Persuasion surprise: Sometimes I give the wrong advice on purpose
March 24th, 2013 - 84 Comments
Today I’m going to share some subtle techniques on how to persuade other people to do something. If you remember, when I started my site, none of my friends would read it, even though many of them had big money issues, so I had to learn how to reach people by doing some very unconventional persuasive tactics.
You might be surprised by this one. You will not read about this in any textbooks or psychological literature. Yet it works.
Let’s start with…
Q: Ramit, is it ever ethical to give people the WRONG information?
A: Yes. You might be surprised. Let me show you what I mean. I will cover the ethics of this at the bottom of this email.
Example 1: How to lose weight
My friend recently lost a ton of weight and got really fit (she weighs less after two kids than before she had them). Her friends, of course, want to know how she did it.
One of her friends asked for an exhaustive list of recipes, then after reading them, she looked up and said, “So…can I still use butter in my eggs?”
My friend told me this story and wanted to scream, NO!!! Just use coconut oil!! But instead, I advised her to say, “Sure, that’s fine. Just focus on starting your day with some protein. If you want to use butter, that’s cool.”
Although she “technically” shouldn’t use butter, there’s a difference between being technically right and actually persuading behavioral change.
Option 1: Tell her, NO! Don’t use butter! Do it all my way and you’ll lose a ton! Result: Person experiences reactance, does nothing, you get frustrated.
Option 2: Say sure, you can use butter. Just try to start the day off with protein and notice your energy level (hint: that is a very important phrase used by women) at lunchtime for a week. Result: Person will use butter, eventually start loving their increased energy level, and come back to you for more guidance — which they will be happy to accept.
Example 2: How to gain weight
I have a scrawny Indian friend who recently emailed me about gaining weight. In his email, he wrote “I already eat 2,100 calories/day!!” So adorable. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I eat that for breakfast.
Anyway, when I hung out with him last weekend, he asked me for some advice. (Remember, I learned how to work out and eat, and intentionally gained 40lbs to look like a normal human being.)
So we talked about this and that…and then he said, ok, so I’m going to go to the gym, I’m going to lift more, I’m going to keep running because I like that…and I’ll do what you said about food.
Option 1, the “technically correct answer”: NO! Don’t run! You don’t need it. Only lift heavy. Result: I take the one thing this guy knows how to do, run, and tell him not to do it. Then I throw him into a gym and recommend he use all this foreign equipment. Who on earth would actually listen to this stupid advice? This is what so many super-fit guys with 6-packs forget. You have to start at their level, not yours.
Option 2, the persuasive answer: Sure, keep running if you want to. Over time, you might not need to run as much, but if you like it for now, sure. Result: Guy gradually starts lifting more. He runs more. He sees some results, gets a trainer. Trainer tells him to stop running, eat more, and lift heavier. He does, bulks up, looks like a normal human being, names his first son after me, and pays for my drinks for the rest of my life. Just a day in the life of Ramit Sethi.
The ethics of persuasion
Pay close attention you weirdos, because if I ever find out one of you used my persuasion techniques for unethical gains, I will hunt you down, physically hurt you, then post your name and now-deformed face on my blog. Your SEO will suck after that.
In those two above examples, why did I recommend giving the technically WRONG advice? Here’s why:
I use a simple rubric for persuasion: If people were rational beings, and they had all the information and motivation in the world, would they want to do this?
If so, it’s my duty to persuade as aggressively as I can.
If not, I should not persuade.
Example 1: Person is in $5,000 of CC debt. If they knew about interest rates and their own likelihood of following through on a program, would they join an expensive $5,000 “make money online” course? No. (That is why I turn down over $1 million/year by forbidding people with credit-card debt from joining my most expensive programs.)
Example 2: Person wants to gain weight but doesn’t understand why running is not good for gaining weight. Should I say “Sure, that’s fine” even knowing it’s not the 100% ideal solution? Yes, because once he gets in the gym and starts working out/reading more about gaining weight, he will stop running. Note: WHEN he is ready.
The main point is, to persuade, do it ethically and give people congruent recommendations at the right time.
I’m curious to hear if you’ve done this. Leave a comment when you gave someone the wrong advice for the right reasons.
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