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The Possibility Shuffle

The Possibility Shuffle is a technique for weakening an objection. When a person has a specific option they’re convinced of, for example, “Your product is not good”, you simply insert other plausible options to confuse the person. Now, instead of one viable option, they have several, and the original one loses its value.

  • You simply ask a question in this format: “Is it possible that [ABC] and [ABC] are possible as well?”;

Our goal with this technique is not to convince them of your option at this point, it’s just to get them to lose conviction in their option.

  • Therefore the “Is it possible?” question. You just want them to admit it’s possible;
  • And once you do that, their initial option loses conviction;
  • It’s almost as if they have an extreme view, and you’re the reasonable person trying to break that extreme view;

Underlying Psychology/Biases

This technique works because the person is convinced of a particular option. But, by inserting similar ones, they lose that conviction in the original one, because there are now several possibilities.

It’s based on the more general principle of suggestion, so it shares some of the same characteristics:

  • The more that the person is open to your suggestion (and the more they trust you), the more easily they will be convinced of this. Also, the more extremist and the more of a zealot they are, the less this will work;

Sub-Techniques

  • For an added effect, make their initial option seem like a coincidence or a fluke
    • Scenario: Person wants to sell a home on their own instead of using you as an agent;
    • Option A: “Is it possible that using an agent is equally good, or even better, and we just haven’t considered it?;
    • Option B: “Is it possible that using an agent is equally good, or even better, and you just think that doing this on your own is not good, and you just believe it due to coincidence, or a random event?”;
  • You can take this a step further by using implementation intention on top of this:
    • Don’t just suggest other options, ask them how that would look like;
    • “John, is it possible that our product – and maybe others – are actually as good as this other one you want to buy, and that your original choice was just a coincidence?”;
      • “Well, who knows. Maybe”;
      • “OK. So let’s picture that for a second. If our product was just as good, how would that look like? What would it have as well in terms of features?”;
        • “Well, I guess it would do [ABC] and [ABC] as well”;

Examples

  • “Is it possible that [ABC]?”
    • When someone simply suggests that something else may be possible, they are using this technique. You’re forcing the other side to open their mind;
  • “What about [ABC]?”
    • When someone is very convinced of something and you suggest another alternative to them, you’re using a version of this technique;
  • “I’ll find a contingency”
    • When you’re thinking of doing something, but then, in case it doesn’t work, come up with an alternative plan, you’re using this on yourself. You’re “possibility shuffling” yourself;

Commercial/Known Uses

Key Takeaways

  • The goal of the possibility shuffle is to force the other person to open up their mind. To make them lose conviction in their option;
  • The best way to use this is to suggest options that are equal to their initial option. Because then, these automatically sound reasonable and are good alternatives;
  • You can accelerate this technique by making the person’s initial option seem like a coincidence, which takes away power from their initial choice;
  • For further effect, use implementation intention on top of this. Don’t just suggest an option, but force the person to visualize how they would make it happen;
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