You can be as rude as you like as long as you are polite about it!
I had thought of giving this article a rather more optimistic title such as ‘The Art of Persuasion’ but in the end, I opted for a more candid manifesto, and decided for the sake of honesty it should bear the title above.
In the run up to the 2009 American Presidential election, Barack Obama referred to his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, as having given his country “half a century of service”. Later, her referred to him as “sprightly.” That’s just a nice way of saying that McCain was too old for the Presidency.
It’s also a pretty slick way of persuading people to vote for Obama, the younger man. But of course you can’t come right out and say that. “John McCain is too old for the job – what if his ticker gives out in a crisis? The more honest approach – “Vote for me – I’ve got youth on my side and therefore a lot more energy, and I’m better looking” would just turn people off. You see, pleading, begging, lecturing, bullying are all a complete waste of time. You have to be subtle!
Professional negotiators, psychologists, social workers, Samaritans, hypnotists, NLP enthusiasts, all use persuasion, as do advocates, people who want to borrow money, politicians, children who want to stay up a bit longer, the list really is endless.
People who want something build a relationship with the other person. They establish Rapport. Rapport just means that two people are getting along together. It’s like some a kind of mating ritual. Sometimes the aim is to bring about change; sometimes it’s about maintaining the status quo. When we use the word change in this context, we are referring to a change in the way someone’s perception of a specific issue, and a change in the way they perceive something will result in a change in attitude, and then belief. And then, hey presto! You’ve just got your own way.
Some people are naturals at persuasion and some people are easily persuaded, depending of course on what is being suggested and the circumstances. The circumstances will include such factors as the reasonableness of the request, the timing of the request, the mood of the other person etc. etc.
Persuasion is a more subtle art than most people think. The overwhelming majority of people believe that when someone undergoes hypnotherapy for example, they are put into some kind of trance, their mind is then subject to some sort of control by the hypnotist, and when they ‘wake up’ things are changed forever. This never happens. What really goes on in hypnotherapy is mainly the kind of conversation that takes place between any kind of therapist and their client, followed by a brief period of relaxation, during which the person does not fall asleep or go into any kind of trance. The hypnotist just helps the subject focus their attention on the solution to whatever the problem is. The real art of persuasion is simply a matter of choosing the right words.
There is no such thing as ‘Covert Hypnosis,’ something that seems to be heavily touted on dubious websites these days. But there is such a thing as persuasion – it’s tried and tested and has been around for thousands of years. Great orators like Winston Churchill were not using covert anything, let alone neuro-linguistic programming or any other kind of imaginary ‘mind control’ techniques. For the record, neither were Hitler or Goebbels, they just knew how to work an audience. All three however, used metaphor and persuasion. They were just good at it. Whether they used their talent for persuasion for the common good or for evil is a matter of value judgement and historical perspective and is in any case, irrelevant. They were just people who had a gift, a talent for persuasion. And just for the sake of completeness, I have heard it said many times that Hitler had a ‘hypnotic personality’ or that he had ‘hypnotic eyes.’ Actually, his eyes were rather small and beady, more like a nervous ferret, although quite a popular photographic portrait at the time artificially highlighted his beady, ferrety little eyes for propaganda purposes.
Persuasion is simply a matter of using Key Messages that are simple, unambiguous and easily understood. These words and phrases are the triggers that affect belief, attitude, and just like suggestion, exert an effect on the behaviour of others.
In addition to suggestion (the words and phrases we all use to persuade others to our way of thinking when we want to get our own way) there is also Body Language.
When it comes to body language, yours is more important than theirs. A good tip, especially in an awkward situation, is to make yourself appear smaller, and therefore less threatening by sitting on your hands. It’s the best defensive posture there is, second only to launching a pre-emptive strike with a claw hammer. Crafty salespeople lean slightly forward when doing deals. It gives the client the feeling that the deal is somehow special to them, even conspiratorial. The salesman is displaying an empathy with the client. They also know not to tower over others, but rather to bring themselves down to the client’s level. The idea is that the salesman is trying to subtly tell the client, through body language, lowered voice and supposed subservience, that they are both working as a team. This technique is as old as the hills, and it still works! Although not on me.
Salespeople and politicians make a point of drumming up empathy – of staking their claim to areas of common ground, but only because they know it works extremely well. This is a way of establishing the rapport we were talking bout earlier. It’s also why politicians tell all these bullshit stories of their ‘growing up’ experiences, the hypocritical bastards. A bit of distraction, a bit of empathy, and you’re in! Actually, I use this a lot with clients.
A Metaphor (using similar words or phrases or relating a story similar to your own that the other person can identify with) is a very powerful tool. However, you have to be sure you are preaching to the right crowd. Sporting stories don’t work with people who have no interest in sport and historical analogies don’t work with people who have no idea about history. Again, it’s all about being able to read your audience.
One of the biggest factors that affect behaviour is Emotion. Feel good, and the beggar at the traffic lights gets lucky. Bit if you’re in a bad mood, he’s more likely to get nothing. Changing emotion is why humour is often very effective. I use humour all the time with clients because it helps them feel more at ease. I find it to be a useful device when it comes to helping people relax and let go in an unfamiliar environment. And also because I can’t help myself.
So far we’ve looked at the idea of verbal persuasion and body language to create rapport. We need to bring Eye Contact into the equation. A successful talking to is all about eye contact.
Which part of the human anatomy swells to twice it’s normal size when attraction comes into the equation? Answer – the pupil. Eye contact accounts for around 50% of information transmission. Intonation comes in a close second with 38%, and actual content, a mere 12%. Eye contact is important because of evolutionary reasons – it demands nurturance and protection.
Researchers have found that making eye contact with oncoming drivers means that they are more likely to let you go. This actually works most of the time, but I wouldn’t try it in Johannesburg because it’s more likely to get you shot. Conversely, do you ever avoid eye contact when you drive badly? I’ll bet you do!
The oil protection force, sorry… the peacekeepers currently working in Iraq do better when they’re not wearing sunglasses. There are significantly more reports of higher levels of unrest and casualties when the troops wear their wrap-around Oakleys. This is because friendly eye contact is missing.
Robert Caldini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, wanted to find out how willing people would be to volunteer if they were asked to supervise a group of inmates from a juvenile detention centre on a day trip to the zoo. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 17% expressed willingness. They were then asked if they would be willing to supervise the offenders for two hours a week for a year. Not one person was willing to do it, and no great surprise there either.
The same choice was also given to another group, but this time, they were first asked if they would be willing to supervise the juvenile delinquents for two hours a week for a year. Again, no one was interested, and who can blame them? But if people are not willing to supervise offenders for two hours a week for a year, would they be willing to do just one day at the zoo? 57% were!
So how did Professor Caldini get this impressive result? It all comes down to people’s willingness to make concessions and compromises. People are far more likely to concede to the lesser of two evils. This is a technique oft employed by people in the persuasion industry.
Reciprocity persuades others to keep to their side of the bargain. Reciprocity is an evolutionary necessity linked not only to altruism, but also to division of labour. Basically, it means that if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. It also means Dependability. It’s a signal to the rest of the group that we can keep our word and therefore we can be trusted. A simple request on a form to tick the YES box next to the question “will you please call if you change your plans?” gets marvellous results. Rather than face the prospect of letting anyone down, the overwhelming majority agreed. It’s a part of the human condition that favours elicit a powerful need to reciprocate.
The intelligent use of colour can often achieve the desired result. Pink is a tranquilising colour because it’s reminiscent of sunsets and sunrises. It’s also associated with relaxation and sleep. Again researchers have seen a reduction in anxiety levels where pink is the dominant décor, and this is true of detention rooms as well as sports changing rooms. The University of Iowa painted the changing rooms of visiting teams Baker-Miller pink to render opposing players less competitive. It worked. The Western Athletic Conference found out about it and moved swiftly to introduce a new rule: dressing rooms could be painted any colour, so long as they were both painted the same colour!
Red however, is the colour of danger; think warning signs, traffic lights, red pens, ‘in the red.’ So when attempting to influence others, red should be avoided because at the unconscious level, it puts them on their guard.
Green on the other hand is associated with positivity and creativity. It is also reminiscent of a natural environment.
Did you know the reason music is so pleasant to the ear is because the patterns that music is made up of can be described mathematically [that’s proper music, not the rubbish the kids lurch about to these days, or aggressive ‘rap’.] When a pattern comes to a resolution, our prediction is rewarded, activating the pleasure centres of the brain. Which is why most shops and some restaurants play classical music. (See: A Mine of Disinformation.)
If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in court, you better hope that you have been blessed with reasonably good looks, because good-looking defendants are more likely to be acquitted that those who are covered in tattoos and look like a refugee from the Jeremy Kyle Show. Good-looking [and well-dressed] defendants are more likely to elicit not-guilty verdicts and often receive lighter sentences if found guilty. So much for justice being blind! The exception to this rule is when a good-looking defendant is being been tried for deception, fraud or some other type of con artistry: in those cases, juries lose sympathy for smart defendants because they assume they have used their looks to gain unfair advantage.
But being good-looking is a double-edged sword when it comes to justice. Good-looking defendants are less likely to be found guilty of intentional misconduct, although more likely to be convicted of negligence. The reverse is also true.
A hard, world-worn face is associated with dominance, a less mature face, with submission. We have all found ourselves in situations where we have to ‘sum up’ a person’s intentions quickly, and looking at the face is the first step. Other physical cues can also give clues as to what to expect, for example, body mass, hair, clothing, and whether or not they possess the ability to string a sentence together.
People who are perceived to be more attractive on the telephone get better results, and to be perceived as being more attractive, you have to have the right sort of attitude; chatty, friendly, that sort of thing. You’ve either got it or you haven’t I’m afraid.
All this environmental clutter serves to distract our attention from the real issues. So why does it all have to be like this?
The reason, as always, lies within the physical brain. The brain prioritises attention. This is why con artists, grifters, hustlers, call them what you will, get away with their sleight of hand and sleight of mouth.
When there’s a lot going on all at the same time, the brain has to prioritise information. This means the brain suffers an attention bypass, the same attention bypass that happens when you watch a magic trick being performed. It’s down to information overload. Cognitive distraction, misdirection – linguistc as well as physical – wrests control from the brain and decides for us where we look and what we think. As with magic trick, a big move covers a small move; our eyes instinctively follow the larger gesture or the magician’s line of sight. If two movements occur simultaneously, the observer will attend to the larger or more dramatic of the two.
The same is true when the information overload is presented in purely verbal form. If you have ever watched the BBC drama series Hustle, or the even better factual series The Real Hustle, you will know exactly what I mean. In the first Gulf War, Stormin’ Norman Schwartzkopf used exactly the same ruse, making a big noise in the east (distraction) then attacking from the west. Saddam didn’t know what hit him.
Let’s have a quick recap. Our brains can’t process everything, so we have to be selective. Cognitive resources are limited, so they need to be allocated sparingly. That means there’s less to be invested in critical monitoring of everything that’s going on around us. The more operations the brain has to perform at any one time, the greater the cognitive load and the greater the drain on available resources. We simply cannot check everything that is presented to us! So instead, we rely on rules of thumb.
Rules of thumb rely on past experience – learned associations with previously encountered stimuli provide short cuts to decision making. That’s OK most of the time, but not when someone is about to fleece you. Or persuade you…
However, overload the system and the system will crash, so persuasion has to be handled with kid gloves. The hustlers rely a lot on Incongruity, which can stop the brain in its tracks. For instance, using conciliatory gestures, which run counter to expectation, can do this. Once the brain is confused enough, the door opens wide enough for our old friend, persuasion, to get its foot in.
Admitting one’s own mistakes makes you appear human and more likeable. This is something that politicians rarely do, but in any event, people expect politicians to tell lies, so admitting you are wrong would probably freak them out. But, you are not a politician – you are an ordinary human being, attempting to influence other ordinary human beings. Circus performers (and I know this for a fact) often purposely fail the first time they do a triple summersault with double spin, failing to catch the trapeze and plummeting ignominiously into the safety net below. They always get a bigger round of applause when it goes right the second time, not because it makes the stunt look more difficult, but because it makes them look human.
Bad news should always be dispensed with first. Lawyers know this trick well. Running a successful prosecution or a successful defence depends on a successful narrative. They try to get the weaknesses in their case out of the way at the beginning, hoping that the jury will have forgotten the truly appalling bits by the time the bewigged buffoon gets to the part where he can impress them with all the good stuff about what a splendid chap their client is under all those tattoos and facial ironmongery. Creating a good impression is more important than the evidence, and another reason why juries are so easily bamboozled.
Why is this important? Presenting weaknesses at the start is taken as a sign of openness, modesty and believe it or not, positivity. Here is a man who learns from his mistakes! By the time you get to the part about all your marvellous achievements, you no longer come across as being the self-satisfied, self-important, conceited, smug, egotistical twat you know yourself to be.
So much for the psychological background; what about putting all this into practice? Here are some easy things to try so you get the hang of this:
If someone is nodding their heads at you, you will find you are more likely to agree with them. Nodding or shaking heads exerts a subtle influence on behaviour. Being armed with this knowledge means that you are now one step ahead of the rest of the crowd.
Getting someone to answer ‘yes’ to a series of statements increases the likelihood of them saying ‘yes’ to the thing you really want them to say yes to. People are much more likely to agree with you if you have laid a trail of positivity in their minds. Get them to say something or agree with a series of positive ideas and then hit them with the biggie!
We find people who are like us, people who dress the same, have the same interests, the same likes and dislikes, the same personality, opinions, are easier to get along with. First impressions count, so try to take an interest in their interests. As totally boring and tedious as this may sound, it works wonders. NLP types love this sort of thing. You could even throw in a little humour; it always gets others to relax and it breaks down barriers like nothing else. If you can put a smile on someone’s face, they will like you a lot more.
Getting people to talk about themselves in creative and unusual ways achieves rapport and more especially, closeness and attraction. But whatever happens, don’t try ‘mirroring.’ Mirroring is one of those nonsense NLP techniques where you intentionally ‘mirror’ the other person. In other words, you subtly copy their every move, from the way they sit, the way they smile, hold their heads, cross their legs, even their breathing patterns. Unless you are really good at this, they are going to spot it and think you are taking the piss. And they will be right.
A pleasant personality is more important than qualifications or work experience. It’s easier to charm one’s way to success by sending out all those positive waves, smiling, and, most important of all, making eye contact. It’s a fact of life; interviewees who are skilled in the social arts fit in better in the workplace and more often than not, that’s what potential employers are looking for – people who fit in.
Simple acts of kindness to others increase levels of happiness. Changing the way you behave toward others will change the way they behave toward you. Don’t believe me? Give it a try. Send me a fiver.
So… want to get your own way? A combination of the above should do the trick. It’s not rocket science.
And finally, and just for the sake of completeness, there are some less subtle and more extreme ways whereby you can get your own way that are worth a quick look.
The Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia was engaged by the US government to devise devilish techniques to control crowds by messing with their senses. What they came up with was the devilishly simple but effective US Government Standard Bathroom Malodour. It is the concentrated (and absolutely appalling) smell of human faeces. Guaranteed to disperse unruly crowds. It’s far more effective than tear gas, safer than bullets, and causes no lasting side effects, except a reminder not to take part in any future civil unrest.
Fed up of teenagers hanging around the place? Then what you need is the Electromechanical Teenage Repellent – a device that emits a high pitched warbling sound, the frequency of which is inaudible to anyone over 30, and drives teenagers from shopping malls in double quick time. The music of Chas and Dave has the same effect.
We now need to put this last bit information to good use, so… a good way to get a seat to yourself on the train is to fake a bad cough and a cold as soon as someone starts moving to toward the empty seat next to yours. It always works well. Failing that, the mad act will shift them in no time at all. I carry a piece of plastic vomit I bought from a joke shop in a well-know seaside resort in the north of England that specialises in that sort of thing. I put it either on the table or the seat next to me. Absolutely guaranteed to get your fellow traveller looking for alternative seating accommodation further down the carriage. It’s also easier and safer than trying to look unpleasant.
On a more pleasant note, keeping a picture of your children in your wallet means that it is 30% more likely to be returned to you. This is because children elicit a powerful human response of nurture and kindness. Psychologists have tested this theory by planting ‘lost’ wallets in all sorts of places and the results consistently bear out the theory.
Finally, remember the golden rule: even the slightest hint of criticism can damage any kind of relationship. Praise has the opposite effect – understanding is always more effective than criticism.
Oh, one more thing; always invite your neighbours to the party. The noise of the music won’t bother them so much!
For more information about the art of persuasion, read All in the Mind – Hypnosis, Suggestion and the New Mesmerists. Available from this website.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2013. All rights reserved.