Don’t Be a Downer

Eager to put Coach Smith’s lesson on scarcity into practice, Pat saw the perfect opportunity Monday afternoon. She’d attended a leadership meeting and the company sales results were significantly less than where they hoped to be at the 6-month mark.

Company results were the basis for the annual bonus plan. Not only did the company have to generate a profit, but they also had to reach certain sales metrics too. At the rate they were going, getting any bonus looked to be in jeopardy unless sales radically turned around in the second half of the year.

At her weekly team meeting on Tuesday Pat addressed the situation. She opened the meeting saying, “Yesterday I was at the leadership meeting and learned our sales results are not good. It looks like we won’t be getting a bonus unless there’s a big turnaround before year-end.” Immediately she saw everyone’s face fall and looks of concern came over everyone.

Trying to be a little more positive she went on, “I’m not saying we won’t get a bonus. It’s just unlikely without a sales turnaround.” Unknowingly she fell into the trap so many people stumble into when trying to use scarcity to motivate behavior. She came across as a fear monger, a real downer. She wasn’t sure what to do to rally her team and suddenly she felt like all the goodwill she’d built up over the last several months was out the window.

She tried to rally the team, reminding them the sales training they were working on could have a big impact on performance, but she didn’t get much response. They slogged through several other issues on the meeting agenda then everyone left the room silent.

She found an empty conference room and called Coach Smith. He answered the phone in his usual jovial tone, “What’s up Pat?”

 “Coach, I think I screwed up,” she said with a concerned tone.

 “What happened?” Coach asked, matching her emotional state.

Pat shared some of the high-level details of the leadership meeting and how she tried to use a scarcity approach to motivate her team to work even harder in the second half of the year, but it fell flat. “What can I do to turn this around,” she inquired.

In a reassuring tone Coach said, “It’s not the end of the world Pat. This is no different than when we had a poor first half in a game and had to dig ourselves out of a hole. I didn’t have to tell him the team we were in the hole because they could see the scoreboard. I also did my best to never make being down at the half seem insurmountable. I think you may have gone overboard with your team because it sounds like they don’t see a way to win in the second half. Is that a fair assessment of the situation?”

“When you put it that way, I think you’re 100% correct. Any ideas on what I might be able to do to rally the team?” she asked.

They spent the rest of the time on the phone strategizing. By the time they hung up Pat felt much better emotionally. It was late in the day but there was still time to gather everyone together for a quick meeting. She didn’t want people leaving the office feeling dejected.

Pat opened the meeting, “As all of you know, I’ve been mentored by my old basketball coach. He’s taught me quite a bit about how to use social psychology to build a more cohesive team. He was excellent at that during my playing days and so much of what he’s taught me I’ve put into practice over the last several months. Based on your feedback, it seems like morale and production have picked up significantly during that time. From my vantage point it looks like we’re working together as well as ever.”

Pausing to take a breath, she went on, “One of the concepts he taught me about is scarcity. It’s a psychological principle that people are more motivated by what they may lose versus what they might gain. It was my intent during our meeting earlier today to motivate you to work extra hard, so we don’t miss getting a year-end bonus. However, my approach backfired because I started off so negatively. The truth is, there’s still an opportunity for the company to turn sales around but we can’t hope the salespeople do it alone. We can help the cause by developing training that enables them to do their jobs to the best of their ability. This is an opportunity for us to show how big an impact we can have. I didn’t want to let you go home looking as dejected as you were when you left the meeting earlier today. Between now and tomorrow I’d like each of you to think of one or two ideas you can bring to the table tomorrow morning that we can kick around to help the sales team. By the end of the week, I’d like to go back to the leadership team to tell them I heard what they said, and we are ready to do our part. How does that sound?”

Suddenly the mood began to shift and, breathing the sigh of relief, some people began to share ideas on the spot. This impromptu meeting was what Pat was hoping for originally. There was a sense of working even harder because they wanted to help and didn’t want to lose an opportunity at the year-end bonus without a fight because many people around the company depended on the bonus to pay for the holidays and vacations over winter breaks.

When Pat left the office, she felt a sense of relief and had learned a valuable lesson.


  1. And Now for Something Completely Different
  2. Coach’s Lesson on Liking
  3. Game Time for Pat
  4. Coach’s Lesson on Reciprocity
  5. Tis Better to Give
  6. A Lesson on Peer Pressure
  7. Putting Peer Pressure to Work at Work
  8. A Trusted Expert
  9. Becoming a Respected Leader
  10. Ask, Don’t Tell if You Want Commitment
  11. Less Directive
  12. Wins and Losses
  13. Don’t be a Downer
  14. Self-sacrifice
  15. Pay it Forward


Brian Ahearn, CPCU, CTM, CPT, CMCT

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only a dozen people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His new book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable.

Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 500,000 people around the world!

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