Wow, I Think I Just Got Played

I’ve been teaching communication and influence skills for many years, but I admit that I sometimes find myself falling victim to the very techniques I teach during my seminars.  There are several reasons for this phenomenon. Not the least of which is that these techniques are subtle and highly effective, thus often difficult to detect. So let me relate a time someone schooled the teacher and how was it accomplished.

Well, the “who” was my bride, who used compliance techniques like a true expert.  Of course, my wife is no stranger to such tactics. She raised two children and is a social worker, who worked with juvenile delinquents in residential facilities for many years.  She knows how the game is played and she has become quite efficient in identifying and countering the tricks her “kids” try to pull. Oh yeah, and she has sat through my training programs.

Let’s move on to the “how” of my wife’s tactics.  One day, my wife and I were in our bedroom.  She had just walked into the bedroom, carrying a basket with the freshly laundered bed linens.  She looks at me and asks, “Can you do me a favor? Can you make the bed? I liked the way you did it last time.  The sheets were fitted nice and tight.” I quickly responded, “No problem,” and began to make the bed, feeling good that my prowess as a “bed-maker” had been noticed by my wife.  Then, just as I was carefully making that second hospital corner, I stopped dead in my tracks. I looked at the door through which my wife had recently departed and smiled. “She got me,” I said to myself.

So what did my wife use to gain compliance from her husband, who generally avoids household chores?   Well, she used a couple of principles and techniques. Stacking techniques is often very effective. In this case, she drew from the influence principle, liking.  This principle states that we are more likely to be compliant to those we like. Unfortunately, many married couples can’t take advantage of this because they don’t like each other very much.  Lesson number 1: If you want to influence someone, maintain a relationship where they actually like you.

Knowing she had this liking relationship, she employed flattery to gain compliance.  She, however, used an indirect method of flattery, where she actually allowed me to flatter myself.  Her flattery focused not on me, but on something I was responsible for creating or accomplishing. This is a subtle form of flattery that is generally perceived as genuine.  It made me feel good about myself, which increased my rapport with the person responsible (in this case my wife) and made me even more likely to agree to her request. Lesson 2:  Indirect forms of flattery that allow the other person to flatter themselves are less likely to be detected as a compliance technique (even by someone who teaches the technique).  

So my bride played me to get me to make the bed.  But she was not satisfied with simply getting me to make the bed.  She wanted me to do a good job. Therefore, she took steps to increase the likelihood I would do a good job.  Her flattering comments directly addressed the quality of the work I had done in the past and the specific aspect (tight-fitting sheets) that made the job so good.  In order for me to be consistent with my persona as a good bed maker, I would have to make the effort to do a good job making the bed again. Lesson 3: Link indirect flattery and to positive behaviors, so that the other person repeats the positive behavior in order to recreate the positive feelings associated with the behavior.

Of course, I must offer one word of caution in regards to using influence techniques with your loved ones.  Proceed carefully! One of my colleagues warns his students that if they use these techniques too often with their loved ones, they eventually may not have loved ones.  At the beginning of all my training seminars, I have all my students take the “Intelligent Communication Oath,” where they promise to use these skills for good and not evil.  While I encourage my students to practice their techniques at home, I strongly recommend they do so very carefully, focusing on the positive aspects of creating better communication and closer relationships.

Until next time, be quick to hear and slow to speak,


Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

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