Know Yourself, so You Can Know Others
Although DISC has both fans and critics, many companies use it when hiring employees and assembling teams, and experts in professional fields like dentistry have advocated for its use as well.
Some people are Dominant (D) types—they’re confident and focused on bottom-line results. Others are oriented around Influencing others (I)—they’re enthusiastic, optimistic collaborators. A third group of people are known for their Steadiness (S)—they’re sincere, calm, and supportive of others. Finally, you have your Conscientious types (C), people like my assistant Shayna who are known for being organized and very factual.
Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, once said, “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”
You can use profiling for good, deploying it to improve the quality of your relationships and interactions. In essence, profiling works because whether we’re classifying ourselves or others, we’re directing attention away from where it usually is during social encounters—on ourselves, our needs, our desires—and onto where it should be: onto other people. We’re trying hard—maybe for the first time in our lives—to think deeply about others and how they’re approaching and experiencing a conversation. We’re developing empathy for other people, so that we can begin to connect with them on their terms, not just ours.
Empathy truly is fundamental to human hacking, but as we’ll see, it goes far beyond profiling. Con men, security experts, and other professional hackers of humans draw on empathy to frame conversations from the very outset so that their victims are more likely to do what they want.
Pretexting and the Criminal Mind
Pretexting is the art of creating a context or occasion for a conversation so that you’re more likely to achieve your goals. When you create a pretext, you’re presenting a rational justification, explanation, or “excuse” for pursuing a social encounter of some kind. You’re also assigning yourself a role to play during the encounter. Pretexts work by triggering emotions, positive or negative, in the people with whom you’re dealing. In his book Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell popularizes the “Truth-Default Theory,” the idea that “our operating assumption is that the people we are dealing with are honest.”2 A good pretext keeps this assumption intact, easing anxieties or concerns your person of interest might have, and even arousing positive emotions, such as love, happiness, or a sense of well-being. With a baseline sense of trust, your person of interest becomes much more willing—even happy—to comply with your requests. Conversely, a bad pretext arouses negative emotions such as fear or anger and activates your person of interest’s critical thinking capacity. Instead of “going with the flow” of their positive feelings and complying, they become suspicious, thinking of reasons they shouldn’t comply, and placing the burden on you to prove their suspicions unfounded. As Gladwell notes, “We stop believing only when our doubts and misgivings rise to the point where we can no longer explain them away.”
A bad pretext “triggers” our unwillingness to trust in others.
Nail the Approach
When we build rapport, whether it’s in high school cafeterias or in our homes or workplaces, the sense of connectedness we establish produces a tiny hit of oxytocin in others, leading them to feel trust, connection, and generosity toward us. It’s a powerful dynamic and one that shrewd operators deploy to induce potentially reluctant targets to do their bidding. Shady salespeople don’t just approach you at the car dealership and ask you flat out to buy a car that’s overpriced and well beyond what they know you can afford. No, they chitchat with you, get to know you, offer you coffee, rejoice in the fact that you both attended the same high school or love the same football team. Seasoned politicians don’t just come out and ask for your vote. They flash their million-dollar smiles, shake your hand, hold your baby, or make a comment that suggests their familiarity with your local culture—all attempts to make you feel like you’re a fellow tribesperson, if not a close, personal friend. And of course, successful scammers rely heavily on rapport to get unsuspecting victims to willingly hand over their money, information, or other valuables.
Expert hackers of humans need only a few seconds of well-tailored interaction to build rapport. That’s because we humans aren’t merely tribal. We also tend to make snap decisions about people we encounter based on stereotypes. And we make these judgments by assessing a few key factors that are primarily nonverbal, such as dress, hairstyle, skin color, and so on. To build rapport, you must quickly size people up, arrive at a clear but superficial understanding of who they are and what tribe they might belong to, and find a way to connect personally. You’re not establishing a deep or enduring friendship, just enough of a bond so that people don’t raise their psychic force fields and begin questioning your motivations.
As with pretexting, you can use body language as well as words to establish common ground. Bestselling author and former FBI behavioral expert Joe Navarro told me of a memorable occasion in which he had to take over the handling of an informant (or in FBI lingo, a “human asset”) from another agent. It was a delicate business: informants risk their lives to cooperate with the FBI and provide evidence against criminals. They depend on the trusting relationship they have with their handlers. Disrupt that relationship, and the informant might disappear or stop cooperating, fearing for their safety.
Make Them Want to Help You
To become a master hacker of humans, read Cialdini. In the meantime, begin building your skills and seeing results by integrating the following seven key influence principles into your daily interactions.
Principle #1: Reciprocation
If you plan to make a request of someone, think in advance about that person’s needs or desires and any gifts that might arouse feelings of indebtedness or obligation commensurate with your request. If you aren’t sure what your person of interest values, observe them carefully, listening for “pain points” they might express—problems that you might help address with a modest outlay of time, effort, or money. Don’t make your gifts larger than the level of rapport that exists, as that will backfire. Reciprocation is potentially an open-ended process in the context of everyday relationships. Gifts you give might allow you to extract positive responses to your requests, paving the way for you to give other, more valuable gifts and make bigger requests going forward. In effect, the act of mutual gift giving allows you to build progressively greater levels of rapport. You’ve left other people better off for having met you and thus created a positive impression in their minds. Since people like you more, you can increase the value of what you bestow and request.
Principle #2: Concession
We humans like the idea of treating others as we’ve been treated (whether we actually do it all the time is another question). This idea goes well beyond the reciprocal gift-giving described above. If someone concedes something to us, we’ll be more likely to concede something to them. Further, as research in social psychology has also demonstrated, we are more likely to agree to requests if we’ve first agreed to a smaller, but related request—what is known as the “foot-in-the-door” technique.
Potentially useful pathway to compliance is thus to first use concession to get your person of interest to agree to a relatively small request and then progressively increase the scope of your requests as you build mutual trust and rapport.
Principle #3: Scarcity
According to social psychologist Timothy C. Brock, commodity theory holds that “any commodity will be valued to the extent that it is unavailable.”
In other words, scarce goods are valuable goods. Hackers of humans mobilize this simple principle, designed to explain the psychology underlying consumer behavior, to move targets to a desired outcome. You can, too. Are you trying to sell a product? Announce that it will be around for a limited time only. Want to get someone to confide in you? Tell them you don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone else about this issue—only them.
Principle #4: Consistency
We humans love to experience consistency in our daily reality, associating it with stability, wisdom, and confidence. As research has found, behavioral consistency helps build cognitive trust (not to be confused with emotional trust).7 In a business context, members of the consulting firm McKinsey have spoken of “the three Cs of customer satisfaction: Consistency, consistency, consistency.”
You can easily mobilize our drive for consistency in your daily life. Reinforce people’s inner urge to remain consistent, for example, by rewarding behavior of theirs that you like.
Principle #5: Social Proof
People tend to regard an action or idea as “good” or acceptable if they believe others do, too. In research experiments, scholars have demonstrated the power of social proof for a range of actions, including doing good deeds, littering, and “even in deciding whether and how to commit suicide.”9
Hackers of humans use peer pressure to influence their “targets.” And they also try to appear similar to their targets so that targets feel more comfortable doing their bidding. In their mind, they’re helping an insider, not a stranger.
Principle #6: Authority
Most of us are socialized to respect authority figures. In a classic study reported by the psychologist Stanley Milgram and conducted at Yale University, research subjects were asked to administer electric shocks to another person under the pretext of helping experts better understand how punishment affects our ability to learn. Prodded by the researcher, subjects meted out electric shocks of varying strength as “punishment,” with the shocks ostensibly growing more severe as the experiment proceeded. Milgram wanted to see how far people would go in administering pain to another person when prompted by an authority figure. Out of forty subjects, most—twenty-six—continued administering shocks until the very end of the experiment, with the voltage well above a level marked “Danger: Severe Shock.” As Milgram remarked, the experiment showed “the sheer strength of obedient tendencies.” “Subjects have learned from childhood,” he continued “that it is a fundamental breach of moral conduct to hurt another person against his will. Yet, 26 subjects abandon this tenet in following the instructions of an authority who has no special powers to enforce his commands.”
Principle #7: Liking
If people like people who are similar to them. They really like people who like them.
If you like someone, evoking genuine concern, care, and affinity commensurate to the level of rapport that exists between you, they will in turn like you—and go to great lengths to make you happy. Of course, liking your person of interest by itself isn’t enough to guarantee that they will like you back. If you show them how much you like them by paying them compliments, asking how they are, telling them how much you like them, and so on, yet you reek of body odor, are shabbily dressed in a context where you’re supposed to be dapper, or hunch yourself over into an off-putting, defensive posture, your person of interest still isn’t going to like you. Your body language and dress actively turned them off. So, in addition to liking someone, you have to use these elements to create a “blank canvas,” if you will, that doesn’t impede that person from liking you back and responding positively to your requests.
Stop Deviousness in Its Tracks
Avoiding manipulation can improve your relationships. It takes more thought and effort, but by choosing to exercise influence in your daily life instead of imposing your will, you’ll become kinder and more compassionate. You’ll listen more, understand others better, deliver to them more of what they want and need, and cultivate rapport and trust. How much rapport and trust do you build with your spouse by subtly eroding her ability to exercise free will when making joint decisions? How much do you build with your kids by promising them candy if they do their homework.
In his book Changeable, the psychologist J. Stuart Ablon describes an approach to relationships called Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS), in which parents, teachers, and others in positions of power don’t force others to comply simply because they can, but instead are “nicer,” engaging in an empathetic conversation with them to arrive at a collaborative solution. As Ablon relates, schools, mental hospitals, and juvenile prisons have seen dramatic improvements in behavior after setting aside traditional discipline and employing CPS. At one psychiatric setting for kids, staff were often forced to physically restrain kids because of poor behavior—in one year, they did so 263 times. A year after introducing CPS, they did so only seven times. The influence techniques described in this book are not the same as CPS, which is a very specific, structured approach. But the success of CPS shows that we need not compel others with less power to behave as we like, whether by manipulation techniques or through disciplinary means.
Putting It All Together
As you practice and eventually master your human hacking skills, use your newfound power to leave others better off. Think about what they want. Cue into what they’re feeling. Make a special effort to build rapport. Wield influence techniques to make it pleasant for them to grant your wishes. Be yourself with others and speak as truthfully as you can. React graciously when others deny your requests. Hacking isn’t as uniformly malicious as the media often portrays it to be. There are good hackers out there, too, and they’re making the world a better place.
Helping others feel great around you is the smoothest, most effective, most fulfilling way to get what you want. Always—always—leave them better off for having met you. Empathy rocks!