A Man Bought a Horse (speaking to influence people)
In my junior year in college I took a course in Public Speaking.
The lesson on "Speaking to Influence People" came to mind recently.
The experience had a profound affect on me.
It provided me with an insight I apply to everyday situations.
I just thought I'd share it with you.
The Horse Problem
A man bought a horse for $60, and sold it
for $70. Then he bought it back again for
$80 and sold it for $90. How much did he
make in the horse business?
a. lost $10
b. broke even
c. made $10
d. made $20
e. made $30
After stating this problem, the teacher told
everyone to think of an answer. Then, she asked
someone what answer they came up with. She told
that person and everyone else with the same answer
to move to one corner of the room.
From the people still seated she asked someone else
for their answer. Again directing everyone with that
answer to a different corner of the room. Soon, all
four corners were filled and no one was left seated.
Then she said, "In each group select a spokesperson
to explain why your solution is correct." This being
done each spokesperson presented their reasoning,
after which the teacher said anyone who has changed
their mind and wanted to join a different group
should do so now. Some people moved, but very few.
"Choose another spokesperson and try again," she
This time I spoke for my group.
I first pointed out that I was a Math Major and that I'd
hear this riddle before. Then, I gave the answer and
showed by a specific example, starting the man with $100 in
his pocket and working through the problem, that he ended up
with $120 in his pocket.
When I finished, most of the people in the room seemed
convinced and began to move to my corner. However, the
teacher interrupted saying, "Before you change your minds,
I'm just going to tell you one thing. Yale's answer is wrong."
Everyone stopped moving. I immediately shouted,
to trick you. My answer is right. Think for yourselves!"
The teacher kept a straight face and calmly repeated,
"His answer is wrong."
No one moved to my group.
"Now," the teacher said, "return to your
seats and I'll
tell you the answer."
After we were seated, the teacher explained.
"Yale was right. But here are the lessons you
from this experiment on Speaking to Influence People.
First, I made each person stand in a corner so they'd be
identified with the choice they made. This meant it would be
harder to change their minds because they'd have to make a
physical and visible commitment.
Next, Yale's speech was very influential because
- he "claimed" to be an authority (math major),
- he "claimed" to have previous experience (heard the riddle before),
- he "showed an example" (so you could reach your own conclusion).
Finally, I told you he was wrong. This trumped Yale's
- as your teacher you "know" me as an authority figure,
- it was my riddle, so you "expect" that I know the answer,
- and you "believe" as an authority I wouldn't lie to you.
Furthermore, you "know" that as your teacher,
… I decide your grade." (control by fear)
Copyright © Yale Schwartz, 2008