How To Win Through Intimidation

I recently read a business book written decades ago that is still very relevant today. Based on the experiences in the real estate brokerage business of its author, Robert J. Ringer, it was very controversial during the 1970s. It was like the modern version of Machiavelli’s “The Prince”—that manual of political strategy that disregarded morality.
Why was the book so popular? Maybe because many businessmen thought that it could help them get ahead. Maybe because they believe that the business world is really a jungle where only the toughest survive and good guys finish last. Others who bought it may have felt that they needed to know the dirty tricks in order to defend themselves from the evil ones.
Whatever the reason, another thing that was entertaining about the book at that time was its manner of writing. For such a serious topic, the style was extremely informal with an abundance of humor. Robert Ringer even taught in his “ice ball theory” that nobody should take himself too seriously. He even has a cartoon character of himself as a turtle.
In my opinion, not all businessmen are like the dishonest types the author described. To understand why the characters in the book are so devious, the reader must take into account the nature of the real estate brokerage business. It is an industry where there are huge but unpredictable rewards. In this business, repeat transactions are not common; after all, how often would an ordinary person buy real property? This encourages shady operators since it is unlikely that they will need to deal with their victims again. Yet, one must not generalize because even in the real estate industry, there are many honorable people.
Despite the criticisms, the book is a treasure trove of practical knowledge for people who have little experience in the business world. I present some of the most important ideas the author gave in the book, and my own take on them:
Do not trust even the good people. Most of us already know that we should be very careful in trusting people, especially in the business world. We all know people that are obviously dishonest, but they are rarely a problem since we could anticipate and defend against their actions. Ringer states that those who appear harmless are the most dangerous because they can catch you off guard. Besides the people who deliberately scheme, there are also those who really mean to do good. However, when the opportunity for gain appears, or if threatened with loss, many of them develop amnesia despite their original benevolent intentions. This belief that nobody is honest in the business world strikes me as too cynical. While this happens often, this is not always true. There are still people whose words can be trusted and they are those you should seek to deal with whenever possible.
Working hard is not enough. Although Ringer pictured himself as a turtle, he does not believe hard work will guarantee success. This is not much of a surprise because you can see many hardworking people still poor. Although it was not directly stated, there seems to be a tendency to downgrade the importance of hard work in favor of shortcuts. The truth is it is one of the most important factors to achieve success. Without this element, there is a strong tendency to use unethical means. In fact, there are very few lazy people who attain success.
Disbelief in positive attitude. This was a reaction to the deluge of books preaching positive thinking as the ultimate solution. The author passionately disagrees with the usefulness of developing a positive attitude. It is his position that reality will quickly overwhelm those whose only value-added is self-confidence. What he advocates is for people to be realistic in their expectations. This way, he says, motivation would be sustained. It should be noted though that his views in this matter shifted somewhat in his later books. In more recent years, he gave more credit to positive thinking even if he still thinks it is overrated.
Learn how to defend against intimidation. For those with integrity and just wish to be able to parry the thrusts of the unethical, this book provides a valuable lesson. Besides being aware of the most common deceptions, you are also taught to prevent being caught with the short end of the stick. He advises that you project an image of strength to discourage people from taking advantage of you. Finally, he discusses the necessity of having a strong legal position and that you must have agreements documented, never relying on anything verbal.
How to win through intimidation. Even if he does not say that you use the disreputable practices that he cites, it is inevitable that many people would imitate the dirty tactics in his examples to reach their objectives. The effect is practically the same as if he endorsed such practices. The use of fear as a way to get what you want is one of the oldest methods but it is not the only way, nor is it the best way in most circumstances. It would have been more balanced if he also discussed the negative consequences of immoral behavior.
In summary, the book could be considered a modern business classic, as indispensable to businessmen as “The Art of War” is to the military. Unfortunately, the hype used to promote sales of the book concealed the deeper lessons it contained. It really was not about profiting from intimidating other people. It was more about understanding how the myths perpetuated by society prevent people from attaining success.

*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. C-4, Sunday, June 24, 2012. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.