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Superstition As Persuasion

Nov 9, 2007
Why do we say "God bless you" when a person sneezes? It started in the Middle Ages when they thought that the devil could enter a person when they were unguarded, such as in the midst of a sneeze. It was thought, if someone said the magic words, "God bless you", then the demonic possession could be avoided.

There are many high rises where you can walk from the twelfth floor to the fourteenth floor and only take one flight of stairs. Where's the thirteenth floor? In Western cultures, there's a fear called triskaidekaphobia. .. the fear of thirteen.

We live in an unstable world and as it increases to become even more unstable, we look for things to help us explain the world, to give us a sense of stability. How can this be used to our advantage in persuasion?

Are you someone who avoids walking under ladders? This superstition dates back to early Christianity. People observed that the sides of the latter and the ground formed a triangle--the symbol of the Holy Trinity.

By walking under the ladder, it was thought, there was a violation of the trinity, putting those that walked under it on the same level as the devil. I didn't know this. But I sure have been avoiding walking under ladders since I was a kid. Perhaps it's wise. . . on a physical level, avoiding ending up with a bucket of paint . . .but why do we believe bad luck will befall us if we do this? It's a real stretch.

I have an acquaintance who believes all religion and spirituality is superstition. I happen to think he's wrong, but I appreciate the perspective in that it's just another example of how framing is a powerful tool for looking at the world around us.

Superstition is defined as 'an irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome.'

Helen Keller asserted, "Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. . . Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." This is a powerful example of how diverse we are in our thinking, and at the same time, we all believe in something as irrational as 'security'.

How can we use this fact, that we're all to some degree 'irrational' and that we all believe in 'something', to persuade?

The more unstable the world, the more we seek stability. As persuaders we have the ability to offer explanations.

In the very same way, people look for reasons to support their beliefs, even nonsensical reasons, to explain their reality and to assign blame, so too can we.

One of my favorite superstitious phrases is, 'There are no accidents'. We can use this to effectively persuade our affluent clients and prospects. For example, say our client has had problems in the past, we can use this term to indicate that that time is past and that those problems are over and that there's a reason they've ended up talking to you. 'After all, there are no accidents.'

Is it true that we live in a universe where there are no accidents? Of course not. Will you be called on it by your prospect or client? Probably not. Unless you come up against a cynic who views the world through the frame that everyone is superstitious.
About the Author
Kenrick Cleveland teaches techniques to earn the business of affluent clients using persuasion. He runs public and private seminars and offers home study courses and coaching programs in persuasion techniques.
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