Humanity: The Greatest show on Earth – What con artists can teach one about excelling in socializing

the great

Among swindlers and manipulators there are few out there who can hold a candle to the likes of P.T. Barnum. He’s famous for having created elaborate hoaxes, swivelled public opinion like a dime piece to whatever suited him, and creating the most famous circus out there – The Barnum & Bailey Circus, otherwise known as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Whenever people hear about him nowadays, they dismiss him offhandedly in saying he has nothing of value to teach people. Nevertheless, I say quite the contrary, like it or not, you do not become a master charlatan without an in-depth knowledge of what makes people tick. To be successful with people, you have to learn how to weave their innermost desires into your own machinations.

A few years ago, I was a very socially awkward person. Most people, when they get into adulthood, seem to know the rules of social interactions inside and out. However, it almost seemed that I had missed out when they were handing out the manual. In its place, I’d developed a fondness for psychology and I always tried to understand people through the lens of science, or through the eyes of people who understood people, like P.T. Barnum.

Everyone called me crazy, when I tried to do this, but I started seeing patterns. In a conversation, there is always an underlying rhythm, an underlying pattern. We don’t really notice this, but once it has been pointed out to us, we can’t but help seeing it everywhere. I believe that there are various levels of communication. For example, when you spend an afternoon with your friends, laughing, and without a care in the world. If I were to ask you, what new information you’ve learned, as a consequence of this prolonged interaction, you’d likely come to the conclusion that very little,if anything, has actually been learnt from several hours of conversation. Or I also noticed people’s tendency to have the exact same conversation, as if on a loop, without either party seeming to notice for weeks. Content thus would seem to be irrelevant, communication is more about sharing emotions than facts.

Nevertheless, talk to someone that you barely know, and you will exchange information. People will likely ask you the interview questions of where you’re from, how old you are, etc. As such, there seems to be an inverse correlation between content being shared, and how close you’re actually with someone, which I found fascinating. The more you know someone, the less you feel the need to know about them, and you simply enjoy their company.

This seemed logical, but then you have people with charisma, who simply evade this “information collecting” phase entirely, and seem to befriend or connect with people on sight. I always wondered how they did it. It wasn’t solely their looks, or the content of the speech, or whether they were confident in their body language. Con artists seem to have this natural tendency to do this. Psychics, for example, have often been known to drive people to tears, even if they just met five minutes ago, because they’re supposedly the medium between their audience and their dead relatives.

psychic-healer-leadP.T. Barnum used to famously say that he had something for everyone in his show. In a slightly different way, psychics do this too by offering seemingly very accurate statements about someone. Then, as the person has identified fully with this evaluation of his character, and no person (certainly not a stranger) could’ve known this, they then have no choice but to believe them in the rest of the amazing insanity that they have to offer.

In reality, what is happening here, is a combination of two different psychological effects. Firstly, there’s the Barnum effect. Humans have a tendency to be self obsessed, so we like to find meaning in the moon and the stars, so when someone says something that is vaguely applicable to us, we’ll latch on to it, and hold it as true and accurate, what we don’t realize is that these statements could be applied to just about anyone. To start with, here’s a small list of “Barnum statements”:

  • You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.

  • You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.

  • You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.

  • While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.

  • Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.

To create a fully successful Barnum statement we have to cut the noise in people’s lives and find the constants that happen in everyone’s lives, but they can’t be extremely obvious ones, they must show a bit of insight. In other words, what makes people, people? If you can see the patterns, then you can design these statements, which seem very insightful. To relate this to the topic of psychics again, they craft a statement like this, and have people latch on to it. As such, they artificially skip the “information exchange” phase, that happens when you are just meeting someone, because they supposedly show enough insight that it is no longer needed, and thus they go to where content is irrelevant and when people are the most vulnerable.

The second psychological effect in place here, is the so called “foot in the door technique.” Essentially, what this mechanism says is that when someone accepts a small request at first, they will be much more likely to grant a bigger request in the future. The request, in the psychic’s case, is trust. They initially ask the person to trust them that they can provide an accurate enough representation of them, once the audience agrees to this, they will be much more likely to give them an even larger amount of trust, and then believe that the psychic is truly supernatural. The same can be applied when trying to grow close with someone, you have to find a way of gaining their trust, and then build on said trust.

In other words, you can bypass people’s initial defensive stages, where they’re still on their guard and looking for information, by allowing them to fill the content in themselves. In a way this is similar to Socratic seduction, where the person seduces themselves, rather than the seducer, who merely guides the interaction. Consequently, what can the great con artists of old teach us about socializing and attracting women?

Human interaction, to a great degree, is about fantasy. No degree of reality can change this fact, which is why there’s people with BMW’s who can’t get anyone to genuinely care for them. To be intimate with someone, you have to share emotions, not a story or information, or wealth. The sole role of communication, in regards to intimacy, should be as a vehicle for emotion – not the other way around. Content is trumped by imagination. I think Napoleon well put it, when he uttered the words “Imagination rules the world”imagination

When you meet someone, in my view, the best possible thing that you can possibly do is to establish a connection, in a short amount of time,  by throwing a seemingly very accurate Barnum statement in the first conversation. This will then allow you to gain more trust, and you will be able to reap the fruits of connections with people, much faster than anyone else could’ve done. Having said all this, some people will claim that this is manipulative, as it is pressing the right buttons at the right moment.

I argue that we all do this subconsciously, we play this game with no ill intent, the only difference is that rather than throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks, you keep a note of the things that previously stuck and only throw those to find the most efficient one for your purposes. At the end of the day, when you play the game of thrones you win or you die – there is no middle ground. So we might as well, learn how to do it properly.


One thought on “Humanity: The Greatest show on Earth – What con artists can teach one about excelling in socializing

  1. Pingback: Lessons in Pop Culture II: Standup can teach you what women want – Tantalus Reborn

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