The upside of under: Engaging the underdog edge for persuasion success
Powerful people many times suffer from what psychologists call the “imposter syndrome,” where they feel like they don’t deserve the fruits of their labors. They doubt whether they are smart and accomplished. This is the underdog’s edge. The powerful people who feel this way now have, with an underdog request, the opportunity to say, ‘Look, I help others, I’m not the bad guy.” Further, because underdogs have a lot of heart and grit, we see them as good and moral people. Therefore, it makes us feel more moral to help other moral people.”
So how does this impact you as an individual underdog in extreme influence situations? It gives you an enormous advantage. Social science indicates that most of us have an innate desire to live in a world of equality; we want a level playing field, or at least a level field of opportunity. And powerful people have a stronger need for equality than the rest of us.
People Buy from Underdogs
Recent research has found a trend that underdog positioning even influences consumer behavior. Researchers are noticing an increase in underdog branding as a marketing strategy, particularly with a firm’s biography. Even if a company is now large, if they struggled to survive in the early days (Apple, Southwest Airlines, Oprah Winfrey) they have an appeal because underdog stories about overcoming great odds through passion and determination resonate, and especially during difficult times. Their stories inspire us and help us see that if you work hard, have some grit, and play by the rules, success is still possible.
Underdogs are winning at the polls---in 2010, over 100 new members of Congress were elected and 30 of them had never been elected to any public office. Even the Oscars have seen underdog winners like the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Not All Underdogs are Equal: Obtaining Underdog “Street Cred”
While you may now agree that underdogs have persuasive appeal, you might be asking why some underdogs get what they want and others don’t. It’s because there are five characteristics of winning underdogs that researchers have found to be required before the underdog formula is a persuasive underdog formula. They are:
- Few resources. This seems intuitive, but many organizations and individuals promote their wealth and resources before their hard work and grit. The more resources you have, the greater expectations for success (and the resulting loss of underdog positioning).
- Don’t squander the resources you do have, and show that you worked hard for them.
- Keep other’s expectations of you low.
- Don’t call yourself the underdog. Research shows that label must come from a third party to be credible.
- Use unconventional tactics. Effective underdogs don’t use the same tactics as their Goliath adversary.
The next time you find yourself with an upward influence situation, try positioning yourself as the underdog. Remember, the powerful person you are trying to persuade has a deep-seated need to help true underdogs, and you can meet that need.
Amy Showalter is the author of “The Underdog Edge: How Ordinary People Change the Minds of the Powerful. . . and Live to Tell About It.” She a speaker and consultant who helps organizations and individuals get powerful people on their side. For more information on Amy, please visit http://www.showaltergroup.com/ or http://www.underdogedge.com/. Amy can be reach at 513-762-7668 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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