Persuasion Classroom: Don’t try to help everyone
April 10th, 2011 - 19 Comments
I believe in trying a lot of things, getting really good at a few, then turning around and teaching other people how to do it.
But I don’t believe in helping everyone.
As I’ve written before…
Imagine the world has As, Bs, and Cs in any field. In this one, the As are already managing their money, they’ve read my book (and others), and they’re earning as much as they need to lead the lifestyle they choose. They’re already doing it.
The Bs are the greatest in number. They have the potential to do something great, but for whatever reason — like actual barriers, self-imposed barriers, or external responsibilities — they haven’t achieved what their potential first. They can be reached if you communicate to them in the right way.
The Cs are a lost cause. Sure, they might be salvageable to help, but that’s not something I’m interested in or capable of. This enrages certain people who believe that we should help everyone, but I live in the world of practicality, not utopia. If I have the chance to help an A become an A+ in 3 months, or a C become a B- in 3 years, who am I going to choose? There are other people who make it their life’s work to work with Cs, but it’s not me.
And so this is also applicable for you. When I teach negotiation, or interviewing, or automation, or even earning more money, I teach you how to focus on the right level of analysis for you. It’s ok not to please everyone. I’d rather spend my time hyper-focused on exactly your needs than try to serve everyone.
As an example, I love these 2 emails I got last week. They reveal a lot about human behavior.
Psychology of Persuasion Email #1: “I thought you were a pompous asshole”
Lee K. writes:
“I once thought that you were a pompous asshole. Then I graduated college and found out that you were just being honest (and that you were right). I’m going to make my first 1k through freelance editing and your site will be to be an invaluable resource.”
“ha. what changed to make you not think that?”
“The change in perspective that comes with graduating college and planning to get married.
While your rhetoric hasn’t changed and it still retains a unique style, instead of getting the impression of “I’m better and richer than you so buy my services” that I did when I read your materials a year or so ago, this time it gave me an impression of “I have something of value to offer you if you’re interested and ready for it. But if you’re not ready, I’m not interested.”
Likely, my perspective has shifted closer to that of the audience that you’re aiming for.”
Look what’s going on here. There’s a reason why I’m so hard on frugality zealots, and why I tell people who whine to go away, and why I even don’t accept people with credit-card debt for my Earn1K program: I Will Teach You To Be Rich is not for everyone. Paradoxically, when you tell people precisely who you WANT and DON’T want, the wrong people will whine (and go away), while the best people will stay and be even more committed.
This is not some gimmick or trick. I genuinely hate whiners and actively unsubscribe them. I ban people from ever buying another product if I find out that they’re not following through with my product. But I coddle and give ridiculous attention to the people who take the time to implement my material.
When I started IWT, it was actually an informal, 1-hour class I taught at Stanford to my friends. Unfortunately, nobody came. I spent a year and a half getting really frustrated since people would “say” they were interested…but their behavior didn’t reflect it (i.e., they never came — even when they said they would — leaving me a sad shell of a man). Instead, once I started my blog and learned how to reach out to the right people, I didn’t have to try to CONVINCE people to come. The right people found me and the wrong people never came. Which is great! Don’t waste my time and I won’t waste yours.
Whenever you’re trying to influence others (and we all do, all the time) you can use this by targeting the right people — people who ALREADY want what you’re offering — instead of trying to persuade people to care in the first place.
Psychology of Persuasion Email #2: “I have basically no ambition”
James P. writes:
“I’ve been reading your blog for probably about 15 months, and it’s been an exercise in elaborate excuses. For awhile I would tell myself that I would be taking initiatives and being proactive once I was out of school, or I would if only [insert excuse]. I’ve put into use a lot of your mindsets, and minor lifehacks, but I haven’t taken real action like you urge, and I doubt I will in the near future. The fact is, those things are scary, I’m pretty comfortable, and I have basically no ambition.
I was speaking to my older cousin recently, telling her that I feel I’ve wasted my fortunate upbringings and associated opportunities. She then informed me that “You come from a long line of underachievers. Look at me. Your grandmother had a Harvard education and could type 90 words a minute on a typewriter. She chose to work as a janitor”. I don’t make excuses anymore. I understand that I’m lazy, and am unlikely to be proactive throughout my life. When I see you to tell me to do some action, and if I don’t, it’s because I didn’t want it enough. I use your content primarily as entertainment. Over time, I want to become a person who, after identifying a solution to a problem or a course of action, initiates it promptly. Your content has helped me improve a tiny bit over the last year, but for each time I get inspired by something you write, I do nothing.
I had a point when I started writing this, but I’ve forgotten it. This is just then a glimpse into the mindset of one of your readers. I love your content and feel blessed that someone puts so much effort into so many lost causes (that is, people like me).”
When it comes to my material, James is clearly a C — and nothing I say or do is going to change that.
I’m sure James a nice guy and a caring father/son/brother, and he’s likely productive in other areas of life, but he just doesn’t care about my stuff. Could I get him to care (meaning, change his behavior)? Maybe. But it would be prohibitively difficult. So I won’t.
“But Ramit,” you might say, “everyone deserves a chance! How can you turn your back on him like that?” People get uncomfortable when you label someone like that, but the best predictor of your future behavior is your past behavior. And by not focusing on Cs, it gives me a chance to interact deeply with As and, sparingly, Bs who are likely to turn into As.
Which will have more of an impact on the world?
Bonus! Cognitive dissonance and learned helplessness
Interestingly, you’ll notice some cognitive techniques he uses to justify his (lack of) behavior. For example, he says “I don’t make excuses anymore. I understand that I’m lazy…” which is a label he gives to himself because, of course, what does a lazy person do? Nothing! And because I am lazy, I do nothing. The perfect tautology. (For more, read about Learned Helplessness.)
He then says “I have basically no ambition” and “I use your content primarily as entertainment” — each designed to excuse his lack of action.
What James is doing here is dissonance reduction: He knows that he “should” be taking action, but he clearly is not, so how does he reduce that dissonance? He creates narratives (“I have basically no ambition”) and labels himself in a certain way (“I’m lazy…”), which provides the perfect rationalization for why he is not taking action. The alternative would be too painful.
When you begin thinking about behavioral change — first yours, then others — be very careful of understanding who you’re targeting, their biases, and their reactions to persuasion. Today, we saw a guy who initially hated me, then changed internally so that my message — the same one! — resonated with him. Then we saw a guy who is using creative cognitive methods to excuse his lack of action. He is unlikely to change in the short term.
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