I know one thing; that I know nothing. ~Socrates
Socrates was a master at looking like an idiot while being the smartest person in the room. It’s an incredibly effective strategy, and there’s even a term for it: The Socratic Method. It’s the process of asking innocent questions that trap your target before they’re aware anything’s wrong.
Basically, it’s the skill of being stupid like a fox.
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“Stupid like a fox,” is one of my favorite lines of all time, and it perfectly encapsulates the strategy we’re going to explore together.
In some ways, Homer is the epitome of the Socratic Method. He’s a bumbling idiot that everyone underestimates, yet everything seems to work out in his favor.
Over the years I’ve used the socratic method mixed with a healthy dose of human psychology to create something I call “Socratic Espionage.” It’s the closest you’ll get to being a master spy who can find out everything you need to know about someone, without them being able to stop themselves from sharing it.
Answers Without Questions
How many times have you been at a coffee shop, and overhear an incredibly personal conversation between two people? It’s amazing what people will share when they think nobody else is listening, isn’t it?
The instant they know you’re paying attention, though, they clam up. And, what would happen if you were bold enough to ask them a point blank question?
They’d tell you to get lost, right?
People hate telling you things. (Especially if they think it can be used against them!)
That’s why they won’t answer your questions. Information is power, and by refusing to answer you questions, they’re trying to maintain control of the situation.
Ask someone what their budget is for hiring speakers? Forget about it. They’re not going to tell you. They want you bid low because you’re desperate. They save money, and you miss out.
Need to know what the political landscape is in an office? Nobody’s going to take off the gloves and tell you what they really think of their manager. . . unless they’re an idiot. They don’t know where your loyalties lie, so they’re going to play it safe.
The more you appear to need something, the less willing people are to give it to you.
I wish it weren’t true, but it is. That’s just how things are. So how do we get around this?
Secret of Comedy
Humans laugh for only 2 reasons:
- They feel superior
- They feel surprised
That’s it. I’ve just ruined your ability to enjoy anything funny from now on. I don’t care what situation you propose, if it’s funny, it’s because it’s one or both of these things.
Socrates + Comedy = Success
People hate to tell you anything, but they love to feel superior.
More than that; they love to let you know they’re superior.
That’s the secret formula.
By using strategically incorrect statements (instead of fact-finding questions) you are going to by-pass your mark’s in-born hesitation to answer questions, and trigger their deep desire to demonstrate their superiority over you.
Let’s say you’re trying to find out how your friendly competition has been getting so much work lately.
You could ask them, “What’s your marketing strategy?”
Since it’s a direct question, you’ll get a vague answer. No good.
Try this instead.
Say something like, “I’ve been using Facebook marketing, and it’s pretty much useless.” You’ve demonstrated you’re failing which allows him to feel superior.
He will respond with one of two possible answers:
- Are you kidding me? We’ve been using them for 8 months, and it’s like printing money!
- Oh man, I feel you on that. We sank thousands into Facebook ads, and never saw a penny come back.
Either way he’s told you a very valuable piece of information about his marketing strategy.
So who cares that he thinks you’re stupid?
They don’t know you’re stupid like a fox.