The Power of Persuasion and an $85 Glass of Wine

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series. Click here for the previous article.

Gordon Graham here—hello again! In my last article I presented some thoughts on “information risks” and how people (some of them very clever, and some not so clever) can use actions and language to persuade you to change your thinking on a specific topic.

Since then, many of you have chimed in with your thoughts on how you were the victim of the clever person who said and did things to make you think a certain way—and you later learned you were fooled.

Do not feel stupid. This has happened to some very smart people over the years—and while I do not put myself in the “very smart” category—it has happened to me.

I was doing some work several years ago for the Army when I was approached by a ranking officer with quite the story. By the end of our conversation he had me convinced that “we” (the USA) got “played” by some very clever people in Iran over two decades ago.

Of course I was not taking detailed notes, but the gist of his tale was as follows: Iraq (in the Saddam Hussein days) and Iran were duking it out for years with neither having the edge militarily. Iran got to thinking, “We can’t beat them, but is there any country in the world that could? Yeah, the USA could do that easily. But why would Americans want to get involved in fighting Iraq? Hmmm. Perhaps if we convinced America that Hussein had ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ they would come over here en masse and do the job we cannot do.”

Now I am not a student of all that is going on in the U.S. military or the minds of our elected officials, but I wondered to myself if this theory could possibly be true. And if it could happen to the smart people running our military (and the others running the nation), could it happen to me?

If you do not get anything else out of this piece, remember this: NEVER VALET PARK YOUR CAR—NEVER, NEVER, NEVER!

On my recommended reading list is a book by Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It is a great read and it focuses on how someone can say things or do things to persuade you to do something or buy something. Cialdini has some great stories taken from his extensive studies and experiences.

Shortly after I read this book, Mrs. G and I went to a restaurant (recommended by one of her bridge group friends). As we pulled into the parking lot, I immediately knew I had no business at that restaurant! As I drove past the valet lot—where they park all the expensive cars up front to impress the clientele—there were Bugatti Veyrons and Rolls Royce Wraiths and McLarens. And I am thinking, “We do not belong here.”

Not to digress, but if you do not get anything else out of this piece, remember this: NEVER VALET PARK YOUR CAR—NEVER, NEVER, NEVER! Now why would I say that? OK, let’s go back to the last time you used a valet at a hotel. You pull in, they open your doors for you, they ask your name and then they ask, “How long will your stay be?”

Now you think you know why they are asking this—if you will be there just a short time, they will put your car up front to retrieve it quickly for you. Well, that might be true with some or most valets, but there are also some who will use this information to their benefit.

For example, you tell the valet you will be there for a week, and guess what? Your car becomes the “party car”—where they will sleep and listen to your radio and have all sorts of fun. (Have you ever got back in your car after a valet experience and noticed the radio station was changed or the volume was extremely loud? And you chalked this up to…? Guess what! Your car was the party car!)

Now I am not disparaging all valets here, but in every profession (including public safety) there are some people who are not good people. Your car becomes the car in which they smoke (or inject) their dope, where they watch porn or have sex or do other totally inappropriate things. Think I don’t know what I am talking about? Over the years when I was actively in the practice of law, I had clients (including some I knew very well) who found needles in their car, partial bags of dope, pornography, condoms (including used condoms) and a variety of other things that could cause you embarrassment or criminal issues.

Just put this in the back of your head. The valet has a history of arrests, and there is something in your car that indicates you are a law enforcement officer. Perhaps business cards, police memorabilia, stickers, license plate frames or correspondence. How much trouble would you be in if this valet (who does not like you or cops in general) purposefully left some dope in your car?

Here I go digressing again, but a related event occurred a few years ago involving Irvine Police Department (IPD) in California. Long story short, IPD gets a radio alert about a car driving erratically and the person reporting informs the 9-1-1 operator there is dope in the car. An Irvine cop (and this fellow deserves a lot of accolades and respect) locates the car, talks to the driver (no impairment) and legally retrieves the dope.

He could have made the arrest right then and there but something in his head said this is not adding up. You can read the full story online, but the bottom line is the cop decides not to make an immediate arrest and does some investigative follow-up and learns from the woman in the car that she had angered some parents at the school she worked at and they filed a complaint against her.

Again, long story short, the parents planted some dope in her car, called the cops from a pay phone, and hoped to get her in criminal trouble. Because of the excellent work on the part of IPD, both parents were arrested (both lawyers from excellent law schools) and convicted and the victim of their hate was awarded a substantial civil judgment.

But back to the restaurant. We park the car and go in and get seated and the server gives us a wine list. As I perused this list I noted a wine on the list that was priced at $85. That is a lot of money.

“Well Gordon, $85 dollars is not bad for a nice bottle of wine.”
Guess what? This is not the bottle list—this is the wine-by-the-glass list!

$85 for a glass of wine!! I can buy 10 large boxes of wine for $85! And the next glass was more expensive than that! Then I see a glass on this list for $62.50 (as if the 50 cents would impact their profit margin, but I guess they wanted to shake it up a bit) and in the middle of this lengthy list was a glass for $25. I started to chuckle internally, because Dr. Cialdini talks about this in his book.

Which glass of wine were they trying to get me to buy? The $25 glass! Think about this. If the only glass of wine on the list was $25, you would say, “This is an outrage—that is way too much for a glass of wine.” But when they surround the $25 offering with much more expensive wines, all of a sudden the $25 glass looks like a bargain. Heck, I might have had two of them!

I am now exceeding my word count, but I will be back to wrap this up in my next article. In the meantime, remember to never valet park your car.

TIMELY TAKEAWAYRead the full story here about the Irvine Police Department’s excellent police work in solving the planted dope case and ensuring justice was served. It’s not only a great reminder of how any of us can be framed by those with criminal intentions, but it’s also a reminder that law enforcement officers must pay attention to their gut and keep digging until they have the whole story.

Gordon Graham

GORDON GRAHAM is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.

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