A Whackadoodle story about trust and lies in four parts: by Lynn Marie Sager
Part One: In which my student believes that dismissing lies is a viable solution.
I had been hired to tutor her online at the beginning of the pandemic. Was it really over two years ago? So much had changed, and yet so much had stayed the same.
We’d lived through two years of shutdowns, and over one million deaths. We’d been yelled at for not wearing masks, and been yelled at for wearing masks. We’d watched Black Lives Matter protests, videos of men being killed on the street by officers of the law, accusations about voter fraud, a refusal to peacefully transfer power, a violent attack on the capital by people calling themselves patriots. We’d lost a revered member of the US supreme court mere months before an election, and she was replaced by another woman, who if past is prologue will not be so revered.
Yes, it’d been a crazy two years. Legislators in Florida are talking about burning books. Election workers regularly receive death threats.
Evidently, one in ten Americans believe violence against their government is a necessary if not viable option. Homeland Security is warning that America’s greatest threat currently comes from violent racist extremists born and raised in the USA; and add to that, we are living through multiple climate disasters, record high inflation, weekly mass shooting events, war in Europe, and a pandemic that is still killing thousands a day.
It was into this world that she had graduated from high school. Not at her school’s football field, as every class before her, but streaming live online, with screenshots of friends cheering her on. Now she faced her first year of college, still online for the most part. No first year dorm room antics for her.
One of her classes required an essay expressing an opinion. As usual, she wanted my assurance before turning it in.
Do you know that feeling when late on a heat-filled night, you hear a mosquito buzzing around your ear, and you finally realize why you want to tear off your itchy ankles and scratch off your welting wrists? All the while, you keep hearing the thirsty blood suckers literally feasting from your veins, leaving behind a night of irritating sleeplessness. Vainly, you reach out to the sound of its buzz and slam your hands against the air, hoping to make a difference, only to hear the buzzing return once more.
Well, I am now preparing for two and a half years of a similar irritation, and not for any reason you might think. The buzzing around my ears these days has to do with a logical fallacy referred to as an Appeal to Ignorance.
Now don’t get me wrong. In this case ignorance does not mean that you are ignorant. It means that we are all ignorant because someone is advancing an argument for which no one can provide proof, either for or against, because they are arguing for something that is unknowable.
I mean think about it, the future is unknowable, and an alternate future even more unknowable. Therefore, a claim like, “If I were still President, none of this would be happening,” is a classic example of an Appeal to Ignorance.
He claims that if he were still President, none of this would have happened. He and Putin were friends. We no longer needed NATO.
Well, I can create my own version of an Appeal to Ignorance.
I suggest, although I will never be able to prove it, that if the former guy were still President then Putin would have still built up troops across the Ukrainian border despite their great friendship because Putin has had an eye on Ukraine since the fall of the wall. I suggest that the former guy would have given his friend Putin a call, and his friend would have lied to him like he did at Helsinki, saying he had no intention of invading. I suggest that NATO would have been in tatters, and the Ukranians would have had no warning from the US military intelligence regarding the upcoming invasion because the man, who I refuse to name, would also have provided no help to a Ukrainian President who refused to “do him a favor though.” I suggest that if the other guy was President, Ukraine would already be annexed by Putin, and its people defeated without the allies to help them defend themselves.
That’s what I suggest, and you can’t prove me wrong because I am making an Appeal to Ignorance. I am appealing to something we will never know. I am appealing to a future that will never happen; and that is what the other guy and his allies are doing whenever they say, “If I were still president, then…”
Meanwhile, the mosquitos will keep buzzing in my ears, as I keep hearing the illogic of their arguments. Considering this, I have decided that for the next two years, I will take the advice of the writer Christopher Hitchens when he wrote, “He who makes some claim should provide some evidence, or be presumed false.”
She waited impatiently, as I read through her essay. “So what do you think?” she asked breathlessly when I looked up.
“Good,” I said. “I can tell that you thought about what you wanted to say before you started writing. I can tell that you took some time to organize your thoughts. Your ideas are clear in your writing, and I don’t see anything that screams edit. You have an interesting beginning, good arguments, and an intriguing ending. I’d give it a full score of five if I were grading you for an SAT essay.”
She pulled one of her accusing faces. “So what’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing is wrong with it. You’ve written a good essay.”
“But…,” she insisted. I knew from her face that I had been tutoring her too long, and she knew me too well.
“Well,” I hesitated. “I have heard that concluding quote of yours differently. I believe Hitchens’s Razor goes something more like, “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”
“Oh is that all,” she smiled with relief. “I thought you disapproved of my example.”
“No, your example is spot on. Almost as good as that time I listened to an interview where the interviewer said, ‘But you have no proof of significant voter fraud,’ and the interviewee shot back, ‘But you have no proof that there isn’t.’ Although,” I thought again, “I suppose that is less of an Appeal to Ignorance, and more of a Burden of Proof.”
Her brows furrowed. “Is that the one when they expect you to prove their argument wrong, while offering no proof that they are right?”
“That’s the one,” I agreed, “So yeah, I think your essay has a better example.”
“Well, whatever you call it,” she grinned smugly, “I’ll stick with my original conclusion. If you can’t prove your argument, I will dismiss it.”
“If you think that’s best,” I murmured, unable to stop myself.
She came back from her cloud and asked, “You don’t think that’s best?”
“Well it depends on what you want to accomplish. If you want to feel superior and dismiss others, it sounds like a great plan to me.”
“Is that what you think I’m doing?” She sounded hurt.
“That is what your conclusion concludes. At least, that’s how I read it,” I admitted.
“But you know that is not what I want to do.”
“How would I know that, unless you tell me?”
“I thought I did. I thought it was clear in my essay.”
“In your essay, you pointed out an Appeal to Ignorance, then concluded that all such statements can be presumed false. There is a big difference between presumed false, and being simply dismissed. Dismissed means I can ignore it. Presumed false means I assume that the argument is false. Can you see the difference?”
“Yes,” she said thoughtfully. “So I just need to fix my quote?”
“If you think that will accomplish what you want. If you think dismissing the illogic is really the conclusion you want to make.”
She sat for a while, silently staring into space, so I added, “That mosquito keeps buzzing around your mind, so will dismissal stop your itchy brain?”
“It will if I stop listening to the morons,” she mumbled.
“Excellent point,” I laughed. “If that is what you want to accomplish. But it seems to me that you could ignore them without feeling the need to write about it. So what are you trying to accomplish?”
“I want a good grade,” she said defiantly.
“If that is all you want, you have achieved your goal.”
We sat in more silence, while she played with a ring on her finger. It didn’t take long before she added shyly, “I think that I want to help people see through all the lies.”
“Ah,” I smiled. “An excellent desire. And will dismissing the lies help people to see through them?”
She thought for another moment, then replied with a grim smile, “Probably not.”
“It seems to me that for too long now, the liars are asking people to dismiss and mock the truth, while the truth tellers are asking people to dismiss and mock the lies, and yet lies continue to be confused with truth.”
“So if dismissal is not the answer, what is?” she asked, expecting me to know the answer.
Part Two: In which we discuss why lying is so popular.
Like I said before, she knows me too well. When it comes to my students, I can never resist a question, and I have been known to change entire lessons based upon one single question. “Well,” I said after reflecting, “I don’t think anyone really knows what helps people to see through lies. I mean, let’s face it, if people did know, lies wouldn’t be such a problem. However, I can share with you a few things people have tried, and I have known a few of them to actually work.”
“I’ll take what I can get,” she replied, as if ready to take notes.
“Well, as with most things that you want to accomplish, you can’t just rush in without fully understanding the situation; so to my mind, your first step is to define the lies you are dealing with.”
“You mean like white lies versus black lies?”
I smiled despite myself, “Yes a white lie is one kind of lie.” I thought about trying to explain the many other kinds of lies, but instead simply asked. “How would you define a white lie?”
“Well,” she thought for a moment. “Isn’t that the kind of lie you tell to get yourself out of trouble, but it doesn’t really hurt anybody?”
“I think white lies are more like telling your kids about Santa Clause, but I think you have a pretty solid definition,” I admitted. “However, have you ever considered that even in white lies, somebody always does get hurt?”
“The liar never learns a lesson, or rather the liar actually learns that lying can be a successful strategy for living.”
“Hum,” she made a mental note, “So there is no such thing as a white lie?”
“I wouldn’t say that. I’ve told a few myself in my time, but I have learned to think about the lie before I tell it. I consider how the lie would affect me, would affect the person I am lying to, and how the lie would affect our relationship.”
“What lies have you told?” She looked at me in mock astonishment.
“Oh Lord, you would ask.” I scratched a sudden itch on my neck. “Okay, so there have been times when I get an email, and I just don’t feel like dealing with it, and when they call me a few days later to ask, ‘Didn’t you get my email?’ I say, ‘No, oh my God, did you send me an e-mail? I get so many emails. I must not have seen it.’” I paused for impact and then added. “There, so now you know.”
“I know not to send you an email. That’s what I know,” she laughed.
“Ha, ha,” I said over my shoulder. “The point is, I will keep doing it until someone calls me on it. Until I have learned my lesson. Until someone tells me, ‘You know, I know you saw my email, and just didn’t want to deal with it, so please next time, just tell me the truth.’ Do you see how calling out even white lies can be freeing?”
She chewed on her lip thoughtfully, “I suppose it could clear the air. Help people to start fresh.” Her statements sounded more like questions, so I let her think it through. Finally, she added, “Calling out the lie could hurt the relationship, but it also might help.”
“I’m telling you that after sixty years of life on this planet, if the relationship is worth keeping, it does help. And I’ll also add that it feels much more freeing to simply admit, ‘You know what? I’d don’t check my email every day, and I respond to them even less, so if you need me for something, you have my phone number.’”
“I get that,” she nodded. “I can see that just being honest keeps a relationship…I don’t know…healthy? But sometimes it is just easier to tell a white lie. Being honest can sometimes be so hard.”
“Everything is hard the first time. Everything is uncomfortable the first time. But you know what?”
“All hard things get easier with practice.”
“Even lying?” she asked grimmly.
“So is that what you meant when you said that some liars learn that lying can be a successful strategy for living? They get so good at lying that lying becomes a way of life?”
“Um hum,” I grunted in agreement.
“And they get that way because nobody calls them on it? Nobody makes it easier for them to tell the truth?”
“And nobody makes it harder for them to tell the lies,” I added. “Nobody holds them accountable for the damage their lies cause. Heck, in some families their lies are actually rewarded.” Another thought occurred to me, so I added, “In fact, some of our traditions even encourage lying.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh,” I sighed. “Like when we force kids to say they are sorry for something even when it’s obvious that they aren’t sorry, and probably don’t even know what the word sorry means.”
“Hum,” she grunted back, lost in thought. “So, you’re telling me that people who lie all the time have learned that lying rewards them?”
“For some people, yes,” I answered. “In fact, for some people, telling lies is a way of life. After all, lying is almost always easier than facing the truth, and lying can be an extremely rewarding way of life. Much more rewarding than telling the truth.”
“Well, lying is not going to result in healthy relationships, nor is it going to gain you trustworthy friends. But if all you’re interested in is money or power, lying is a tried and true way to get there.”
“That goes against everything I have ever been taught about liars,” she said, suddenly concerned.
“Well, do you want some examples,” I smirked. “Heck, we can make a game of it. I tell the lie, and you name me the rich and powerful person who told it.”
Her eyes narrowed, “Have you ever noticed how often your turn lessons into games?’
“Yep,” I said proudly. “I love games, and I especially love teaching games. The question is, are you willing to play my game?”
“Sure,” she sighed.
“Ring, ring,” I began, holding up an invisible phone, “Good morning Madam. I am calling to see if you have received your free medical masks and test kits yet. No, well let me help with that. All I need is your full name and your medicare number.” I looked at her expectantly.
She couldn’t help but laugh. “You are a telemarketer trying to commit medicare fraud.”
“Lucrative, right? I mean, it might take days to find that one person who doesn’t simply hang up on me, but even one medicare number could be worth thousands of dollars in fraud. And if I am calling from another country, it’s even better because on the off chance you can actually find me, your laws have no jurisdiction over me, so I am untouchable. No accountability, so I’ll just do it again.”
“Gotcha,” she smiled. “I have one for you.”
“Go for it.”
She straightened her back and spoke with pride. “I’m not sure I can win this election, so I’m just going to tell everyone over and over again that the only way I can lose this election is if there is voter fraud, so when I do actually lose this election, I can claim the election was stolen.”
“Too easy,” I laughed at her. “I believe you are the twice impeached guy that you refused to name in your essay.”
“Yep, your turn,” she smiled, and slouched back into herself.
“Let me think of a harder one,” I paused, biting my lip. “Okay, I have this apartment building worth quite a lot, so I have to pay a lot in property taxes. I think that I will find somebody who will sign off on a lower estimate without bothering to inspect the building, and then I will claim a lot of deductible improvements that cost less than I actually paid, so by the end of the day, I will pay pennies on the dollar.”
She thought for a moment then declared, “Shouldn’t this be a multiple choice answer because I can think of a few people who could fit that lie; including the guy who will not be named.”
“Sorry, you’re absolutely right,” I admitted with a grin. “So let me give you another one.” She waited while I composed my clue. “I want to annex that country next to me and reclaim my country’s place in history, but I don’t want it to look like I am the aggressor; so I think I will declare the region that we have been fighting over for the past eight years an independent state, then send my forces in as freedom fighters.”
“Too easy, Putin,” she answered.
“There’s no pleasing you,” I shook my head. “Okay, one last one.”
“Hang on, it’s my turn.”
“Fine, you get the last one.”
Her lips twisted as she thought. “Some research is coming out that says my product is harmful, so I will pay for my own research team who can conclude that the evidence is not conclusive.”
“Okay, now you are giving me a multiple choice because I can think of a number of CEO’s guilty of that lie. Cigarette companies, energy companies, drug companies. I remember a massive lawsuit against Dupont that took years to settle. And your last example, I assume, proves my original point about lying being lucrative.”
“Yes,” she nodded, suddenly serious. “There are lots of people who have learned that lying is a path to power and money. You know it’s weird, but it almost makes me want to take up lying just in self-defence.”
“What?” I snickered. “Fight lies with lies. I am sure that would make for a world filled with trust, peace, and unity.”
“So what do we do then?”
“The first step, as I have said before, is to recognize the type of lie when you see it, and then you try to respond appropriately. There are different responses to the different types, and we still have two more types to go. One, the lies people repeat because they have come to believe the lie; and two, the lies we tell ourselves because we can’t see them as lies.”
“The lies people repeat because they have come to believe the lies,” she repeated carefully. “I think I understand that one, but I’m not quite sure about the lies we tell ourselves.”
“So can you give me an example of the first one?”
“How about….humm…people who believe that the 2020 election was stolen even though over sixty courts found no evidence of fraud because they also believe that the courts are corrupt?”
“Nice,” I nodded appreciatively.
“Your turn,” she said brightly.
“Oh, are we still playing that game? Okay, how about all the lies that declare there is only one correct belief, only one right religion, only one right thought, only one right way to teach, only one right way of living, only one right way to love, only certain books to read, only one man to follow, only one media to believe, only one right way to raise a family, and only one way to to define right. And the biggest lie of all, that your way is that one right way, and everyone else is wrong. Then to make it worse,” I rushed on. “Those wrong guys are taking over and destroying what is right, so we must defend ourselves, even if it means using violence, against those radicals.”
“Wow,” she said with admiration. “Where did that come from?”
“Two years of pent up frustration,” I admitted reluctantly. “Oh,” I had just enough energy to add, “Let’s not forget the various countries where the government has turned everything I just said into law, and anyone with a dissenting opinion can be imprisoned, or killed. Let’s not forget about that.”
“Sure, let’s not forget that,” she repeated carefully. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I took a deep breath and laughed at myself. “So, after that tirade, do you have any questions about the lies we tell because we have been taught to believe them?”
“No, no,” she conceded. “I think that I understand.”
“Good,” I smiled, “because that takes us right back to the lies that we tell ourselves because we believe them.
“So those must be the beliefs that we have been taught, but never bother to question, right?”
“Including the belief that it is dangerous to question a belief,” I offered.
“What do you mean?”
“That it might make kids too uncomfortable to learn certain history lessons. That it might be too uncomfortable to meet with people that you have been taught to fear. That the people you have been taught to admire aren’t quite as admirable. That if you study a belief, you might start believing in something else. That you might start to understand Wall Street. That you might start to understand systems. That you might start to understand your government. That you might understand that every woman is beautiful even if they don’t have perfect skin. That you might understand the power advertisements have over you. That you might understand how the lies have crippled you. That if you actually listened to others without shouting, you might learn something from another mind. And most importantly, if the people who have been lied to open their minds to other minds, those in power might lose all control. Things like that.”
“Is that all?” she asked uncertainty.
“Sorry, more pent up energy.”
“So what do we do?”
“Depends,” I said. “Do you want to punish the liars, or do you want to persuade the liars? Because believe me, there is a big difference. Punishment is easy.”
“Take them to court. Use a civil law suite to claim how their lies have damaged you. It was a beautiful thing when that young election worker in Georgia got a settlement from a major cable news network, forcing them to take back their lies, and pay her a huge amount for destroying her life. It was a beautiful thing when Dominion did the same to another cable news network. If someone has damaged you, take them to court.”
Her face crumpled up in confusion. “Aren’t civil suites expensive?”
“They can be, unless you win. And there are entire organizations who can help you defray the costs if they believe in your case. But if you don’t like the legal route, try a boycott. Boycotts can be very effective, but only if you let the company know why you are boycotting them, and get others to join your boycott.”
“Boycotts are sort of like sanctions, right?”
“Exactly right. You invade another country, and we will no longer do business with you. Basically, a boycott on a governmental scale.”
“I thought you said that punishment was easy.”
“Easier than persuasion anyway.”
“I don’t see how either are easy.”
“Perhaps easy was the wrong word. Perhaps, I should have said ‘effective means of punishment.’ Of course,” I added after a thought. “Not always effective. I mean, after all, lying is always much easier than the truth.”
“Well, I am not about to sue a cable company, and I don’t know who to boycott,” she said, sounding irritated.
“So stop complaining, and at least learn to call the lies out.”
“Oh that will go over well,” she rolled her head. “I’ll start calling my crazy Uncle a liar. I can see the look on my mom’s face now.”
“I said to call out the lies, not the liar.”
“I don’t see the difference.”
“It is the difference between saying, ‘You are a liar,’ and you saying, ‘I don’t believe what you are saying is true, and I don’t trust your information.’”
“And the difference?”
“Call them a liar, and you have to prove them a liar. It completely takes you completely off subject. It makes people throw up defenses and start arguing. However, call out the lie, and you can ask them to prove what they are saying is true. Nine times out of ten, they won’t be able to prove their lie. Does that make sense?”
“I suppose so,” she said slowly. I could see that she was trying to get her head around the idea.
I gave her a few minutes, then added. “People try to create change in so many ways that don’t work. They argue with people who aren’t listening. They give advice to people who don’t want their advice. They give speeches to people who already agree with them. They criticize others. They talk at people who don’t trust them. They blame others. They belittle others. They threaten others. They reduce entire communities of people into some ill-defined word—liberal, conservative, radical, facist. They go on marches that are a lot of fun, but in the end do little more that gain one night of attention on the daily news–unless there is violence. Violence will give you at least five days on the news. Picking a fight always gets more attention than trying to settle one.”
Her lips twitched into a half smile at that.
“Most frustrating of all,” I continued. “Are the people who try to fight illogic with logic.”
“But you love logic,” she murmured, confused.
“Yes I do, but even I agree with Dale Carnegie. ‘When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity.’ I suppose you could add people motivated by greed, power and fear to that list.” I sighed. “In the end, logic only works on people who love logic. Most people just find it annoying. In fact,” I added as a thought struck me. “I think liars find logic the most annoying of all because logic does help people see through lies, and if people actually bother to listen logically, logic catches liars every time. Unfortunately, logic, evidence, and proof only work if you believe in them.”
“So where does that leave us?”
“I sense a new lesson coming on.”
Like I said, she knew me too well.
Part Three: In which we discuss listening, persuasion, trust and lies.
I began with a lesson already in my head. A lesson I had taught many times. “Persuasion begins with trust, and without trust you have nothing,” I told her. “If people don’t trust you, you can never persuade them, so you might as well shut up.” I paused for a moment to let that sink in, then added, “Do you know what liars lack?”
“Let me guess,” she laughed to herself. “Trust?”
“Bingo!” Then I added. “It might take time, evidence, proof, logic, but eventually liars do lose trust, and if I do not trust you, I will not believe anything you say…”
“… and so I will never be able to persuade you.” she interrupted. “I get it.”
“So the question of the day is, how do you create trust with someone who is inclined to distrust you?”
She stared at me without an answer.
“I can give you a hint,” I ventured. “I can tell you what does not work. Criticizing, complaining, condemning, advising, demanding, yelling, marching, name calling, manipulating, arguing, defending, threatening, or logic. So if those don’t work, what does?”
She blinked three times, deliberately. “I think that I need another hint,” she said finally.
I thought for a moment, then asked, “Do you like cats?”
Her face screwed up in confusion, “Sure I like cats. What about it?”
“Have you ever lived with one?”
“No,” she blinked a few more times. “Why?”
“My sister insists that cats give us love, but I think cats learn to trust us; but only if we prove to be trustworthy. Give them food, shelter, protection, and they will treat you like family, shower you in purrs, and unconditional trust. However, prove untrustworthy, and they’ll claw you in a second.”
“So what does that have to do with anything?”
“You missed the most important word.”
“What? Cats? Love?”
“No, Trustworthy. Love without trust is just a weekend in Vegas, followed by a lifetime in hell” I let my remark sink in, then reminded her, “The question of the day is, how do you create trust with someone who is inclined to distrust you? Do you think someone will start to trust you if you criticize, complain, condem, advisie, demand, yell, march, name call, manipulate, argue, defend, threaten, or insult them with your logic?”
“I suppose not,” she admitted, shaking her head. “So what are you trying to tell me?”
“I was hoping you would figure it out by yourself.” I started again. “What makes you trust people? What makes you listen to other people?”
“I suppose it is because I trust them,” she offered without thinking.
“Why?” I insisted.
“Because they know what they are talking about,” she grumbled.
“And how do you know that?”
“I don’t know,” she nearly shouted.
“Take a breath, and think about it,” I said calmly. “Why do you trust me?”
She took in three deep breaths, and began, “You have never hurt me…I think you care about me…I think you are pretty smart…You always take your time with me…You are always there to help me…I think you would never lie to me.”
“Bingo!” I smiled. “If you want someone to trust you, they must know that you will never hurt them. They must know that you care about them. They must know that you would never lie to them, and they must trust that you are smart enough to know what you are talking about. If you don’t have those four things, you will never be able to persuade another. You will never be able to help others see through the lies. Without trust, you might as well shut up.”
“I am not quite sure where that puts me.”
“It puts you in a corner, where you have to decide, can I prove to this person that I am trustworthy, or should I stop wasting my time.”
“And how do I do that?” she asked skeptically.
“You become trustworthy,” I delaired. “You make sure you know what you are talking about before you open your mouth. You decide that you’re not gonna lie. You show that you care. You learn how to ask questions and listen, rather than preach and demand. You learn how to open another’s mind. And, you also learn to spot those people whose minds are so solidly shut that they’re not worth your time trying to open.”
“The old eighty-twenty rule,” she shot me a half smile. “Twenty percent are probably never persuadable. Right?”
“Right,” I smiled back. “Which also means that eighty percent are probably persuadable, and persuasion always begins with trust.
“I don’t know,” she shook her head. “I mean, sure, I get the part about trust, but I have a lot of friends who I think trust me, and they don’t listen to a word I say.”
“That’s because you have not yet fully embraced the second rule of persuasion. Which essentially states that if you are doing the talking, you are probably not persuading.”
“It means that if you are trying to persuade someone, you need to shut up.”
“That does not make sense,” she insisted. “How can I persuade someone if I am not allowed to talk?”
“You can’t change a belief through talking. Beliefs can change through a lived experience. Beliefs can change when truth smacks someone in the face. But, in persuasion, you need to get the other person talking. You need to get the other person thinking, and to do that, you need to ask questions, then shut up and listen to their answers.“
She gave me that stare of hers again, so I decided to go right to the point. “Did I ever tell you that I taught sales for ten years?”
Her back shot straight as she took my question in. “Sales? Do they actually teach that?”
“Attend a business college, and yeah, they will force you to take a class in sales, which is actually a class in the psychology of persuasion. My class taught the seven steps of persuasion. Step one was to gain trust, and build rapport. And before you ask, rapport means ‘a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings and communicate well.‘”
“Okay,” she said tentatively.
“I also used to tell my students that the hardest part of a sales job was finding a product you could believe in and a company you could trust. If you had those two things, then the sale became just a matter of process.”
She stared at me some more, and then she finally admitted, “I’m still trying to get over the fact that you taught sales for ten years.”
I looked her in the eye and said carefully, “I have been around the sun over sixty times. I am old, and I have had more jobs than you could possibly imagine, so get over it.”
“How many jobs?”
“I said, get over it.”
“Fine. Whatever,” she shook her head. “So you taught sales.”
“I taught persuasion,” I corrected. “Step one: Know what you are talking about and build rapport. Step Two: Get permission before you start talking. Do you want to know step three?”
“Sure,” she said half heartedly.
“Step three: Ask questions, and listen, I mean really listen to the answers. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t get ready to start talking. Just ask questions and really listen until you find step four.”
“And step four is?”
“A place of agreement.”
She blew out a breath with emphasis—it sounded quite a bit like something we used to call a raspberry.
“Oh come on girl,” I said in frustration. “Think about it. What was the question of the day?”
“I forget,” she said unhappily.
“The question of the day was, how do you create trust with someone who is inclined to distrust you? Do you really think you can get someone to trust you by talking at them?”
“I’m just not sure how this has anything to do with lying.”
“It has everything to do with lying. People believe liars because they trust the liars, and in a whole lot of cases the liars believe their own lies. You will never be able to get through those lies unless they trust you, and unless you understand them. The only way I know to understand someone is to ask questions and listen to answers.”
“What kinds of questions?”
“Questions that lead to answers. Questions that get people talking. Questions that get people thinking. Do you remember how those questions start?” She was staring at me again, so I added, “Do you remember the five w’s plus the h?”
“Sure I do,” she still sounded irritated. “Who, what, when, where, why, and how.”
“And you still don’t understand their power.”
“The power to help you understand. If you are not asking those questions, you do not understand.”
She stared into space without a word. “I think I need to take a brake,” she said at last. “I think I need to think about all of this.”
“Fine,” I said. “I think that’s probably smart.”
“The only thing is, you said there were seven steps that you taught.”
“What were they?”
I reached back in time to remember what I had taught for ten years over ten years ago, “Rapport, permission, questions, agreement, authority, presentation, closing, follow up.” I had been using my fingers to count out the steps, and suddenly realized, “On my gosh, there were actual eight steps.” I looked at her in apology, “Sorry, it’s been a long time since I taught the class.”
“And you think your eight steps work?”
“Yeah, I kinda do,” I smiled to myself. “At least, I don’t know what else does.”
“So how exactly does agreement work?”
“I thought you said that you needed a break?”
“Yeah, but I also want to know how agreement works.”
“Tell you what,” I took a long pause. “I need a break too, plus your Dad is about to pick you up.” I sighed. “How about you read a chapter in that book I gave you last Christmas. The chapter entitled My Interview with Persuasion. He can explain it much better than I can just now. Besides, I get tired of repeating myself.” I add, suddenly feeling lighter, “Then you can email me your thoughts on what all eight steps require.”
“Are you actually giving me homework?”
“Why yes,” I chuckled. “I think I am.”
“You are supposed to help me with my homework. Not give me more,” she said with disgust.
“Do it, or don’t do it. Makes no difference to me. But I do think we both need a break, and I would be curious about your thoughts on a book I wrote.”
Part Four: In which my student turns in her homework.
Dear Miss Lynn,
I liked how you made Persuasion into a fisherman trying to catch a fish. I think I understand the seven steps.
Step one: Rapport was all about knowing what you are talking about before you start talking. It was about building trust and a common understanding. It was about not name calling if you want to persuade someone.
Step two: Permission was all about getting permission before talking. It was about not expect people to listen to you just because you have something to say. It was about asking for an appointment. It was about asking for the right time to talk instead of just talking and watching people get mad. It is about asking people for permission to ask questions in order to get to know them and understand them.
Step three: Questions, questions, questions. Step three is all about asking questions, so that you really know what you are talking about because you also really understand the other persons situation before you offer advice.
Step four: Agreement of need is all about finding a common need. You use the questions from step three to find that need because you do understand. Once you have a common need, you can work together to fill that need.
Step five: Authority is all about confirming trust. It is just about reminding someone that you have evidence to back your statements up.
Step six: Presentation was a little weird. You wrote about FBR’s. Feature, benefit reaction. I hope we can discuss this at our next session. I didn’t quite understand the difference between features and benefits, but I did see the advantage of asking for a reaction.
Step seven: Closing was all about asking people to make a commitment to try something new, or discover their objections if they were not ready to commit, so that you could offer better options. It had a lot to do with closed questions versus open questions.
Step eight: Follow up was all about not losing touch with people, maintaining trusting relationships, building allies. Reminding people that they had made a commitment, and keeping your commitment with them.
All my respect to you, until next week.
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You can reach Lynn Marie Sager at
- Navigating Life in a Whackadoodle World
- Finding Sense in a Whackadoodle World
- Teaching Logic in a Whackadoodle World
- Navigating Life Through Turbulent Tides
- A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules for Navigating Life
Check out her website at www.whackadoodleworld.com