Magic tricks and the Art of Persuasion

Magic tricks and the Art of Persuasion

Some people take the time to watch television. Others take the time to tell their vision. I try to do both. There are some brilliant magicians performing on TV these days. And their magic reminds me of how I got started in learning about the art of persuasion.

When I was in naturopathic medical school, a friend and I had the opportunity to work with a mentor who was exploring what was then a new frontier of mind/body medicine.  Because the impact of what he taught us had such a profound effect on our clinical practice, we felt a responsibility to share what we had learned with our fellow students.

We offered a ten-week experiential workshop on the relationship of language, thought and behavior in working with patients.  Though I did not know it then, that was the first workshop of what turned into my speaking and training career.

Our students called it ‘The Magic Workshop.’ We called it  ‘The Magical Nature of Communication’ workshop. But no matter what anyone called it, it caught on. It opened eyes, ears and minds to the possibility of helping people change from the inside out.

It really didn’t cost much to take that first workshop, about the same as my Insider’s Guide Playbook costs now.  But we had an unusual entrance requirement. If someone wanted to participate in the workshop, he or she had to demonstrate commitment by learning  and performing a magic trick for us.   This was long before I learned the words ‘Get a deposit.’ My thought at the time was that anyone willing to learn a magic trick to take the class would be committed enough to be a good student. I had no interest in working with people who had no real interest. That’s still true to this day.

Since we asked it of our students, we required it of ourselves as well. In preparing that first class, I learned a few magic tricks of my own and practiced them until I could perform them to the wonder of an audience. And along the way, I learned a few things about magicians and magic tricks.

I learned that Magicians like being in on the trick. And they enjoy watching each other succeed, though I’ve been told that they experience jealousy when someone comes up with a truly spectacular and hard to understand illusion. Competent magicians understand that while a trick appears magical to the non-magician, to their peers it appears technical and logical (technological!)

Magicians also understand that the trick only appears magical to the non-magician if it works!  And for a trick to work, there are two conditions. First, the magician doing the trick has to be good at the trick, and second, the audience watching the trick can not know how it’s done. Ergo, sum, MAGIC!  Magicians work really hard at learning to do a trick so that you can’t see how it is done.  And they never reveal how the trick is done to non-magicians.

 I see the art of persuasion, in fact all the arts of change, as a close match for magic metaphorically. The practice of the art involves something akin to learning and using a set of communication tricks. And once you get how it’s done, persuasion loses some of its magic for you, becomes a bit more technical and logical. But from that point on, when people practice the art, you notice it.

I believe that for everything that is lost, something else is gained. While I lost some of the wonder by learning the trick, I have gained a deeper pleasure and satisfaction in interactions that are less contrived and more connected.

You know the kind of interactions I’m referring to, right? Straight up, no messing around, honest to goodness authentic communication. The kind where people are curious to know each other at the deeper structure of their differences because of how interesting such things are. 

I wonder if you can imagine what good things can happen in a world where people understand the basic tricks of persuasion and enjoy using them, and watch each other use and perfect the art. Where people can engage with each other out of respect and genuine interest. I’m curious if it has occurred to you that such good could be more amazing than watching magic tricks!


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