Last week, I wrote about a conversation I had with a contractor to whom I referred as “Ray.” I told you how Ray tried to convince me that in addition to needing new shingles and gutters, I also needed to replace the fascia and soffit on my house. One thing that I didn’t tell you was that he also tried to convince me that I needed my sidewalk, concrete patio, and landscaping blocks spray-cleaned and sealed. He bragged about how he had the best equipment on the market for cleaning and sealing concrete.
If I had agreed to the additional services that he was trying to sell me, I would have ended up paying approximately $9,000 more. The total cost of the roof and gutters was $17,900. I had received about $2,000 less than that from the insurance company for the replacement of the roof and gutters. I agreed to pay more than I received from the insurance company because I wanted higher-quality, wind-resistant shingles and gutters that were wider and deeper than what I already had.
It is my belief that Ray viewed me as an easy mark for selling additional services. He knew that I was a lawyer, so in his mind, he figured that I had plenty of money to pay for the extra services. In addition, he assumed that because I had a nice house in a nice neighborhood, I wouldn’t want there to be any defects that people would notice and judge me on.
As I told you last week, as soon as Ray started making negative comments about the fascia and soffit, I realized that he was using a very effective, but little-known, manipulative sales technique that plays on a person’s emotions and usually gets the person to buy.
The sales technique he was using on me is called “gaslighting.” According to Wikipedia, gaslighting is “a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.”
Wikipedia provides the following explanation of where the word “gaslighting” originated:
The term originates in the systematic psychological manipulation of a victim by her husband in the 1938 stage play Gas Light, known as Angel Street in the United States, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944. In the story, a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out these changes. The original title stems from the dimming of the gas lights in the house that happened when the husband was using the gas lights in the flat above while searching for the jewels belonging to a woman whom he had murdered. The wife correctly notices the dimming lights and discusses it with her husband, but he insists that she merely imagined a change in the level of illumination.
The first time the technique of gaslighting was used was when the Serpent sowed seeds of doubt in the mind of Eve and persuaded her to defy God by eating from the tree of good and evil.
In a sales environment, gaslighting is ordinarily used when selling to someone who is above you or who believes that he is above you. In order for gaslighting to work, the buyer has to first be taken down a notch or two and put in his place before he can be convinced to buy. The goal of the seller is to create uncertainty and to undermine the confidence of the buyer.
If the technique is used correctly, the buyer begins to feel uneasy and anxious about what the seller is saying. After the buyer’s confidence has been shaken, he is more predisposed to accept and embrace what the seller is saying and to purchase what is being sold.
Ray knew from years of experience that people who own nice homes take pride in their homes and are concerned about what other people would think of them if their homes appeared to be run-down or second rate. He wanted me to feel anxious and insecure about how my house looked to others. That’s why he did everything he could to convince me that the fascia and the soffit were not properly installed, looked terrible, and needed to be replaced.
Most of us are concerned about how we look and are perceived by others. We make sure to shower, shave, and wear the right clothes. We don’t want to give others the impression that we are sloppy or shabby in the way we look or in the way we live our lives. We feel the same about our possessions.
Some people who are devoted to God claim that they don’t care what others think about them. They say, “I’m a child of God, and what’s important to me is what God thinks about me.” Yet most of them really do care what others think, because they still bathe, wash their clothes, put on lipstick or makeup, comb their hair, and make sure their vehicles and homes are organized and tidy.
God expects each one of us to adhere to the highest standard of personal care that we are capable of achieving. Even though St. Teresa of Calcutta was a poor, humble religious sister who served “the poorest of the poor,” she never wore torn, ragged clothing. The blue-striped white cotton sari that she wore always looked clean and new. I’m sure that anytime someone told her that her sari was dirty or torn, as soon as was practicable, she washed or mended it.
One objection I have to most of the movies that have been made about the life of Jesus Christ is that He is routinely shown wearing a tunic or robe that is dirty. There is no doubt in my mind that He and His mother made sure that, to the best of their ability and within their means, His clothing was always immaculately clean and properly sewn.
We all know that in our consumer-based society, people go well beyond what they should in acquiring vehicles, homes, and other property that showcase their wealth and prove to others that they are better than them. Sellers of products and services are acutely aware of this and use it to influence prospective buyers to purchase products and services that they don’t need.
The sellers of goods and services appeal to the pride and emotions of the buyers by implying that if they buy, they will be perceived as being smarter, better, and more sophisticated than their family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
When using the technique of gaslighting, the first step in making the sale is to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of buyers as to whether they are at the status level that they think they should be and then sell them the product or service that will provide them with the admiration and status they desire.
If I were to ask Ray whether he knows what the word “gaslighting” means, he would probably say no. But while he may not know what the word means, he is a master at using the technique to manipulate buyers into doubting themselves, and then convincing them that if they buy, their image and status will be enhanced and they will be perceived as being better than the people they come into contact with.
If I had not been fully aware of what Ray was up to when he was trash-talking my house, he could have been successful in persuading me that I needed what he was trying to sell me.
You may be wondering why I decided to do business with a man who attempted to manipulate me into buying services that I didn’t need. Next week, I’ll explain why I decided to do business with him.