How to Convince Anyone of Anything

MBS Loss Aversion

“I’m lovin’ it!” – Really? Is there a person who truly loves the food at McDonald’s?

People do not choose what they like best, but what they fear least. We have a “loss aversion,” which is why we have a greater motivation for avoiding pain than for increasing joy. Thus, reducing uncertainty becomes a fundamental driving force of human behavior. When making a decision, we are – above all – trying to avoid making a mistake.

For our ancestors, almost every misfortune was a direct path to the afterlife: a simple cold – and death was imminent. Our ancestors had to be on guard at all times simply not to make a mistake. The careful and the cowards survived. Our forefathers.

This legacy is revealed to us again and again every day in the most trivial situations. Some years ago, I visited my Oxford friend Sasha in Brussels, who had just started working for NATO. Sasha was delayed by about one hour – presumably the Third World War had to be avoided (Sasha would often use this five-star excuse) – and so I wanted to sit down in a café and do some reading. I had the choice between a small Italian café and, right next door, a Starbucks, which I am not a great fan of. So where should I go?

My legs led me straight as a die into Starbucks. Eventually, Sasha showed up and was amazed that I did not choose Luigi’s, which presumably served the best espresso outside of Italy, but instead sat in this mediocre place which I could have found back home, right outside my front door. He was right, of course. But it was the fear of my forefathers that had driven me towards the Starbucks. Here I knew what to expect: at least decent coffee. And so, I had not chosen what I liked best, but what I feared least.

So why does McDonald’s keep serving billions? Because above everything else, customers want to avoid making a bad choice. You know exactly what a burger from McDonald’s tastes like. It is this necessity of minimizing the risk for customers that Ray Kroc, the founding father of McDonald’s, recognized early on as the key to success. His aim was to offer “the same” burger from Atlantic City to Zaragoza, or as he put it: “There is a science to manufacturing and serving hamburgers.” This idea catapulted McDonald’s and the entire franchising industry into new stratospheres.

So if you want to convince other people of anything – buying a burger or hiring you –, you would do well to follow the words of the US marketing strategist Harry Beckwith: “Do not try to be a good choice. Eliminate everything that could make you a bad choice.” This may sound banal, but it represents a paradigm shift – no matter who you want to convince, and no matter of what.

About Prof. Dr. Jack Nasher 10 Articles
Professor Dr. Jack Nasher was appointed full professor for Leadership and Organization at Munich Business School in 2010. After studying at Oxford University and in Frankfurt/Main, Jack Nasher received his doctorate from the University of Vienna for a thesis on the theory of science. Jack Nasher is "one of the world's leading negotiation advisors" (Forbes) and runs the NASHER Negotiation Institute, which regularly conducts training and consulting for Fortune 500 companies, banks, and accounting firms. Jack Nasher's books have been published in the U.S., Germany, Russia, India, China, Japan, and Korea and other countries. He donated 100% of the royalties of his book on Sir Karl Popper’s Open Society to Human Rights Watch. Articles on and about Jack Nasher have appeared in publications such as The Harvard Business Review, Handelsblatt, Capital, ZEIT, FAZ, China Times, Business Insider, and The Wallstreet Journal. Jack Nasher regularly presents his research findings at academic conferences and has taught at Oxford University, University of Liechtenstein, TU Munich, and INSEEC Paris, among others. Since 2018, Jack Nasher has been visiting faculty for the BING Overseas Program at Stanford University. Jack Nasher is a member of the Society of Personality & Social Psychology and a Principle Practitioner of the Association of Business Psychologists.