companies for some time now. Do you think they have any chance of competing on a par with foreign companies, of making up for this psychological advantage?

KH: Not in the next two or three years, because people need to learn that there is more to life than a 9am to 5pm working day. There’s a lot of education that goes into making excellent organisation versus good organisation. This won’t happen overnight. But I’m extremely optimistic about Poland’s future as far as competing with foreign companies goes. The people here learn quickly, they’re sharp, they’re open to learn. But you can ‘t expect to get a master’s degree overnight.

H: You did an interesting research with the University of Wisconsin on the connection between eye movement and visual images; results from this research can be read on you website. Do you undertake any other scientific research to base your psychological techniques?

KH: I’ve either found the research or had done it myself for just about everything I teach. E.g. when two people sit across from each other, we know that they respond better if the right eyes line up. This happens because our brain is divided: my left brain is more calm, more rational, more intelligent than my emotional right side. If I can activate that more in communication and in business, then I am more likely to get positive results. What’s good for me is also good for you, when my left brain is activated, so is yours. We test all these mechanisms out, make sure that they work, and then we teach them. Sometimes it doesn’t work, e.g. in my book The Psychology of Persuasion there was inaccurate information about eye cues, which was phenomenally embarrassing, and I was the first person to have that information corrected. Mistakes of that kind happen, so we have to correct them. Research is critical to find out what’s the best, and that’s one of the reasons I’m good at what I do.

H: Let’s talk about questions of ethics and integrity. You have been mentioning these issues many times in your books, but I get the feeling you don’t address them directly. What are then the limits to competition in business? You talk a lot about the “win-win” situation. What if someone is using psychological techniques to sell a bad product?

KH: Then it’s a bad person and it has nothing to do with technique. It’s much like taking a surgeon’s knife: when someone has cancer, the surgeon uses the knife to remove the cancer and the person may be healed. That same knife could be stolen by a gangster and could be put into the heart of someone else. You have an excellent set of tools available, and you can utilize those tools any way you want: you can heal with them or you can destroy with them. It all comes down to each individual’s own ethics and integrity. I’d like to teach people integrity, but you can’t do that. It’s either there or it’s not. If a person violates any given rule, I can’t take responsibility for this person’s action, but I take responsibility for making sure that they know they should observe the “win-win or no deal” rule.

H: But where are the limits? How can you know both sides really want something?

KH: It’s like when I was deciding whether I should come to Poland. I knew if I came to Poland, people would get an enormous amount of value, so they would win. But what about me? How will I become satisfied? Do I receive a dollar, fifty dollars, a thousand, five thousand, twenty thousand? At what point do I win? There’s a little gage inside of each individual that says: at this point I don’t win, and at this point I do win.

H: Let’s give an example here: I want to buy a cheap car, but I’m talked into buying a more expensive car by a very skillful salesman.

KH: It can happen, but that’s a win-lose situation. The salesman abused his skills. Every act that we do as human beings has a potential negative side to it, it just depends on the intent. May be the salesman was trying to get you a better car, or may be he was just a jerk.

H: May be he didn’t know what the customer really wanted.

KH: That’s right. Those situations always exist in everyday life. For example, parents program their kids terribly from the very start with an enormous amount of negative information: you’re such an idiot, you’ll never learn etc. What we try to do is elevate people up to the level they realize that every word you say has impact. Every communication has impact. The more people will know about persuasion, the better.

H: You’re in Poland for the second time. Do you see any specific qualities of the people here that make you think business psychology has a future here?

KH: I see this country as a young child that is eleven years old now. I think leaving communism and going to capitalism is an extremely difficult change, but for different reasons that people usually think. When prisoners leave prison, they always have the tendency to go back to the prison, to commit another crime. This country has been released from communism and the easiest thing to do is to return to old ways. But if people do that, Poland will fail. However, if people who get out of prison can break the bonds with the past, they will have an enormous advantage in the world, and they will be able to live very well if they work at it.

H: You’re saying Poland is a like an eleven-year-old child, but it’s not been born as a tabula rasa, there’ been negative information at the start. Do you think it is possible to overcome completely this heritage?

KH: Again, we’re not talking about two years. The generation that is in their fifties and sixties probably won’t see as much change as the people who are in their twenties now. People have to realize that they now have to produce, create, develop, think and work. It’s a very different life. For the most part, it’s better, but there are challenges. It’s always easy to go back to prison, because we know what that’s like. I hope that Poland will not do that. I really love this country, otherwise I would not have come back. I’m thrilled to be here, it’s exciting!

by Wojciech Bonkowski

Dr Kevin Hogan
“Competition should never stop because it benefits everybody.”


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