What does it take to bluff your way through anything? For that matter, what does it even mean to bluff your way into (or out of) something? What does it have to do with survival? That’s exactly what we’re going to take a look at today – and we won’t have to bluff our way through it!
What Does it Mean to Bluff Your Way Out of Something?
WritingExplained.com gives one of the harshest, but best, definitions:
“To lie to escape taking responsibility for something; also, to convince others of your competency. If you bluff your way out of something, you pretend to know what you’re doing to make others think that you are competent. Someone will do this to get what he or she wants, or to avoid punishment for something that went wrong.”
The idea of bluffing comes from the Dutch word bluffen (“brag”) or possibly verblüffen (“to baffle, mislead”). We’re perhaps most familiar with the act of bluffing in a game of poker – pretending you have a better hand than you really do so that other players will fold and you won’t lose the money you’ve already bet.
Today, we generally think of bluffing as a way to get into, out of, or through something. It’s all technically the same thing, but there are some sticky moral issues to consider.
Are you bluffing your way into a position you’re not qualified for, lying to avoid the consequences of your actions, or simply trying to get out of a situation you don’t belong in?
It’s this last position – bluffing your way out of a situation you don’t belong in – that has to do with survival.
The Art of Bluffing is the Art of Persuasion
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If you take a look at the definitions above, there’s a keyword missing: persuasion. To bluff your way into, out of, or through something requires the ability to persuade the other party to believe you.
Think about the movie Catch Me If You Can, with Leonardo di Caprio and Tom Hanks.
Frank Abagnale Jr. (played by di Caprio) is such an accomplished bluffer that by the time he’s 21, he “was a millionaire twice over and halfway again.” And he did it by posing as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and a legal prosecutor.
“Accomplished bluffer” is, of course, a euphemism for a con man. A con man is someone who persuades their mark to give him (or her) their money or property. The full term, confidence man, sheds a little more light on how it relates to the survival mindset.
Think about it this way: when SHTF and you find yourself in a difficult, even dangerous position, how are you going to get out? Forget about the Hollywood idea of a post-apocalyptic hero who blasts their way out of everything – that’s just going to get you killed. Instead, you’re going to find yourself having to bluff your way out of those situations.
For example, you’re hiking to your bug out spot after SHTF and your path crosses that of a group of strangers.
They look and act like they know more about Mad Max than actual survival and are more concerned with flashing their guns than remembering that doing so can actually make them more of a target.
If there’s no way to avoid interacting with them, you have a couple of choices:
- Join their posse, putting yourself at risk of getting shot by a trigger-happy nut with a short fuse, and end up leading them to your bug out spot and having your supplies and gear effectively stolen.
- Refuse to join forces, potentially setting off a trigger-happy nut’s temper or end up having them follow you to your bug out spot and having your supplies and gear stolen.
- Join their posse for the short-term, convincing them you have nothing of value to offer and pose no threat to them, helping to steer them away from your bug out spot before making a quiet escape either that same night or after a few days.
Which of these three do you think has the highest survival rate? The third, of course, because you’ve persuaded them they can trust you and have nothing worth stealing.
If you don’t know how to bluff properly, though, you’re going to end up raising their suspicions. They might end up deciding to off you on the spot, take you prisoner, or simply watch you closely and follow after you make your escape.
How to Bluff Your Way Through Anything
So, how do you bluff your way through anything? The simple answer is to practice persuasion skills. Here are the 4 biggest lessons we can learn from con men like Frank Abagnale Jr.
1. Listen More Than You Speak
It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that to successfully convince someone to trust you, you should have the gift of the gab and a silver-tongue. However, the most powerful tool a bluffer has in his bag of tricks is the ability to bond with others by listening to them.
In his book, The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man, David Maurer says: “Never interrupt a fink while he is talking. Be a good listener and he will immediately conclude that you are a young man of some note.”
FBI hostage negotiators use the same trick too. Here’s what Chris Voss, former head of international hostage negotiations, says: “The idea is to really listen to what the other side is saying and feed it back to them.”
This is how you gain someone’s trust – by allowing them to take you into their confidence. Once they trust you, you’re in a better position to persuade them.
2. Exude Confidence
At the risk of stating the obvious, confidence men are called that for a reason: they exude confidence, gain your confidence, and then exploit the confidence you have in them.
You’re not out to con people out of their money and property, of course. Instead, you’re looking to bluff your way out of a dangerous situation. The principles remain the same, however.
In Catch Me If You Can, Frank takes control of a 747 despite not knowing how to fly one: “I promptly put the giant jet on automatic pilot and hoped to hell the gadget worked, because I couldn’t fly a kite.”
How do you exude confidence when you don’t feel very confident? Through embodied cognition – standing, sitting, moving, and talking as if you were full of confidence.
Or, to put it in Frank’s words once again: “Top con artists, whether they’re pushing hot paper or hawking phony oil leases, are well dressed and exude an air of confidence and authority. They’re usually as charming, courteous, and seemingly sincere as a politician seeking reelection.”
In other words, fake it by assuming the role of someone who is confident, and eventually, you’ll be genuinely more confident.
Being well-dressed projects trustworthiness in real-life situations, the same way that Frank uses “the uniform and the trappings of an airline pilot” to take advantage of the fact people think of airline pilots as “men to be admired and respected, men to be trusted.”
Don’t fake who you are, of course. But don’t neglect the small things that project trustworthiness through the way you dress, talk, stand, sit, move… the list goes on.
To use our earlier example of a SHTF situation where you need to bluff your way away from a dangerous group, think of ways to project the idea that you know how to look after yourself without being a threat.
The idea is to make them think you need them as much as they might want to have you around, but never one too much more than the other.
As with everything else in the survival game, it’s all about research.
In Catch Me If You Can, Frank tells us that he would go to unusual lengths to get the information he needed to properly pass off a fake check or himself as a Pan Am pilot.
He would call the airline carrier and pretend to be a reporter for his high school newspaper so he could interview pilots to uncover the kind of information he needed, which wasn’t available in books and magazines.
The more you know, the better prepared you are to survive. That’s true when it comes to bluffing your way through anything, too.
What’s the one unique thing you’ve learned here to bluff your way into anything? Let us know in the comments section!