Brain Games: How to be a Confident Man (or Woman)

Video highlights from Brain Games

In the Brain Games episode “Trust Me” we learned that humans have an innate tendency to put faith in others, and that we tend to make quick decisions about who to trust, often based upon visual cues such as the shape of a person’s face.  While our credibility-evaluating mechanisms for the most part are surprisingly accurate, they’re also vulnerable to being manipulated by those who know how to subtly game the system, whether they’re advertising executives, job candidates or con artists.  Here are some secrets on how to get what you want from others, which we hope that you’ll use for benign, non-illegal purposes.

•    Smile.  This probably seems like a no-brainer, but as executive coach Carol Kinsey Gorman notes in a 2013 article for the American Management Association website, the human brain prefers happy-looking faces. “Smiling not only stimulates your own sense of well-being; it also tells those around you that you are approachable and trustworthy,” she writes.

•    Lower your vocal pitch.  Gorman also observes that speakers with higher-pitched voices tend to seem less empathetic, less powerful, and more nervous than those who speak in a lower register. She recommends using a simple exercise, in which you put your lips together and say “Um hum, um hum, um hum.”  This supposedly relaxes your voice and allows you to attain your optimal low pitch.

•    Use the “foot in the door” approach. In a study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology back in 1966, researchers discovered that if they approached a subject with a small request and got the person to agree, the person often subsequently would agree to a larger follow-up request as well.   

•    Make an outrageous request, followed by what you actually want. In a study published in 1975, also published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that if they asked subjects for an extreme favor and were turned down, the person often would comply with a subsequent request for a smaller favor. Persuasion experts call this the “door in the face” technique.

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