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November 5, 2004

How to Talk Your Way Out of Anything

woman in black blazer and lace skirt

The two faces of lace: cool and casual by day

Photo Credit: Chris Militscher

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Star Trek’s Jean Luc Picard had a certain savoir faire, a style of getting out of dilemmas smoothly and quickly — like when he tricked “Q” into promising never to meddle with humanity. I’m no Starfleet captain; I am an average 30-something who dislikes speeding tickets, jealous girlfriends, and unnecessary personal inquiries. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to talk my way out of hot spots, and as a business owner I’ve studied how others squirm before the sharp end of my own questions. Here are a few tips that have worked....

It worked on Ezra, a high school bully I dodged for an entire semester after beaming him in the back of the head with a juicy seeded grape. The easiest way to talk your way out of a jam is not to put yourself in that situation at all. In short, be prescient and avoid confrontation. Avoidance may delay the inevitable, but it may also give you time to prepare and your adversary time to cool off.

Avoidance is also possible, but not as easy, in conversation. Simply changing the subject rarely works. Instead, create a conversational diversion such as a compliment, “call-waiting,” and in extreme cases, poor cell phone reception (that’s right, hang up).

Explain (in Detail)
Oscar Levant said, “There’s no problem so simple a little explanation can’t make complex.” Indeed, every time I try to get straight answers from my IT team I end up wading neck-deep in geek-speak. Talk your way out of a jam by making your opponent regret ever asking their elementary question. Elucidate, expose, and expound upon your explanation enigmatically and inscrutably. Add an argumentative tone or a “that’s a stupid question” to your verbal defenestration and your sophistry will be complete ... or whatever I just said.

The Power of Suggestion
A master stroke of conflict avoidance, or, as I like to call it, my coup d’état. One morning while driving unbuckled in my convertible, I was waved to the side of the road by a police officer at a seat-belt checkpoint. “Why aren’t you wearing your seat belt?” he barked as I stopped the car. And then I did something that would have made Miss Cleo, Mind Freak, and every other intuitive out there proud. “Excuse me?” I answered before I knew what I was doing. “You just watched me take my seat belt off as I was pulling over. You were looking at me the entire time!” The deer-in-the-headlights look on his face was priceless. I had just rocked his entire world, I shook the very foundation of his sanity, I blew his mind — and he let me go! Never underestimate the power of suggestion.

When confrontation is unavoidable, consider deferring to another authority (your friend, your boss, your mother). I see it regularly as a real estate investor; the person with whom I am speaking is uncertain about giving a price, so they “have to check with someone.” It can be an effective, albeit freshman, approach.

Lie, or Be Selectively Honest
In his “The Decay of the Art of Lying,” Mark Twain said it best: “Lying is universal — we all do it. Therefore the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect.”

Practice these tips, and at the least, they may get you out of your next traffic stop.

Ian Charles Parrish is an investor and president of Investors United School of Real Estate, America’s first professional school for real estate investing. For more advice, Ask Ian.

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