Three Laws Of Persuasion That Got Me Out Of A Jam

My wife dashed out of the house for a social event. I needed to find something to do with my two boys. I knew they would pin me down to just one option.

My six year old son dreamt up an imaginary town the other day. He’s been obsessing about. He’s been bugging me to take a drive to find it. How do I tell him no? Should I tell him no?

He put me in a bind. I don’t want to tell him it doesn’t exist. He has a creative mind (like his daddy). I don’t want to get in the way of that. That doesn’t mean I’m willing to drive for hours around New Jersey searching for an imaginary place. I needed to dip into my persuasion tool bag to get out of the jam.

The Three Vital Principles

First, I followed my number one rule:

Never tell anyone they are wrong for what they believe, think or feel

So, when he pushed me about finding his imaginary town I played along. I got excited about the prospect of finding it.

Then, I followed a second rule of persuasion:

Stoke their fantasies

I told my kids to get their shoes, socks and coats on. We’re going for a drive. We’re going to find this magical town.

Finally, I followed a third rule of persuasion:

Plant seeds of doubt about their current belief, view or opinion

I needed my son to conclude on his own that his pretend town may not exist. I also wanted him to understand that when we go for a drive we may not find it. Because of rule number one, I couldn’t say that. Instead, I had to plant seeds of doubt.

We pulled up Google maps and searched for it. Of course, we couldn’t find it. Then I told him not to worry. We’ll try the GPS when we get in the car. When it failed to show up on the GPS I made a few comments.

“Maybe the town is too new and it’s not on GPS yet. If so, we may not be able to find it.”

“Or, it could be that the town wants to remain a secret.” 

I refrained from telling him the town does not exist. I never said we’ll never find it. Instead, I planted seeds of doubt. Because of that, there now exists a plausible reason why we can’t find it.

We drove around for about forty-five minutes. I followed his directions. Once we strayed too far away from home I put an end to the search. He resisted. He demanded we keep going.

I kept an ace in my back pocket. I shouted out a promise of stopping at Starbucks for cake pops if we headed back home. That shifted the attention. Maybe that was his plan all along? Make unreasonable requests so that I would take them out for a treat. I doubt it, but maybe I should keep a watch on that.

Persuasion Can Make Us All Happier

By following these principles of  we experienced a closer bond with less strife. More importantly, it shows that persuasion is a two-way street. It’s not a zero sum game. Using these principles gives you the ability to craft win-win scenarios that otherwise might not be so evident.  My example shows how this works in an interactive setting, but you could easily adapt this to the written word too.

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So This Guy Refuses To Wash His Hands After Going To The Bathroom. But What He Does Instead Offers A Lesson In Persuasion And Life

An old friend of mine from College recently admitted something rather strange. He refused to wash his hands after going to the bathroom. It wasn’t until he turned thirty that hygiene got the better of him. I know what you’re thinking. Gross, right? That’s not the story though. What he did instead of washing his hands is the real kicker.

Once he finished doing his thing in the bathroom he’d leave without washing. That was his routine when he was alone. When other people were in the house he’d do something really weird. He would turn on the water and let it run for about twenty seconds. He did this because he feared what others would think if he left the bathroom without washing first.  We don’t really pay attention to ensure that people meet their hand washing responsibilities. We do notice things out of the ordinary. A toilet flush followed by the door opening raises the question:

“Hmmm. Did he wash his hands?”

Running the water for a few seconds gave the illusion he washed.

What’s the meaning of all this?

It comes down to one thing. We behave different when we know (or think) people are watching us.

They Think I’m Watching Them

As a persuader this is something we need to keep in mind. Our prospects behave differently when they know or think someone is watching. Historically, in persuasive writing it hasn’t been much of a concern. Prospects and customers would read your piece in the privacy of their home or office. Nobody felt like they were being watched.

Things change. Times change. Technology changes. Today, tracking tools allow us to secretly “watch” what our prospects do with our emails and visits to our websites. Remember that old “return receipt” tool on outlook where you get a notice saying:

The sender has requested a return receipt.”

That little message often motivated us to respond. It got us thinking:

Shoot. Now he knows I saw this. I need to do something about it.”

Today other tools are at our disposal. Plus, there’s the  invasion of privacy fear factor. It permeates our society. Even if you refrain from tracking customer behavior they still may think you’re watching them. That feeling may impact how they react to your writing.

How Do We Take Advantage Of This?

Ask yourself this simple question as part of your post writing checklist.

How will he react to this if he thinks I’m tracking his behavior?

How will she react to this if she thinks I’m not tracking her behavior?

When a personal relationship exists between you and the recipient the effect is stronger. It’s also strong when the recipient admires you or see’s you as an authority figure.

We can laugh at my friends routine of letting the water run so people would think he washed his hands.  The truth is we all change behavior when we know others are watching us.

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Nothing Like A Good Hike To Cleanse Your Mind… And Remind You To Ask For The Sale

There’s nothing like a good hike to cleanse your mind of all the crap it accumulates. As the cleanse takes its course bold, creative and life changing ideas flow.

This is why so many of us love nature walks, hiking and other physical activities. It relieves our brains of junk and fills it with dreams. We finish the activity with a feeling of momentum at our backs. Momentum feels good. It makes us feel unstoppable. It’s like getting that pep talk that has you jumping out of your skin to tackle an adventure.

There’s just one problem with momentum. It’s fleeting. I’m less than two hours from finishing my hike and not even a remnant of that momentum remains.

The Problem With Momentum

The same thing happens when you attend an inspiring seminar, conference or training. Everyone feels like they can take on the world during the event. We partake in hypnotic “I believe” chants. We pat each other on the backs. Give hugs. We leave with moon shot goals.

Yet, by the time we roll out of the parking lot that feeling disappears. Back to the real world.

Can We Make That Feeling Last?

I don’t know how to sustain that feeling indefinitely. I’ll leave that for someone else to figure out. I do know that we we need to take advantage of it while it’s there.

What’s more interesting to me is that we can create that feeling of momentum in others through our persuasive writing. Like a good hike, that feeling dissipates fast. I hate this cliche but we need to strike while the iron is hot.

Don’t Be Cruel

The best marketers I know sell in every email. They sell in every communication to their customers. Why? Because if something they write motivates their reader they know that motivation will disappear the second their attention goes elsewhere.

Won’t I Seem Pushy?

That’s a common fear people have when selling. Here’s the thing. Do you believe your product or service will change the life of your prospect? If so, why would you withhold it from them? That seems a bit more cruel to me than trying to sell them. If you sell junk that holds zero value, well maybe you should stop selling it altogether.

It’s hard enough to generate the I gotta have this now emotion. We know the challenge in sustaining those emotions. Take advantage of it while it’s there. Sell them when they’re jumping out of their seat to buy. Once that momentum fades, you may not get another chance.


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Bold. Majestic. Ultimately Forgettable… But What Really Snarls Their Attention?

Wow. It was 72 degrees today. That’s crazy weather for February in the northeast.

The picture you see above is the World Trade Center in NYC. I was in the Exchange Place area of Jersey City today for a dentist appointment. Since the weather was perfect, I ate my lunch on a park bench overlooking the Hudson River.

I sat for a half hour admiring the view. The symbol of power, resilience and heroism makes a bold statement in the skyline. Looking at it across the Hudson on a clear day gives you an unobstructed view.  You can’t help but take notice. Actually, that’s not true. For a long time I forgot it was there.

We Filter Out The Obvious

You see, I lived in Jersey City for three years. I walked along that path every single day. The only time I would ever stop and look at the World Trade Center was when they did some odd lighting. I got used to it after seeing it all the time. It became old hat to me. I still appreciated and admired it but it blended into the scenery.

Rediscovering the majestic nature of the World Trade Center reminded me of an important lesson. It’s a lesson I often forget. A common practice in marketing is to outdo your competition by making bigger and better promises. It works. Customers gravitate to bigger and bolder promises. That is until it stops working.

Why Big Promises Lose Their Mojo

Eventually those big promises lose their power. They become commonplace as everyone tries to outdo the other. When that happens they become like the World Trade Center. They blend into the scenery and become invisible.

I’m guilty of this myself. I went back and looked at the last twenty headlines I wrote. Most were big promises. I clearly neglected to practice what I’m now preaching. Go ahead, call me a hypocrite.

What Weapons Can We Draw On When Big Promises Fail To Get Attention?

Don’t Be Like The World Trade CenterBe different. Say something nobody ever heard before. Present it in a way which nobody is familiar. Use curiosity to grab their attention. Curiosity leads to anticipation. That triggers an urge to find out what comes next.

Here’s an example of a headline with a big promise:

How to lose thirty pounds in thirty days

 Now, I’ll tweak it a bit to add curiosity which hopefully leads to anticipation.

How to lose thirty pounds in thirty days… without diet, exercise or pills

That little addition adds a bit of curiosity. That curiosity triggers an urge to see what it’s all about. That example just what popped into my head. With some more thought I could certainly improve on it.

Find that one unique thing about your product, service or idea. Build your hook around that. Add in that element and you create enough curiosity to trigger that little voice in their head:

Hmmm… What’s this all about? I need to take a look.”

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The Crossroads Close

Last night started like any other night. At 10 PM I started my pre-bedtime routine. I filled the coffee machine with water. I took out the grinder and coffee beans.

That’s when it happened. The moment that threw our night into chaos.

No more coffee filters! Now what?

Mild panic ensued until I remembered we have one of those permanent coffee filters. A quick search revealed nothing. Did I only imagine we had one of those?

We were at a crossroads. Do we give up and sacrifice our morning coffee? Do we do a full-on search while we tear the house apart? I could picture empty cabinets, stuff strewn about the attic and storage areas in ruins. Plus, it was late. Sleep was foremost on my mind.

We decided to go for it.

I got a flashlight and checked every crevice of our storage areas. My wife tore apart our kitchen looking for it. We purged every pot, pan and dish from the cabinets. Finally, my wife found it. Crisis avoided.

Every major decision comes at some sort of crossroads. In plain speak, it’s an unavoidable decision that will yield far-reaching consequences. Yes, I’m including our decision to look for a coffee filter as a “major” one.

The “Crossroads” Close

The crossroads close provides you a simple yet effective method of getting your prospect over that final bit of inertia.

How does it work?

Let’s suppose you’ve done a good job of presenting your case. Now, you get to the moment of truth. The close. How do you get your reader over that last bout of sloth and motivate him to take action?

Paint your reader as if he’s at a crossroads. He’s at a crucial decision point of his life. Turn left and reap the rewards of whatever you sell. Turn right and continue on your current path of whatever problems you currently face. Keep in mind the second half of the definition of crossroads. The decision must have far-reaching consequences.

The Linchpin That Makes The Magic

That’s really the key to making this work. Let’s pretend I say no to your offer today but still possess the ability to say yes next week. That’s hardly far-reaching. However, if I say no today and never get the chance again, that raises the stakes.

In some situations it could be that staying your current course might push you beyond the realm of help. That’s another form of far-reaching consequences.

Maybe you don’t know what your crossroad close is for your product, service or idea. That’s okay. It’s worth sitting down and thinking about it. Even if you don’t use this technique, being able to articulate the consequences of saying no to your offer will help you in your persuasive efforts.

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The Only Shortcut To Persuasion That Really Works

I sometimes get asked for shortcuts. Mastering persuasive writing or copywriting takes practice and lots of it. That said, I have a story for you that reveals a real shortcut. A shortcut you can put into practice now.

Here goes:

I’m a terrible sleeper. I typically sleep about six hours. I’ve never slept eight hours straight in my entire life!

At my last checkup my doctor asked me how long I’ve had trouble sleeping. “Oh, about thirty or so years.” I told him

He ran through the list of usual cures. I’ve tried everything. Nothing works consistently. This past week I struggled through one of my insomnia bouts. I wake up after about four hours and then can’t go back to sleep. I feel like crap the next day.

Last night I finally broke the cycle and got a good night sleep. I tried a new bedtime routine and it seemed to help.

To you, I’m probably just a typical guy who struggles with sleep. To a marketer of sleep enhancing products, I am the equivalent of hitting the jackpot at a Vegas slot machine. I’m the starving artist who shows up at a six dollar all you can eat buffet. Everything looks yummy.

Famed copywriter Gary Halbert said many years ago:

Find A Starving Crowd”

Here’s why that’s important:

Let’s pretend you sell sleep enhancing products. It could be pills, info-products, masks, whatever. Find the average person on the street and try and sell your product.

First, you may need to convince them of the importance of sleep. Then, you need to hold their interest while you persuade them that they need more or better sleep. Let’s suppose you’re successful. Now, you need to sell them on the benefits of your product. Finally, you need to close them. You  must convince them of the urgency to take action now.

Those are the basic steps in its simplest form. It’s also why a 2% conversion rate on a marketing campaign feels like a victory.

Just Show Me The Buy Button

I’m the perpetual insomniac. I constantly try new things to improve my quality and quantity of sleep. Each time I hope to finally strike gold. It never happens but I’ll keep trying. I’m the starving crowd for insomnia cures.

What do you need to do to sell me?

Just tell me you have a product that helps people sleep better. I’ll try it. No persuasion required. Spare me the rhetoric and show me the buy button.

When it comes to getting better sleep, I’m the starving crowd. 

Someone who hasn’t eaten in two days won’t get nit-picky if offered a loaf of bread. They won’t care if it’s not 100% whole wheat. Nor will they inspect the ingredients for traces of a chemical. They just crave the damn food. 

That’s how I am with things that help me sleep. I’m desperate for something that will work. I don’t care about the nuances of how it works.

And that’s the shortcut. Find a crowd that is desperate for what you sell. Find the insomniac desperate to sleep better.

 If it’s a shortcut you desire, the starving crowd is as good as it gets.

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How To Criticize Without Being Hated For It

It’s been a warmer than usual February. It almost feels like spring is right around the corner. That feeling spurred in me a desire to make some chili. I associate chili with cold weather and figured now would be a good time. Who knows if the cold air will return?

I craft this chili. I don’t just cook it. It’s a four hour adventure. The longer you let it cook, the more it absorbs the flavor of the spices. It’s like a chili heaven.

The next morning, I got this email:

That was delicious. I love the mix of spices. Maybe a bit more Allspice than I would have used. Super delicious though”

 Ah, the old sandwich technique. An attempt to level criticism in a veiled attempt to spare my feelings. They force this training on you in almost every Fortune 1000 company. Not familiar with it?  The sandwich approach provides a simple framework for delivering criticism

  1. Open with something positive
  2. Deliver your criticism
  3. Close with something else positive

In a perfect world, the recipient feels better because the positives that sandwich the criticism, soften the blow.

The Problem With The Sandwich Approach

Here’s the problem. It feels fake. The recipient knows the “compliments” are merely a way of softening the criticism. Let’s look at my example. Was the Allspice comment a way of saying he didn’t like it? Or, was it a way of saying he liked it but here’s how it could have been better? I don’t know. Maybe he just wanted to get in a snide remark?

In doing some research for this article, I was happy to find a Harvard Business Review Article that denounces this approach. Unfortunately, it’s still common practice. My personal opinion is that it makes the giver of criticism feel more comfortable.

A Better Way To Criticize

Giving criticism is tough, especially when it’s unsolicited. I go by two basic approaches. In the first approach, your recipient did something well but not great. You’re merely offering a way to make it great. Here’s an example:

“Jay that was solid. I love the way you used the win-win strategy in your close. On a scale of one to ten, I’d give it an eight. Here’s what would make it a ten…”

In this case I give a genuine compliment. I back it up by offering specific evidence. I follow up with “one to ten” ranking and specific examples to make it better.

In the second approach, your recipient totally missed the mark. On a scale of one to ten they hit a four or worse. A mentor of mine from twelve years ago gave me great advice here. Follow this simple rule when you need to deliver bad news.

Make sure the recipient perceives that YOU feel more uncomfortable about giving the news than he feels about receiving it. It makes it easier on both of you.

“Ted. This makes me really uncomfortable. I fall to pieces when I talk about this stuff. Your piece was not what we were looking for. The instructions may have been a little vague. Here’s what we were specifically looking for.”

The important part is the first two sentences. Your recipient will likely act less defensive when they see you feel uncomfortable about giving criticism.

Does Anyone Really Welcome Criticism?

Of course, everyone is different. Some people welcome criticism. Most say they welcome it and really do believe what they say. Still, they have a hard time accepting it. I would put myself in that category. I believe that good criticism makes me better and I desire to get better. It still tugs at my ego a bit even when I ask for it.

Whatever approach you choose, just make sure it isn’t the sandwich technique.

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Three Language Hacks To Boost Your Persuasion Skills

Last night my wife and I rented the movie “Arrival” on demand. I’m a total sci fi geek and I love Amy Adams. That made it a perfect combination for me.

I won’t give away too much of the movie. I’ll reveal just enough to provide context so the tips below make sense.

Amy Adams is a language expert tasked with communicating with Aliens. Their language presents challenges to the team. It’s like nothing they’ve ever seen. They race to figure out the mystery behind it. One line in the movie about language stuck with me. It’s about how language provides insight into how we think.

It reminded me of the importance of language. In particular, by paying attention to the words your readers, prospects or audience use, you discover a great deal. The more you know about the people you are trying to persuade, the more accurate you can target your message.

There’s a myriad of nuances to pay attention to. For now, we’ll focus on three big ones that get you the most bang for your buck.

Perspective Bias

Two people can look at the same circumstance and draw different opinions. It all depends on the lens they look through. For example, I may see something as a problem. You may see it as an opportunity. I may see a business as doing gods work. You may see it as a farce.

Find enough examples of this and you can build a picture of how your prospect sees the world. Stay away from passing judgments. That’ll throw off your ability to craft an accurate message.


What adjectives do your prospects, readers or audience use to describe individuals. Few adjectives are neutral. Most point to positive or negative viewpoints. I may describe a mutual friend as a blabber mouth. You may describe him as curious. I may describe him assertive. You may describe him as pushy.

The words we use say more about us than it does the people we refer to.

Group Judgments

The same biases we apply to individuals apply to groups as well. In fact, the words we use to describe groups point an even clearer picture on how we view the world. The language we use to present our opinions on groups often goes to further extremes than individuals.

That comes as no surprise to anyone who pays attention to politics.

Nobody in this world has a monopoly on “truth” so try and avoid using these devices as a means of judging people. It’s hard. I know. Put yourself in the observer’s position. It helps keep your independent perspective.

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5 Tips To Avoid Overwhelming Your Readers

With the kids at my in laws for a few days my wife and I (mostly her) embarked on a toy purge. As you can see from the picture, we accumulate lots of toys. The first thing she did was dump all the toys on the floor. This would make sorting easier. At least, that’s what we thought.

Here’s the problem. Once we dumped out the toys the goal became unattainable. Of course, the number of toys that needed sorting stayed the same. It just felt like more. It created a sense of overwhelm. That overwhelm dampened the enthusiasm to tackle this problem.

That Feeling Of Overwhelm

Do you ever get that feeling of overwhelm with certain tasks?

Ugh. I’ll never get through this. I don’t even want to start.”

When it comes to persuasive writing, overwhelm is our enemy. When your writing feels like a bear, you’re in trouble. Unlike our toy situation your reader doesn’t rally his energy and dig into your piece. He simply clicks away.

Instead of overwhelm we strive for clarity and simplicity. Instead of drudging up every possible angle to cover our bases, we aim for a single point. We keep our sentences simple and paragraphs short. Whatever we can do to eliminate overwhelm is always at the top of our mind.

Does that mean our writing needs to be short? No, but we shouldn’t waste words. Every word must earn it’s place. Any argument that fails to advance the sale gets cut. Setup, background and random stories often detract from your message.

Five Tips To Keep You Out Of Overwhelm Zone

Break Up Paragraphs

Long paragraphs look daunting. It gives the perception of overwhelm. Keep in mind that the smaller screens on mobile devices amplify the problem.


Use headers to break up the monotony. The headers should give an outline of the overall piece. One header for every three hundred words is a good rule of thumb.

Eliminate Fluff

Do you know the part of books, articles or stories you glance past without reading? That’s what I’m talking about. If it’s not essential to your sale then remove it. If it’s part of a story, make sure your story is compelling enough to stand on its own.

Stay On Topic

The best pieces focus on one big idea.  The reader easily follows along a single themed piece. When you force your reader to keep track of what’s going on they may feel overwhelm (or worse). Avoid the urge to squeeze in extra arguments or factoids. I know it’s hard. Trust me, it detracts from the overall clarity.

Use A Language Tool

Languages tool like the Flesch Reading Ease or the Hemmingway App provide readability scores. In copywriting or persuasive writing you always shoot for super easy to read.  See my scores for this article below:



Finally, take a break from your piece. Come back to it the next day. Give it the eye test. Does it look daunting? Read it over from beginning to end. Where do you struggle? What did you have to read twice? These offer clues as to where you need to edit.

Follow these tips and you will avoid overwhelm.


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Stop Trying To Persuade With Facts. You’re Just Making It Worse.

In the past few weeks I’ve barely looked at Facebook. I can’t take the back and forth political battles. Last night I caved. Bored, I popped open Facebook to see what’s going on. Of course, it’s all about Trump. A friend of mine went on a rant about how her Trump supporting friends refused to accept facts.

In my ninety or so articles on Medium I’ve never talked about facts as the key to persuasion. Why? Because it doesn’t work. Facts don’t persuade people who tie their core identity against your facts. They only work when your audience is already on board with your beliefs.

The Three Tools People Use To Discredit Facts

First, they’ll find other facts to refute yours. For example, let’s pretend you show studies to a global warming denier as proof it exists. It’s an attempt to “persuade” him to change his belief. You can bet he’ll find his own studies to refute your argument. The second way to refute facts is to re-interpret the meaning. When democrats point out possible Russian connections to Trump, his supporters see it a different way.

Don’t we want better relations with Russia? Why wouldn’t that be a good thing? – Taken verbatim by a Facebook friend

The final way to discredit facts is to attack the source. “Oh, you got that from the media? You can’t trust them as a source for anything.” 

We all do this. Neither liberals, conservatives or moderates are immune. We may not even notice when we do it.

If facts fail to persuade then what do we do?

The Alternative To Facts

No, I’m not talking about “alternative facts” here. Our goal is to persuade without resorting to facts, which clearly don’t work. I could write a book on research, tools and techniques behind persuasive writing. I’l keep it simple for this article. Start by focusing on these three things:

Become An Observer

Take a side and you become the enemy. Approach battles like an observer. Think of yourself as someone above the fray merely searching for answers. This approach makes you less combative. It puts your opponent in a less defensive posture. Becoming an “observer” takes practice and self discipline.

Don’t worry. I have a few shortcuts for you.

First, use questions instead of assertions. You’re looking for the what and the why. Second, never draw conclusions. When you draw a conclusion you take a side.

Poke Tiny Holes

Persuasion takes patience. Look for small shifts. Avoid seeking drastic changes. Getting your global warming denier friend to switch his views and join you at next weeks protests go too far. Instead, identify his core beliefs and raise questions that poke tiny holes in his beliefs. Then, poke a few more holes. If successful, he may decide on his own to change his views. At the very least he may start to doubt himself.

When we create stories that support our beliefs we play the childhood game of connect the dots. Each dot represents a piece of evidence. With only a few dots to connect our stories fit nice and neat. Sneak in a few extra dots and suddenly they don’t connect anymore.

Provide A Scapegoat

Nobody likes to admit they’re wrong. Admitting you’re wrong about your world view requires self-awareness. Don’t count on it. We need to find a different angle.

Your opponent needs some justification before he changes his mind. How do you do that? Provide an external cause for their poor judgment. There’s three ways to do it. They vary in effectiveness according to the situation.

First, show how they were duped by lies. It’s not their fault they were on the wrong side of an issue or politician. They’re victims of bad information.

Second, the circumstances around the issue or person changed. Changing circumstances necessitate changing views. For example,”I supported politician “X” but the office changed him. He’s not the same person he was as a candidate.”

Third, provide smoking gun information from a trusted source. This one is tricky. It can backfire. If you present new info as a trigger to change someone’s mind, the source must be someone he trusts. For example, if a democrat or media source releases new information about a republican politician, your friend dismisses it as bias. If, however, someone he trusts comes out and says he’s crazy, that’s a different story.

In short, the reason for their incorrect belief must be an external reason and not their own faulty judgment.

There’s a lot more to it than these three concepts. It’s a start. Above all, maintain civility and leave the doors of friendship and family open. Cults thrive by getting their new members to burn bridges with family and friends. That leaves the victim no choice but to fully commit. Always leave that door open.

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