Magic Words to Counter Social Pressure

Acting on Priorities, Communications Skills, Decision Making

I have just finished reading a short book on sales explaining the “magic words” to use to persuade people to do what you want. I have had a conniption fit several times while reading it. The purpose of the book is to teach the reader to become a “professional mind-maker-upper.”

Making up your mind is not a job to outsource.

To help you, the targets of these strategies, I have worked out some “magic words” to counter these manipulative tactics.

Don’t get me wrong — a persuasive sales presentation and compelling marketing copy are a value to every potential customer. A sales person who understands the issues and is good at drawing out your concerns can help you articulate your challenge and see more clearly the choice you face.

For example, one valid sales technique is to draw out the ramifications of buying versus delaying. Delaying an important decision is often a disaster — the same bad situation gradually decays, nothing changes, the misery grows. But these negatives are often ignored. Delay is the easy, passive choice. A good salesperson can help you see the penalty of delay. This is a benefit to you.

But no matter how good and honest the salesperson is, he does not have your full context. And a manipulative salesperson will attempt to lead you to drop the full context, and make a decision impetuously.

My standard operating procedure, and my recommendation to you, is to decide tomorrow. I try not to make any decision that requires the commitment of more than an hour of time, or more than $200, when in conversation with another person. There is too much risk of being caught up in the current context and ignoring what I already know. Indeed, I have a resolution to use the focused choices decision process for these decisions — especially the time commitments — so that I don’t overschedule myself. As a shorthand to hold this resolution, I “decide tomorrow.”

I put such decisions on the agenda for my morning planning time, or for a conversation with my husband, or for a particular time. I make the decision consciously, after having mulled over it and used my decision process.

In contrast, the “magic words” in the book I was reading were designed to short-circuit the decision process and pressure you into a “yes.” Here are some magic words you can use in response to break the spell:

Scenario 1: You say, “I need some time to think about it.” He says, “What is it you want to think about?”  This is a ploy to try to get you to run out of arguments at the moment, so you feel you have no reason to say no. But the reason you need to think about it, is that you don’t necessarily think up all of the negatives on your feet, in a social situation. So, here’s what I say:

“I need some time to think about it.”
“What is it you want to think about?”
“I always make decisions the next day, so I have a chance to reflect on how the decision fits with my other priorities.”

Scenario 2: You demur in some way. He says, “Would you be open-minded about giving this a chance?”  This is a ploy to make you feel like saying “no” would make you “close minded.” No one likes to view himself as close-minded. But as Ayn Rand said,

[There is a] dangerous little catch phrase which advises you to keep an “open mind.” This is a very ambiguous term — as demonstrated by a man who once accused a famous politician of having “a wide open mind.” That term is an anti-concept: it is usually taken to mean an objective, unbiased approach to ideas, but it is used as a call for perpetual skepticism, for holding no firm convictions and granting plausibility to anything. A “closed mind” is usually taken to mean the attitude of a man impervious to ideas, arguments, facts and logic, who clings stubbornly to some mixture of unwarranted assumptions, fashionable catch phrases, tribal prejudices — and emotions. But this is not a “closed” mind, it is a passive one. It is a mind that has dispensed with (or never acquired) the practice of thinking or judging, and feels threatened by any request to consider anything.

She concludes that what you need is not an “open mind,” but an active one. Here’s how I would answer the “open minded” ploy:

“Would you be open-minded about giving this a chance?”
“On the contrary, I prefer to be active-minded, recognizing that ‘giving this a chance’ is a commitment of time, energy and resources. I don’t fall into decisions, I make them consciously. That is why I will spend time tomorrow thinking about how this fits with my priorities.”

Scenario 3: You say you don’t have time to discuss this. He says, “When would be a good time?”  This is a ploy that assumes facts not in evidence: that this is high enough priority for you to devote time to even talking about it. As it says in the book, which I am not naming, because I don’t want to give it publicity, this question “prompts the other person to assume that there will be a good time and that no is not an option.”

This question is an example of the logical fallacy, “complex question.” The classic example of that is: “When did you stop beating your wife?” The response to a complex question is to name the false assumption. Here’s how I would handle the “when would be a good time” ploy:

“When would be a good time?”
“That assumes that this is high enough priority for me to make time. I don’t see that. You are welcome to send me written materials, and if I see from them that this would be worth more of my time, I’ll set up a call with you. But right now, my priorities lie elsewhere.”

As I said, I had a conniption fit when I read this book. I picked it up, because I was hoping for advice on how to explain the value of my services. But manipulation is antithetical to my morality — and of course to my brand. I kept reading the book, because it concretized a wide range of the thinking problems that I am trying to help people conquer.

My mission is to help everyone be his own mind-maker-upper.

One way to become a better mind-maker-upper yourself is to choose to make your decisions tomorrow — safely apart from the pressure of a “professional” mind-maker-upper attempting to influence you today.


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