Do you like it when someone tells you what to do? My guess is that you do not. In this article, we will explore when prospects perceive that they are being told what to do. We will look at how it can mushroom into negative emotions and actions and how this can ultimately affect your sales presentation. You will see how individuals who sell services (vs. products) are more likely to trigger these negative emotions in their prospects. Lastly, I will review a few strategies that you can use to reduce the likelihood of this happening to you. If this sounds intriguing, then you want to read on. As you consider this subject, you might think it to be a bit complex, because it is. Whenever I dig into the thoughts and motives behind your prospect’s actions, it tends to become a little complicated. Please keep in mind that my goal in reviewing these concepts is to help you better understand what your prospects are thinking but not saying – to improve your persuasive capabilities.
Since no one likes to be told what to do, people tend to have an adverse reaction when it happens. Why do we respond negatively to the perception that someone is trying to control us? We can find the answer in a study of the subject of reactance. In psychology, reactance is “an unpleasant motivational arousal that emerges when people experience a threat to or loss of their free behaviors.”
In a recent article in Psychology Today, “Why We Hate People Telling Us What to Do,” Elizabeth Dorrance Hall Ph. D. states that “psychological reactance is our brain’s response to a threat to our freedom. Threats to freedom include any time someone suggests or makes you do something. Health communication experts note that reactance sometimes happens in response to health campaigns that tell people to quit smoking. Rather than reducing smoking behavior, these ads sometimes cause people to want to smoke more! This strong reaction to a threat to freedom has two parts: feelings and thoughts. When reactance is happening in our minds and bodies, we have negative thoughts, and we often feel anger, hostility, and aggression. People who strongly feel reactance in response to threats to freedom feel an urge to do something. That something can be restoring one’s freedom by rebelling against the advised or prescribed action. If told to wear your seat belt, you might leave it unbuckled on purpose. This type of reaction is called ‘direct restoration.’ Other options include deciding to like the prescribed action; in other words, changing your mind about how you feel about seatbelts or thinking, ‘I wanted to start wearing my seatbelt anyway!’ Or, lastly, denying that a threat to freedom ever existed in the first place.”
With that explanation in mind, you may be thinking that you would never make your prospect do anything they did not want to. But consider this point; as a salesperson, you are making suggestions and prescribing actions, as well as asking prospects to do things. So, no doubt you unintentionally spark these thoughts and emotions in your prospects. You may think you never do this, and that is your perception, but that does not matter when it comes to the subject of reactance. In this regard, the only thing that matters is the prospect’s perception. Why? A prospect may seek to buy your product or service, already with the preconceived idea that they will have to give up some of their freedom by buying it. (Note that this thought process typically happens when someone is purchasing a service rather than a product.) Yes, the consumer comes prepared for a long laundry list of rules that they know they will have to comply with to use the company’s service. However, when a company requires that the potential customer comply with rules that conflict with the prospect’s desire for control, it creates the obstacle. Does the prospect want to use the service so much that they are willing to convince themselves that they are still in control? Maybe.
However, the problem arises when the prospect cannot persuade themselves that they are still enough in control to rein in their natural reactions. What happens then? The prospect tells the salesperson that they want to “think over their decision,” which means they are not buying. Why? Because of the thoughts and emotions connected to reactance. In this example, the seller crossed over the acceptable level of demands or rules required to use their service. Which, in turn, caused the buyer to feel that they had to give up too much control of their decision-making. In such situations, the potential buyer has two options.
One, look for a seller with less restrictive rules, or two, let the problem go and do nothing. In either circumstance, the first salesperson lost a sale. An obvious solution once aware of the reactance issue is eliminating as many unnecessary rules and requirements as possible and then making sure that you relate your position to potential customers. Yes, let them know that you have very few rules that they must comply with to purchase your service or product, which will be music to most consumers’ ears and lessens the possibility of a bad reaction.
Here is a recent example that happened to me. I needed a lawn care company to fertilize my yard. When I spoke to the salesperson, he said the following: “We have no contracts. You tell us to start and stop whenever you want our service.” I thought, wow, that is smart, and now I am their customer. Maybe your service is more complicated, and you cannot be that easy to do business with, but it was an excellent example of a way to address the consumer’s need for control.
But what if your business sells a product, not a service? Could you also be affected by reactance? Yes, there is one specific area that could impact both product and service suppliers. It is in the way salespeople make their proposals. When you make a request, be sure to present it so that the prospect knows they are in total control and have the final say. This approach may seem obvious; however, remember any perceived attempt to wrangle control over the final decision can trigger the negative thoughts and emotions of reactance. At the proposal stage of your presentation, you should have already made your case as to why the prospect should purchase your product or service. Now you are in the resolving phase of the sales process, and you are simply asking them for a yes or no. The quality of your relating and reasoning will influence if you get that final yes. Care is needed to make that proposal while keeping these points in mind to achieve the best outcome.
Finally, it is important to analyze all aspects of your presentation and offering and look for areas where this issue could flare up and cost you a sale. All the time, keeping in mind that these are emotions and thoughts, and therefore individuals will rarely vocalize these thoughts. They are unspoken.
Hopefully, now that you have a clearer understanding of psychological reactance, you are better positioned to get yourself and your business prepared.