From dressing up as Spiderman and dropping down a London skyscraper to launching a business in space, Richard Branson has enjoyed his share of bold risks and big adventures.
The business visionary sees opportunities for achievement, reward, and success virtually everywhere, and this is what makes him what psychologists call a promotion-focused person.
For people like Branson, “life becomes about maximizing gains and avoiding missed opportunities,” writes Columbia University professor Heidi Grant Halvorson in her book “No One Understands You And What To Do About It.”
Compared to prevention-focused people, who are more interested in preventing loss and maintaining the status quo, she explains, the promotion-focused are apt to adopt a personal mantra of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
But while you may assume risk-takers will automatically get on board with whatever idea you throw at them, there are a two key practices to keep in mind when you pitch your next big idea to the Bransons of the world:
1. Make sure they are who you think they are.
Before you jump the gun and assume someone is generally more promotion-focused, use some telling cues to identify how they perceive the world, and thus how they will perceive your pitch.
According to Halvorson, promotion-focused people:
- Tend to think more in the abstract and approach ideas with an open mind.
- Are often quick workers, sometimes prone to error.
- Are usually optimistic, and they’re comfortable taking risks.
- Have strength in creativity, innovation, and identifying opportunities.
- Exhibit emotions that usually range from cheerful to depressed.
In contrast, prevention-focused people:
- Have a more concrete and detail-oriented thinking style.
- Can be defensively pessimistic and risk averse.
- Have strength in their analysis and evaluation, preparedness, and reliability.
- Exhibit emotions that usually range from calm to anxious.
There is no right or wrong way of looking at the world, Halvorson writes, and one way of thinking is generally not better than the other. Each personality type can be equally effective.
“But people will work very differently to reach the goals they pursue,” she explains. “They will use different kinds of strategies, have different strengths and preferences, and be prone to different kinds of mistakes.”
2. Use language that inspires them.
These different ways of thinking will also determine what kinds of arguments and evidence people find persuasive, Halvorson writes. “As a result, subtle changes in language can have a profound effect on your ability to really get through to them.”
To pitch accordingly to someone motivated by promotion, frame your argument in terms of all the great things that will happen if they agree to your idea and how they will end up better off than they are now, Halvorson suggests.
Also, frame the idea in more abstract terms so they are more likely to rely on feelings and intuition to make decisions.
“The promotion lens is looking for why the perceiver should say yes, while the prevention lens is searching for reasons to not say no,” she writes.
So say you wanted to pitch Branson on the idea of creating an underwater city for humans to dwell. You might pose the idea by saying something like, “From being the first company to alleviate over-population problems in a big way to potentially saving thousands from a natural disaster, the possible gains from approving this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity are boundless. We’d be getting in on the ocean floor.”
If you were trying to persuade a prevention-focused person, though, you might say, “Other companies have been considering similar ventures. If we don’t act now, we could fall behind the competition.”
It’s up to you to paint a vision that compels them to act.
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