Chapter 1 - Changing Minds-Changing Lives

I'm adding this note of caution to each page of my notes because the title is misleading: the author advocates a softer approach to persuasion, but his tactics are often still manipulative. In many instances he proposes a subtler form of manipulation, but one which is still manipulative. I don't expect he has bad intentions, but lacks sufficient knowledge in the areas of rhetoric and psychology to correctly identify and avoid manipulative tactics entirely.

Applying influence to change the minds of other people is likened to planting an idea in their minds and making them feel that it was their own to begin with.

If a person is ethical at all, and has any respect for other people, that notion is a bit disturbing. If a person is unethical, and has no respect for others, that notion is quite enticing. The problem for the author is that both the ethical and unethical people misunderstand the value of changing minds and exerting influence.

What sticks in their minds are the incidents in which people were manipulated to act against their own best interests - and their fear of the future is in more of the same. But what they tend to forget is the far more frequent incidents in which people were encouraged to do something that was beneficial to themselves.

(EN: This becomes a rather gray area, in that manipulative people find it effective to convince others that doing their bidding is in the other person's own interest - so it's difficult to decide whom to trust.)

Unavoidable Consequences

The author tells a narrative about a man who's apprehensive about a visit to his doctor - who constantly nags him about his lifestyle and insists that he make changes that he does not want to make. In time, he has a heart attack, and recognizes that he should have taken the doctor's advice. This very scenario occurs daily.

(EN: Doing the research for the author, the AMA indicates there are 715,000 heart attacks every year in the US, which is nearly 2,000 per day, and around 1.5 per minute. So it literally plays itself out every minute of every day.)

Advice and education are forms of persuasion - doctors, teachers, parents, and others are constantly attempting to control the behavior of others, with the positive intent of helping them to avoid the negative consequences of their bad habits. To protect them from danger, they must be convinced to make a change.

It's Not a "Pitch," It's a "Push"

The author refuses to be squeamish about pushing people - but that's exactly what salesmen do. His sense is that there's nothing at all wrong with giving a reluctant person a push - provided it's a push in the right direction.

To the author's way of thinking, a "pitch" is an extended lecture - next of kin to an impromptu infomercial that assaults the audience with a canned presentation with no regard for their needs and interests. Pitching a person is giving them a verbal browbeating to wear them down to they point that they buy just to get rid of you. Little wonder that this approach to selling has given the profession a bad reputation.

(EN: This is niggling over terminology - call it pitching, pushing, or find some new word to wrap it in - the approach to selling that attempts to thrust product on a customer that doesn't need or want it has not been successful or welcomed, whatever the name.)

The "push" meanwhile is a brief action, that occurs in the context of a more interactive conversation. The discussion involves drawing information out of a prospect, getting them to recognize their own needs, and getting them to consider the solution you propose. When the time comes, and they have come to this conclusion but are still hesitant, all it takes is a gentle push to motivate them to act on the things they already believe.

The nature of belief is important - and the manner in which a person comes to believe something depends entirely on their own reasoning mind. A person is reluctant to believe what they are told, simply because they have been told it.

And this has been the tragedy of traditional selling tactics: they attempt to hand people something to believe, rather than guiding them to discover their own beliefs - and then giving them a push in the right direction.

One More Sales Story

The author tells an extended anecdote about a talented young salesman who landed in a dreadful situation: he was hired by a life insurance firm to sell policies to the under-25 demographic.

The problem was that people under 25 have no little of life insurance - most of them are single and rent, so they have no family who depends on their income, not much income or assets to protect. That is, the target market didn't have a real need the product - and as such it was near impossible to sell without being manipulative and deceptive, which is ultimately ineffective.

Surprisingly many firms believe that a good salesman can "sell ice to an Eskimo" - but this is not a "good" salesman in terms of ethics, and even a salesman who can do so can only do it once, and would do well to get out of town quickly and never come back to face the people he's swindled.

(EN: The author doesn't mention the present age of communication, but it has had a dramatic impact on safeguarding the public against unethical salesmen. In the prior age, it was very difficult for a person to get information that would warn him off a bad product, whereas now it is very easy - and as a result, a salesman cannot count on customers being ignorant or easily deceived. On the bright side, a salesman with something to offer can count on the same channels to spread positive news and make it easier for him to sell a product that offers genuine value.)


The author does some broken rambling at this point, using various examples to suggest that people aren't always able to recognize what's in their best interest: a couple in their eighties who refuses to move into a nursing home, people whose lifestyle choices in terms of diet and exercise, and the like.

(EN: My sense is these examples are problematic, in that they assume "quantity of life" is to had at the cost of "quality of life" - which is quite a common notion in certain circles - but pushing other people to act in accordance with your values rather than respecting theirs is no less manipulative - and often all the worse because the salesman can use this projection to rationalize and justify his unethical behavior, and be all the more manipulative when he believes that he is doing the right thing.)

Then, switch to the notion of bedside manner: the officious and imperious doctor who gives orders and expects patients to comply is less effective in his profession than one who seeks to be helpful in getting patients to understand the benefit of following his advice.

It goes beyond the medical profession: an accountant who advises clients to make budgetary changes, an attorney who advises a client to avoid behavior that would result in a lawsuit, or a parent attempting to convince their children to make better choices. All of these situations require influence and salesmanship.