Was walking to a meeting with a client in Boston earlier today along with one of my colleagues. On our way there, on the corner of Washington and West St. not too far from China Town, this guy starts talking to us, complimenting our clothes, being super friendly. Hi energy guy, positive attitude. Then, after we’ve become his best friends within about 43 seconds, he shares with us that he is homeless and asks whether we can give him some money for food. I personally am of the general opinion that if you can physically work….you should. However, I immediately felt guilty, somewhat embarrassed and offered to buy him a bagel at the Dunkin Donuts across the street (did I mention I was in Boston?).
It is already proven that our decisions are driven by emotions. We buy something which is a reaction caused by an emotional trigger to someone or something we heard or saw. But where do you stand when it comes to guilt? And I don't ask this solely because as a Jewish guy it is simply an innate characteristic. Have you ever found yourself buying something, paying for something, giving, because of guilt?
According to Phil Barker in an article about the human reaction to guilt from 2003, one of our reactions to the feeling of guilt is that we become nice. Too nice as a matter of fact. We feel ashamed to a degree and to compensate for it we are intrigued with the need to be overly nice which many times translates into giving.
More and more selling operations take advantage of this element of the human nature and causing us to buy out of guilt. Sending kids to knock on doors, advertising directly to that emotional trigger which results in us buying. Uncomfortable, guilty, uneasy, ashamed and…buying. That buying act as if releasing us from that guilt. Even just for a moment but it has become a coping mechanism for us. Me personally, I am not a big advocate of this method of selling but I get it. It’s fair play. The problem I have is when it gets weird. When you feel uncomfortable and instead of nice you respond with resentment.
"The emotion of GUILT follows directly from the thought that you are responsible for someone else's misfortune, whether or not this is the case." Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.
Standing in line at that corner Dunkin Donuts shop. Put my order in. Sliding my credit card into the machine and then the person across for me does that frightening and oh so uncomfortable motion I fear – he turns the touchscreen over for me to complete the transaction. On the screen 3 options for tipping. Tipping for what? I mean, I lived in NYC for a few years, I know tipping. But really?
So first the guilt. I’m thinking about the person in front of me. Poor guy, they need every extra dime. So, I am thinking I will add a dollar to the $8.5 purchase. But no – the lowest option is to add %18 which translates to $1.53. I know, 53 cents, right? But it’s the principle. The guilt turns into somewhere between frustration and anger. Blaming them for even putting me in the predicament. Then I feel something behind me. I glimpse and see the middle age couple is staring me down, judging me and I can hear their minds saying – how cheap are you man? Just go for it.
Here is the guilt again.
Selected option number 2 – 25%. Now I am guilt free for at least until my next purchase.
For the record, the homeless guy refused the offer of buying him a bagel. He wanted a McDonald’s breakfast. WHAT?????? Didn’t seem to feel any guilt…..
So, to use this selling approach or not? To buy or not to buy? To give or not to give?