Fear (of loss) is a bigger motivator than the positive experience of winning or owning.

This is really important. Read again and think about how YOU sell currently?

This is an important consideration because in practice this means that when a proposition is phrased as ‘pain avoidance’, it will be more powerful than ‘pleasure seeking’.

It relates back to the survival instincts at play avoiding danger or pursuing scarce resources are appropriate responses to the threat to our survival. Kahneman & Taversky were the researchers who originally articulated these findings best. Practitioners call these persuasion strategies “Omega Strategies” – and it is all about how questions/ propositions are ‘framed’ to gain maximum compliance.

If you are asked to give a Lotto ticket to someone, you feel irrationally agitated because you anticipate the feelings of regret because you might ‘lose’ something.

When confronted with scenarios which are statistically the same but framed in ‘opposite’ terms (positive vs. negative) then people tend to respond to the negative scenario (pain avoidance) more than the opposite.

Let’s play a hypothetical to illustrate:

There is an outbreak of a dangerous disease that is expected to kill 600 people.

There are two alternate programs that could save some people:

  • Program A will save 200 people
  • Program B: There is 1/3 probability that all 600 people will be saved and a 2/3 probability that no one will be saved.

Which do you choose?

(Stop here and decide A or B. Make a note.)

Upon further study, 2 further options are identified:

  • Program C will cause 400 to die
  • Program D has 1/3 probability that no body will die, and a 2/3 probability that all 600 will die.

Which do you choose?

(Stop here and decide C or D. Make a note.)

Most people (78%) choose option D.

Only 28% chose Option B.

Options D and B are identical identical. Why do people choose differently?

The difference being that one option is framed as a ‘risky proposition’ which may lead to anticipated regret (pain) and most respondents choose Option A – the sure thing.

Your challenge is to figure out how you can ‘frame’ the options you present to your customer in such a way that they will choose the option that is best for you. (Or you can get someone to do it for you and avoid all the pain of doing it yourself.)

Help your customer ‘avoid pain’ by changing the language you use. (I always use ‘retail’ examples, but I know many suppliers/ service providers also read Inside Retailing, so here is one practical example that can be used by everyone for a change.)


Phrases with PAIN

AVOID the pain



Sign here

OK the paperwork


Top of the line




Like most of the insights from neuroscience, people who have a natural affinity for human interactions will find that they often naturally do these things and understanding WHY it happens or why it works gives the framework to explore it further and the confidence to expand their repertoire.

BUT – just in case my point is not understood, selling is not (just) about talking. And especially it is not about ‘smooth’ talking. Consider this:

After extensive studies, the MIT Media Lab concluded that it could predict the outcome of negotiations, telephone sales calls, and business plan pitches with 87 percent accuracy simply by analysing participants’ body language, without listening to a single word of content. When the MIT Media Lab concluded that they could predict the success of sales calls without listening to a single word, these are the only two measurements they needed: 

  • Ratio of speaking to listening
  • Amount of voice fluctuation



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