For the first time ever, my wife and I took a fitness class together. We had never taken one before. I usually prefer to go it alone. Somehow, I managed to embarrass myself. A few minutes after the class started, a NJ symphony summer camp joined us. About fifteen teenagers plus three adults readied for the H.I.I.T class. Just as the music started I stepped back and knocked over my (uncovered) water bottle.
Water spilled all over the floor. It seemed like the water reproduced and created more water. I ran over to the paper towel dispenser. Of course, it was empty. The one outside the room was full. I grabbed a bunch and ran back to the spill. I felt everyone’s eyes on me as the music blasted. It almost felt like everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at me.
After the class, I mentioned that one of the kids distracted. That distraction caused the spilled water incident. The truth is it was my own clumsiness and lack of gym experience.
My knee-jerk reaction was to avoid responsibility. I blamed someone else.
The Persuasion Technique As Old As Civilization
Blaming others for our mistakes is as old as humans.
The use of scapegoats is as old as civilazation itself, and examples of it can be found in cultures around the world. – Robert Greene, The 48 Laws Of Power
Nobody likes to admit they exploit the power of scapegoating. Almost all of us have done it. If you’ve spent more than five minutes in the corporate world, you’ve probably done it yourself. You’re late on a project or deliverable and the boss asks why. You claim that another department failed to meet their timelines to you or someone else caused the delay.
We use scapegoating for trivial things like avoiding the embarrassment of clumsy behavior in a fitness class. It’s also been used on much grander scales with devastating consequences throughout history.
Yes, it may seem hard to believe. You can exploit scapegoating without sacrificing your ethics. Here’s an example that illustrates how.
Let’s pretend you’re selling a weight loss product. You konw that telling your customer it’s because of his eating habits will fall flat. It will just make him angry. You need to blame his troubles on someone or something else.
Instead of blaming his troubles on his own behavior, blame them on his DNA. It’s his DNA that’s causing him to overeat. That’s his innocent scapegoat. You’re assigning blame to a thing, but not a person. It’s something he can identify with.
“You’re right. It’s because of my DNA that I’m having all these troubles, ” he says to himself
You can also use abstract concepts. Blame his troubles on a government entity enslaved to big business that feeds him faulty nutrition advice.
In short, remember rule one in persuasion. Never tell someone their troubles are their own doing.