People can get inside our heads and toy with our brain. Everyone can do it, most of us do. But it’s a mindless thing because we rarely see what has happened or that we were doing it. It is so wildly simple that it is kind of terrifying, particularly because the ability to have someone impact our thinking is hardwired into our genetic code.
MOST people can and are toyed with in this way a lot, daily. I used to do it to my clients and I’ll do it in most meaningful conversations with people I don’t know or have just met because most people don’t really want to talk openly with strangers in-spite of their desire and need to be social. For this to be effective, you need to trigger one of a number of deeply routed automatic response within a person. Once triggered, the thoughts of a person change in a very predictable way.
You can open someone up by acting the same way you do when you are with someone you are really close to. Smile, make eye contact, listen and engage their words / thoughts, ask inappropriate questions without showing any discomfort, engage them intensely and without judgment, think about their words and let the feelings they create float through you, ultimately make the conversation about them and you will find people say the most incredible things. For example, after someone told me that they were terminally ill I asked them what it was like to be dying, he was scared and while he could see the connection between his actions and his impending doom, he sort of wished that he wasn’t going to die. I learned that it’s tough to not blame your parents when you get molested by a family member and that the most scaring thing in this case was that you no longer trust anyone to look out for their best interests – if their parents couldn’t do it, no one would. An armed forces member told me that he doesn’t talk about his experiences in Afghanistan just that he’s glad to be home safe and with the people he knows how to miss.
My questions were abrupt and inappropriate but my curiosity was genuine and my desire to learn was pure. It’s easy to not feel uncomfortable about doing something with harmless and good intentions, but that doesn’t really matter. By acting like you are intimate friends with someone you get into their brain and trick it into acting as though the conversation is with a best friend.
You can close someone down just as quickly by doing the opposite. Being uncomfortable around them, by being rigid, contrived, disrupting to the natural flow of the conversation, by not being present. Don’t smile or make eye contact. Wait to talk or talk the moment you have something to say. Ask yes / no or data collection questions and move on to the next topic after receiving the data (data is context free facts like dates, times, yes or no). Basically think about and engage the other person as though they don’t matter very much because once they sense their lack of importance they will close down.
Assume a dominate / parent-like position and actions, you can get their brain to spontaneously run antiquate processes from the past. They will unconsciously take on and display child-like behavior and display the actions of a subordinate figure – raising your voice, taking a overbearing stance. By acting child-like you can often get other people to take on a parent-like role – appearing vulnerable or helpless will often trigger spontaneous parenting type actions.
Effective sales people know and employ these forms of conversational / behavior control all the time, as do most compliance practitioners. Fortunately there has been a recent movement towards information sharing and relationship building in sales, so the need to guard yourself from this type of influence is decreasing. But be warned, it still exists and you will be susceptible to it IF you forget that it can happen.