Ifs, Ands, and Thens

If you own shoes, then you’ll enjoy this article. Keep reading. It’s all about simple logic: “IFs,”  “ANDs,” and “THENs.” Of course, IF you read that statement, THEN you’ll probably noticed at least 3 things:

  1. The statement “if you own shoes, then you’ll enjoy this article” has an “IF” and a “THEN” but no “AND.”
  2. The statement is completely illogical.
  3. You’re still reading anyway.

The Almighty Syllogism

IF logic exists, THEN one of the fundamental practices of logic is the “syllogism.”

Syllogism: A form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two given or assumed propositions (premises).     –Oxford Dictionary

For example:

Premise 1: IF you wear shoes,
Premise 2: AND IF people who wear shoes like this article,
Conclusion: THEN you will like this article.

That’s a syllogism: One premise IF, followed by a second premise “AND IF” if followed by a “THEN” conclusion.

Only one problem–the supposed syllogism above is obviously not true. It sounds wrong. Premise 2 seems a little off. All people who wear shoes don’t read this blog!  I wish.

For my argument to sound logical, the syllogism in my argument has to “make sense.” Maybe something like this:

Premise 1: IF you want to be more persuasive,
Premise 2: AND IF this article teaches persuasion techniques,
Conclusion: THEN you will like this article.

That sounds more logical!

IF I use a valid syllogism, AND if you accept the syllogism as logical, “THEN” you accept my argument.

The Semblance of a Syllogism

Src: commons.wikimedia.org

Here’s where it gets interesting.

That last syllogism isn’t technically true either. Do people accept your argument just because your argument is logical?

Have you ever tried to convince someone their religion is wrong?

Have you ever tried to convince someone their politics are wrong?

Logic isn’t enough.

You can never convince someone of anything with YOUR logic. You can only convince someone of your argument with THEIR logic.

Does anyone say “I changed religions because the logic made sense to BOB.”

No! They say “I changed religions because the logic made sense to ME.”

In other words, in a truly ironic way, IF you want to make your logic more persuasive, THEN you have to be less logical. IF you want to persuade someone of  your argument, THEN you can’t use just your own reasoning, you have to use the other person’s reasoning–even if the other person’s reasoning is wrong.

You don’t necessarily create a true syllogism, but only the “semblance of a syllogism.” IF you give someone a pure syllogism, THEN their bias allows them to reject your argument out of hand. On the other hand, IF you can get them to create the syllogism for themselves, it’s not YOUR logic; it’s THEIR logic, and it’s much harder for them to reject their own logic.

How do you create the “semblance of a syllogism?” Easy.

Leave one step out.

Leaving the Logic Out

IF you want to leave room for listeners to fill in their own logic, THEN you have two choices: leave out one of the IFs, or leave out the THEN.

Premise 1: IF you want to be more persuasive,
Premise 2: < unstated >,
Conclusion: THEN you will like this article.

puzzle_black-white_missingThe statement “IF you want to be more persuasive, THEN you will like this article” is technically not good logic. This article might be about shoes.

Nevertheless, by leaving out the second premise, you force the listener to fill it in for themselves.

When the listener subconsciously adds the second premise, that “this article is about public speaking and persuasion techniques,” the logic becomes valid to them–and since I didn’t explicitly state the second premise, it becomes more persuasive.  It’s more persuasive because it’s the readers syllogism, not mine–at least the reader feels like it’s their own.

You’ll notice that almost every IF statement I’ve used so far has left out the second premise. I could just as easily leave out the first premise:

Premise 1: < unstated >,
Premise 2: IF this article teaches persuasion techniques,
Conclusion: THEN you will like this article.

This time, my words only make sense if you subconsciously complete the syllogism yourself by telling yourself the first premise: “I would like to be more persuasive.” Since you have two premises to choose from, just ask which premise is more universal to your audience. State the universal premise and leave the other one out.

Here’s the last example, this time I’ll leave out the conclusion:

Premise 1: IF you want to be more persuasive,
Premise 2: AND if this article teaches persuasion techniques,
Conclusion: THEN …

Of course in practice I would use more natural language:

Do you want to be more persuasive? This article will teach you a reliable persuasion trick.

I never explicitly state the conclusion that “you will like this article” and by NOT doing so, you, the reader, complete the logic yourself and keep reading.

It’s not a real syllogism, just the “semblance of a syllogism.”

Logical Short Circuit

The example above might seem obvious–because it’s based on REAL logic. Let’s take the persuasion up to the next level. Believe it or not, the “semblance of a syllogism” technique works even if it’s NOT logical.

confused-muddled-illogical-disorientedIF I tell you people who wear shoes like my blog, THEN you probably won’t believe me, because that’s MY faulty logic. On the other hand IF you tell yourself that people who wear shoes like my blog, THEN you will believe it.

Think about those friends who have different religions and political beliefs than you. Is their belief logical? To you no, but to them, YES!

In order for them to be persuaded into those crazy beliefs, it doesn’t matter if the argument actually is logical; it only matters if they believe it’s logical–and as long as they come up with the argument themselves, they’ll believe it.

In other words, when you leave a step out of the syllogism, you allow them to make up their own argument (even if it’s false) and they become more easily persuadable.

Example 1

Have you ever seen a TV commercial portraying a woman who lost 50 pounds eating a specific brand of boxed meals?

Premise 1: I lost 50 pounds eating XXX brand
Premise 2: You can eat XXX brand
Conclusion: You will lose 50 pounds

It’s completely illogical! It’s not true and they have no scientific basis to say such a thing. In fact making the claim would be illegal. So they don’t.

They leave the conclusion out: “I lost 50 pounds eating XXX brand. You can eat XXX brand too.” They don’t complete the syllogism. Millions of people fill in the unstated, and illogical conclusion themselves: “I will lose 50 pounds,” and they willingly part with their money.

Example 2

How about the typical multi-level marketing pitch:

Premise 1: Steve worked just 10 hours per week and made $120,000 his first year.
Premise 2: < unstated >
Conclusion: You can make a six figure income.

Now, the untrained persuader will say premise 2 out loud: “You can work just 10 hours per week.” The master persuader leaves those words unspoken.

The listener who automatically tells themselves, “Yeah, I can find 10 hours per week to do this” will be more convinced because they persuaded themselves. The listener will feel less manipulated as well–even though they were more manipulated (and even though the logic is unsound).

Step-by-Step IF-AND-THENs

Step 1: Determine the conclusion (THEN) that you want the listener to reach:

Conclusion: I want you to read my blog.

Step 2: Determine a premise (IF) that fits the target audience:

Premise (manipulative): You own shoes.
Premise (logical): You want to be more persuasive.

Step 3: Complete the syllogism with the missing AND:

Manipulative: IF you own shoes, AND if people who have shoes like my blog, THEN you’ll like my blog.

Logical: IF you want to be more persuasive, AND if this article teaches persuasion techniques, THEN you’ll like this article.

Step 4: Remove one step. If you are being honest, remove whichever step is less universal. If you are trying to deceive, remove the illogical step.

As always, don’t try to deceive! Use your persuasive powers to good!

In my public speaking courses and presentation skills workshops, this is an advanced technique. It works because of the blue “Empower the Individual” principle. IF you would like to start with simpler, more fundamental techniques, THEN start with the techniques in my SpeechDeck Essentials card deck.

IF-AND-THENs the Easy Way

IF you want to make this technique as simple as possible, THEN just start using the word “IF” more often. Make sure the IF relates to something that is universally true for the listeners:

  • Raise your hand IF you …
  • IF you want more money …
  • IF you noticed the rain outside …
  • IF you want more free time …
  • IF you love to laugh
  • IF you ever had a friend …
  • IF you remember …

When you do, the listener’s brain spends it’s time judging the validity of the IF instead of worrying about “unimportant” details like whether or not the logic is valid. Once you have a universal premise, tie your product or argument to the premise:

IF you’ve ever had a person make you feel dumb, THEN you’ll love my SpeechDeck public speaking skills system.

The end result is that the listener automatically accepts the THEN–even when the logic is invalid:

IF you own shoes, THEN you’ll enjoy this article.

Subconsciously you’re not asking yourself if it makes sense, you’re saying “Yeah, I own shoes!” and that feels like you’re filling in the logic, even though you’re not.

The logical, reason-craving part of your brain gets the excuse it wants–“I own shoes”–and you keep reading this article or listening to the speech.

And just so I’m not misunderstood–don’t be dishonest. IF you want to be an ethical persuader or powerful public speaker, THEN make sure the premise is true.

All it takes is an IF, and AND, or a THEN, but not all three.

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