The Key to Mastering Covert Persuasion is in Your Big Left Toe

Strange title I know. The Big Left Toe Method is my way of explaining the most powerful force in persuasion – directing attention and awareness.

The true power behind persuasion and influence comes from “moving minds” – literally – as that is what happens when you redirect attention or awareness – you move a mind. Every covert persuasion and influence technique, tactic and method is built on this foundation.

The Big Left Toe Method was my initial way to explain this in a simple verifiable way.

I now have advanced ways to explain this key to understanding persuasion but when I first started teaching it in 2000 I only had the Big Left Toe Method. So now that you’ve read Big Left Toe in the title and in the last couple of sentences, have you thought about your Big Left Toe?

If not, think about it now.

When was the last time you thought about your big left toe before I just asked you to? Honestly. Probably when you stubbed it on something and started cursing and hopping around on one foot. When you stub your big left toe your attention and awareness moves to it immediately. Or maybe you had an ingrown toenail. There really aren’t too many other reasons that you would be thinking about it would there? Except…

You’re thinking about your Big Left Toe right now because I’m directing your attention and awareness to it. However before that, even though it is attached to your body, you weren’t even aware that it was there. And quite simply – that is one of the most powerful keys to understanding covert persuasion.

“You’ve really lost it now Sulo.” I hear you saying amongst the voices in my head. And then I say back, “No my friend. I’m compos mentis.”

Let me add a little glamor to the commonplace…

I just  got you to focus your attention and awareness on your Big Left Toe!  I did that with a bunch of words – a few sentences.  If I spoke the words out loud it would have taken me less than a minute. It’s just a demonstration but really think about the implications of that. I know people think gadgets like IPADS are cool but let’s face it – moving people’s attention and awareness with a few words is pretty f*cking awesome.

Let’s look at a more modern demonstration.

First watch this video (Note: If you’ve been on my lists you may have watched it before and know what happens. If so please move to the second video.):

If you have never seen the video before, it probably shocked you that you didn’t notice. Yes?

OK. Now watch this second video:

Once you knew about the moonwalking bear in the original video it was easy to spot the gorilla in the second video. Your attention was directed on specific things. In this second video you were aware of what you missed in the first one AND you were paying attention to how many times the white team made a pass.

These two videos have demonstrated that what we focus our attention on often prevents us from being aware of other things unless we’ve been made aware of them beforehand.

The Big Left Toe Method has demonstrated that there are things right in front of our nose that we don’t pay attention to unless someone directs our attention there. And please keep in mind that although in the Big Left Toe Method we directed your attention to a physical part of your body – We could also direct your attention to a memory or emotion.

There are three simple parts to this:

  1. Where we place our attention internally and/or externally
  2. The things that we fail to pay attention to once our attention is directed.
  3. The associations that are primed, the heuristics (triggers/rules of thumb) activated, and/or the emotions experienced as a result

So we’ve seen that we can move someone’s attention or awareness. That’s one part. We’ve seen that by focusing our attention (or having someone focus our attention) on some things makes us miss out on other things. That’s another part.

The third part is not illustrated in the Big Left Toe Method or the above videos. The third part looks at what things are experienced emotionally or what context is created or what triggers are set off or what associations are primed when we focus someone’s attention on something.

I’ll cover the third part more in a future post because this post is already too long.

But let’s summarize what you can do now that you know that attention and awareness are the foundation of persuasion:

  1. You can direct people’s attention where you want it to go. Now that I’ve made you AWARE and brought your attention to AWARENESS you should find yourself paying more attention to where you are directing other people’s attention. That’s a good start.
  2. You can begin to deconstruct some persuasion techniques that are commonly used to influence. Things like FRAMING or TAKE-AWAYS or SOCIAL PROOF. How do these techniques direct someone’s attention or awareness? How does that set off triggers or associations? How does that attention or awareness alter or modulate future communications or observations?

Sometimes all this happens naturally. This is why it’s easy to sell someone that’s in “pain.” If someone’s dying of thirst you don’t need to bring their attention or awareness to that fact to sell them water. They are thirsty. They are aware they are thirsty. They are aware they could die if they don’t get a drink. You don’t need covert persuasion for that.

Other times someone’s awareness and attention is very “far away” from where it needs to be for you to persuade someone. In those cases you need to “move” someones awareness and attention incrementally in steps – usually over time. I call this Stepped Awareness (sometimes Incremental Awareness) and I’ll cover it more in another post.

In between the two extremes are the everyday persuasion situations we find ourselves in.

Take this week to notice how much power you have to move minds with your words. Where do you direct people’s attention? Is it elegant and effective or could you improve?

I appreciate all comments and questions.


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About Christopher Tomasulo

At home Christopher Tomasulo is your average dad with three kids. However, here at Covert Comm he is known as “Doc Sulo” and he mind-warps crowds with a tiny flutter of his left hand. He clothespins ideas to unsuspecting gray matter. He speaks lemon-yellow words that splash into ear canals and squeeze themselves into refreshing influence lemonade. It has also been said he's half-way decent at making complex persuasion and influence techniques simple.
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6 Responses to The Key to Mastering Covert Persuasion is in Your Big Left Toe

  1. David Stuart says:

    Excellent stuff Christopher. I bought the book “The Invisible Gorilla” and it’s a fascinating read.

    Thanks for your posts. It’s great to see your site back up again.

    • You’re welcome David. Thanks for stopping by.

      I haven’t read “The Invisible Gorilla” yet but I really love the two videos. They demonstrate the importance of attention and awareness better than anything I’ve used before.

  2. John Thomas says:

    Great post. Reminded me of something Blair Warren wrote about effectively using persuasion when you’re aware of it, but, if you are unaware of it, if you are not thinking about using it, then you won’t be able to put it to use. And I think, especially when working with persuasion strategies to become comfortable with using them, this is necessary.

    I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on contextualization.

    – John

    • Thanks John.

      What happened to Blair Warren? He stopped Tweeting his excellent thoughts and he took down his website. And both things happened right after I heard about him. Sucks.

      What kind of context material do you want me to write about? Do you have a situation in mind?

  3. Chet Payne says:

    Christopher I just found your blog, I didn’t realize there was a link to it from my blog. You have some excellent material here!

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