Socrates, “the gadfly of Athens,” was one of the greatest philosophers the world has ever known. He did something that only a handful of men in all history have been able to do: he sharply changed the whole course of human thought; and now, twenty-four centuries after his death, he is honored as one of the wisest persuaders who ever influenced this wrangling world.
His method? Did he tell people they were wrong? Oh, no, not Socrates. He was far too adroit for that. His whole technique, now called the “Socratic method,” was based upon getting a “yes, yes” response. He asked questions with which his opponent would have to agree. He kept on winning one admission after another until he had an armful of yeses. He kept on asking questions until finally, almost without realizing it, his opponents found themselves embracing a conclusion they would have bitterly denied a few minutes previously.
The next time we are tempted to tell someone he or she is wrong, let’s remember old Socrates and ask a gentle question—a question that will get the “yes, yes” response. The Chinese have a proverb pregnant with the age-old wisdom of the Orient: “He who treads softly goes far.” They have spent five thousand years studying human nature, those cultured Chinese, and they have garnered a lot of perspicacity: “He who treads softly goes far.”
Eddie Snow, tells how he became a good customer of a shop because the proprietor got him to say “yes, yes.” Eddie had become interested in bow hunting and had spent considerable money in purchasing equipment and supplies from a local bow store. When his brother was visiting him he wanted to rent a bow for him from this store. The sales clerk told him they didn’t rent bows, so Eddie phoned another bow store. Eddie described what happened:
“A very pleasant gentleman answered the phone. His response to my question for a rental was completely different from the other place. He said he was sorry but they no longer rented bows because they couldn’t afford to do so. He then asked me if I had rented before. I replied, ‘Yes, several years ago.’ He reminded me that I probably paid $25 to $30 for the rental. I said ‘yes’ again. He then asked if I was the kind of person who liked to save money. Naturally, I answered ‘yes.’ He went on to explain that they had bow sets with all the necessary equipment on sale for $34.95. I could buy a complete set for only $4.95 more than I could rent one. He explained that is why they had discontinued renting them. Did I think that was reasonable? My ‘yes’ response led to a purchase of the set, and when I picked it up I purchased several more items at this shop and have since become a regular customer.” Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends & Influence People.”
In talking with people, don’t begin by discussing the things on which you differ. Begin by emphasizing—and keep on emphasizing—the things on which you agree. Keep emphasizing, if possible, that you are both striving for the same end and that your only difference is one of method and not of purpose. Get the other person saying “Yes, yes” at the outset. Keep your opponent, if possible, from saying “No.” A “No” response, according to Professor Overstreet, is a most difficult handicap to overcome. When you have said “No,” all your pride of personality demands that you remain consistent with yourself. You may later feel that the “No” was ill-advised; nevertheless, there is your precious pride to consider! Once having said a thing, you feel you must stick to it. Hence it is of the very greatest importance that a person be started in the affirmative direction