Because objections have been on my clients’ minds a lot lately, I decided to make this wee video:
How to overcome objections
Here’s the video’s Red Thread:
- GOAL: Most of us want to know how to overcome objections to our idea, product, or service so that we can drive the action we’re looking for.
- PROBLEM: We focus on objections because we tend to think that objections precede decisions. In reality, though, it’s the other way around: objections are deflections (from harder questions or uncomfortable answers).
- TRUTH: Regardless of whether someone’s decision is a “yes” or a “no,” if the story they’re telling themselves makes sense, the decision will make sense, at least to them. The problem is that all too often the story we’re telling them is the one that makes sense to us—but we’re already convinced our idea is the right one!
- CHANGE: That’s why you need to build the skeptic’s story—the story that would make sense to someone whose worldview doesn’t yet include your idea, but could.
- ACTION: To do that, don’t just explain the why behind your what (why you make or do the thing you do), explain the why behind your how (why do you do what you do the way that you do it). That lets someone connect what you do with how you see the world—and allows them to see the world that way, too.
- GOAL REVISITED: Not only will you be more likely to get the decision you’re looking for, you just might keep objections from arising in the first place.
If you want to go deeper…
Let’s unpack that Red Thread into a not-so-wee post, as it contains a lot of juicy bits and some of my favorite concepts.
First up, that goal: How to overcome objections to our idea, product, or service. From a message-building perspective, it’s a good example of a “wrong” audience question. Not because the audience is wrong to ask it, but because by the end of the message I want my audience (you!) to be asking a different one: How can I keep objections from arising in the first place?
So, that’s my job with this message and Red Thread: To take the interest and relevance captured in the first question and not only answer it, but introduce a new possibility.
The relationship between objections and decisions
With that goal established, it’s time to introduce the “real” problem—the reason people are struggling to answer that goal question for themselves. Those “real” problems are almost always problems of perspective: the lens people are currently using to answer the question is somehow keeping them from finding a satisfactory answer.
With this step of the Red Thread, you want to both capture that current perspective and introduce a new perspective (yours!) that opens the door to a new and different answer (again, yours!). That’s why the “problem” always has two parts: the “old” perspective and the “new” one.
In this case, both parts of that “problem pair” are present in the goal itself: objections and decisions. The “problem” is the perspective on the relationship between those two—a classic “cart before the horse” kind of problem. We think that objections precede decisions, when in fact decisions precede objections.
In a longer piece of content using this same Red Thread, I’d obviously spend more time unpacking that (and do!). But it doesn’t take much more than a quick example for people to acknowledge the truth of that statement: think about the last time someone tried to convince you to buy something you didn’t want (or tried to keep you from canceling your cable!).
All the objections you came up with were actually attempts to get the other person to stop convincing you to make a decision different than the one you already made.
Generally we humans don’t like admitting to people that we’ve made a snap decision (even though that’s pretty much the only kind of decision we ever actually make!). So, as I say in the video, those objections we come up with are, in reality, deflections from a harder question (“Why don’t I want this thing?”) or an uncomfortable answer (“I know why I don’t want it, I just don’t want to tell you…likely because that answer may not make me look smart, capable, or good”).
[If you want to know why we deflect that way, read up on the concept of the “cognitive miser,” which is why a lot of messaging goes awry.]
But let’s get back to that snap decision, because there was some logic going on behind it—logic your audience wasn’t even aware they were using, because it happened pre-consciously.
If the story makes sense, the decision makes sense
I’ve talked here before about how story is the logic of the mind. Those “snap” decisions we make are the product of a pre-conscious story our brains build to deliver an answer to us. That story we tell ourselves has the same elements as the stories we tell other people. It contains:
- Something we want but don’t yet have (the Goal)
- A previously unknown/unacknowledged—but valid—reason why we don’t have it yet (the Problem)
- A belief or assumption that makes our current—or, in the case of a decision to change, new—behavior make sense (the Truth)
- The course of action that’s the result of the other three (the Change, if that course of action is a new behavior)
- The specific steps needed to put that decision into action (the Actions)
When you’re presented with a new idea (a Change), your brain looks for and fills in those elements of that story. If you understand and want what the idea, product, or service will give you (the Goal) AND the reasoning for that change makes sense (the Problem & Truth), your brain says, “Yep, let’s do it.”
But if not…nope.
And that all happens without you knowing it! All your brain delivers to you is the gut response of “yes” or “no.” And since your brain has neither the time nor the inclination to try to rebuild the snap story in a way you could explain it to someone else (see the “cognitive miser”!), it just provides you with a whole bunch of objections to offer instead.
Now here’s the tricky part:
The story that makes sense to you, isn’t (yet!) the story that makes sense to them
Remember that whole “without you knowing it” bit? That’s true for you and the story you told yourself about your idea. As a result, most of us build messages with what seem like the most important parts of the story: “This idea [CHANGE] delivers what you want [GOAL], so you should buy/do/use it.”
That may tell someone your “why”—why you do what you do—but it’s an incomplete story! It works for you because the Problem and Truth that connect the Goal to the Change are silent assumptions—parts of the snap story that your brain knows are there, but you don’t.
Now to see how the cognitive miser steps in, let’s look at that shortened story again:
“This idea [CHANGE] delivers what you want [GOAL], so you should buy/do/use it.”
If you weren’t already predisposed to try that idea, would that be enough of an explanation—a story—for you? I bet it wouldn’t, especially if there were a mental, physical, or monetary price tag attached or if something about it violated what you believe to be true about the world.
Try it with a real-life example:
“Bloodletting with leeches will restore your health, so you should do it.”
[Note: DO NOT DO THIS.]
Okay, so yes, I used an extreme example, but if you look at a lot of the messages out there—maybe even yours—you’ll see that they are fundamentally the same shortened story.
Do you start to see the problem here? If I believe in the four humours (which I don’t), then this seems like a perfectly good story. I’d already believe the connection between bloodletting and restoring health, so the conclusion makes sense.
But for someone who’s never heard of bloodletting with leeches? They need a bit more information. The preconscious, snap story isn’t complete—it’s missing a Problem and Truth—and so the decision is a “no,” or in the best case scenario, “tell me more.”
The challenge is we don’t often realize that people don’t always, or even often, believe the same things we do. Because of something called the false consensus effect, we tend to think that because we see the world a certain way, others must see it that way, too.
That’s why we skip to the end of our messages—we don’t think other people need to hear the whole “story,” because we don’t. But they haven’t heard the whole story yet, and your shortened version doesn’t give them all the pieces they need to understand or agree.
That’s why you need to…
Build the skeptic’s story
Whenever you’re building a message around an idea you’re sure is good or right, you need to pretend like you don’t believe it’s good or right…. You do that by adopting the eyes and ears of a skeptic—someone who’s willing to listen, but not yet convinced. That’s really the only way you’ll understand if and how your idea would ever really fit with their worldview.
The whole Red Thread method does this for you (which is why I wrote my book on it). It helps you identify and articulate:
- Something your audience wants but doesn’t yet have (the Goal)
- The previously unknown/unacknowledged—but valid—reason why they don’t have it yet (the Problem)
- A currently held audience belief or assumption that makes a new behavior make sense (the Truth)
- The course of action that’s the result of the other three (the Change)
- The specific steps needed to put that decision into action (the Actions)
Look familiar? I hope so!
But let me focus on the two parts we tend to skip over—the Problem and the Truth—because it’s those two that make a new story make sense (or not!) to even the most skeptical.
Find the why behind your how
Let’s go back to leeches.
If I’m trying to sell you on leeches, and you want to improve your health, you look like an ideal audience for me. After all, I believe that my leeches will improve your health. But why?
I can tell you my Simon Sinek-ian “why”: “I believe in improving people’s health, which is why I recommend leeches.” How does that work for you? Are you ready to go with the leeches? Probably not.
“Improving people’s health” is a “why,” sure. But do you see how it’s a “why” behind a “what”? It’s why I’m doing something—I want to improve people’s health—and the something just happens to be leeches.
But you likely have one more question you need answered before you give me a yes or a no: “Why do you recommend leeches to improve health?” You need to know the “why” behind my “how.” You need to know not just why I’m recommending A thing, but why I’m recommending THIS thing.You need to know not just why I'm recommending A thing, but why I'm recommending THIS thing. Click To Tweet
That’s a subtle difference, but a critical one.
So what would a “why behind my how” look or sound like? Well, the historical argument for leeches would go something like this:
- You want to improve your health. (Goal)
- It turns out health isn’t just one thing, it’s the product of four things, the four “humours”: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. Negative health issues are the result of issues with one of the four elements. (Two-part problem)
- We can agree it’s true that for the whole of something to be healthy, the parts need to be healthy, too. (Truth)
- That’s why, to improve your health, you need to keep the four humours in proper balance.
- Because leeches remove blood, they’re the ideal way to get your blood humour back in balance and thus improve your health.
Now that you understand my worldview and my reasoning, you can see if and how it aligns with yours (I hope it doesn’t!).
Do you see how it makes clear, both to me and to you, who the idea’s audience really is? Only people who share the worldview represented by the Problem and the Truth.
If you’re someone who wants to improve their health, but you don’t agree with the four humours approach (or somehow don’t agree with the Truth), you’re not going to bite on my recommendation of leeches <groan>. You’ll keep looking until you find some approach to improving your health that makes sense to you, given how you see the world.
For instance, 24 years ago now I wanted to improve my health. At just 24, my cholesterol and blood pressure were through the roof. I believed the science (and still do) that indicates that high cholesterol and blood pressure are often tied to being overweight, which I was. I didn’t, however, buy that leeches would be the key to that, even though I had all the “signs” of my “blood humour” being out of balance. And to be fair, no one offered (thank goodness!!).
But other than that, when it came to “improving my health,” I was very interested in anything that had the shortened story of “Do this [usually ridiculous thing] to lose weight and improve your health.” That meant I tried all sorts of things based solely on the claim that they could get me what I want (does anyone remember the Cabbage Soup Diet? YIKES).
Did any of them work? Sure, for a little while, but nothing ever stuck, nor did any weight loss that may have come along with them. I also felt…not so great doing them (*ahem* CABBAGE *ahem*) or not so great AT doing them (Jazzercise!).
So, over time, I realized that agreeing with the why behind the “what” wasn’t enough. I needed to agree with the why behind the “how.”
I needed something that would satisfy this story:
- I want to (lose weight to) improve my health. (Goal)
- There’s a big difference between losing weight and keeping it off. (Two-part problem) To be successful long-term, I need a program that I can sustain long-term—that means nothing that has me eliminate foods I love or that affects how I interact with others. I still want to go out to eat!
- I can’t improve my health if the way I lose weight—or my final weight—is unhealthy. In other words, to get healthy, I need to be healthy. (Truth)
- That’s why, to lose weight and improve my health, I want a science-backed program that teaches me long-term skills for leading a healthy life.
Having that clarity made it easy for me to start making better choices about what I was, and wasn’t, willing to try. (And yes, I eventually found Weight Watchers, now WW, and have sustained a 50-pound weight loss through 22 years and 2 children).
Is there ever a case for leeches?
So you might be saying, “That’s all fine, Tamsen, but there is still no way I’d ever agree that leeches could improve my health…” Let’s see how this story might work for you:
- You want to improve your health—after trauma or cancer treatment. To do so you need a complicated surgery like a reattachment or a graft, or some kind of reconstructive plastic surgery. (Goal)
- These surgeries need two elements to be successful: microscopic blood vessels that are successfully reattached and successful blood flow through them. (Two-part problem) Unfortunately, in rare cases, the blood becomes “thicker” than the tiny blood vessels can carry.
- Leeches’ saliva contains chemicals that not only keep the blood from getting “congested” in the first place but also keep the blood flowing even after the leech is detached. (Truth)
- That’s why, to support your post-surgery recovery, we recommend using leeches as part of your treatment plan. (Change)
- Here’s how that would work… (Action)
Okay, so it’s a pretty specific case, but do you see how you could be open to it, if that’s the situation you found yourself in? Indeed doctors report that, when they “openly communicate with them about our goals and the reasons for the therapy, most patients understand and are accepting of the treatment.”
Trade in objections for agreement
That last line is what it really all comes down to. That, when the case is right, when the reasons behind the “how” are clear, you end up trading objections for agreement. And that’s because you’ve held off the potentially objectionable thing until after you’ve gotten agreement to all the reasons for how that thing is the right answer.
As mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal once said:
“The art of persuasion is as much that of agreeing as that of convincing.”
When you build a story with elements a skeptical audience would agree with—without convincing—it’s very likely that you won’t encounter objections at all.
Try it and see!When the case is right, when the reasons behind the 'how' are clear, you end up trading objections for agreement. Click To Tweet
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We spend a lot of time trying to use our messages to overcome audience objections so that they’ll then decide in our favor. Except that isn’t how it works. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com, and on this episode of Message in a Minute, we’re talking about how objections are deflections. Deflections from a harder question that someone is struggling to answer, like how does this actually work and why is that the right way for something to work. Or from an uncomfortable answer that they have to the question of your idea. Something along the lines of does this really align with what I want and believe about the world or about you.
Now as long as the story makes sense, what somebody’s telling themselves, then the decision will make sense. But you’re probably saying to me, “But that’s what I’m doing. I’m telling them all the reasons why this thing makes sense and why their objections don’t make sense.” Except you’re coming at it from the perspective of someone who has already been convinced that that idea is the right one.
So if you really want to overcome objections, and actually keep the objections from arising in the first place, build the skeptic’s story. Build the story that someone who isn’t convinced about your idea would tell themselves and would come to the conclusion that your idea is the right one. To do that, they need to not only understand the why behind your what, why are you producing this thing, why does the idea exist in the first place. But the why behind your how. How you arrived at that idea. Because it’s that, the why behind your how, that tells people not only exactly how your idea works, but whether or not it aligns with how they see the world and what they believe. And it’s that kind of alignment that creates the decision that takes the objections out of the picture entirely.
Thanks so much for watching. If you want to learn more about this or about any topic related to messaging in general, visit my website at tamsenwebster.com or pick up my book, Find Your Red Thread: How To Make Big Ideas Irresistible at tamsenwebster.com/book.
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