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What We Can Learn From Con-Men

Putting aside the crimes committed by con-men and their bad intentions, there is much for each one of us to learn from con-men who successfully tricked people in order to get things done their way. Among the many stories that continues to fascinate me is the life of Frank Abagnale. Frank Abagnale, currently an American security consultant for the FBI academy was formally a trickster, check forger and imposter between the ages of 15 and 21. In fact he was named as among the most famous imposters, assuming about eight identities during the period of six years as an airline pilot, a physician, a US bureau of prisons agent and a lawyer. His exploits were so popular that Broadway composed a musical and Hollywood produced a film based on his autobiography, which was nominated for awards at the Oscars and starred famous actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

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Here is a famous scene from the film:

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Lesson No 1: “Sharp ears” leads to effective words

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First thing that comes to mind when it comes to con-men? Smooth talk that sounds convincing. True, but beyond the apparent is their ability to listen to your words and speak assurance that you’re looking for.

This method is used by FBI hostage negotiators to build trust and rapport. The trick here is to attentively listen to a person’s words and feed it back to them. Feeding it back to them can simply mean that you repeat what he or she said in your own words.

In the book “The Big Con”, it was said “some heel-grifters think it is smartly sophisticated to appear languid or condescendingly wise. That is really stupid. Tie into any mark. He may have it in the jug… 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.”

How does this work at your workplace or at home? You can gain further trust and credibility when you make an effort to actively speak words of assurance according to their expectations. Active listening is everything.

Lesson No 2: Your external appearance says almost everything

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Regardless if your confidence is real or baseless, it remains powerful by others. Frank Abagnale, a con-airline pilot once took the driver seat of a 747 when he had zero experience (but with some knowledge). How was this possible? Well, in a sense he faked it till he made it.

He never gave people around him (who were more experienced and knowledgeable) any opportunity to doubt in his abilities. Everything he did exuded confidence and authority.

Though I’m not suggesting that we should do what Frank did, but rather among the ways we can gain the trust of others is to always display calmness, charming, courteous and seemingly sincere even during moments of stress and doubt within. How is this possible? It all begins from the inside.

Here are important lessons about fearlessness from Navy Seals:

* Be prepared for anything – Think of everything situation you can imagine. From, good, bad to worst. Imagine and know how you would respond in every possible situation and when it happens, every action you make therefore is planned rather than a spontaneous reaction.

* See every obstacle as a challenge – As much as we prepare for every kind of situation, life as it seems always have a way with surprising outcomes. But rather than trying to take control of things that we do not have control, see it as a challenge that makes you better, smarter, faster, smarter and stronger. Delete panic out of your brain.

* Have a good sense of humour – Yes, you heard that right. Don’t be so serious about everything. Laugh it off. Tell it to someone and have them laugh it off with you together. Humour has proven to give a powerful buffer against stress and fear.

Once you’ve built up yourself to be ‘storm proof’ from the inside, that should help compose a quiet-calm confidence appearance from the external point of view. On a final note in this point, how you dress and present yourself is also vital in displaying confidence.

Lesson No 3: Visual proof of trustworthiness

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Sometimes, less is more. Small but effective hints that supports your credentials makes a whole world of difference. The author of Social Engineering was once almost busted when he was found with lockpicks and hacking tools. But he wasn’t caught just because he displayed a very convincing looking business card (which was infact a forged business card) identifying him as a security professional.

Same goes for Frank Abagnale. His pilot uniform granted him hundreds of hours of free flights around the world, the ability to cash forged checks because nobody would think airline pilots would do such things. Which he fully exploited.

Eric Barker, a writer on topics pertaining psychology from Time Magazine said “Don’t neglect to do the simple things that project trustworthiness even if they are, in reality, less accurate”

Dress well and appropriately, reference mutual friends and similarity, mention affiliations with reputable institutions and speak their lingo so you can easily gain influence.

Lesson no 4: Research is everything

Here’s one thing we can learn from the Christian Bible in Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”

This applies to everyone. Those who remain ignorant and chooses to remain in the dark would usually find it hard to gain the trust of others. Frank Abagnale did his research before posing as a pilot:

“In the past I’d found my best sources of information on airlines were airlines themselves, so I started calling the various carriers and pumping their people for information… A lot of the things I felt I ought to know, however, were not in the books or magazines I read. So I got back on the pipe with Pan Am. “I’d like to speak to a pilot, please,” I told the switchboard operator. “I’m a reporter for my high school newspaper, and I’d like to do a story on pilots’ lives— you know, where they fly, how they’re trained and that sort of stuff. Do you think a pilot would talk to me?”

Now that we can Google almost anything, everyone has almost no excuse to remain ignorant. Question everything. Never settle to be just “ok”. Work out a set of healthy habits to keep you in the game.

In a book entitled Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, it examined successful people and highlighted the work habits we can emulate in our lives for success. The habits were (focused on good ones):

* Always have a clear routine, plan, goal and purpose in all you do

* They were morning people more than night owls

* Reserve the evening hours for relaxation and socialising

* Go for walks

Try it out and tell me if this works!

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