Skip to main content
WINNING, Incorporated | Boston, Massachusetts

This website uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience.
You can learn more by clicking here.

The Zeigarnik Effect is a phenomenon named for the Soviet psychologist and psychiatrist, Bluma Zeigarnik, who identified and researched it in the early 1900’s. The origins of the “effect” can be traced to observations she made in a Vienna restaurant about the waiters’ abilities to remember the details of the order for each person at the table as they brought out each successive course.

But, before I describe the effect and explore ways to capitalize on it to keep your prospects engaged between meetings and phone calls, I want to shift to something I call “real-time” selling.


Because, despite the fact that 96% of the time real-time selling is the type of selling you’re involved in when you engage a prospect in a conversation, it is the type of selling you are least prepared to perform. To understand why, you must understand the concept of cognitive dissonance.

What is cognitive dissonance?

The term “cognitive dissonance” is used to describe the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. Cognitive dissonance can also occur when there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors.

And what can cause a belief-behavior discrepancy?


Zeigarnik Effect, real-time selling, cognitive dissonance, belief-behavior discrepancy.

Are the metaphorical wheels in your head spinning? 

Are you still waiting for me to explain the Zeigarnik Effect?

Were you uncomfortable when I abruptly abandoned the Zeigarnik Effect and jumped to real-time selling? 

How about when I jumped to cognitive dissonance?  More discomfort? 

If so, you’re experiencing an aspect of the Zeigarnik Effect.

People have a need for things to come to conclusion and to complete the tasks they start. They tend to be uncomfortable when tasks are interrupted or left unfinished.  Such circumstances create an internal tension and preoccupation with the task, which manifests itself in improved memory of the uncompleted task. 

What does any of this have to do with selling?

Have you ever had comprehensive conversations with prospects, at the conclusion of which you scheduled appointments, and then when you subsequently met with them, they remembered little about the initial conversations?

Me, too!

Why does that happen?

The Zeigarnik Effect suggests that beginning a conversation leads to the development of a need to conclude it.  And, the resulting tension leads to improvement in memory of the part of the conversation completed thus far. HOWEVER, once the conversation is concluded, the tension is relieved and awareness of the details of the conversation is diminished. 

So, unfinished tasks remain in the forefront of memory while completed tasks are stamped “closed” and filed away in the recesses of memory.  Thus, the prospects’ scant memories of the conversations that led to the meetings.

How can you use that gem of information to keep your prospect or customer engaged from one phone call or meeting to the next?

Create a cliffhanger of sorts. 

Purposely leave the conversation “unfinished.”  Choose a relevant topic or two that needs “further exploration,” and suggest that it can be accomplished at the next meeting.  Or, mention an idea or a concept you wish to share…during the next conversation.

Then, take one more important step…give your prospect a sneak-peek at what’s to come. 

Here’s an example:

Tom, I have two distinct ideas about how to solve your problem. Both will meet your time-to-production requirements. But, one can potentially reduce your inventory carrying costs at the same time. Perhaps, significantly. We’ll have to do some number-crunching at the next meeting to verify that.

If your “coming attraction” is relevant, the conversation won’t be “closed” and filed away. Instead, the prospect will remain engaged.

Are you still wondering about “real-time” selling, cognitive dissonance, and belief-behavior discrepancy?

So am I.

Maybe I’ll tackle those subjects next time.

Maybe not.


Share this article: