The Secret of Socrates

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In talking with people, don’t begin by discussing the things on which you differ. Begin by emphasizing – and keep on emphasizing – the things on which you agree. Keep emphasizing – if possible – that you are both striving for the same end and that your only difference is one of method and not of purpose.

Get the other person saying: “Yes, yes” at the outset. Keep him, if possible, from saying “No.”

“A ‘No’ response [says Professor Overstreet in his book, influencing Human Behavior] is a most difficult handicap to overcome. When a person has said “No”, all his pride of personality demands that he remain consistent with himself. He may later feel that the ‘No’ was ill-advised; nevertheless, there is his precious pride to consider! Once having said a thing, he must stick to it. Hence it is of the very greatest importance that we start a person in the affirmative direction.”

The skillful speaker gets –

“at the outset, a number of ‘Yes responses’. He has thereby set the psychological processes of his listeners moving in the affirmative direction. It is like the movement of a billiard ball. Propel it in one direction, and it takes some force to deflect it; far more force to send it back in the opposite direction.

The psychological patterns here are quite clear. When a person says ‘No’ and really means it, he is doing far more than saying a word of two letters. The entire organism – glandular, nervous, muscular -gathers itself together into a condition of rejection. There is, usually in minute but sometimes in observable degree, a physical withdrawal, or readiness for withdrawal. The whole neuro-muscular system, in short, sets itself on guard against acceptance. Where, on the contrary, a person says ‘Yes’, none of the withdrawing activities take place. The organism is in a forward-moving, accepting, open attitude. Hence the more ‘Yeses’ we can, at the very outset, induce, the more likely we are to succeed in capturing the attention for our ultimate proposal.

It is a very simple technique – this yes response. And yet how much neglected! It often seems as if people get a sense of their own importance by antagonizing at the outset. The radical comes into a conference with his conservative brethren; and immediately he must make them furious! What, as a matter of fact, is the good of it? If he simply does it in order to get some pleasure out of it for himself, he may be pardoned. But if he expects to achieve something, he is only psychologically stupid.

Get a student to say ‘No’ at the beginning, or a customer, child, husband, or wife, and it takes the wisdom and the patience of angels to transform that bristling negative into an affirmative.”

 

The use of this “yes, yes” technique enabled James Eberson, teller for the Greenwich Savings Bank, New York City, to save a prospective customer who might otherwise have been lost.

“This man came in to open an account,” said Mr. Eberson, “and I gave him our usual form to fill out. Some of the questions he answered willingly, but there were others he flatly refused to answer.”

“Before I began the study of human relations, I should have told this prospective depositor that if he refused to give the bank this information, we should have to refuse to accept his account. I am ashamed that I have been guilty of doing that very thing in the past. Naturally, an ultimatum like that made me feel good. I had shown who was boss, that the bank’s rules and regulations couldn’t be flouted. But that sort of attitude certainly didn’t give a feeling of welcome and importance to the man who had walked in to give us his patronage.

“I resolved this morning to use a little horse sense. I resolved not to talk about what the bank wanted but about what the customer wanted. And above all else, I was determined to get him saying “yes, yes” from the very start. So I agreed with him. I told him the information he refused to give was not absolutely necessary.

” ‘However,’ I said, ‘suppose you have money in this bank at your death. Wouldn’t you like to have the bank transfer it to your next of kin, who is entitled to it according to law?’

” ‘Yes, of course,’ he replied.

” ‘Don’t you think,’ I continued, ‘that it would be a good idea to give us the name of your next of kin so that, in the event of your death, we could carry out your wishes without error or delay?’

“Again he said, ‘Yes.’

“The young man’s attitude softened and changed when he realized that we weren’t asking for this information for our sake but for his sake. Before leaving the bank, this young man not only gave me complete information about himself, but he opened, at my suggestion, a trust account naming his mother as the beneficiary for his account, and he had gladly answered all the questions concerning his mother also.

“I found that by getting him to say ‘yes, yes’ from the start, he forgot the issue at stake and was happy to do all the things I suggested.”

“There was a man on my territory that our company was most eager to sell,” said Joseph Allison, salesman for Westinghouse. “My predecessor had called on him for ten years without selling anything. When I took over the territory, I called steadily for three years without getting an order. Finally, after thirteen years of calls and sales talk, we sold him a few motors. If these proved to be all right, I felt sure of an order for several hundred more. Such was my expectation.

“Right? I knew they would be all right. So when I called three weeks later, I was stepping high.

“But I didn’t step high very long, for the chief engineer greeted me with this shocking announcement: ‘Allison, I can’t buy the remainder of the motors from you.’

” ‘Why?’ I asked in amazement. ‘Why?’

” ‘Because your motors are too hot. I can’t put my hand on them,’

“I knew it wouldn’t do any good to argue, I had tried that sort of thing too long. So I thought of getting the ‘yes, yes’ response.

” ‘Well, now look, Mr. Smith,’ I said. ‘I agree with you a hundred percent; if those motors are running too hot, you ought not to buy any more of them. You must have motors that won’t run any hotter than standards set by the regulations of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. Isn’t that so?’

“He agreed it was. I had got my first ‘yes.’

” ‘The Electrical Manufacturers Association regulations say that a properly designed motor may have a temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit above room temperature. Is that correct?’

” ‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘That’s quite correct. But your motors are much hotter.’

“I didn’t argue with him. I merely asked: ‘How hot is the mill room?’

” ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.’

” ‘Well,’ I replied, ‘if the mill room is 75 degrees and you add 72 to that, that makes a total of 147 degrees Fahrenheit. Wouldn’t you scald your hand if you held it under a spigot of hot water at a temperature of 147 degrees Fahrenheit?’

Again he had to say yes.

” ‘Well,’ I suggested, ‘wouldn’t it be a good idea to keep your hands off those motors?’

” ‘Well, I guess you’re right,’ he admitted. We continued to chat for a while. Then he called his secretary and lined up approximately $35,000 worth of business for the ensuing month.

“It took me years and cost me countless thousands of dollars in lost business before I finally learned that it doesn’t pay to argue, that it is much more profitable and much more interesting to look at things from the other man’s viewpoint and try to get him saying ‘yes, yes.’ ”

 

Socrates, “the gadfly of Athens”, was a brilliant old boy in spite of the fact that he went barefooted and married a girl of nineteen when he was bald-headed and forty. He did something that only a handful of men in all history have been able to do: he sharply changed the whole course of human thought; and now, twenty-three centuries after his death, he is honored as one of the wisest persuaders who ever influenced this wrangling world.

His method? Did he tell people they were wrong? Oh, no, not Socrates. He was far too adroit for that. His whole technique, now called the “Socratic method,” was based upon getting a “yes, yes” response. He asked questions with which his opponent would have to agree. He kept on winning one admission after another until he had an armful of yeses. He kept on asking questions until finally, almost without realizing it, his opponent found himself embracing a conclusion he would have bitterly denied a few minutes previously.

The next time we are smarting to tell a man he is wrong, let’s remember barefooted old Socrates and ask a gentle question – a question that will get the “yes, yes” response.

The Chinese have a proverb pregnant with the age-old wisdom of the changeless East: “He who treads softly goes far.”

They have spent five thousand years studying human nature, those cultured Chinese, and they have garnered a lot of perspicacity: “He who treads softly goes far.”

 

If you want to win people to your way of thinking, Rule 5 is:

GET THE OTHER PERSON SAYING “YES, YES” IMMEDIATELY.