“At the end of reasons comes persuasion.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Imagine that you’re on a lifeboat – and it’s clear that someone has to jump out of the boat or it will sink and everyone will die. Would you volunteer to do it? It’s not hard to imagine that you would.

The reason it’s so easy is because you aren’t actually in that situation, so you don’t perceive any real risk. I’m not saying you wouldn’t volunteer to jump out of the boat to save the lives of the rest of the passengers – but you must admit that it’s much easier to make this kind of commitment when you don’t really have to face the consequences.

Understanding this can be a very powerful tool when you want to persuade someone to take a certain action.

Let’s say you have the opportunity to buy a million-dollar piece of property at 70 percent of its appraised value… if you can plunk down $700,000 within 24 hours. There’s only one problem: You can come up with only half the amount in such a short time. So you need to get someone to go in on the deal with you.

You make a list of everyone you know who might have that kind of money. Question is: How do you convince one of them to invest with you?

If you come right out and ask if they will invest $350,000 in a real estate deal that needs to close in 24 hours, you’ll probably encounter a great deal of resistance. Instead, start by asking your potential investor how she’d handle a hypothetical situation. Something like this: “As an experienced investor, if you came across a piece of real estate that was being offered at 30 percent below market value, would you think it’d be a good idea to snap it up if you could?”

The chances are extremely high that the investor will tell you she most definitely would. And the primary reason she would do so is because it really would be a good business deal. Of course, the reason she was so quick to say yes is because the question was hypothetical. But it allowed her to answer based purely on the business logic.

Once you’ve gotten the investor to agree that she would snap up such a property, tell her that the reason you asked is because you know of one, but you don’t have enough available cash to buy it before someone else does.

Obviously, there’d be a lot more to this story before a check actually changed hands and a deal was made. But this investor would almost certainly proceed with the deal.

It may seem a little sneaky to use a hypothetical question to gain a commitment from someone. But remember that you’re only asking them to agree to something that makes sense to them, something they would want to commit to even if it had nothing to do with helping you out. That is, in fact, why this persuasion technique is so effective.

This method of persuasion is equally useful in the workplace.

Let’s say you want to convince a colleague to stay late to work on an important presentation that will be given to a client tomorrow. If you just ask him, “Hey, can you stay after work for a few hours to work on a project with me?” The answer might very well be no.

Instead, pose this hypothetical question: “If you had a chance to retain an important client for the company, but it would require working late, would you stay a few hours to help get the job done?” In this case, he’s likely going to say that he’d stay. Having him commit to the hypothetical situation moves you a lot closer to getting the answer you need.

In order to use the hypothetical situation technique to persuade someone to do what you want them to do, take the following steps:

  1. Describe a situation that is essentially similar to the one that really exists.
  2. Ask the person what he would do in that situation.
  3. Once you’ve gotten the answer you want, reveal that the reason you asked is because the situation actually exists. Then describe the specifics.

Of course, just because someone agrees to act a certain way in a hypothetical situation doesn’t mean they’ll make the same commitment to the real one. Nevertheless, this technique gives you a strong foothold toward getting that commitment, and can be one of the most powerful strategies you can use to persuade someone to see or do things your way.

[Ed. Note: Larry Fredericks is an entrepreneur with a history of successful business dealings in retail, direct mail, the Internet, and real estate. He is also the creator of the Master of Persuasion program, which will help give you the power to obtain everything you ever wanted in life.]