“Agent of Influence: How to Use Spy Skills to Persuade Anyone, Sell Anything, and Build a Successful Business” by Jason Hanson is a practical guide on how to use proven spy techniques to bolster your business strategies.
Bestselling author Jason Hanson, a former CIA special agent and founder of Spy Escape School, reveals how anyone can use spy tactics for increased success. Hanson teaches readers how to develop a winning sales personality and target the perfect business opportunity using the SADR cycle—spotting, assessing, developing, and recruiting. With this invaluable and unique handbook, you will become a more productive and confident professional.
1) Key Spy Lessons
Know your contacts contacts.
Spies don’t just know their contacts, they take the time to learn who their contacts are connected to. Who are their relatives, their neighbors or co-workers, expand your network by figuring out your contacts know.
Look at their feet.
Any time you notice someone’s feet pointing away from the person to whom they are talking to, it’s a clear signal that they do not want to engage in the conversation any longer. If their feet are pointing towards the exit, they likely want to head that way.
Hold proper eye contact.
Research shows that most people are comfortable with eye contact that lasts about 3.2 seconds, any more and people begin to feel too intimate or even threatening.
Listen for key words.
When you’re developing a connection with someone, listen to words they emphasize or frequently repeat. These key words will often give you insight into the person’s life.
Repeat their name.
It’s said that a person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Make it a point to purposefully repeat the person’s name throughout a conversation to create the feeling that they are interesting and the center of attention.
Own your mistakes.
When something goes wrong in a business, the person in charge should take full responsibility, no matter whose fault it technically was. Take extreme ownership of the situation and set an example by fixing the problem, even if it wasn’t your wrongdoing.
2) Use the hourglass conversation to extract information
One of the most important skills a spy needs to have in their arsenal, is the ability to extract information from people without them becoming suspicious.
This is done through a technique called “the hourglass conversation.”
It starts with the spy talking about a broad general topic, then narrowing the conversation to a specific topic where they can learn valuable information, and then going to a broad topic.
This method works extremely well because people tend to only remember the start and end of a conversation and often forget what happened in the middle.
For example, lets say a spy is at a global conference and wants to extract information from a chemical engineer about the kind of work he does.
The spy would start by making small talk about the atmosphere of the conference and the lectures, then ask about the line of work the engineer does and what he enjoys about his job and then finish by asking if the engineer knows any good places to get food around town.
“People often remember the beginning and end of a conversation–but not the middle. This is why spies ask the probing question in the middle of the conversation. This is how they can determine if their target has what they want without coming off as suspicious.”
Here’s how author Jason Hanson used the Hourglass conversation to land a gig with a billionaire businessman:
Hanson was at an exclusive event and knew a billionaire who had been receiving death threats was at the event. Hanson figured he could provide the businessman with personal security and having him in his network would lead to more lucrative jobs.
However, Hanson couldn’t just walk up to the businessman and announce that he should hire him. In fact, almost everyone in the room wanted to talk to the businessman.
Instead, Hanson took a different approach and talked to the billionaire’s girlfriend. He opened the conversation by talking about the food and event (general broad topic). He shifted the conversation to work and told her about his security company (narrow topic). The girlfriend then mentioned that she had been worried about her boyfriend’s safety and was looking to bring people in since he wasn’t going to do it himself.
After receiving this gem of information, Hanson took the conversation broad again and talked about their favorite hobbies. The two then exchange contact info and went back to the event.
Hanson reconnected with the girlfriend two days later and she was glad to hear from him. She ended up hiring his security company to provide training to her billionaire boyfriend as well as his entire board of directors!
3) Build Alliances, Not Contacts
Hanson argues that finding a way to access someone isn’t the hardest part of networking, the real challenge is taking that relationship to a higher level.
Instead of having contacts, one should have alliances–an alliance is someone who views you as an asset in their own life, respects you as a peer and values your knowledge and expertise.
Alliances are built by making connections, finding commonalities and making the person feel comfortable.
The first main tactic intelligence officers use to build a relationship is matching and mirroring:
Spies will match and mirror the behavior of someone with whom they want to build an alliance since, generally speaking, people often feel more comfortable with others who are like them.
This technique involves observing the person’s posture, eye contact, physical proximity and other body language cues. “Mirroring cements the feeling that this person is a positive influence and someone we would like to have in our lives.”
A key point to remember is that you don’t have to mirror every behavior a person exhibits and to choose behaviors that feel natural and comfortable for you.
The second tactic is to create a bridge or establish commonalities with the person:
By sharing common interests you build rapport while gaining key insights into the person’s life.
Here are a few tips for building a bridge with someone:
Avoid one-upmanship where you try to be better than the person you’re talking to, don’t judge the person or they will avoid telling you personal information, don’t give advice unless specifically asked for, do not interrupt the person, make sure you’re an extraordinary listener, and use flattery but don’t over do it.
The third and last tactic is give to get to find common ground:
Most people aren’t going to openly share their fears or deep dark secrets with people they don’t know unless the other person opens up first or creates a warm, inviting outlet.
This doesn’t mean you dump your personal life story on a person you just met, but feel free to share bits and pieces of your personal life or your concerns about your business to get the other person to open up and start talking about their life or business.
Sincerity is equally as important as making useful connections so make it your goal to connect with people over a genuine commonality to achieve the best results. As Warren Buffet said, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
Never risk your brand or personal reputation to make a connection based on a lie, it’s not worth it.
“Agent of Influence” by Jason Hanson is an easy-to-read guide on how business owners and entrepreneurs can apply lessons from the spy world towards business.
The book has a similar vibe to “Extreme Ownership" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, while also adding key lessons about negotiation, sales, and even has a bonus chapter explaining how to get on TV.
Overall, I’ve found this book to be both interesting and practical. The author does get a bit irritating since he tends to constantly self-promote himself, but aside from that he provides engaging stories, useful pieces of advice, and summarizes important takeaways and the end of each chapter.
Thank you Dey St. for sending me a copy of this book!
Rating: 4/5 Stars
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