Persuasion through Harley Davidson

This summer I read the book, Elements of Persuasion by Richard Maxwell & Robert Dickson.  I’ll be blogging about other fascinating parts of the book but today, in honor of Harley Davidson’s 105th anniversary which was celebrated last weekend (with thousands of Harley riders in town including up and down the main street in front of the law school) I want to highlight what the authors called, “mirror neuron training.”  This means that people build empathy to each other by mirroring and matching physical actions.  For successful companies, Maxwell & Dickson argue that close physical contact is associated with successful corporate branding because of this mirror neuron training.  So, when we walk into Starbucks, we notice how the physical labor of taking orders, making coffee and serving it appears to happen seamlessly.  This is, according to the book, because of mirror neurons which take care of the physical movements allowing the baristas to focus on small talk and smiling at their customers.

And, the book argues, this same kind of close physical proximity is also behind the success of Harley Davidson.  Owners get together on the weekends, meet up for rides, and shop at the stores while waiting for other riders to show up.  This group ride has its benefits for the rider in terms of safety–trust me, you might overlook one Harley on the highway but you can’t miss ten or more.  The group ride also engages mirror neurons–each rider has to move in sync with the others–and this too makes the ride enjoyable.  As the authors say, “Put together a large enough group of Harley riders–as Jay Leno does every year to support charities in Los Angeles–and it can feel as if the whole town is on happy juice.”  From the smiles of most law students last week watching the parade of bikes go by, I can confirm that Harleys make you happy.  And in terms of negotiation skills, it appears that mirroring in close physical proximity to the other party could make each of us more persuasive.

6 thoughts on “Persuasion through Harley Davidson”

  1. “This means that people build empathy to each other by mirroring and matching physical actions.”
    This sentence really struck me. I am training for a marathon, and as part of the training I do weekly long runs with a running group along the lakefront. I’ve noticed a considerable difference in the ease of the runs when I do them on my own as opposed to being part of the group. Solo long distance runs can seem considerably longer and more difficult than when done as part of a group. As part of the group, we develop a sort of pack mentality– that we are all watching out for each other and accomplishing our mutual goal– completing the run.
    This is especially true on the out and back courses where faster runners face the slower runners as they pass. Our group recently completed a 20-mile build up run. As I was closing in on my second to last mile, several runners were on their last, with the finish in sight. As we glanced at each other, nearly every runner gave each other a thumbs up or a “looking good” to spread the motivation and sense of accomplishment. I found that I wasn’t thinking about the pain, but rather doing all i could to stay with the group and finish our mission for the day. Having others nearby who were doing the same thing and who could empathize with me made the task considerably easier. Those other runners also persuaded me that I too was capable of completing the distance, not only on this run, but also on race day.

  2. I see this happen often as well. I am a cyclist and will occasionally participate in a group ride. At first it may be a little shaky, especially if you do not know everyone, but as the ride progresses there is a give and take between all riders in an effort to provide and enjoyable and efficient ride for everyone. One or two riders take the lead, while others drag behind them, and then everyone rotates- that way everyone does their share of the hard work, while also being able to relax at times. It is almost like the integrative style of negotiation. Everyone works to benefit all parties, without making another party sacrifice an interest for someone else’s sake.

  3. That’s actually one technique I used to rise to the #2 position over here:

    1) Name repetition
    2) Personality Mirroring and
    3) NEVER breaking of a hand-shaking

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