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Motivating the unmotivated: The Zorro Technique


Most of the techniques I talk about deal with subconscious influences on behaviour; how the time of day impacts who gets out of jail or how music in a shop can change what people buy, for example.

But today I want to help you have conversations with people. In short, how to lead an individual or group through the need to change so they get on board and stop resisting you.

Bri’s Zorro Technique

Created in 1919 by American writer Johnston McCulley, Zorro is a fictional character who carves his initial “Z” on vanquished foes.  We’re not going to be as combative as that, but we are going to use “Z” as our map for the conversation.  

Whenever change is contemplated, there are two sides of the ledger; the case for not changing and the case for change. If we wish to motivate the unmotivated, asking them about both sides of this equation in a specific sequence will help them process what the change means and increase the likelihood they’ll take ownership of it.

1. Benefits of staying the same

The first area of enquiry is to understand the benefits of staying the same. What do they like about how things are now?

If they may say things like “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, prompt them to really articulate what is good. Our objective is to allow them to voice what they like so we can clarify whether that will be lost or retained in the new world.

2. Concerns about staying the same

From there, we shift to enquiring about what the downsides are of staying the same. What are their concerns about it? This is where “ain’t broke” starts to dissipate, because there will always be problems, challenges or shortfalls with whatever the current world is.

Our objective with this line of enquiry is to help them identify for themselves, why things may need to change. It’s no good if you tell them – it has to come from them.

3. Concerns about change

Now that they have recognised that staying the same may not be that great, we’ve opened the door to the possibility of change. Now is the time to let them express any concerns about the change. You don’t need to go into solution mode here, and don’t dismiss any of their concerns because you will seem defensive. Your role is to listen and understand.

4. Benefits of change

We round out the areas of enquiry by asking about the benefits of the change, asthey see them. Again, this is not about you selling the benefits, it’s about them interpreting what upside there is for them. Listen and clarify, but don’t pitch.

Our objective is to have them come to a realisation that this is good for them. At this stage, they should have talked themselves into why staying the same isn’t good, but change is.

The Zorro Technique is surprisingly powerful, and one of my absolute favourites. You can use it formally in a brainstorm or group meeting, or you can use it informally over coffee. The key is to be as open-minded as possible. In this piece I have deliberately used “enquiry” more than “question” for example, because you must not make them feel under interrogation. Give them the space to come to their own realisation that change needs to happen, and they’ll move from adversary to advocate.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany. 


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