The master of the famed Crooked Wisdom website, where straight thoughts on effective living in a defective world are common fare expounds on his explorations and discoveries of his favorite subject: Human nature. Blair, it fascinates me that you have such a varied history in communication. Is that where the whole notion of persuasion got your attention? As long as I can remember I’ve been a people watcher. As a kid I never felt like I belonged, so I was always kind of on the outside looking in. I wanted to know what was going on, what people were thinking, what were they doing. As I got older and I integrated more with people I still kept that same perspective.
I’ve always had a deep interest in why people did what they did. It was only later that I realized that was actually called persuasion. I just thought it was human nature.
It’s really been a part of my life as long as I can remember. NULL When you realized it was “persuasion”, how did you respond? When I first learned of persuasion, I jumped into all the other information I could find. I wanted to know what else had been written on this subject. I had an experience one day; I was learning more persuasion techniques and I went into a shop to rent some equipment. I’d done some business with them before and I asked the lady how much a piece of equipment was, she quoted me a price, I balked a little bit and later she said, “Hey, I’ll just give you this piece for free if you get the rest”. I thought that was no big deal, but later, I shared this story with a friend of mine who deals with this same company and he said, “My god, how did you get her to give you that? What did you do to get her to give you this equipment free? She won’t give me anything!” Well, I kind of sat back and thought to myself, I didn’t do anything! She simply offered it to me based on our relationship whereas this person was trying to come up with tricks, techniques and tactics to get her to give him what she had given me without asking. It occurred to me that there really wasn’t anything he could do because he doesn’t have the right relationship with her. When I realized that, I realized that persuasion isn’t some distinct type of communication, where you can simply put on your persuasion cap and go out and persuade someone of something, persuasion is really an aspect of all communication.
Some communication is more persuasive and some less persuasive but it really is part of all communication.
From this it occurs to me that you really can’t not persuade people, the trick is how well are you going to be able to do this? And that really requires awareness and study and practice. Blair, I’ve said when you try to get somebody to do something you create their resistance. Do you agree with that? Absolutely! And one phrase I like to use is, “A persuasion technique is always the most powerful when it is not a technique.” In other words, it is always the most powerful when it arises naturally and spontaneously in a human interaction, as opposed to something you carry in there and you’re planning to use it with that person. A video camera may not capture that difference. If we taped my interaction and the other guy’s with the woman I mentioned, there may not be a whole lot of apparent difference between the two. The difference is in the relationship that was built and I wasn’t consciously going in to ‘get’ and yet, ironically, I was the one who got! Does persuasion backfire when it’s a technique? I think it can— and even when it doesn’t, I have certainly found personally that it’s sometimes hard to live with after the fact. This is where ethics come in and it’s a very gray area. But yeah, I think it’s definitely likely to backfire. Because first of all, you’re probably less likely to get what you want, but even if you do get what you want, it really wasn’t you that got it anyway; it was just this game you were playing.
The transaction may have gone your way, but the relationship isn’t being made stronger. It’s being weakened, because that’s not the focus of your interaction with that person.
Blair, another one of my favorite clichés is ‘any relationship built on manipulation is doomed to fail’, are you saying it’s like that? Well, yes, I think so. And the reason it’s going to fail is that in a sense, it was never really a relationship in the first place. When you sit down with another person and you look for their buttons— and certainly there’s a lot of literature on how to push people’s buttons— no matter what it’s called that’s what it amounts to. You’re looking at that person as if they’re some sort of a vending machine. You’re approaching the situation with the idea that you just need to find the ‘right’ combination or the ‘right’ number of quarters to ‘get’ what you want out.
When a machine looks at another machine, you don’t have a relationship, you have a transaction.
You can play the game at that level, and a lot of people do, but for me there’s another level to rise to. You will still do the same things, behaviorally, the same words may even come out of your mouth, but when you’re focused at the relationship level they come out naturally. So, the point about learning about persuasion is what… to be doing this with greater awareness? In a sense, I don’t know if you learn about persuasion. I think that persuasion is something that we know how to do at a very young age. We get too smart for ourselves, we become too intellectual, and we can’t reach that spontaneous state any more. For example, when my kids were eight and nine years old, they were master persuaders, they really were! They could do what an NLP person calls a reframe in a second, even though they’ve never heard the phrase. Children are great at that, but as they become older… as they become teenagers, they become more direct. They have something to prove. They think they’re too smart, and the communication between the parents and the child diminishes. So, what happened to that natural persuader that was there when they were 10 years old? It’s still there, but it’s buried under a bunch of misconceptions. For me, when you study persuasion, often the most powerful principles are very, very simple. You could look back on your life and relate, because you remember, “Yes, I used to do those things.” So in a sense, it’s re-learning principles and un-learning a bunch of junk that sits on top of them, but doesn’t work. So, you set out to learn about persuasion just out of your own fascination? Yes, right. The first thing I did when I realized there was a whole field around persuasion is I went and bought every book and tape I could find. I studied everybody I could find who was exploring this, who taught persuasion. Later, I realized that persuasion isn’t this field that’s separate from everything else, but really is a part of everything else. Persuasion is a part of all communication. And if that’s true, others must have mastered this art as well. So, I began to study entertainers, comedians; I figure if a comedian can stand up in front of someone and “persuade” them to laugh, then that comedian must know something about persuasion. If a magician can convince you that he made an elephant disappear on the stage, he must know something about persuasion. So, what is it that these people know that I may not have read? I stopped studying persuasion materials, per se, and started studying persuasive material. Say more about the difference, please. Well, persuasion materials are going to be books like, how to get people to do things, here are the principles to get people to do what you want. Persuasive material is going to be anything that moves another human to do something, whether it’s to feel something, to
act on something, to shed tears, to burst out in laughter. To me, that is all persuasive material, because you’re moving another person from one state to another state. And the real question is, “How did they do it?” So, I would study persuasive materials. The good thing is, they’re everywhere, because as you’ll recall, I said persuasion is a part of everything. So, you have “fair and balanced news” on one channel and they seem to be pushing one agenda, according to many people, and you have another channel on the other side that’s pushing a different agenda, so you can learn persuasion there. You can learn persuasion from everything you encounter if you’re looking for that element of communication. When you first began to study, Blair, were there any flat out surprises for you?