Resistance is Useless
Resistance is Useless
The Gentle Art of Persuasion
All textbooks, training programmes and seminars set out to bring about change. To borrow a statement from the new psychology called neurolinguistic programming, 'If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got. If you don't like what you are getting, then you must change what you are doing.' This, of course, is a lot easier to say than to do. Most people are unhappy with some aspect of their life or business; but change can be hard and the prospect frightening. At the moment, you are probably thinking of how you and your company might change to become more successful, and how this book might give you some new ideas as the basis for your plans. I hope it will; but think too of the change you are aiming to effect every time you or one of your colleagues tries to sell something, to conduct a negotiation, to implement a set of new working practices. All of these activities, and many more in business and commerce, involve changing someone's mind; and it stands to reason that if you were mentally nodding a moment ago when I said that change can be hard and frightening, you might have a better chance of success in any of these situations if you could make the change you are aiming to achieve a little less hard and frightening for the other party.
Getting Caterpillars Airborne
This is one of the key principles underlying the art of persuasion. In my hippy days as an art college student in the sixties, I used to like the saying, 'What the caterpillar calls death, we call a butterfly' - but try telling a quivering little green grub about the benefits of flitting about in the sunshine with glorious purple wings. Or, as the cartoon of a flat-capped caterpillar watching a butterfly pass overhead has him saying to his mate, 'You wouldn't get me up in one of those things.' It is in its approach to getting the reluctant caterpillar airborne that persuasion parts company with some of the more fashionable techniques of selling and negotiation.
Just as frightening as the prospect of bringing about change yourself is that of bringing about unwanted change in someone else. Remember the icebergs and my often-sunk Titanic ? Here is another example of the dangers of successful persuasion. My wife came to me once saying that one of her friends was very upset because her husband had been going to massage parlours and generally behaving badly. Putting on what I believed to be my truly caring hat, I took this guy out for a drink and told it to him the way it was. I pulled no punches: I tore his behaviour to bits and told him that he was being completely selfish and ignoring the deep responsibilities he owed to his family. As I ranted on I saw his previously irrepressible cockiness disappear to be replaced by a look of chastened penitence. He thanked me for my frankness and we parted.
About two weeks later, we met again and he grasped my hand, thanking me fulsomely and almost tearfully for my help and the way I had changed his life.
'That's what you did for me, Geoff,' he said. 'It's no more Mr Nice Guy for me! You were right: I can get what I want, no matter who gets trodden on in the process. I was weak, you showed me, but I'm not going to be like that any more. Look out, world: I'm going to do the pushing around from now on!'
He left me with my jaw on my chest and the horrible realization that he had heard from me quite literally just what he had wanted to hear. He went on to greater excesses of awful behaviour which, as in any decent Italian opera, led to his eventual downfall - for which I felt somewhat responsible. Since then, I have stopped quoting chapter and verse at people and offered my ideas on a strictly take-it-or-leave-it basis.
So, advice can be something of a loose cannon, and persuading someone to change their view carries a heavy bu