Sunday, October 2, 2011

Marinating in Listerine

   About six million years ago when I was in retail banking, I went through a lot of training, mostly for sales.  And in the course of that training a handful of psychological concepts took root in my brain.  Some worthwhile, others not so much.  Among them was something called, "The Listerine Effect."  A few of my old banking buddies might remember this.

   You use mouthwash, right?
   It burns, right?
   But that's how you know it's working, right?
   Despite the burn, you use it because it is working for you.
   Perhaps you already see where this is going.

   In sales, the Listerine Effect is the practice of deliberately laying out a product's worst features, its least appealing qualities, first, ahead of explaining its benefits.  Then you get to comfort your client with the good news.  It's sort of all uphill from there.  You get to prattle on about the bells and whistles because you have no downside to hide.  You've already delivered the blow.

   You kind of say it like a parent, "I know this is gonna be hard to swallow, but it's gonna be so good for you..."

   Example:  "Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Debttoratio, this home equity line of credit does have an annual fee.  It is a gazillion dollars.  However, your rate will never be more than half a point above prime!  Isn't that fantabuoluous?  Doesn't that make it worth every penny?"

   I got really, really, scary good at this you guys.  I sold a lot of bankish stuff using this technique, I believe for two reasons:

   A)  The Listerine Effect makes people surprisingly comfortable.  We all expect to hear a downside in the retail world, so once we do, we relax a little.
   B)  The speech patterns of this technique come super naturally to me.  Self criticism is in my bones.

   Here's the thing.

   This can be a slippery slope.

   It's a great sales tactic, but allowing this Listerine to spill out into your personal life not only erodes your self esteem; it affects how others see you.  A-N-D it potentially makes them quite uncomfortable.

    Example:  "I never bother cleaning up the house, I am so sorry it's messy when you're here."

   Another example:  "I could never pull that off, it looks so much better on her..."

   You, like me, might feel that by criticizing yourself upfront you are getting the obvious out of the way.  Maybe if you admit your flaws and failures then no one else can possibly lay claim on them.

   If I punish myself enough for everybody, 
then all that is left is acceptance, right?  Right?

   You could be flat wrong.

   You've not only drawn a spotlight to your perceived problem; you've sneakily obligated your companions to either agree with you or reassure you.


   This is often taken as fishing for a compliment, even if it's truly not your intention.  And it can build resentents and low opinions quickly.  Once you start marinating in Listerine, that is the environment for which you become known.  People get used to playing the cheer her up game when you're around.  Trust me.
   This is a habit worth breaking, folks.  Maya Angelou is often quoted to have said something I adore:

   "Surviving is important.  Thriving is elegant."

   Side note, personal opinion:  I used to think that with regard to how a woman presents herself, the only alternative to this weird subservience was arrogance.  I have had my fill of arrogant women for one lifetime, so I just never bothered trying.  What a mistake!

   None of us is perfect, and none of us is worthless.  We  need to hover somewhere away from both extremes, you know?  Honor humanity in ourselves and each other without getting wrapped up in either extreme of pride.
   If only for the comfort of your friends and colleagues, 
stop with the Listerine.



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