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"Today," she said with that smile of hers trying to bust out of her face, "I am going to teach you how to get anything you want, from anyone, in three easy steps." At that moment most of the men in the room only wanted one thing, and she had just volunteered to tell us how to get it. We were rapt.
"There are a few simple psychological tricks that you can apply in any situation that'll guarantee you a high success rate," she continued with her lilting, playful Cockney accent. She had the manner of an east end city girl, but something about her skin and bearing said she was born on a beach.
"The techniques are easy to use. By the end of this three-day course you'll be irresistibly persuasive. With a bit of practice you'll be selling spoons to Alanis Morrissette."
It must work, I thought. After all, she had managed to persuade a roomful of people, myself included, to pay the best part of a grand to come on this course. I could not wait to find out how I had been duped into this.
"But first," she cooed, "let me introduce myself. My name is Joleen Moorcock. I worked for four years as chief training advisor with Kimberlever PLC before leaving to run these courses on my own. My interests include bikram yoga, which is yoga in high heat..." scantily clad in a sauna contorting my body into the most fascinating positions (she only said this in my head) "...and raising money for charity. Next week I'm raising money for breast cancer research by walking a marathon in my bra, so I expect you all to support me."
This woman had the body of Barbie, the libido of Barbarella and the playfulness of Barbara Windsor. The ring on my wedding finger itched.
"Now let's go round the room and everyone else can introduce themselves. Let's start with you. What's your name and what do you do for a living?" As she did the rounds I watched her lustfully, rampantly flexing my Deadly Sin. She had dark eyebrows and heavy eyelids, a small nose and a long, thin neck. Her curly black hair was pulled back, stretching her skin tight over her face. And that smile – her face was built for it. It was a strain for her not to smile.
"Tom Burns," I said when it was my turn, "I'm a soap salesman."
"What are your hobbies?" she asked, her black eyes fixed on me.
Watching television and masturbating. It took me a few seconds to come up with something else. "Cooking. And reading," I said, which was almost true. Cooking Pot Noodles and reading Loaded magazine.
She flashed me a smile. She may have winked. I had to shuffle in my seat to hide my reaction. The rest of the room introduced themselves perfunctorily and I paid no attention to them whatsoever.
"Before I explain the first of the three steps," she beamed when the introductions were done, "I need you all to think of an example. An example of something that you want from someone; something that you've not been able to get, or that you think will be too difficult to get. Over the next three days you'll use this example to bring life to the techniques I'll teach you, and by the end of this course I guarantee you'll be able to get it, whatever it is."
She gave us a coffee break to think it over. I saw her drifting confidently from one conversation to another, making the course participants feel at ease. Laughing and smiling. Cheeky at both ends. She made me want her without even casting me a glance.
If I could get anything I wanted from anyone, what would it be? Despite myself I could only think of one example. I wanted Joleen. It seemed the perfect test of her technique; if she turned me down she would be admitting that her technique did not work. Then I could ask for my money back.
Of course, I never expected to succeed. No method of persuasion can be so magic as to fool the person who teaches it. Anyway, I would not want to succeed; I was happily married. But there could be no harm in trying, could there?
I made my decision. I slipped off my wedding ring and hid it in my pocket.
"Has everyone thought of an example," she queried when the lesson restarted, "of something they really want?"
Bring it on, I thought.
She flicked on a Powerpoint slide. STEP 1. "The first step to persuading someone is getting them into a 'Yes' mindset. We'll start with some basic principles, and then go into some specific psychological tricks."
At this stage I was extremely cynical about the whole process; I expected it to be ineffective and unsubstantial. But as the day went on, I found myself impatient to try out the techniques on Joleen. Leading questions. Probing questions. Positive language. Body language. Using humour. Using silences. Matching the tone and pace of your quarry's voice. Letting your quarry talk about themselves (they will always think you interesting if you encourage them to talk about themselves). I was eager to put what I had learned to the test, so as soon as the course finished for the day, I cornered Joleen and got some real practice in.
Icebreaker question: "How long have you been running this course?" I asked her, casually.
"Oh," she smiled, "not very long really. Did you find it inspiring?"
Honesty: "I was cynical at first, but I'm coming round to it." Open question: "How did you learn the methods yourself?"
"Well, a combination of things. I sort of compiled it from – well, you can't be interested really."
Getting her to talk about herself: "I am interested, please go on..."
"Well, I did a lot of reading about persuasion techniques. A lot of my course is based on Chris de Lafley's series 'Selling Sand to Saharans', and I learned some of it from my work at Kimberlever."
Using humour: "I work for Doctor & Johnson, so I guess we're rivals," I made fists at her to illustrate this. I guess I thought it was funny. Mercifully, she laughed.
"Yes, you said you were a soap salesman, I remember. You're Tom."
"Tom Burns. Hi."
"Nice to meet you," she grinned.
Body language: I imitated her posture, then turned towards her and leant forward. Subconsciously, she turned towards me and leant forward as well, bringing us comfortably closer together.
Getting a 'Yes' mindset: "Are you having supper in the hotel?"
"Yes," she said coquettishly.
"May I join you?"
We talked for hours, about her mostly. We were only interrupted briefly when my wife called (I pretended she was my sister) to ask whether I thought it was a good idea to repaint the living room taupe. Apart from that, the conversation flowed even better than the wine. I think Joleen was attracted to me; in my mind, at least. After supper and a glass or three at the bar, she made her excuses.
"I'd love to talk more," she purred, "but I have to prepare for tomorrow. I can't believe how late it is already. You've obviously mastered the rapport building techniques from today's lesson; you had me here for ages longer than I meant to stay."
"That suits me actually, I have to send a couple of work emails. We've got a very important new product release coming up," I boasted, "and I'm coordinating the launch."
"Really?" she said, leaning forward so her cleavage drew my eye. "What's the product?"
"It's a revolutionary new kind of soap, the cutting edge of technology really. You actually put it into your water supply so the water that comes out of your shower or your bath taps already has this stuff dosed into it. It'll be a completely new category of product. I shouldn't be telling you all this, it's still top secret. The company even have a codename for it to fox our competition if they're spying on us."
Her glistening lips framed one of those winning grins. "These big companies get so paranoid about their new product developments, don't they?"
"Yes," I replied unnecessarily.
"And the codenames they give them are so funny sometimes aren't they?"
"Yes," I laughed, knowingly.
"Like, what's the codename for this project?"
"Pigp –" I started, but I cut myself off. I sat back and slit my eyes. "Hey, I see what you're up to. You got me into a 'Yes' mindset and asked me a question I shouldn't have answered."
Joleen was immediately apologetic, in her disarmingly effervescent way. "Sorry, I guess I do it instinctively now. I don't really care about your project; I suppose I'm just interested because I used to work in a similar area. I was just making conversation. Anyway, I'm off now. I'll see you tomorrow."
She said the last part with her hand resting affectionately on my shoulder. I was lost again in the allure of her smile. Still feeling the ghostly aftermath of pressure where her hand had been, I watched her glorious hips swaying as she walked away.
In the morning it was my head that was swaying. I struggled to pay attention to Joleen, who was as pert as ever.
"Getting whatever you want from people is about more than just getting them into a 'Yes' mindset," she explained. "That'll get them on your side; they'll want to help you. They'll want to say yes to you, but if it's something they don't necessarily want to do, you still have to get around that. You have to make it sound like something they do want to do. You have to sell the idea to them. That's what today is about. Selling ideas."
Her words echoed in my head without sticking. I sat up and shook my head violently to clear it, resolving to make sense of what she was saying. She went on.
"Today I'm going to give you an extremely powerful tool called the Persuasion Model, which is basically a structured way of selling your ideas. The structure is compatible with the natural way that the human brain applies logic; it's actually designed to stimulate the neuronal responses involved in decision-making, making it very hard for the other party to disagree with you."
She explained that getting a 'Yes' mindset was just the first step, and the most important, of the Persuasion Model. She went through the other steps, including the magic phrases that tapped into your subconscious to make you want to say 'Yes'.
By the time the evening came I was burning to practice what I had learned. I found Joleen at the bar and bought her a drink. With a pint of bitter and the Persuasion Model as ammunition I felt quietly confident, and she seemed especially pleased to see me, which made me bolder still.
"Are you single?" I asked, recklessly.
"Yes," she grinned. "Why do you ask?"
A coy smile was enough of an answer.
"I'm quite picky about my men," she elaborated.
"What do you look for in a guy?"
As she talked, I revelled in her sex appeal. It took some concentration to prevent my brain from migrating about a metre down my body, but I managed to stay focussed and apply every trick she had taught me to get her into a 'Yes' mindset. And I plied her with alcohol as a backup tactic. Soon I felt ready to go in for the kill.
I barrelled headlong into the Persuasion Model. The Model called for me to use the background knowledge I had gathered to come up with a compelling Hook, which would get Joleen irresistibly interested in my proposition:
"If I could show you a way to have a great night with the perfect guy who could fulfil every desire you've just told me about, would you be interested?
"Of course!" she cried excitably.
"My idea is that you spend the night with me," I announced. I had worked her up into a 'Yes' frenzy, but as soon as I announced my idea I saw her enthusiasm start to melt away. I rushed straight into the next step of the Persuasion Model, which involved explaining my idea and restating its key benefits.
"We'll spend one night together as a trial, as a chance to find out how compatible we are. There'll be no pressure. Tomorrow we'll act professionally, as if nothing happened, to avoid unnecessary awkwardness, and then we can decide whether to see each other again afterwards. The key benefits are that you'll have satisfied your desire to be more spontaneous, you're guaranteed to have good conversation because you already know we have loads in common, and you'll have an intensely fun night."
The psychological ruses seemed to work unbelievably well. She was in a trance, as if everything but 'Yes' had been systematically removed from her mind. I wrapped it up with the grand finale of the Persuasion Model, the Assumptive Close:
"So, I'll meet you in Room 207 at ten?"
Her gorgeous jaw dropped open. She sat there, apparently stunned, seemingly trying to suppress an urge to nod her head vigorously. "That was masterful," she said at last. "I feel like I should say 'Yes' just to reward your effort. In fact, I can't think of a single reason not to sleep with you right now."
It was my turn for my jaw to drop. I never imagined this would actually work.
"I'll tell you what, Tom," she continued, "just so I don't feel like I've given in too easily I'll ask you a few questions to make sure we really have got loads in common. If I reckon you've answered them honestly, I'm yours for the rest of the night."
I could barely believe what she was saying. I would have thought she was kidding had she not been so damn sincere. I answered her first couple of questions automatically, before my brain had time to decide how to react.
"When's the last time you asked a woman out in a bar?" she asked.
"Never before," I said, my mind still racing.
"How important do you think it is to hold doors open for women?"
"It's only polite," I replied.
"Have you ever been unfaithful?"
"No," I said, rather curtly. Not yet, I thought. I noticed her glancing at my wedding finger, which was bare. Blood rushed to my head as if trying to remind me that I was married, and that continuing to entertain the idea of sleeping with Joleen was simply evil.
Joleen leaned forward and undid the top button of her blouse. "One more question, and then you can do whatever you want with me." She licked her lips. "What's the codename and release date of the Doctor & Johnson project you're working on?"
"That's got nothing to do with how much we have in common," I complained.
"You only have to answer if you want to have sex with me," she growled, and thrust her hand down my pants under the table. My resistance dissolved.
The next day I could not wipe the smile off my face. Guilty feelings did not get a look in. She had been everything I could have hoped for. She had taken me to her hotel room and ravaged me. She started by half-closing her eyes at me like a sultry Siren, and stripping like a porn star. Then she kissed me and teased me, all the time asking me stupid questions about my job, like a game. Every time I answered her, she rewarded me until I was incoherent with lust. I revelled in her tawny skin, in her forbidden charm.
And now she was lecturing the room as if nothing had happened, although I swear she gave me a conspiratorial glance once or twice. She was talking, in her gentle London twang, about what to do if you get a 'No'.
"However effective the Persuasion Model is," she explained, "it's not infallible. However, if you get a 'No', you can still turn it around. Today I'm going to show you how. First, you must establish the main genuine objection, which is often harder than it sounds..."
Her words washed over me. My mind was occupied with images and entanglements from the previous night. I had no need to learn about handling objections, I was awed by the power of the Persuasion Model. I felt invincible. I was daydreaming about all the people I could persuade to do my bidding; all of the long-held desires I could sate.
Of course above all I wanted to sleep with Joleen again. I wanted to repeat the illicit excitement of having someone new, someone secret, a match for my wildest fantasies. But she was playing coy with me all day, as she said she would. Even when we broke for lunch she managed to avoid me. I yearned for the day's end so I could speak to her alone.
As soon as Joleen announced the end of the course my heart leapt into my throat, and my brain leapt into my groin. She went round the room reviewing whether everyone was happy with the technique and had used it successfully. An impressive proportion said 'Yes'. She asked us to fill in feedback forms and tell all of our friends about the course, then she wished us goodbye and good luck.
While the mob filed out, I stayed behind on the pretence of checking the voicemail messages on my mobile phone. I did have one message, but it was only my wife. Joleen seemed oblivious of my presence as she packed away her papers and tidied up.
As soon as the last satisfied customer had left the room and the door had clicked shut behind him, Joleen looked up at me.
"Hi Tom," she grinned. Her cartoon smile had taken on a sinister nuance. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, feeling suddenly vulnerable in this abandoned room dominated by such a predatory female. "I'm glad you stayed behind. You're my special student."
She put her papers down and sidled up to me, grabbing a chair so she could sit close to me, intimidating rather than intimate. I started quietly panicking – why was she being so unfriendly? Why the malice in her voice?
"I want to give you an extra lesson," she snarled with a bittersweet malevolence in her voice. "I have to admit that I didn't tell the whole truth on this course. Getting a 'Yes' mindset, using the Persuasion Model, turning around a 'No'; those things are just shallow conjuring tricks. You can use them to persuade fools and children, but anyone with any sense will see through them.
"The good news is that there really are three easy steps to getting whatever you want, and they're much more powerful than the mumbo-jumbo I taught you over the last three days. These three techniques are thousands of years old and have been proven against every type of person imaginable, from peasant to president."
Her body was still flirting, but her speech was portending doom. I had Trojan butterflies in my stomach. Then my worst fears were realised as she spoke on.
"I'm going to teach you these steps, Tom: deception, bribery and blackmail. In fact, I've already shown you the first two. I deceived you by telling you that I no longer work for Kimberlever, and I bribed you with my body. In return, you told me some extremely valuable Doctor & Johnson company secrets. Now I want you to tell me the rest, so I'm going to demonstrate the third step. I'm going to blackmail you."
My head reeled at this news. My brain was struggling to assimilate the sight of sexy, playful Joleen, and the cold, calculating evil of what she was saying. I felt a creeping sense of my own stupidity at having let myself be manipulated by this woman, who had openly advertised herself as manipulative.
While I struggled to come to terms with the fact that I was suddenly a pawn in a twisted and sophisticated game of industrial espionage, she delivered her ultimatum. "I want you to bring me the formula card for this new product you're about to release, this Project Pigpen. You've probably never seen a formula card – it's an ordinary laminated A4 piece of paper describing the exact chemical makeup and processes for manufacture of a product. It's usually kept in a vault at the factory where the product is made.
"You will meet me in the lobby of this hotel at 5pm exactly one week from now with a copy of the formula card, or I'll inform your manager that you've been divulging company secrets to the competition, and I'll describe our tryst last night to your wife. It might not be easy for you to get the formula card, but you can use the persuasion techniques I've taught you, especially the last three, to succeed. Yes, you may risk losing your job by trying to get the formula card, but if you fail, you're guaranteed to lose your job, your wife, everything. See you next week."
And with that, she gathered her things and left. I sat in my chair, mouth slightly open, until the janitor came in and started stacking chairs. I could not believe how comprehensively I had been screwed by this woman (again, but not in a good way this time).
As I drove back home to my loving, unsuspecting wife, my mind worked through all of the unwelcome possible outcomes of this situation. I imagined industrial tribunals, a messy divorce, financial hardship; I even entertained thoughts of murder and suicide. I was deep in the mire of my self-pity, indignant at the injustice of it all.
When I next saw Joleen I was full of conflicting emotion. I instantly remembered why I found her so attractive, and yet part of me was repulsed by her ever-present overconfident smirk. She was ordering a drink at the bar by the hotel lobby and she had not seen me yet. I tried to suppress my brain as it urged me to take violent revenge against her, and my other brain as it urged me to make vigorous love to her. I cleared my head, and put on a brave, happy face – both feelings so distant from the truth that I must have looked quite pained.
"Hi Joleen!" I chirped, brightly.
"Do you have it?" she asked coldly and cautiously.
"The formula card?" I queried innocently, sitting on a bar stool beside her and imitating her defensive posture.
"Yes," she replied. I opened my arms and turned towards her slightly. Subconsciously, she did the same. Let the games begin, I thought.
"I have it." I took it out of my briefcase and gave it to her in an envelope. She opened it and inspected it, at first suspicious, then quietly pleased. "It was a lot of fun getting it, actually," I continued, "you'd be very proud of me. I used all the tactics you taught. It is what you wanted, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Joleen, and she was about to say more but I kept talking.
"Great, I hope that puts me in the clear. Although I was thinking about it – you have it made, don't you? You must get two salaries. One from running the course, and one from Kimberlever." I left a silence. She made no reply and the silence stretched. It felt uncomfortable, but she herself had taught me that silences were a great way of getting people to talk and say things that they may not otherwise have said.
"That's none of your business," she snapped at last, and I started speaking again before she could go on.
"Well, I guess that makes you a very rich and successful woman," I flattered. "I admire that. And you're beautiful as well. I feel like the luckiest man alive to have slept with you, even if it was only to get me to tell you all that stuff about Doctor & Johnson." I hoped I had not gone too far. I put my hand on her knee and played up my doe-eyed devotion for her, and I seemed to get away with it.
"Don't think that I'll sleep with you again," she warned, pushing my hand away.
I braced myself and dived into the deep end: "If I could show you a way to make even more money without having to seduce nobodies like me, would you be interested?"
I had said it with just enough eagerness and sincerity to catch her off guard.
"Go on..." she coaxed warily.
"My idea is that I continue to provide you with Doctor & Johnson company secrets, in return for a cut of the pay you get from Kimberlever." Now I had her attention. I went on to the next step of the Persuasion Model: explaining my idea and restating its key benefits.
"With my inside knowledge I can provide you with twice as much information as you're getting now, so you can ask for twice as much money. In return all I ask is forty percent of whatever money or benefits you get for the information. On balance you'll be much richer, and you never have to pay attention to a sap like me again."
She was quiet. I had persuaded her to consider the proposition, already further than I had expected to get, although I was still heart-stoppingly nervous inside. I gave her a few seconds to think it over, then went for an Assumptive Close.
"Here's my business card. Email me a maildrop address and I'll start posting you the information right away."
Her face was almost blank. I could not tell if that was because everything but 'Yes' had been removed from her mind, or if it was because she was in livid disbelief at my flagrant impertinence.
"Not so fast," she half-whispered. "How do I know Kimberlever will give me a pay rise for this? I'll give you twenty percent."
My heart leapt. I was swept with a relief so strong it was almost sickening. I rejoiced inside and relaxed without. Joleen could immediately tell that there was something wrong.
"Tom?" she managed, reproachfully.
"Joleen," I countered, "you're an absolute genius."
She looked horrified.
"Your techniques to get anything you want are amazing. They even worked on you." I pulled my mobile phone out of my pocket. I had recorded her confession. "You'll be pleased to know that I applied your excellent teachings to deceive and bribe you, and now I'm going to blackmail you. You see, that formula card isn't for Project Pigpen, it's for ordinary household soap. I got it from my A-level physics textbook. That was my deceit. Then I bribed you with the possibility of making more money. I guess as someone so motivated by ruthless greed, you just assumed I was motivated by the same thing, otherwise I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to convince you."
"And you recorded our whole conversation, which you're going to use to blackmail me," she spat bitterly.
"That's right!" I was quite excited by then. "If this gets to the Office of Fair Trade, your company will be so heavily penalised that they'll make sure you never work again; and if this leaks to the media you'll be publicly discredited as a business spy whore. That'd make a good headline, don't you think?"
"What do you want?" she demanded.
I took a deep, satisfied breath. I reminded myself not to be too greedy, not to let the power of the victory get to my head. "All I want is to remove you from my life, forever, as if you'd never existed. If I ever see you again, if my wife ever thinks I had an affair, if Kimberlever sabotage Doctor & Johnson's launch, if any of those things happen, I'll send this recording out."
I could see a train of four-letter words that exploded behind her smouldering black eyes, but the one that she voiced was, "Done." With that, she got up and left to take her temper out on something else.
I sighed peacefully and ordered a celebratory drink. Perhaps the power of getting anything you want is too dangerous for human hands; after all, I got what I wanted and it nearly ruined me. For the time being, I thought, I would stick to simply asking for what I wanted. That way I would be protected from getting it.
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