Finding the Right Emotional Trigger

Have you ever tried to persuade somebody of certain belief or to take a specific action?

It’s rarely easy.

For the most part, us humans are hard-headed creatures set in our ways.

I was reminded of this when we went to get our family photos taken this morning.

We all got dressed up (our three young kids included), and then headed off just shy of 10 a.m. When we arrived, they let us take a few minutes to peek in the mirror and make sure we all still looked good.

At that point, my wife decided to apply some lip gloss to my 8-year-old daughter’s lips.

Now, my daughter likes to wear dresses, but she’s still a bit of a tom-boy. And she doesn’t like lip gloss.

She started to cry.

Of all my kids, the last one I expected to cry was my daughter. She’s my oldest! I thought for sure it would have been my three-year-old son. But my daughter??

Anyway, my wife was upset and told our daughter to stop crying… that her eyes and nose would get red and it would mess up the pictures.

Of course, every time we told her to stop crying and that she was acting like a three-year-old, she would just cry more.

I quickly realized appealing to our authority was not going to work. I also realized that appealing to her “status” as the oldest child in our family wasn’t going to work either.

So that’s when I said, “It’s fine. Let her cry. When we show the pictures to her friends, we’ll just have to explain that she decided to cry and throw a fit about wearing lip gloss for an hour.”

Immediately, my daughter’s demeanor changed.

Most of her friends in the neighborhood are “girly” girls who like wearing lip gloss and make-up. My daughter knows that her friends would laugh at her if they knew she was crying about wearing lip gloss.

Authority didn’t work. Comparing her to her younger brothers didn’t work. But the veiled threat of embarrassment and humiliation in front of her friends — her peers! — worked instantly.

Persuasion is not so much about “tricks” or “secret techniques” as it is about knowing what matters to the person you are trying to persuade. Once you know what the person cares about, you can zero in on the emotional trigger that he or she will respond to.

Have you spent enough time finding the right emotional trigger?

-Ryan M. Healy

Ryan M. Healy

Ryan Healy is a financial copywriter and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like,, and