How to not be stupid?
March 23, 2009 8:01 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with getting conned, smooth talkers, and pressure cookers?

I feel like I get sweet-talked into everything and that my family has to stop me, and that I buy into the hype and pressure that would have me bending over backwards for people. I accept everything at face value and find it hard to remind myself to take a step back and understand not everything or everyone are what they seem. I need to have a poker face and not seem too eager or excited about anything.

Teach me to be cautious, and not assume every opportunity being thrown at me is OMG I NEED TO DO THIS NOW, because it seems I'm finding it hard to learn my lesson.
posted by drea to Human Relations (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This rule has served me very well in my life: Never join, buy or sign anything unless you sleep on it.

If someone is frustrated at you wanting to think about something overnight, they are pursuing their own agenda. You might miss out on some opportunities, but it is far more likely you will just avoid getting suckered into something.
posted by milarepa at 8:15 AM on March 23, 2009 [12 favorites]

Three rules.

1. If the opportunity is "use it or lose it", i.e. if you leave it until tomorrow it will be gone, say no. No matter how good the opportunity is. This is the price you will have to pay for being naturally gullible. Maybe you will one day miss out on something fantastic because of this rule, but tough shit. Say no.

2. When an opportunity comes along that you are interested in, ask for all the details. Write them all down. If the opportunity-monger is slippery and instead wants you to close the deal now, go to step 1. Otherwise, take it away, investigate, look it up on the internet, or run it past someone you trust before going ahead. No matter how enthusiastic you are, waiting another day won't kill you.

3. If you decide to say No, stick to your guns, and never provide a reason or an apology. "No, I've decided not to go ahead". "Can I ask why?" "I've decided not to go ahead".
posted by emilyw at 8:18 AM on March 23, 2009 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: I was at a job interview today and the CEO who interviewed me said, that if his company calls me up and I'm not there to answer, then it's goodbye.
That was after I had to go back to my place in thirty minutes and change into corporate attire for the interview, because walk-in interviews weren't specified in the want ad; usually you simply drop off your application and wait for them to call back. Basically I was bending over backwards for a position where I become a glorified dealer/marketer/sales trainer for some health drink: a questionable startup.
Brought it up with family and they pointed out that that kind of pressure was highly unprofessional. There I was so close to falling for them hook, line, and sinker, and I wasn't even officially accepted yet.
posted by drea at 8:24 AM on March 23, 2009

Until you get better at recognizing when people are scamming you, it would probably be a good idea to run any big decision that you're not sure about by a family member or friend that is more of a skeptic than you are. Or just post a question to AskMe about it. And as others have said, if you don't have enough time to talk to people or sleep on it before deciding, that's a good sign in itself that you're being scammed.

I need to have a poker face and not seem too eager or excited about anything.

I'm not sure if having a poker face will really help very much, because most likely most of the people who would con you would do it no matter what your expression is. But if you do want to develop a poker face, the answer is pretty obvious: play poker! It's a fun game, but more than that it does teach you how to make important decisions in stressful situations without giving anything away.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:25 AM on March 23, 2009

When anyone approaches you about anything that involves you giving money to them, assume it is a scam, a bad deal, or simply outright begging (note: don't try this with your taxes). You'll usually be right. Tell them you're not interested. Be blunt, and if that doesn't work, be rude.

In fact, this rule often applies for offers that purport to be free (as in credit reports, etc).
posted by adamrice at 8:27 AM on March 23, 2009

I think there is a lot of pressure to be nice to people all the time, especially for women. Speaking for myself, it's easier to say 'yes' to whatever someone is selling because I don't want conflict or for someone not to like me. However, it's possible to be nice and polite while still saying no. Just say 'No, but thank you.' or 'I'm sorry, but no.' Don't make it a question just be firm and repeat yourself. Also, don't make your refusal sound like a question (no? = maybe = yes) keep an upright posture (some people cringe or bow when saying no, and it makes them look uncertain).

It's also important to remove yourself from the situation quickly. Don't stay and listen to sob stories, or pleas. Stick to your original answer and get the heck out of there.

Finally, keep in mind that 99% of pressure tactics are pure BS. You don't have to buy something right that second, and in fact I never spend more than $50 on something without waiting a day. Again, remove yourself from the situation so you have some time to think, but ask for a business card so you can get in contact later.
posted by Alison at 8:29 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Robert Cialdini's book Influence comes up a lot on AskMe, and rightfully so. He identifies and takes apart the techniques people use to influence others, and gives you advice on how to recognize and resist those techniques.
posted by katemonster at 8:30 AM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Generally, getting burned in this big, bad life helps you develop a sense of caution, but I definitely don't recommend that.

As you get older and more things happen to you, take an offensive position rather than a defensive position. I don't mean going around offending everyone, but rather a take charge stance.

It's your money, it's your time. You are the Queen of your universe. You get to decide.

Sadly, some people (crooks or shady salesmen, manipulative people) already perceive you as weak, right out of the box. They will test you, push up against your boundaries to see how fluid they are. If you are susceptible to it, they'll push a bit more, and next thing you know, you're on the underside of the equation.

The less you know about what is acceptable to you, the harder time you'll have with people who push against your boundaries and pressure you to do something.

Don't have fluid boundaries. Be a brick wall.

Practice makes perfect, you'll get it :)
posted by Grlnxtdr at 8:33 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was at a job interview today and the CEO who interviewed me said, that if his company calls me up and I'm not there to answer, then it's goodbye.

Thats a dick move, I doubt anyone would be happy working for someone with that attitude. The problem here isnt you.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:43 AM on March 23, 2009 [10 favorites]

I second reading Robert Cialdini's book, Influence.

Also, learn to recognize logical fallacies and cognitive biases that other people may use, intentionally or unintentionally...and that you may use. Learning those really helped me in developing a better BS detector.
posted by sixcolors at 8:47 AM on March 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

Try to find a way to figure out the true motivations of the seller in these situations. No matter what someone is selling, whether products, opinions or religion, they are probably doing the same thing to you. They try to read you and find the easiest/quickest way to convince you their thing is something you should buy into. So it's absolutely fair to do the same thing.

Obviously, cold-call types of things are the easiest. Whether an actual phone call, or a guy on the street selling speakers, or a person in the mall asking for a moment of your time, they are 100% motivated to move their product. They don't care about you or your needs. These situation are almost never to your benefit. "Thanks for the info, what's your website?" is all you need to do. The more they push, the more you know they are full of shit.

(This includes "Hi this is Joe from [your phone company] and I'm calling to make sure you are happy with your service." They are fishing for more business, that's it. They know you are happy with the service, because you pay the bill and haven't called them to complain.)

Warm-sells are a little harder to parse. You walk into Best Buy and are looking for a TV. The sales people at best are going to try to match you up with a model that you'll buy today. At worst, they'll push you toward a product that gets them the most commission/spiff/profit. Or you call the cable company to change your service. They want to retain you as a customer and get you to spend more money. Or convert over to a different package so they get credit for a "sale". Their goal is to hype up the value of making the change they want you to make. "Yes, it's $10 more a month, but you get 1000 new channels!" Further, they are motivated to obscure the true costs. "You are paying $100 a month! That's crazy! If we move you to the XYZ program, it's only $75 a month, [mumble mumble mumble]." That mumbling is "for a limited time." You need to extract the true cost out of them and make your decision based on that. If you start feeling that "OMG, this is totally awesome and how can I wait" feeling, chances are you've missed some fine print somewhere. Step back and thank them for their time, and you'll make a decision and call back.

Friend-sells are the hardest. Some friend has a scheme and is trying to get you to buy into it. Maybe they really do believe you would benefit, maybe they are just taking advantage. You have to try and figure out which. Hard to do.

In a nutshell, learn sales techniques. This will help you recognize the patterns when someone is selling at you. And learn to separate emotion from the business at hand. Part of selling is trying to get the potential buyer to mix these things up. You can feel bad for your friend or like the person selling you that expensive microwave or the person in the bar trying to get you back to their place, but you have to remain dispassionate about your own interests. Because you can rest fairly assured, the salesperson is remaining dispassionate about *their* interests.
posted by gjc at 8:49 AM on March 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: gjc, thanks for the advice. I suppose the sadly ironic thing about suggesting that I learn sales techniques is that my background is in marketing and sales.
posted by drea at 8:55 AM on March 23, 2009

When I deal with these characters I think to myself "A scam is a form of stealing, thus I should treat this guy as a thief." Once I realize that its much, much easier to be rude to them.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:58 AM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Watch Glengarry, Glen Ross. It's over the top, but it's a brilliant exposition of how scammers think about you.
posted by amphioxus at 10:04 AM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

"Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement."

I pretty much walk away from anything that seems like a hustle, and believe me, what this CEO was trying to do is hustle you. I fact, if he had said that to me I would have confronted him point blank, "are you trying to hustle me?" That said, "sleeping on it," or otherwise taking longer to decide is always good strategy. Rarely does anything need to be decided on RIGHT NOW.
posted by rhizome at 11:27 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

simple. don't ever ask how much something is. if you do, a good salesperson knows you're interested--even if you're not. or if they say 'how much should this be worth?' say 'free.'

agree with the ape: that ceo sounds like a major problem.
posted by lester at 11:28 AM on March 23, 2009

Here's some advice for a specific sort of rip-off that hasn't been mentioned yet: construction and renovation. These rip-offs are particularly bad, as they can be expensive both for the initial work and for having the work redone if the initial stuff is crap.

1) Good workers are usually busy. If they say they're able to start right away, that should raise a flag. Perhaps not a deal-breaking bright-red flag, but pinkish-red enough that you should be wary.

2) Pay in milestones. Always. Some money up-front is alright, but the rest should be paid as parts of the job are completed. Insisting on 100% payment up-front is a huge red flag. These are the companies that do shitty work and disappear with your money, or do partial work and disappear with your money.

3) If they say you don't need permits or inspections of the work, check for yourself. If you find out that the planned job does indeed require those things, never speak to that company again. These are the people who try to buddy-up to you about saving you money on permit fees or taxes or whatever, and then do sub-par work (which can be dangerous when you're talking about shoddy structure, for example).
posted by CKmtl at 12:56 PM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I highly recommend the book by Gavin DeBecker called "Gift of Fear." As Alison said, there's a lot of pressure to be nice. Con men know this and take advantage of this to manipulate people. Gavin DeBecker claims that that pressure we put on our selves can get us into trouble, and sometimes dangerous trouble. DeBecker's book is helpful for learning to identify some of these tricks that con men use including the pressure cooker and "loan sharking." This is a book I recommend. I've bought and given away several copies of it to people I care about. The book version is reads like a novel or a really good seminar. There's also an audio book version.
posted by SocialArgonaut at 6:19 PM on March 23, 2009

I think I do a good job of avoiding these situations now. I use to politely say no thanks to the telemarketer,missionaries, salesmen, even my own bank trying to upsell me. Then I realised how liberating it is to say NOTHING! Phone call that asks for Mr or Mrs Saradarlin? I just hang up. No words, no excuses. Someone comes to the door to push something, I smile and close it gently in their face. Pushy furniture salesman, just walk on by! Not only do I never get suckered into having my carpets washed etc... I don't waste more than 4 seconds avoiding this fate.
posted by saradarlin at 8:36 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

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