Sitting beside me in the bar that evening, you wouldn't expect that he'd be a master con man. For one thing, he was short - barely over 5 feet tall. He was also 70 years old - well past prime.
And he was unattractive, sporting more teeth than Julia Roberts with none of the hair.
And yet this smooth-talking Texan was able to schmooze almost anyone into happily doing exactly what he pleased - at least for a little while. And he routinely had more than a few "experts" wrapped around his fingers.
He'd even managed to get people to practically hand over their business equity on a silver platter.
It was masterful but scary to watch.
Over cocktails, I pressed him to reveal at least one of his secrets. I could clearly see he was doing something, but couldn't quite figure it all out.
He grinned wide and leaned in.
"Do you really want to know the secret?"
"Oh yes," I answered.
What he told me was so shockingly simple, I about fell out of my chair because I'd seen it many times in my life.
And when you hear it, the light bulb will go off in your head too.
Listen: If you've ever tried to use "reason" or begging to get people to do what you want, then this is for you.
Or if you've ever agreed to something against your will, you might have been a victim of what I'm about to reveal, and you need to pay close attention too.
This latter reason is really why I'm sharing it with you today.
Because if I can help even ONE person avoid being manipulated by abusers, I'll rest happy.
Okay, back to the story. . .
"The secret," he said,
"Is to use a simple three-part formula when you want to convince someone to do what you want."
Honestly, I was skeptical and this sounded too easy to be true, but this man was a millionaire who managed to get otherwise intelligent people to do insane things on insane deadlines, so who was I to argue?
He continued, "and you have to use all three to make it work and you have to have these ready before you start a conversation."
"Sounds good. What's first?"
He leaned in. "The first part is the action you want them to take or what you want them to believe. Let's say that you want someone to finish a project in a week, even though everyone knows it's going to take a month."
I nodded. "Okay. So the first part is what I want. What's next?"
"Well, the next part is what they want. It's often what a normal or reasonable person would expect. For example, in the example it might be moving the project deadline to a full month away, rather than a week away from now."
I sipped some more of my drink. "So we have my ask and their ask. What else is there?"
His eyes lit up. "Ah, that's the question." A grin crossed his face.
"The magic ingredient is what makes it all work. It's an outside person or force that prevents you from acting 'reasonably' or otherwise complying with their request. It puts the blame on someone else."
My eyes widened. Of course! I'd heard this with my ex-husband, my parents, and other people before.
He continued, "So you put it all together by saying something like,
'I don't really care about this project. If it were up to me, I'd give you two months to get it done. But the investors are breathing down my neck, so I have no choice but to ask you to speed it up. They're calling and yelling at me every day. So can you go ahead and try to get it done by next week?"
How can you argue with the fact that there are invisible investors? Who are YOU to say they don't exist? You start to feel bad for the guy, who is now a victim. You become a helper. A savior, even. . . and you comply with the unreasonable demand.
See how easy it is to be manipulated if you're a "good person"?
Of course, what he didn't tell me is that there were MULTIPLIERS to this effect, if you're really the psychopathic type.
- Shame the person into compliance ("can you get it done in a week, or are you not as capable as you said you were?")
- Appeal to their ego ("can you get it done in a week, or do I need to hire someone with the capacity to get it done fast?")
- Promise reward ("can you get it done in a week? If you do, I promise to let you guys take a week off to make up for the rush.")
- Promise punishment ("can you get it done in a week, or do I need to replace you with someone else who can?")
Note that these multipliers make it more obvious that you're persuading someone, so aren't used by smoother persuaders.
What he taught me that day made it clear that his success had more to do with persuasion and manipulation than outright marketing chops.
But then again . . .
. . . what is marketing but persuasion in print?
Hopefully, as marketers we are engaging in ethical persuasion for an ethical product.
And thankfully as a business owner or copywriter, YOU get to choose the products you help manifest in the world.
BUT if you're a good soul, you might also get taken in by this formula in action, if you're not careful. Especially if you don't have a strong backbone and sense of self.
This poster hopes that's not the case.
** To recap, here's the "Con Man's Persuasion Formula" **
"I really don't care about X, if it were up to me, I'd Y, but Z is on my back, I have no choice. So can you go ahead and do X for me?"
Use it at your own moral peril (e.g., don't), and good luck fending off the monsters in the world.