In the course of 24 hours, two different articles about how to manipulate people into doing what you want came across my Twitter feed.
Okay, it isn’t totally mind control but rather how using the right word can make people more receptive to the choices you offer them.
Seth Godin mentioned “Wheeler’s Which,” a term I had never heard before. Elmer Wheeler is the guy who coined the idea of selling the sizzle rather than the steak. His “which” involves asking a question that includes two “yes” options rather than an opportunity to answer “no.”
[…Elmer Wheeler was a sales trainer nearly a century ago. He got hired by a chain of drugstores to increase sales at the soda fountain. In those days, a meal might consist of just an ice cream soda for a nickel. But for an extra penny or two, you could add a raw egg (protein!). Obviously, if more people added an egg, profits would go up. Wheeler taught the jerks (isn’t that a great job title?) to ask anyone who ordered a soda, “One egg or two?” Sales of the egg add-on skyrocketed.]
Personally, while I find the frequent question, “would you like to add X for $Y more,” annoying, I think I would be angered or insulted at the assumption I would purchase something extra. I would counsel using this technique sparingly for that reason unless you think most of your customers are less ornery than I.
There are opportunities to use “Wheeler’s which” in ways that don’t pressure people. For example, “how many of you will be attending our free playtalk” or “will you be accompanying your child to the children’s’ activities or having coffee in the parents lounge?” Using the question in this manner can help increase attendance numbers for outreach events on your grant reports.
The other magic word came from a New York magazine link Dan Pink provided about the power of “willing.” (my emphasis)
When a request framed in more direct terms is turned down, a follow-up with a willing will often get the other person to cave:
Are you the type of person to mediate? Yes or no. What was really interesting about the mediation “willings” is that if you ask someone “Are you interested in mediation?” they might say yes or no. But if you ask them if they’re willing to mediate, that requires them saying something about the type of person that they are.
With a caveat: “‘Willing’ works best after resistance, so it shouldn’t be your opening gambit,” she said. If the first approach fails, though, the trick can be a persuasive backup strategy. Now go forth and bend the world to your will.
If someone is really opposed to something I am not sure asking if they are willing or not will overcome that resistance but I thought it interesting that the question of willingness introduced the question about what sort of person you are. Are you the type of person that is open to trying something new or exploring an alternative.
Again, I don’t feel like you can just slip “willing” into any question and have it be effective. There are plenty of sentiments you can express involving willingness that will offend and anger, but just as many that can help open them to an option. My suspicion is that used repeatedly over the course of many interactions, “willing” might gradually reduce resistance.