In my training programs on stage and online, I share the 10 most common motivational and influential triggers. These are underlying desires and tendencies that we all have in varying degrees. An influencer’s job is to identify which triggers are more effective for specific people.

After speaking at an event for a law firm with an audience of the firm’s associates, partners, and their C-level executive clients, one of the associates approached me and asked, “When you talked about those triggers, I was

by Born1945 Trigger doesn't seem weak to me.

by Born1945
Trigger doesn’t seem weak to me.

just wondering…are triggers weaknesses?”

Great question! 

Her question revealed a new perspective that I hadn’t considered and helped me realize that this is something that I should clarify in all of my future programs.

So, let’s talk about triggers, baby!

Are they a weakness? Are you exploiting them? Should you feel bad if you know how to identify them and leverage them? Should you be aware of your triggers and build up a defense system around them?

First, let me explain where the triggers originate from. 

Get comfortable with the fact that triggers are part of our human programming. They are created through both nature and nurture. They are the result of society’s molding as well as deeply rooted from our survival instincts. 

Here is one example of a simple, perfectly harmless trigger that you see every day…


Shari Alexander Professional SpeakerLet’s say that you and I meet at a conference. I put my hand out and said, “Hello.” In turn, you respond by reaching out and shaking my hand.

I just used one of your triggers. 

It triggered you to shake my hand. Am I a bad person for initiating that exchange and making physical contact, even though you don’t know me? I don’t believe so. Were you forced to respond to the trigger that initiated the handshake? Nope. You have the right and freewill to not shake my hand. 

The handshake trigger is so strong that if I went up to you at the conference, held out my hand, and didn’t say a word, you would still likely reciprocate by shaking my hand, even though you don’t know who I am or what I’m about to say.

I’ve actually done that experiment many times. So far, no one has declined. The handshake trigger is that ingrained in our interactions.

It is a choreographed routine that we have danced our entire lives. I do this; you do that.

Are you a puny weakling for falling into the handshake trigger trap? Not at all. It’s just what people do. It’s a part of our hardwiring (especially in Western culture). 

So, triggers, themselves, are not weaknesses. Can triggers open doors to expose a weaknesses? Unfortunately, yes. Even something as simple as a handshake can be exposed. Mentalists have leveraged the handshake trigger and used a pattern-interrupt to put people in an instant hypnotic state. 

Crazy, right?!

So, now that you know triggers exist, does that mean that you’re a bad person if you use them for influence? 

Nope. You’re only a bad person if your influential intention will cause others harm. Let’s get something straight, influence is a tool. In fact, it’s a tool that we use every day. Some are just more skilled at using it than others. A hammer can hammer nails, which will help build a home. It can also be used to bash in someone’s head. The intention determines the morality, not the tool. 

Many of the triggers that I teach, and how I teach them, are designed to improve relationships and raise people up, not put them down. Triggers like the desire for recognition and appreciation, the desire to show off, and the desire to help are all highly influential triggers. Yes, some nefarious, cat-stroking, bald, evil mastermind could use the same triggers to screw someone out of their life’s savings, but the people I train are learning how to use them to build businesses and raise funds for good causes. 

Should you build up defenses around your own triggers? 

by Floodllama

by Floodllama

Well, yes and no.

Being aware of the common triggers and knowing which ones are stronger within you is a good idea. It doesn’t mean that you’ll have to be on high alert, but if someone does attempt to use your triggers, at least you’ll be aware of it and can decide how you want to react. 

I mean, are you never going to shake someone’s hand again because they might be a mentalist who is about to hypnotize you? Unlikely.

In Robert Cialdini’s book Influence, he explains that his intention behind writing the book was to help people build an awareness about how others with bad intentions might exploit certain triggers so that we could arm ourselves against them. Whether he realized it or not, in making the book, he basically created an influential playbook. Cialdini provided the tool; how people use it is up to them. 

But, it did give people the ability to identify an influential threat and put up their defenses if they needed to. 

by Thomas Hawk

by Thomas Hawk

For example, the law of reciprocity states that if I give you something of value, a trigger has been initiated that you will likely reciprocate by giving me something of equal or greater value. Now, in the real world, the law of reciprocity can be a very good thing. If I want to be connected to someone in your network, I will likely first help you by connecting you to someone in my network. Sounds good to me! 

The same trigger is used by con-artists. They know that if they “give” you a certain amount of money, then they can coax you into giving them more money in return later down the line. 

And so, knowing that the law of reciprocity is an underlying force in our psychology, you will likely be more aware of who you accept gifts from and who you do favors for. 

Are your triggers your weakness?

They can be if you aren’t aware of them and someone with influential knowledge uses them to persuade you in a bad direction. Bottom line: knowledge is power. It’s better to know what triggers are out there and which ones you are more susceptible to. 

Are you a bad person if you utilize the triggers of others?

Only if you’re a jerk using them to manipulate rather than persuade. I find that the study of influence is actually the study of human nature. And the more you learn about it, the more you realize how we are all the same. We want the same things out of life. We share the same deep desires. The study of influential communications actually builds your sense of connection with your fellow human beings. 

Dark side superSo, if you use The Force for the Dark Side, that’s on you, Anakin. Just remember, what you think about, you bring about. So, if you’re always looking for ways to screw someone over, you better watch you back. Chances are, someone else very close to you is thinking the same thing, right now about you. 

Frankly, I think that the Influential Force gives you the ability to identify more opportunities to help your co-workers, your clients, and all the people in your life. And remember, the mission is to bring the dark arts of influence into the light. As Yoda says, “Always pass on what you have learned.” It will keep the darker forces at bay.