Earn readers' trust with the pendulum principle

pendulum principle

By Chris Gillespie, Find A Way Media


The rabid recommendation

Have you ever had this experience? 

A friend recommends a book or a movie with rabid ferocity. They're practically foaming at the mouth trying to get you to try it. "You simply must!” they implore. “You must you must you must!" 

What did this make you feel? If you’re like most, (this author included) it actually turned you off and you never gave it a shot.

This is the pendulum principle in action. It’s fundamental to persuasion and if you’re not sure how it works, you might be unwittingly pushing your readers away, just like your friend. 


To attract audiences, you have to pull away

Here’s how we define the pendulum principle: 


Persuasion works like a pendulum—when you push, people pull away. When you pull away, they push. 


This advice came from David Sandler, the famous sales coach and entrepreneur. He discovered through door-to-door selling that the pushier he was about his products, the more people recoiled and put up barriers. Doors shut in his face. People's eyes glazed over and he got responses like, “I’ll think about it." It wasn’t until he experimented with pulling away—also known as reverse psychology—that he found that people wanted to know more. 

Pulling away works because whether you’re a writer or a salesperson, it demonstrates your independence. It shows that you’re not trying to pull a fast one on your audience or peddle some cheap widget. It shows that you don’t have a conflict of interest and are indifferent to what they do. This makes people trust you. 

Let’s explore what that looks like in writing.


An example of an author pushing too hard: 


Social media customer service apps are everywhere. But why do you need one? To be successful! It’s a hyper-competitive world out there and if your business isn’t offering support on social, it practically doesn’t exist! The first thing you should do to evaluate them is to read this free guide—it’ll teach you how to download our app and keep your business safe.


Notice what’s wrong with it? The author comes across as pedantic by using superlatives, exclamation points, and unsupported claims. She goes so far as to tell you what to think—help, which, as the reader, you may or may not be grateful for. 


An example of an author pulling:


According to Gartner, social media is the battleground upon which modern companies will compete. More and more consumers are demanding support and when a business isn’t able to respond quickly and personably, it risks allowing those complaints to go viral. In this guide, we’ll explore how some businesses are responding to this challenge with social media service apps. 


Notice the stark contrast? This passage is more impartial and doesn’t tell readers what to think. It simply offers an argument, cites a source, and calls its product a “potential” solution. It tells it like it is and allows you to decide for yourself. 

Now, let’s apply this to your writing. 


How to apply the pendulum principle to your writing

The harder an author pushes her audiences to believe something, the more she squanders her credibility and gets ignored

Keep your writing free of bias and stay agnostic to what clients need. Don’t tell them they can’t live without your solution. In reality, you have no idea what they need, and that’s just fine. All you need to know is that customers who look like them with a certain set of problems saw great results with your product. Paint the picture and allow readers to fill in the blanks. Often, they will, and they’ll follow your logic because they want to, not because they were told. 


Here are 4 pulling-away tactics I have found useful: 


1. The “I don’t suppose you know someone …” approach

This is a sales technique that works beautifully in print. You paint a picture of a company with a problem that’s scarily similar to your client without acknowledging the similarity. For example, as a salesperson I’d talk to companies, having thoroughly researched them, and say, “We work best for marketing software companies.” The client would reply, “We’re a marketing software company!” and I’d say, “Oh, well it’s really only ideal for those with less than 500 employees and who are trying to drive more leads,” to which they’d hop up and down shouting, “Wait, that’s us! That’s us!” By the end of the conversation, they’d be exasperated trying to get me, the salesperson, to understand why they, the customer, were a perfect fit. Paint this eerily similar picture without declaring the similarity in your articles, your case studies, and your white papers. Your customer will do the rest. 


2. The disqualifier

High-value people and companies set boundaries and establish what they’re willing to tolerate. Demonstrate your quality by saying outright who your solution or service won’t work for. As in, “We’re best for companies who do a lot of outbound emailing. For others, I’d recommend looking at X or Y competitors.” By being confident enough to turn customers away, you’ll come across as hyper-objective and earn readers’ trust. 


3. Say less 

Confident people without ulterior motives say less because they aren’t worried about impressing you. Don’t over-explain or answer unasked questions, such as coming right out and saying why people should trust you. Anyone who implores you to trust them knows that there’s a reason you shouldn’t, and readers pick up on this. 


4. Announce your imperfections

Along the lines of not telling people to trust you, go ahead and tell them why they shouldn’t. Expose some humanity by admitting to fallibility. When an author states her biases, conflicts of interest, or tells you that she isn’t the end-all-be-all on a given topic, readers are more likely to believe what she is saying can, in fact, be trusted. When the author doesn’t state her biases, the readers spend their time hunting for them rather than listening. 


The pulling away principle can be highly effective at drawing readers to you. It’ll keep readers asking for more rather than running for cover.
So, what better way to conclude this article than to tell you not to take my word for it. Why would you? You’ll have to experiment with it yourself to see.  


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