The Importance of Inoculation

In the book, Persuasion Engineering, and in workshops of the same name, Richard Bandler and John La Valle discuss the concept of “inoculation.” In medicine, the shot you receive to inoculate you against a particular disease anticipates your exposure to a pathogen and teaches your immune system how to respond appropriately so that you can avoid the disease. It’s a good metaphor to creating resistance to harmful ideas in a wide variety of change work, including sales, behavioral change, and therapeutic interventions.

If you buy a new car, say an ABC from the DEF dealership, not long after you drive it home, a neighbor, friend, or relative is sure to question your decision. It’s the wrong car, the wrong color, the wrong dealership, and you paid too much for it. Unless you’ve been inoculated, the critical comments are likely to take a little of the shine off your purchase. Former smokers know that their friends and relatives who still smoke will speak disparagingly about their decision to quit. Also, friends and relatives who have already quit will tell you that you’re going about quitting the wrong way. Whatever you decide, you are likely to be told you made the wrong decision somewhere along the way.

If you are in the business of helping others change—and all of us are in one way or another—you need to be aware that the change you are promoting will be criticized by some of those your customer, client, or patient will encounter soon after his decision. In some cases, you will want your customers, clients, or patients to investigate other options so that they can be sure that the option you are presenting is best for them. That is one form of inoculation. Even when you have done that, some additional inoculation at decision-making time helps ensure their continuing satisfaction with the decision. If a person buys a new car from you, for example, it is in your best interest as well as that of your customer, for him or her to continue feeling as though the decision was the right one.

This same concept applies in a wide variety of situations. Those of you who follow SCS on Facebook and/or Twitter know that Debra and I recently attended the Conference of International College of Integrative Medicine (ICIM) where I was a demonstration subject for a workshop on Mesotherapy by Dr. Aline Fournier. Following the work, I felt really great. Later, I was speaking to one of the other presenters at the conference who said, “Mesotherapy? Oh, that doesn’t work….” His recommendation was that I visit him in his office for an alternative treatment. Soon thereafter, another attendee told me, “If the treatment didn’t work,” she would be able to take care of me.

Although these people, and the others who also offered to “fix” me in one way or another had good intentions, in questioning the value of what I had received, they were not only attempting to undermine my confidence in the intervention, but also self-serving. They had a vested interest in a particular approach to treatment and were essentially seeking to validate what they believed and to promote what they had to offer. This is a natural human tendency. We want others to confirm our perspective, our model of the world, and when they see things differently, we typically attempt to correct their view of things. However you work with others, it is worth inoculating your customers, clients, or patients against the negative comments they are likely to receive:

  • In the days and weeks to come, someone is going to say that you made the wrong decision. You can just smile and know that the [product, service, treatment] you received was the best available for you at the time.

  • Because you selected an uncommon [product, service, treatment], you are sure to encounter those who will criticize your decision. Remember that what’s popular may not prove best in the long-run, and your sense of well-being is what’s most important.

  • When you encounter others who criticize the [product, service, treatment] you decided is right for you, recognize that what’s important is how well it is working for you. It might not be the right [product, service, treatment] for your friends or relatives, but it works for you, and that’s the important thing.

Although this concept of “future-pacing” to help others prepare for what they are likely to encounter in the future originated in sales, it has a wide variety of applications. The old saying is “forewarned is forearmed.” If you know what to expect, you have the opportunity to prepare for it, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

In addition to inoculating yourself and your customers, clients, or patients against negative statements you and they are likely to encounter, unless what they have decided is downright dangerous, avoid disparaging a decision they have already made. Instead of saying, “You should have…” or “That won’t work…” or “If that doesn’t work…” consider respecting the decision he or she has already made. You can still present your alternative in a respectful way:

  • Mesotherapy? That’s an interesting approach. I will be curious to know how that works for you. I have always used a different technique for that problem, and I would be glad to learn something new.

  • Fascinating…. I’ve used an XYZ laser on problems like that. When you’ve given the Mesotherapy enough time, please let me know how well it worked.

You—and others—will be glad when you have mastered the skills of inoculation and future-pacing.


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