Astrophysicists are a fun bunch.
I mean it.
Most of them totally fit the stereotype – a bunch of beer-swiveling Hawaiian-shirt-wearing pasty doughy guys who are good at chess and self-deprecating jokes.
(Then there’s the stereotype of the hot female outlier physicist – also very true, rare as it is.)
That’s precisely the kind of crowd I found myself in the midst of.
One night, a friend – astrophysics PhD – was in town for a conference, and we sure wanted to hang out.
And drink a lot, obviously.
He was already with another 4-5 colleagues when we got together.
The astro group had gone astral well before my arrival in the noisy bar, and the conversation quickly took an incoherent direction.
As can be expected in conferential circumstances.
Tequila shots were had at one point, if I recollect at all, and not just the one.
So we headed out of the bar before things had gone far enough to get kicked out.
We were walking down the street towards the welcoming lights of the next bibulous establishment when we were accosted by a homeless man.
He was quite disheveled, unusually lively and even more obviously drunk than the six of us.
It was well after dark, but the gentleman was hard at work – pushing the requisite shopping cart full of cans and bottles, plastic bags with his other gear hanging off all sides like less-than-aerodynamic spoilers on a formerly-flying vehicle.
If you’re like me and have spent more of your life in the city, dodging bums and panhandlers on the sidewalk is something you can do in your sleep.
Otherwise you could easily spend the entire day – and a lot of money – dealing with them.
So our drunkenness didn’t prevent us at all from swerving deftly around the canstronaut and his bag-riddled spacecart.
We went passed him lightning-fast (drunk physicists move at the speed of light, not to mention daemons), but nonetheless he managed to hit the brakes and yelled towards us:
“Hey, can you give me some change to buy booze, cats? I wanna get drunk, too.”
I was having fun already, but on hearing that I just couldn’t stop laughing.
His delivery was perfect – loud, but unthreatening and funny.
He could probably start an acting class for all the graduating art majors who will end up homeless, so they can take advantage of his panhandling expertise.
Because that was some sales game.
It stopped me in my tracks.
I literally walked back to hand him some booze cash.
You can learn so much about sales and persuasion from homeless people.
And I’m not joking one bit.
Of course, that requires you to leave your self-absorbed mentality for at least a minute or two.
Which is why most people never get any of those free lessons.
That night, the beggar had hit at least five persuasion techniques in one go.
Did you read that right?
In about a dozen words.
Do you think you can pull off something like that?
First, he didn’t go for the ask with the usual whiny plaintive voice anyone is accustomed to. Instead, he went for the loud and funny.
Which made him hard to ignore reflexively.
Lesson 1. Draw attention by standing out from the crowd. When you market yourself, do the opposite of what the competition is doing.
The humorous – but not too humorous or familiar – approach made him entertaining and made meeting him a good experience.
Just mull this for a moment.
He managed to make meeting a fracking bum a pleasant experience. He made it better that we had met him than if we hadn’t.
He made us feel good.
Lesson 2. Make people feel good about themselves and they will happily do things for you.
With all this, he also spared us a lot of mental energy and didn’t ruin our good time or interrupt us in a discourteous way – but still got our attention by yelling after us.
Treading this thin red line was true brilliance on his part.
A lot of people go about asking for things by trying to guilt you or otherwise make you feel bad, often even by demeaning themselves on purpose.
Here’s a little hint.
The more empathetic a person is, the more likely they are to get fracking annoyed if you lean hard on his or her empathy.
Just think about it.
If you want something from someone, is it a good idea to make them feel bad in return?
Lesson 3: Don’t go asking for stuff with whining, apologies, excuses, neediness and the like. Cut to the chase and tell people what you want without apologizing for it – and without wasting people’s time and empathy. Literally: ask, and you shall receive.
One especially delightful aspect of the bum’s marketing offensive was the honesty and directness of his approach.
If you know anything whatsoever about sales, you know that opening with honesty and “the cold hard truth” is a time-tested technique.
The bum nailed it.
Lesson 4: To sell and persuade, begin with unexpected honesty and directness, and acknowledge people’s right to say no.
But what really blew my mind that night was that he managed to pull the most difficult and most powerful persuasion move.
In just a few words.
With total strangers.
In a dark nightly street.
Pay attention to what he said:
“I want to get drunk, too.”
He wasn’t just being honest. He wasn’t just being entertaining. He was openly implying that he was like us.
Lesson 5. Identification/liking is the most powerful way to persuade.
(And I’m not saying this just because I read it in a Cialdini book. Experiential Awareness has shown it more times than I can count.)
Unless you have chemistry (the lo-awarenes term for compatible cognitive type), it takes time and effort to make people like you.
Let alone like you while you’re openly and directly selling to them.
And there he was – the homeless drunk – making it explicit that he was and wanted to be a part of the group.
That was some astrophysical-level persuasion.
Which I wanted to reward.
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Live long and prosper,