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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 04-Feb-11


Friday 04-February-11

The absent persuader

There's a problem that you can face sometimes when persuading other people, which is that your very presence can change what the other person decides, says and does. Take for example a parent who wants their teenage child to tidy their room. It's a no-win situation as the child feels like it is a battle of wills and digs in their heels. Sales people can also face this reactance when prospective customers suspect their motives.

What is happening here is that the target person moves their attention away from the negotiated item and onto the negotiator. Even if the request is reasonable, the person may fear being controlled or losing face, and so backs away, fights back or otherwise responds defensively.

So what can you do? The simplest approach when your being there makes things worse is to not be there. There are many other methods you can use, for example the parent can tell the teenager that their room is smelly then leave, or ask one of the other children to carry the request. The sales person, on reading the situation, could say 'I don't want an answer now, though you may like to look through these case studies -- ok if I call next week?' This takes the pressure off the customer who looks like they are about to refuse and gives an elegant extension to the sale.

There is also a whole profession of third parties who will stand in your stead and change minds where, for any reason, you cannot. Mediators, arbitrators, negotiators and more can act as trust-brokers and expert persuaders for you. The same principle happens at an 'amateur' level as friends and relatives take this third position. Of course there are always situations where you need to stay the course and get past objections, but you also need to know when it is better to back off, give the person space or otherwise enlist an intermediary.

Mosovici, S. and Neve, P. (2006). Those absent are in the right: Convergence and polarization of answers in the course of a social interaction, European Journal of Social Psychology, 1, 2, 201-214

I have tried the “this room smells” trick didn’t work room still smells.

-- Bazil O

Dave replies:
Oh well. I guess that proves it doesn't always work. But maybe something else will. You could try a reversal such as putting something very smelly in the room. What convinced my daughter when she was younger was finding a big spider under her on-the-floor clothes.


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