5 Simple Ways to Play With People’s Heads and Get Ahead in Business and Life

While real-life conversations on this topic are typically reserved for talk between salespeople and “pick-up artists,” anyone who works in business can benefit from learning more about human psychology so they can form faster friends with people, network more effectively, get the truth out of people with less effort, and make them agree with you more often.

I know at least a few of you out there are saying something like this right now: “What kind of person is the author to resort to mind tricks to get people to do what he wants?” I promise, the following tips are merely a way to use natural human thought patterns and behavior to your immense advantage in business and in life. Nothing I discuss on this page is inherently deceitful or phony in any way.

Business partners having a business conversation

1. Use the right amount of eye contact

Too short and you’re lying, disinterested or shy. Too long and with some people you’ll rank right up there with the likes of Charles Manson and his notorious deeply penetrating and disturbing gaze. A good rule of thumb is to maintain eye contact for 40 – 60 second bursts, following with a 5 – 10 second rest time for both you and the other person.

If you’re dealing with someone who insists on staring you in the eye and you find you need a break, focus on maintaining contact for at least 60% of the conversation in order to gain their trust. Always shift your gaze to the side, not up or down, whenever possible.

2. Say their name

Not the “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah” kind of playground name calling, but actually using a person’s name when you talk to them. A good rule of thumb is to say their name at least three times in the first 5 minutes of a conversation. This will help you remember their name of course, but it also starts to immediately break down any walls they might be putting up.

Do it naturally, saying your “Hellos” and “Goodbyes” followed by their name. Work the name in every few minutes naturally during the conversation before or after asking a question like “Where are you from / How did you manage that / How’s your wife doing, Ted?” Shorter conversations can be kept to a simple “Hi there, Ted” at the start, following buy a “Nice to meet you / Nice seeing you again / Talk soon, Ted” at the end.

3. Open up by opening your hands

When you open both your hands up while gesturing, it automatically makes you someone who’s more trustworthy. This is Human Psychology 101. Watch any politician and you’ll note that all the high-profile ones will rarely if ever close their hands up, or have them lying on a desk or podium. They’re always gesturing in an open-palmed manner.

Keeping your palms hidden or down at your sides can denote disinterest, shyness or deception, just like poor eye contact can. Clenched hands can be effective, but only at select times (learn more about hand gestures and what they convey).

Hand gesture in business conversation
photo credit: Daniel Schildt / Flickr

4. Bob your head

I’m not talking like a bobblehead doll or anything extreme like that. The act of nodding while having a conversation is one that’s become lost to many of you out there. Ask any successful salesmen what they do after making any sort of pitch and nodding and smiling will likely be the most common answer you get.

Nodding is a very quick and effective way to gain trust, respect, and agreement from the other person you’re talking with. They’re more likely to continue engaging with you when you nod after they’ve made a point. And they’re more likely to agree with you when you nod just after you finish asking a question or making a request of some kind.

5. Use uncomfortable silences to get what you want

One of the worst traits one can have during a negotiation is that to rescue people when you’ve asked them a pointed question and they suddenly freeze like a deer in the headlights. Uncomfortable silences are a great way to get what you want, be it information or if you’re asking a potential customer for a sale and they’ve run out of ready excuses as to why they don’t want your product.

This one’s a boardroom favorite. Resist the urge to swoop in for the rescue and wait them out!

Combine all above for the win!

Now it’s time to combine these 5 powerful conversation skills together in real life situations. Don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t get them right on the first or second attempt at change. You might stare into someone’s eyes a little too long for their liking, or find yourself ending every sentence with their name and make yourself look like a desperate dunderhead, or find you just can’t hang during those oh-so-awkward silences that crop up during an intense conversation.

The key is to keep at it and you’ll soon find that you’ve become a master networker, with the entire world ready to do your bidding!