365 Ways To Persuade And Motivate: #10 Pitch When People Feel Regret

Picture of woman with head in handsOf all the situations and feelings that motivate people to take action, regret is one of the most powerful. People don’t like to feel regret and will do a lot to avoid it. That’s not surprising, but you might be surprised to find out that the more opportunity people feel they have, the more regret they tend to feel about a situation. If people feel that they could have done something differently, the more regret they feel with their action or decision. If they feel that they had no choice in their decision or action, then they feel less regret.

Related to this is the idea of whether there is a clear corrective action that could have been taken. If people feel they had a choice, and if they feel they had a clear, corrective action, and yet they don’t take that action, that is when they feel the most regret.

For example, let’s say you’re choosing a restaurant for an upcoming special event. You have three great restaurants that are available on the date you want. You choose one of the three and negotiate the menu with the restaurant staff. At the last minute the restaurant calls and changes the menu you had planned. You resist initially, but eventually give up. You’re not at all happy with the food they provide during the event. You could have taken corrective action (insisted they stick with the menu), or picked a different restaurant to start with, or switched to one of the other restaurants. But you didn’t do any of those things. So you had opportunity and you had clear corrective actions. In this situation you’ll feel a lot of regret, dissatisfaction, and disappointment.

If there’s only one restaurant available on the date you want to hold the event, and it only offers one set of menu choices, then you have little choice. Even though you might rate the food as good or as bad as in the first example, you’ll feel less regret, less disappointment, and less dissatisfaction.

Regret Inspires Action — Because people don’t like feeling regret, and because they feel the most regret about things they can fix, regret is actually a motivator for action. If people feel regret, then that’s when they are highly likely to take action. And people will often take an action to avoid regret before it happens.

What do you think? Are you willing point out to people the likelihood that if they don’t take the action you want them to take, or buy the product NOW that you want them to buy that they will regret the action later? If you “play the regret” card you are more likely to get them to take an action. Are you willing to do that or does that seem too manipulative?

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

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Posted in emotions, influence, motivation, psychology
3 comments on “365 Ways To Persuade And Motivate: #10 Pitch When People Feel Regret
  1. A bit slimy. I see the point and if the sale comes from a genuine concern in helping people to grow and move past mistakes they’ve made that is one thing. Looking for regret and pitching to capitalize on it is icky.

  2. Esme Pretorius says:

    I think to make someone feel regret for them to do what you want them to do is just not right. I don’t know if I can say that its unethical but perhaps a really “low” way of getting what you want. If someone tells me that I will regret not buying their product I’m immediately put off.

    Now if I point out to someone that they will regret something in the long run I would rather do it for their sake and not mine. I would rather use it when giving advice for example.

  3. Susan says:

    For those of you who say this is manipulative or too “slimy”, I understand what you are saying. However, like all persuasion techniques it is up to you to make sure you are not crossing ethical lines. For example, if someone were feeling regret about an unhealthy lifestyle choice — let’s say they quit smoking and then picked it back up and they are regretting that decision — then the research tells us this is a great time to pitch them on a new anti-smoking plan.

    All persuasion techniques hold the possibility of ethical mis-use. It’s important to think and act carefully.

    On the other hand, the science is what it is, and I’m still committed to writing about it. Although some of you may not agree!

    Thanks for writing in with your ideas and comments.

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I'm a Ph.D. psychologist and I write and videoblog about how to apply psychology and brain science research to understand how people think, work, and behave. For more information about me and about the Weinschenk Institute, check out the the Team W website.

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
The "Brain Lady"

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