8/4/14 The Adventure of the Door to Door Salesmen

Summer comes with bright, cobalt blue skies, soaring temperatures, blockbuster movies, trees heavy with leaves, the jingle of the ice cream truck, the smell of tanning lotion, the splash of wading pools, family picnics and waves of door-to-door salesmen. You may not even own a carpet, but these career-deprived young men will press you to buy one just so that they might clean it for you.

During a recent infestation of fleet-footed door-to-door salesmen one in particular announced that he was in the neighborhood "not to sell me anything," but wondered if I knew anyone who might be interested in a wireless home security system. No pressure on me. This way I could relax and just talk. He wasn't trying to sell me anything. Yeah, right.

He gestured with a sweeping hand up and down the street as if he were a grand orator addressing congress and spoke about the wisdom of home security. He droned on, avoiding eye contact, working his way through his script, and if all went well he would end up with me signing on to his security system. If I would only allow his company to place a sign in my yard advertising their system (which works wirelessly, by the way) in exchange he could have an alarm system installed in my home for free (imagine that!). Of course, although he didn't mention it installing the system for free didn't mean I wouldn't have to buy the system in the first place and it didn't mean I wouldn't have a monthly charge for the ongoing service. Trivial details, really.

In the past I brushed these rogues off and not always too gently when they don't take no for an answer, but now I've come to use these interactions as an opportunity to practice a special kind of hypnosis.

Hypnosis comes in many forms. It can be stage hypnosis in which the hypnotist incites a dozen twenty-something hyper-extroverts to behave like monkeys. It can be your friendly neighborhood hypnotherapist steeling your resolve to stop smoking and or to toss those chocolate covered doughnuts in the trash. Hypnosis is also what advertising agencies do when they dig deep into your subconscious mind to suggest that you pay good money for bottled water when it flows virtually free from the tap.

Conversational hypnosis is hypnosis that is done without the person on the receiving end being aware of what's taking place. Conversational hypnosis rarely ends in trance, but reality for the hypnotee (that is, the person being hypnotized) has been altered and not always in his best interest. This is the world of advertising and sales, friends. It's what we get when we live in a capitalist economy.

Conversational hypnosis is like fencing. Words are foils. Cunning and wit are more important than strength, but two can play at that game when the interactions are face to face.

The match between the door-to-door salesman and me had started, and I knowingly let my opponent grow confident and build a full head of steam. I smiled at him. I nodded in understanding. When he was at full power I stabbed my finger at the sky and said with my voice full of wonder, "Would you look at it rain!" which it conveniently was. This broke his train of thought completely. He smiled and said, "Yeah, look at it come down." We chatted amiably for a minute about the weather. You see, his heart wasn't really in selling the alarm system. It wasn't his company after all. It was a job and a temporary one at that. I'm sure he didn't actually like what he was doing. You have to be some kind of masochist to actually enjoy selling door-to-door.

Then I said, "Well, enough about the rain. Let's get to the point and wrap this up. What is it you want?"

I'd shifted the game to my terms. I forced him to make his case, to end his conversational hypnotic induction, following which I could then give my response with the famous negative monosyllable.

He licked his lips knowing he'd lost the advantage, but still he pressed ahead. He said, "Would you be interested in having us install a security system in your home?"


Sales people I'm told are trained to get their customers to identify obstacles. Once these are identified then they can overcome them one at a time.

He said, "Is it the price?"

"No." (Price? I thought it was free. But I didn't dare give voice to this thought otherwise I'd give him the discussion he needed to wear me down.)

"Is it the service?"


"Don't you want to make your house secure?"


My replies were the classic method called "broken record." The technique demands that you give the exact same answer in the same tone as many times as necessary. You can't give any other answer or even variation of this answer. If you reply, "Not interested," instead of "No" you've broken the pattern and this might allow a point for a skilled salesperson to wriggle in.

The salesman was stumped, defeated, squashed, neutralized. Still I don't like to let anyone leave feeling bad. They're just trying to make a living and let's face it, good jobs still aren't plentiful. Think about how desperate you'd have to be to sell door-to-door. So I told him that while I wasn't interested in a security system nor did I know anyone in the neighborhood who would be I wished him good luck. Simple. Positive. Clean. You can't take luck to the bank, but it's better than being tossed out on your ear.

He left grumbling. In the meanwhile I hope he's found more suitable employment like being a barrista or some other harmless McJob.

Of course, that didn't staunch the flow of salesmen. Within days a second salesman rang the doorbell. Another hypnotic technique is called pattern interrupt. Whenever something radically different happens from what we expect our minds do a bit of a jump while trying to cope. During this jump we become vulnerable to suggestion.

In this second case I opened the door and saw the smiling face of yet another young salesman. I clapped my hand to my head dramatically and said, "Oh no! Not another salesman!"

This broke whatever mental preparation the young man had taken. "You've been getting a lot of us, huh?"

I nodded.

"Okay, then, " he said, "Have a nice day." And he left without another word.

My latest encounter I decided to follow another line. As a hypnotist I'm always looking for practice my art as often as I can. I reframed the idea of these salesmen not as people trying to sell me anything, but as a kind of hypnotee home delivery. Think of it. A service which delivers subjects to your front door for you to practice your art.

A particularly vigorous shave-and-a-haircut rap sounded at the door. "This has to be a salesman," I said to my wife with enthusiasm and rushed to open the door. A young black man stood on our porch smiling the salesman's smile. Without giving him a chance to say even one word I said, "I'm a hypnotist. Would you like to experience hypnosis?"

He blinked at me in surprise. "Really?" he said.

"Sure. Interested?"


He proved to be a good subject. He quickly entered into hypnosis. I gave him positive suggestions about feeling good and managing stress. I brought him back out, asked how it was ("It was relaxing."), shook his hand, and sent him on his way — all in under two minutes.

Now I could have played a prank on him, made him forget his name or imagine he was being chased by a dog, but that would defeat what the purpose of hypnosis is: to improve our lives.

Most salesmen leave with either a sale (probably a relatively rare occurrence) or they get the door slammed in their faces. I don't want anyone to leave my company with the feeling of a bad experience. Unless the salesman is rude, I send them away feeling that the world is a good place to be. And why not?