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Understate the Case

By Marty Nemko

Mary and John both lost their jobs. Here’s how they described their situation to their networking contacts:

MARY: Damn corporate America. They’re always downsizing.

JOHN: It happens. I’ll find another job.

Which person do you think made a better impression?

Bill and Sally are both interviewing for a job. Here’s how they ended their interview:

BILL: (crowing, as many job hunting guides suggest, and speaking very rapidly): I believe I’m the right person for the job. Don’t you agree?

SALLY: (In a moderate tone): Well, based on what I know about the job, it seems like a good fit for me, but what do you think?

Do you think Bill or Sally has a better chance of getting the job?

Patty and Dave both have a new idea they’re pitching to their boss.

PATTY: (gushing): I’ve got this fantastic new idea.

DAVE: I have an idea. I’m wondering what whether you think it’s any good?

Who do you think will get a better response?

In most U.S. subcultures (a counterexample might be the New York Jewish subculture,) it’s wise to understate you case. Principles of marketing, psychology, even religion explain why:

Marketing. In the old days, hard-sell worked, but today, we’re likely to turn off when we feel we’re being sold-to. Would listening to this old-fashioned carnival huckster make you more or less likely to buy: “Step right up here, ladies and gentlemen, and let me tell you about Dr. CureAll’s Magic Elixir, absolutely, positively guaranteed to cure headaches, stomach aches, diarrhea, practically whatever ails ya. And if you buy right now, I’ll sell it to you for the low-low price-- for today only--of just $19.95. And if you act now, I’ll throw in another bottle absolutely free. So who’s ready to buy?”

I doubt it’s you.

Psychology. Most people dislike feeling bullied or manipulated into making a decision. And especially if the pitch is made rapid-fire, which makes us less likely to fully understand it, we’re even more wary. We like to feel in control, that we are in charge. So, we’re more likely to react positively to a soft-sell approach. That gives us room to feel we are independently judging an idea’s merit.

Religion. The large majority of Americans are Christians, and a core Christian value is, “Don’t be too willful.” Many Christians, consciously or unconsciously, view unbridled aggressiveness as defying God’s will, trying to supersede the Lord’s plan.

So, when you’re trying to convince someone of something, when in doubt, understate your case. So, my friends, what are you waiting for?! Time’s running out!! So, act now!!!! Take advantage of my AMAAAAZING advice!!!!!! Any one who takes my advice in the next 30 minutes, gets a bottle of Dr. CureAll’s Magic Elixir absolutely free!

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