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The Prince, the Pauper and your Brain

The US President brushes dandruff off President of France, Emmanuel Macron’s collar

The Prince, the Pauper and your Brain 

What it all means for Advisors

Tom Canty was loitering outside the Palace gates when he collided with Edward Tudor, the Prince of Wales. A pauper from Offal Court in east London, he was immediately seized by the Royal Guards…

And so begins the Mark Twain’s delightful novel, The Prince & The Pauper. It is a searing critique of the huge economic and social disparities between the have’s & the have nots. Deeper than that, it is also a commentary on judging people by their appearance.

Something that is all too common. Which is why so much emphasis is placed on first impressions.

It's all driven by your Neurobiology

In many ways people can't help it. There are fundamental behavioural traits that have evolved over millions of years that drive this.

1. Sensory overload

As a physical being, our brain receives up to 50 Million bits of sensory information per second. (Reddit, 2015) Yet our conscious brain can only absorb 120 bits per second. (Levitin, 2015)

To cope, our brains have evolved highly effective ways of absorbing and processing that information. It happens instantaneously and unconsciously.

The first we are aware of it is after the thoughts that enter our brain have been fully formed and we are already making silent judgements.

2. Our success is social

Our survival and success depends upon how well we perform in a social context.

Therefore, we need to evaluate another person rapidly and ‘read' them as a sign of who / how they are and how they will impact our well-being.

3. Imperfect mind readers

Finally, we all believe that we are good mind readers and can make accurate first time assessments of others.  This is in spite of robust scientific evidence to the contrary. (Korb, 2013)

The result is that we all make first impression assessments of others in less than 1/10th of a second. (Todorov)

And we want to be right

The final clincher is that we have powerful psychological biases - confirmation bias and the powerful internal need for consistency - that many people automatically and unconsciously “look” for reasons to justify their first impressions.

[Note: people can and do change their mind but it requires emotional maturity and energy draining conscious effort. Hence, for example, the slippery slope of little lies]

For advisors, this can be especially tricky

For businesses that offer services and advice this can be especially tricky as most people do not have the technical knowledge to assess their capabilities:

1. Your accountant's performance

Because you got a refund - in which case, your business effectively loaned the Australian government money over the course of the year and they are giving it back to you.

2. Your IT support

Because your network security is never breached and has 100% up-time. In the meantime, they take ages to resolve individual IT issues and you keep having to explain yourself each time you call up.

3. Personal Financial Advisor

Because they are employed by a big bank. Cue Royal Commission in Canberra.

These are just a few of the mental short-cuts that people make in evaluating businesses.

It is difficult so they revert to first impressions:

- The advisors seem like a nice person
- They are well-dressed
- John, the referrer, said nice things about them

Which is fine but does leave things to chance as this is highly subjective.

Tips on how advisors can help themselves

1. Check the fundamentals

a. Your Web-site

Long before they meet you,between 68% and 83% of all buyers of business services go to your web-site first. They are checking you out. Does it look good visually? Is it easy to understand? Does your eyes flow easily through it?

b.Your point of difference

Can you explain why you are different and how you help prospective clients in ways that are meaningful to them?

c. Are you easy to find / meet

Coles & Woolies fight major business battles - as do shopping centres. Convenience is more important than brand loyalty (in spite of what the marketing people say) If you are not easy to find and reach then you're off the radar!.

2. Check yourself

a. Your appearance

Is it appropriate for the context of the meeting? You are exactly the same person whether you are in your swimmers as you are in formal wear, yet they give off completely different messages.

b. Are you present?

Are you there with your prospective client 100% in the moment or is your mind still distracted by other things: your to do list or the urgent email you have to respond to? They will pick up on it - automatically, unconsciously and make judgements.

3. Your initial process

How do you understand them as people, their particular world and its challenges. This is why they are coming to you. It is all about them.

Do you know me?
Do you know my world?
Can you relate?

These are the fundamental questions in every clients' head. They need to be answered first long before you go into a discovery process about their challenges / problems and how you might be able to help / fix them.

Too many advisors revert to talking about themselves and just playing lip-service to this - calling it building rapport. Yet, they lack the questioning, empathy and listening skills to build understanding.

However, manage this part well and it can even overcome dandruff on your collar.

As always, if you have any questions about this, I'd love to hear from you; just give me a call on 0459 320 999 or send me an email. - Alex                   


How much data does the human brain process per second? (2015). Retrieved from Reddit:
Korb, A. (2013, 7 1). Mind Reading and Miscommunication. Retrieved from Psychology Today:
Levitin, D. J. (2015, 9 23). Why It’s So Hard To Pay Attention, Explained By Science. Retrieved from Fast Company:
University of Penylvannia. (2006, 7 26). Penn researchers calculate how much the eye tells the brain. Retrieved from EurekAlert!:
Todorov, A. (n.d.). Princeton University Department of Psychology.
Posted on 10 May 2018


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