The Lesser of Two Evils

It’s Saturday morning, and the biggest party of the year is going down… starting tonight and lasting through Sunday. Somehow, you’ve wangled a spot on the VIP list. It’s in Atlantic City, and your good buddy has arranged a limo – absolutely free to you – that’s leaving in 20 minutes. Trouble is, you have to give a big presentation first thing Monday morning. And you’ll need a good three or four hours to whip it into shape.

Not going to the party is NOT an option. So you’ve got two choices.

Choice #1: You can leave for AC right now and have the time of your life. But pay for it – big time – on Monday. Your presentation won’t be as good as it should be. If you botch it completely, you could lose your company’s biggest client. And that might mean you’ll be out of a job.

Choice #2: You can stick around for the rest of the day and fine-tune the presentation to perfection. That way, you’ll be so well prepared that even if you’re a little tired on Monday, it will go off without a hitch. You’ll protect your job. Heck, you may even win yourself a promotion. But that means you’ll have to shell out about 500 bucks for a last-minute plane ticket to Atlantic City tonight.

If you care about your career, Choice #2 is the obvious way to go. You’re going to have to spend $500, but it’s a way to have your cake and eat it too.

Setting up a situation like this – where there are two choices, but one is clearly the “smart” one – is the basis of the persuasion technique I want to tell you about today. I call it the “Lesser of Two Evils” strategy.

I’m sure you’ve been in a position – both in your personal and your business life – where you’ve had to persuade someone to make a decision that they were not really eager to make.

Let’s say you want to convince a potential client to sign up for your consulting services.

If you simply present him with one option – maybe an expensive contract that will cost $10,000 a year – he may decide to hold off on doing anything. After all, though his business has stopped growing and he thinks you can probably help him, there’s no perceived emergency. If he doesn’t sign with you right now, he has no reason to believe he will suffer any negative consequences.

You don’t want to try to back him into a corner by warning him that if he doesn’t accept your expensive proposal he will not only fail to get his company back on track but may start to face big losses. If you do that, there is an excellent chance he will become even more resistant. (People tend to resist ideas that aren’t their own. It’s human nature.)

Instead, you should offer the prospect an alternative – an additional option that seems reasonable on the surface but is, in some important way, less attractive than the one you want him to choose. And you present that option first.

So, in our example, you start by telling the prospect that you can provide consulting services for only $1,000 a year. You explain that, for $1,000, you can do a lot for him. And you supply him with facts and figures to make this claim credible. Then you point out that you also provide unlimited, full-service consulting for $10,000 a year. You list everything you will do for him if he chooses the full-service option over the less-expensive, limited option. And, again, you supply him with facts and figures to back up your claims.

If you do it right, the prospect will come to the conclusion – on his own – that though the full-service option costs more upfront, it will solve his problem permanently… while the economical option will be nothing more than a band-aid.

Though he may not be thrilled about making the larger expenditure, it will seem like the better choice – the Lesser of Two Evils – because he will perceive that the cheaper alternative has the potential for negative consequences.

The Lesser of Two Evils is sometimes confused with another persuasion technique

called “Contrasting.” But, from a psychological point of view, they are actually quite different. With Contrasting, you first have the other person imagine a scenario that sounds really terrible. Then you tell him the good news.

Let’s say you’re a salesman for a roofing company. You get a call from a prospect who tells you his roof is leaking, and you drive over to give him a quote.

You can see that all he really needs is a repair… but you begin by noting that a whole new roof will cost $15,000. As the prospect shudders, figuring he’s going to have to dip into his pension fund to pay for it, you announce: “But you’re in luck. You don’t need a whole new roof. We can repair your leak for only $2,000.

Had you quoted him $2,000 for the repair upfront, it would have seemed like a lot of money. But now, in contrast to the cost of a whole new roof, it seems like a good deal.

The Lesser of Two Evils approach works better than Contrasting when your prospect isn’t likely to buy into a highly objectionable scenario – either because it’s not believable or because he can’t see how it applies to him.

Take our example of a consultant selling his services. If you start by telling your prospect that businesses in his situation usually require a $300,000 consulting job… and then tell him you can get it done for only $10,000… well, he’ll probably just shrug his shoulders. But if you give him a couple of reasonable options and provide him with enough information to support the decision you want him to make, there’s a good chance he’ll do it.

To successfully execute the Lesser of Two Evils technique, here are the basic steps:

1. Come up with two options for your prospect. Make sure there are logical arguments for both alternatives – but also make that sure the one you prefer is the “Lesser of Two Evils.”

2. When you present the options to your prospect, start with the “greater” evil. That way, when you present the option you want him to choose, he will perceive it to be the one he wants.

3. If you’ve done a good job of making your case, the prospect will make the decision you want him to make almost immediately. If he doesn’t jump on it right away, don’t try to pressure him. Just sit back and be patient. Remember, the effectiveness of this technique is based on the fact that, psychologically, people like to feel that they are in control of their own decisions. If you push them, it’s likely to backfire.

Persuading people to make the choices you want them to make isn’t easy. However, if done right, the Lesser of Two Evils approach almost always works. The icing on the cake is that the people you use it with will be happy with the decisions they made “on their own.”

[Ed. Note: Paul Lawrence is the publisher of the “Master of Persuasion” program, which details dozens of powerful persuasion secrets. For more information, click here.]

 

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