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Manage difficult clients: reverse psychology

Manage your difficult clients more easily.

If you’ve ever put ‘don’t hesitate to call’ at the end of an email and wondered why they never called, this article is for you. There’s a little science to it and a little magic too, but the bottom line is that understanding this take on reverse psychology can bring you big wins.

Anna used this technique to get her annoying colleague to resign. People had been trying to do it covertly for weeks. It took her just one day of using this suggestion technique.

To manage difficult clients, colleagues and staff you sometimes needs this kind of magic. If there are things you’d like to say to people, but you don’t have the status, job role or even opportunity the to candidly say what you want to, then read on!.

A negative command is when you ask someone to not do the opposite of what you want (don’t hesitate to call really asks people to hesitate to call. Here’s how it works.

Two keys to manage difficult clients

Essentially, the negative command relies on 2 things:

A Command in the negative; “Don’t even think about resigning”,
And Emphasis; “Don’t even THINK ABOUT RESIGNING”, where the words in capital letters are said lower, slower and louder than the rest of the sentence.

A ‘not’ chair is still a chair

Hypnosis points out that there is no such thing as a negative in the world.

Test this: Try not to think of a chair.

Most people say that they have to think of a chair and put a cross through it, or they have to process a chair in their mind and then find something that isn’t a chair (like a table) in order to process this.

Either way, they first think of a chair before they think of a “not chair”.

Say it with emphasis

So, when you are telling them (subliminally) to think some thoughts by telling them not to think that thought, you have permission to say things you’d normally not be able to say. Then add the double whammy of emphasis (what hypnosis calls ‘analog marking’), and you’ve got magic. This simple technique is useful to remember especially when you’re struggling to manage difficult clients.

A good example of analog marking or emphasis would be when, in print, something is made bigger or bolder so that you notice it (like the word ’emphasis’ in that last sentence). You see this in marketing materials quite often – a subtle, or not so subtle, emphasis of certain words which cause you to pay attention.

In the spoken word, we emphasise some words and not others all the time. With a little practice, you may find that you don’t even think about a negative command, before you say it with emphasis on the command part!

Put it into practice

So, in business, you may want to ask people to think these “not thoughts”:

  • Don’t enjoy your self too much. (if they’re a little uptight)
  • You can’t ask too many questions. (if you want them to ask more)
  • Don’t think about how you’ll use this. (if you want them to find it useful)
  • Don’t wonder about what excellent value this is, wonder if you can use it somehow. (if you want them to notice the value)
  • Don’t tell me everything; only tell me what I want to know. (so they’ll tell you everything, and also what you need to know which, in this case, is probably everything)
  • Don’t relax too much. Don’t think about how deeply you’re concentrating. (if they’re getting a little worried)
  • Don’t even think about quitting. (this is the magic phrase Anna used)
  • Don’t hesitate to call. Don’t be a stranger. (if you want them to stop calling)
  • Don’t be surprised when you get it right. (if they’re trying something new)

Common ways this works (or not)

A 2006 article on Robert Cialdini’s influence principle of ‘Social proof’ talked about advertising which doesn’t work: Showing lots of litter and saying “lots of people litter, so don’t you do it” can actually increase litter. This is because it’s working as a type of negative command, where what you don’t want is what you get.

I’ve heard some other really “good” negative commands which backfired.

See which of these you notice in the world around you, now that you know what they really mean:

  • Don’t hesitate to call (try saying instead ‘feel free to call’)
  • Don’t forget your umbrella (remember your umbrella)
  • Don’t fall! (you’re doing well, keep going)
  • You’re not even trying (and now, they’re not!)
  • Don’t open your test booklets, yet (better to say keep the books closed)

These influence patterns are part of the NLP body of knowledge (modelled from Milton Erickson in the 1970’s by 2 researchers, John Grinder and Richard Bandler). You can read more in their book ‘The Structure of Magic: a book about Language and Therapy‘.

Alternatively, get some individual coaching to give you more choices in your language patterns. These techniques are universally applicable, whether to be used in your personal life, or to employ it in your professional one to manage difficult clients .

It will be worth every cent to have the power to suggest rather than order, adjust your language to suit your listener, and build rapport with anyone you meet, won’t it?

Or talk to me about how I can help your consulting team work smarter, faster and “nicer”.

These techniques are universally applicable, whether to be used in your personal life, or to employ it in your professional one to manage difficult clients.

Don’t email me straight away now, will you? 🙂

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