Kevin Hogan

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No Means No, Except When It Doesn’t

She said no instantly.

She couldn’t haveKevin Hogan on Persuasion and Influence Factors thought about it. Couldn’t have reasoned it out.

Today is about that time you meet with your client and they say…. “no,” even BEFORE they have all the facts about what they truly need, and how much you would like to help them.

They might say, “I’ve got to think about it.”

But invariably that means, “No, but I don’t want to have to say ‘no’.”

Everyone knows that. No one “thinks about” anything in real life.

What’s Fascinating? Their current person, product or service they are using is clearly inferior.

It makes no sense. They SHOULD say YES to YOU!

WHY would they say “no?”

Legend Point: When people feel pressured to change…they won’t and don’t.  There is one exception and it’s about the TYPE of pressure.

The Anti-Authority Message Reaction

Remember humans are reactant. That means your customer could have a $50 bill in her hand and you could offer a $100 in exchange and your customer can and typically will quickly say “no!”


Read it again. It’s the teen reaction that never went away…the anti-authority message reaction.

Remember from our previous work, that people have a gut level “no” (reactance) to anything that is not familiar…and they have a reasoned thought resistance that says “no” until they’ve had a chance to step back and evaluate anything that they don’t regularly experience.

And THEN you have additional reactions to authority.

There can be a lot to overcome between “no” and “yes.”

Legend Point: A growing body of research about “reactance” shows that when people are told to do the opposite of what they believe they have a tendency to over-react in the direction of their current behavior.

For example: If someone is a cigarette smoker or abuses alcohol, and that person sees authoritarian messages to not do those things….you got it….the person smokes/drinks MORE.

The research is abundant. The more intense the warning on the cigarette package, the more quickly people go through the cigarettes and the more they smoke.

I travel out of the country quite regularly. When I was in Australia…Sydney…I went grocery shopping (that was an experience that taught me why Americans are fat…I’ll save that for another day).

I went to a part of the store where they were selling cigarettes. I was drawn to the area because there was a big sign that said, “Cigarettes cause death.” There was a skull and cross bones on the sign… and a line of people waiting to buy cigarettes.

There is no logic involved here. Cigarettes simply erase years from your life. But the smoker is not smoking for logical reasons.

By telling the person to quit smoking, you are pushing their anti-authority button. You are telling them they are stupid…or worse…that you are smarter than they are!

If the pressure you use is directly from you and it is perceived as a win/lose, the other person says, “no,” AND they hit the brakes and dig in for a fight, defending their position more vigorously every second of the way. That’s just how it is.

But there is one kind of pressure that does work with women and not men….

DO THIS: Think of yourself as a magnetic field with a field pushing out away from you. And the other person has the same magnetic field coming out of them. In other words, North faces North.

What happens?

Polarity….the magnets literally repel each other.

It’s a fascinating metaphor because it is amazing to watch it happen on your coffee table with two magnets….just like it is in real life with people…

  • So, you can’t pressure in the commonly understood definition of pressure.
  • You can’t “push.”
  • You can’t have an authoritarian message and expect the customer to say, “yes.”

It won’t happen.

But your pressure could easily cause them to sign a long term contract…with your competitor.

Men typically don’t succumb to any type of pressure in this context. Women, however, will yield to ONE kind of pressure. You will be surprised….

Does Everyone Have the Same Response?

What’s interesting is that not everyone responds with the polarity reaction. Generally there are two groups of people who predictably WILL react North to North. (Polarity)

A) People who participate in the behavior you are trying to get them to change.

B) People who are normally contrarian in general, or to you, or your message specifically.

FACT: After two people have met, reactance is TRIGGERED by OVERT influence attempts that are particularly dogmatic or authoritarian in *content* or *delivery.*

Reactance Triggers

Anything else trigger reactance?


Legend Point: A growing body of research shows that “low credibility messengers” (spokesmen/salespeople/etc.) are regularly met with reactance that ties the person being “persuaded” more closely to the status quo.



Legend Point: If some part of a person’s freedom is threatened (or perceived to be threatened, which is all that really matters!) in any way, you can know that “North” (polarity) will be out in full force.

What About That Teenager?


The reactant personality of course!

What’s that?

The reactant person is one who has a STRONG desire to MAKE THEIR OWN CHOICES.

Generally teens have a much stronger tendency to intense reactance than older people.

But of course, reactance is found in all ages.

In one study, the sign, “Danger – Shallow Water: No Diving!” increased kids diving significantly…but only in kids who had dived into the shallow water before. It had no effect on those who had not.

In another study, smokers who saw packs of cigarettes with NO health warnings on the packaging caused no change in smoking behavior. Those with strong warning labels caused the individuals to smoke MORE.

More fascinating yet?

You’ve seen commercials on television for pharmaceuticals that briefly point out what a specific drug will do to help your critical situation.

Immediately after that instant, a stream of side effects, typically ending, “or could even cause death,” is right there.

Now why would THAT kind of a message cause sales to increase and remain high?

People who take medication, “know” that most medication doesn’t work for whatever challenge they have. They also can tell that because they don’t experience any side effects to the med. But they are well aware of the (closer to) fact that side effects mean you aren’t just looking at another placebo. It’s real medication.

The volume of data here is overwhelming.

In the case of using “fear” in messages specifically, that would need a separate article…or book…but in general it works like this:

Fear and Reactance

Fear is only useful and effective when used “mildly.” Messages that contain “strong” or “intense” levels of fear cause reactance and CAUSE the opposite behavior.

Legend Point: There are exceptions but in general, a little fear goes a long way…and a lot of fear kills the message…and causes that which you want to change…to become more grounded.

Soften Your Message

Obviously we all experience reactance, and often, but depending on personality and circumstances, a lot of people will react much more intensely than others.

If you had to adopt only one idea to increase success in persuasion and influence it would be to SOFTEN YOUR MESSAGE.

Softening the message will influence… men?!

That isn’t going to work with women.

Women require knowledge that authority figures they respect have concluded that what you are proposing is what the authority figures have approved of. When women know that authority figures they respect, both men and women, have overwhelming concluded that the idea on the table you are presenting is the best “way,” THAT is the ONE and only kind of pressure that will predictably turn “no” into “yes.”

Most types of pressure simply can’t work with 90% of people and that is why salespeople talk about “numbers” and “percentages.”

That’s for next time. For now, recognize that women change their minds in dramatic fashion when they know the respected authorities overwhelmingly agree with a proposal….and…for men…they do not care what the respected authorities overwhelmingly think…and only message softening is effective on the pressure/no pressure continuum.

Most people believe the opposite to be true, but that’s why most people can’t get a “yes” from someone….they don’t know how people think and don’t spend the time to learn.

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