We’ve all been or will be faced with them. Sticky situations. Whether it’s a potential dust-up in a bar with some boozed overly aggressive charna, sweet-talking your way out of a traffic fine, nailing a job interview or handling office politics, we all would love to be able to keep our shit together, be cool and deal. So here are a few pointers to keep you sharp in the moment and hopefully help you to diffuse any situation.
She read dubious SMSes from an old flame. Defuse her – fast:
Concede ground early to win it back later. Tell her, “I completely see where you’re coming from.” Research at the University of Toronto found that agreeing with someone initially is likely to make them more open-minded as you continue. Admitting to some – not all – transgressions will make you sound more reasonable. Yes, your ex has been in touch, yes you replied to her message, no it wasn’t lascivious. If she’s making you grovel, talk fast. Long pauses are telltale signs of a lie, but research from the University of Georgia demonstrated that talking quickly, at 214 words per minute, made it easier to change someone’s mind. It prevents listeners from being able to think things through and counter your arguments – useful if what you’re saying doesn’t entirely add up.
NAIL ANY JOB INTERVIEW
A tough question has you stumped. Don’t panic – use these tricks to secure success:
Keep it short. Studies show that you’ll win them over if you do less of the talking. Minimise qualifying phrases such as “I think…” and state the facts. If the interviewer keeps quiet when you’ve finished speaking, don’t start rambling to fill the silence, says recruitment specialist Mike Wall. “Ask him if he would like you to expand on your answer and, if so, which part.” If you’re genuinely at a loss, concede that his question hits on an area of your skill set that you want to work on. Research from the UK’s Institute of Management Development found that people who show a willingness to learn are more employable than those who try to talk their way out of trouble.
CRUISE THROUGH MEETINGS
Your 9am meeting is imminent but you’re totally unprepared. Slip under the radar:
Get there early. It will make you seem primed, even when lost for ideas. “Sit near somebody renowned for being noisy,” says David Pardey, head of research at the UK’s Institute of Leadership and Management. “Others won’t notice the lack of contribution coming from your direction.” Use this time to scan through documents. Bring up anything that needs addressing towards the end of the agenda. “By that point everyone will be rushing to end the meeting. You’ll impress your boss by raising something important when most people are edging towards the door.” There is one last play, Pardey says. “Ask how the subject fits into the overall values or strategy of the organisation. It avoids the specifics of the meeting but will make you look as though you’re considering the bigger picture.”
DISARM YOUR OPPONENT
The pub bruiser wants a fight. Beat him without raising a fist:
Ask him what time the bar shuts or how much a beer costs. “Anger overrides the logical, cognitive parts of the brain,” says Professor Frank Boster, a researcher in social influence at Michigan State University. By making the thug think, you disarm him. Studies from the University of Kentucky found that drunk people who were given mental tasks to complete displayed reduced levels of aggressive behaviour. Keep your emotion running low by staying calm, mirroring his stance and keeping facial gestures poker-neutral. “Always stand where you can see his feet in your peripheral vision,” says Kevin Harris, a former British paratrooper who now trains security professionals. “This keeps you out of striking distance. Try to stay clear of any exits, too, so he doesn’t feel trapped or boxed in.”
STAY OUT OF THE DOGHOUSE
You forgot to book a birthday meal at her favourite restaurant. BS your way to star treatment:
Some restaurants can be trickier to get into than North Korea, but there are ways around it. Open negotiations with a large request, says Boster. “Ask for a table at 7pm on a Saturday, when what you really want is lunch on Tuesday.” When you show willingness to compromise it has a powerful effect on compliance.
If that fails, then roll out a back-story. “She’s been ill recently and her boss won’t give her a break. She deserves a treat.” A back-story to any cheeky request increases success rate by 30%, according to the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology.
You’ve lost your ticket and the attendant is in bullish mood. Get away with it:
The first thing to do is seek out the ticket guard and explain. “By pre-empting, it shows that you weren’t intending to cheat anybody,” says consumer watchdog Anthony Smith.
Next, make an ally out of the guard by asking them to help you look for it, says Dr Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (R166, kalahari.com). “This displaces some of the burden of proof onto them.”
If you still can’t find the ticket, ask for a small favour first – more time to search. It’s better to build from a petty request than asking directly to be let off.
You stay classy.