How Guru’s Win Our Hearts, Minds And Wallets

A 30 something couple attend a relationship seminar with the hope of rekindling the fire that has all but died out. The seminar is being delivered by a known “relationship guru” who travels the country to fix broken relationships.

The guru calls up the couple to the stage. He asks them a dozen or so questions.

When did you first feel something wrong in your relationship?>
Was there a particular event that signaled something is wrong? If so, tell me about it?
Have you ever felt like something isn’t quite right?
Do you have doubts about your relationship? Tell me about those doubts
Do you feel like your partner sometimes doesn’t listen to you? Give me an example

Not all guru’s are fakes. Some really do achieve spectacular results for their clients. Others think they do great things but overestimate their powers. Then there are the ones that are pure charlatans and know it.

I’ll be focusing on the latter two groups here. If you look at the type of questions above they reveal a few persuasion tricks at play. Remember, these tactics can be used with good intentions but they’re more obvious (as an observer) when used for with bad intentions.

First, our guru exploits the Barnum effect. The barnum effect is questions or statements that are true of practically all humans. For example, look at question four.

Do you have doubts about your relationship?

I’m not sure of a single couple that’s been together for any length of time that hasn’t had an occasional doubt, especially couples attending a “relationship” seminar. These type of questions create trust and build rapport.

Once our guru has earned trust, he uses two common biases to convince the couple he has the answer to their problem.

First, he uses hindsight bias to further win the couple’s trust, provide an answer and set them up for the big finish. Hindsight bias is the tendency to think that we could have foreseen how an event turned out after knowing the outcome.  You can see this everywhere. In the public domain it’s most prominent in sports and politics.

Our guru presents his finding as if it makes perfect sense. He takes whatever information he’s garnered, puts it together, wraps it in a bow and feeds it back like it was so obvious. It sounds all too reasonable to our unsuspecting subjects.

Finally, our guru taps into another powerful bias, Insight Bias. This bias refers to the myth that once we understand the cause of a problem, it will automatically fix itself. Insight bias can be helpful in providing emotional relief but doesn’t necessarily give us the tools to fix the problem.

One way our guru does this is to label the couple’s problem.

It seems the cause of your relationship issue is [insert label] failure. Now that you know the problem, it should be easy to fix.”

If our guru is legit he will provide a real solution that the couple can use when they go home. For devious guru’s this often isn’t necessary. The couple already has the emotional relief of finding the cause and that insight is usually enough to keep em coming back for more.

It’s kind of  like when you have unexplained medical symptoms and then a doctor finally tells you that you have [insert name] syndrome. A feeling of relief sweeps over you from knowing the cause even though a solution might not be obvious. Just having a label provides some relief.

Insight bias can be a helpful tool for persuaders, influencers and marketers. Providing emotional relief has value for your audience or prospects. It prepares them for the solution. Sometimes when we present our solution we do it too quick, before our prospect is ready to hear it.

Like I mentioned in an earlier article, it’s not the techniques that are good or evil it’s the purpose and intent.


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