The Law of Paradoxical Intent

A favorite sales tactic of many of my clients, is the anti-suggestion.

The basis for this sales tactic is the Law of Paradoxical Intent:

If you’re desperate to make something happen, and you try to control events and people, you push away the very people you want to influence and you prevent the desired outcome.

Role Reversal

The term “anti-suggestion” comes from therapy.

If therapists make suggestions, their patients fight their suggestions.

This push back is called “reactance.”

This is true in sales, too.

As an example, the “tie-down” is a sales tactic, that sounds like, “Mr. Buyer, wouldn’t you agree that if we could show you a 20% saving you should act?”

If you try to “tie-down” a buyer, you will not gain agreement. You will create resistance.

The inverse is also true. The anti-suggestion is the opposite of the “tie-down” and has the opposite effect.

If I say, “Perhaps doing nothing is your best option?”

The buyer’s subconscious mind begins to think Steve doesn’t sound like he needs my business, Steve must be doing well, Steve must have good stuff.

If you are skeptical and ask “How will you justify the cost of a solution just for your group?”

The person replies, “Well, it’s justified because…’

If you gracefully offer to exit, more often than not, they keep you engaged. This creates a role-reversal. The buyer is convincing the seller.

Here are some examples of specific questions to help you implement this conversational sales tactic.

Following up a Download

  • Did I catch you at a bad time? (Concerned)
  • This is the dreaded sales follow up call – do you want to hang up? (Playful)


  • You haven’t mentioned any need for speed on this project. Is that because there is none?

Personal Priority

  • For you personally, this is not a front burner issue?

Organizational Impact

  • The impact is limited to your department?

Support of Others

  • It’s not on other people’s minds?

Financial Impact and Cost Justification

  • Building the business case will be difficult in this case?

Solution Fit

  • So, in your eyes, our solution looks like overkill?

Closing for the Appointment

  • Your call. Should we find a way to explore this further, or is it time to pull the plug?

Is it Manipulative?

As with all sales techniques, the intent behind the technique determines its impact.
I suggest that if we don’t ask questions like this we are PRESUMING.

Presuming has two meanings in the dictionary:

  1. Arrogant
  2. Guessing

If we do not ask these questions we are presuming:

  • This buyer has a need.
  • The buyer is aware of the need.
  • This need is a priority to this buyer.
  • Acting on this need is cost-justified in this buyer’s mind.
  • This need is a priority to the buyer’s organization.
  • Our solution will resolve the buyer’s need.
  • Our solution is the best solution available to this buyer.
  • This need is a justifies action now, above other priorities.

If you share this belief, then it will support the use of the anti-suggestion.

The best anti-suggestion is an honest anti-suggestion.

If you accept that you are presuming otherwise, that belief will impact your demeanor, so that you signal the positive intent that makes this tactic effective.

Anti-suggestions are powerful with the right tone and dangerous with the wrong tone.

Anti-suggestions create a role-reversal.

The buyer convinces the seller; not the other way around.