This topic is often the most misunderstood when I speak to groups. It seems a little egotistical for me to believe that I can give you permission to do business with me. But each of you are silently begging me to give you permission if I’ve done a good job of creating curiosity, desire, exclusivity and scarcity. Your emotions are screaming, “Let me in, I want to be a part of this,” and logic is finding a way to justify your decision.
Permission Grants Power
Permission granting is another way of saying close the sale or bring the persuasion to a logical conclusion in your favor. There is just one slight difference. When you “close” a sale, you are asking someone to do business with you and they still have all the power. When you grant permission, you are giving them a limited time opportunity to begin a relationship with you; you retain the power. Permission once given can also be taken away. In cult terms you can excommunicate someone whom you’ve granted permission but firing a customer is much more difficult. Excommunicated people often repent and work very hard to get back in your good graces so they can be a part of the group again; fired people rarely do.
As I studied cults I realized this was one of the reasons my mom wrestled with her decision to leave for so long after she left and was excommunicated. There was that nagging worry, of course, that they might have been right, but more important was the acceptance and the comfort the group brought. There was the idea that she bought so fully into and could never excommunicate herself from as long as anyone she was familiar with was still involved. The problem was that they could easily remind her of all of the feelings of curiosity and desire that brought her there in the first place; she was still searching for the answers that eluded her. Many of the people she knew and considered friends were still involved in seeking and living the best answer she’d found. The result was that the pull to go back remained strong long after logic dictated she’d made a fine decision to leave and was living a normal life. Interestingly, Mom never felt she could have the positive beliefs about God and religion that were shared with the cult (not everything they believed was bad, although the vast majority was) without their permission and acceptance.
The Trusted Advisor
Permission granting is an important distinction for you to understand because of the position of power it places you in. Permission granting also skews the relationship in your favor because only people with authority who we’ve exalted to some level (gurudom) can give us permission. So once you’ve placed yourself in the position that you can grant permission, you’ve also placed yourself in a trusted advisor’s position. The only way that will change is if you do something that is so incongruent or wrong that they have to reevaluate you completely. Short of that, you are in the position to have significant influence in the part of that person’s life that relates to what you do.
Everyone Needs Reassurance
You’ve often heard that people are silently begging to be led, that they are waiting for you to tell them what to do. That is very true when it comes to persuasion. The majority of people who are buying anything not only want you to tell them what to do but to reassure them they are making the right decision. Once that is done, the very last thing they need is for you to tell them it is OK. They need the reassurance of permission in order to metaphorically close their eyes and fall backwards safely into your arms without fear of injury. All you have to do is simply facilitate the process. They will have convinced themselves this is what they want—they just want you to tell them to do it. When you tell anyone to do anything with you, you are giving your permission for them to do it. If I invite you into my house you have my permission and if I invite you to be a part of my closest and most trusted customer base, you now have my permission. Permission feels very good and comforting.
Permission Grants Absolution
There are many psychological reasons that permission granting is one of those ideas that we simply accept and follow without thought, but think of it this way. Remember when you were young and you had to have permission to get up from the table or to go to the restroom at school. You had to ask if it was OK and once you got permission, there were no more consequences, because you had permission from a higher authority. As a persuader, once you give permission, the person you are persuading is absolved from wrong because you, the higher authority, gave your permission.
Subliminally Grant Permission
There are many subliminal ways of granting permission. One of the best is the guarantee. If I guarantee that something will work or that some action will occur, you now have my permission to take action because if it doesn’t work you have another form of absolution. Remember what happened when you got caught in the hallway at school by the hall monitor or principal? You were challenged but you could answer the challenge because you had permission to be there. If your permission was challenged you resolved it by going to the granting authority and proving your position. Guarantees work in much the same way. When your spouse or boss challenges your decision, you can answer the challenge of risk by showing that you have a guarantee. You have permission to make this decision because if it is the wrong one you can still have absolution. You have a guarantee.
Another covert permission tactic is the test drive or trial. Whenever I give you a test drive or a trial you have my permission to take the product and prove it will work for you just the way I said it would. You also have permission to buy it because I brought you into the group. You are now part of the group that has leather furniture in every room of their home or who has the special bed or who drives a Porsche Boxster. You have the permission of all the other people like you to join the club. You have the reassurance (and permission) of the group when you pull up next to someone else at a light who is driving a Porsche and they give you that knowing look and nod. You have permission to never change the moment someone asks you about your car because they’ve reinforced in a way no salesman can that you are special and envied . . . even if you are just on a test drive.
And Not So Covertly Grant Permission
A more overt way of giving permission is to simply tell the person what you want them to do next. You tell them the process they need to go through and then start them on the process. You simply assume (this is like the assumptive close in sales training) they are going to do something and that they have the authority to take the action you are now helping them take. By simply helping someone do something as simple as start a process and respecting and acknowledging their authority, you’ve given them permission to take action.
I’ve even gone so far as to tell people, “Hey, you have my permission to do this,” in a joking way. You have to be VERY sure that you do it in a non-threatening and joking way and that you have deep rapport with the person before you do it. That simple permission, while it seems to be a little aggressive and almost funny to think about, really does work at a subconscious level. It is just like Mrs. Smith, who used to give you permission to go to the restroom in the first grade, giving you permission to spend a million dollars on the new IT project. This kind of approach is best used when someone is really on the fence, when they really want to make the decision but just can’t quite pull the trigger.
Act As If
In negotiations and other non-product oriented persuasion situations it is often very effective to give permission by asking people to “act as if.” A very good technique to use is simply asking people if they would mind going through a quick creative thinking process with you. I’ll say, “I learned this really effective technique for making good decisions and I’d like you to go through it with me right now.” Then I’ll continue, “I’d like you to act as if you’ve already made this decision. What is the outcome, what is different and what do you see happening as a result of your decision?”
The moment that you can move people into the mental test-drive phase, you’ve given them permission to take action and they’ve accepted your permission. The next time you give them permission it becomes easier and easier to accept. Remember when we talked earlier about people needing to see themselves taking some action in their mind before they can actually take it externally? Well, acting “as if” gives them that internal experience and they begin immediately to attach all of their emotions and logical justification to the process. It is also easier for them to make the decision with you because they’ve already done it once. They’ve also likely exposed any other objections or resistance that you’ve not yet uncovered. Once you uncover them, you simply address them and ask them to go through the act “as if” process again with their challenges answered.
In group selling we often use permission granting in a very overt yet covert way. We will simply have one person turn to another and say, “You have my permission to do X.” That simple act of having the permission to do something from someone else dramatically increases the number of people who do X, for example, come to the back of the room and buy products. I will have everyone at the beginning of the program turn to one or two people around them and say “You have my permission to do whatever you need to do in order to improve your life or career today and I’ll support you in it.”
In smaller groups simply alter the process slightly. You can get the person who can give permission to give it outright by asking that person to give their permission. I might say, for example: “Mr. Black, does everyone here have your permission to make the best and most sensible decision for the company today?” He will nearly always say yes, empowering the people in the room to make a decision. When I use this process I’m regularly told that it is the first time Mr. Black has ever given his support to any project or given them the freedom to do what they need to do. Later, if the group hits an impasse, I’ll remind them that Mr. Black gave them his permission to make the right decisions for the company. I’ll then present them with my best solution for the company.
When groups get stuck, I’ll also use this same process to get them unstuck. I will simply ask them to give one another the permission to come to the very best conclusion for the company rapidly. Or I’ll have them give their permission to come to a conclusion within a certain period of time. By simply giving their permission, they are also agreeing to take some action within a specified period of time or to come to some conclusion that is in the best interest of the group or company.
Reassurance is the final covert way of giving permission that I’ll talk about here. Simply telling people that they are making the right decision and that you support their decision is a wonderful way of granting them permission. Often people want permission and reassurance simply because they fear making a poor decision. It is up to you to give your permission and reassurance so they can come to the conclusion you desire for them.
The Value of Belonging
Once you’ve given your permission, and they’ve accepted it, pull back the curtain and invite them in. Show them the value again of belonging. Allow the person you’ve given permission to experience the delivery of all the promises you’ve given them. They will never be more enthusiastic than they are at that moment. From then on, you must continue to deliver an experience and a relationship that will keep them coming back for more . . . and one so powerful that if they ever leave they will constantly wonder if they made the right decision.
Permission is control — use it wisely.
The idea of permission is one that is ingrained into us from a very early age. Giving permission encourages people to take the actions you want them to take.
Permission gives absolution.
Trials and test drives of products are covert permission grantors; use them often to your advantage.
In what ways can I begin granting permission in order to create change and break impasses?
When should I be giving permission during my persuasion process?
How can I use permission to create a cult of customers who rely on me?
Dave Lakhani is the author of The Art of Persuasion: The Art of Getting What You Want. It is an excellent book and you can find it here: