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Paul Burri: How I Survived the Mind-Bend Experience

Follow-up interview after a weekend 'seminar' takes an unexpected turn

Many years ago I attended a weekend “seminar” called Mind-Bend. (The name has been changed to protect the, uh, innocent.) It was similar to something called EST, which was very popular at the time.

At EST, you paid some really big bucks to have a guy named Werner Erhard insult you, berate you and tear down your self-esteem, and then you ended up tearfully thanking him for the experience. Mind-Bend was almost as expensive but much kinder and gentler. But it was the same in that at the end you wound up tearfully thanking them for the experience and for taking your money.

As part of the “contract” that you had with the Mind-Bend people, you were committed to a follow-up interview, supposedly for them to get your impression of the seminar. Actually, I’m sure it was to provide them with an opportunity to get you to sign up for an even more intensive — and more expensive — weekend seminar. (More of the same for more money.)

When I arrived at the Mind-Bend offices for the follow-up interview, I was greeted warmly and escorted into the “interviewer’s” office. (I put the word in quotes because salesman is surely a much better description.) He was a rather large man sitting in a large chair in a large office behind a very large desk.

Believe it or not, the desk was on a raised dais so that it dominated the room more like a throne than a desk. I was ushered to a huge, overstuffed chair that I sank into like a thumb into a marshmallow. I felt like I was sitting in it rather than on it. The whole setup of the over-large office, the huge desk, the raised dais and the “marshmallow” chair was almost comedic in its goal of intimidating the interviewee.

After the usual pleasantries, the interviewer launched into his series of questions about my experience — the prelude to the eventual sales pitch. He had hardly gotten started when I interrupted him to say, “You know, I’m really uncomfortable in this overstuffed chair.”

One of the things they taught us at the seminar was to express our feelings, and in this case, that advice was about to bite them in the butt. And as I said before, the whole idea was to intimidate the interviewee, but I’m pretty sure I was probably the only one who had ever made that comment.

Obviously surprised, he hesitated momentarily and then said, “Would you like to switch?”

I’m sure he didn’t expect it when I answered, “Yeah. I’d like that.”

So now I am sitting in his oversized chair behind his huge desk on its regal dais looking down on him sitting in the “marshmallow” chair below me. It was the most fun interview I have ever participated in, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

No, I didn’t sign up for the “advanced” weekend seminar.

I’m sure that there is a lesson to be learned here. Do not ever allow anyone to put you in an uncomfortable situation. Speak up and ask to have the rules changed, the setting changed or to make whatever changes are necessary to make you feel comfortable. If they offer to switch roles with you, accept the offer. It will keep you from agreeing to something that you might regret later.

Similarly, if anyone is trying to sell you on something and they tell you that this “opportunity” is only good for the next hour and that you have to sign up right now or lose the chance, your automatic answer should always be, “No.” I guarantee that if you call that person back a week or even a month later, that only-if-you-sign-up-right-now “opportunity” will mysteriously still be available.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He has been a counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) for the past eight years. SCORE offers free business counseling to local businesses. He is also the membership director of the Channel City Camera Club. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul.

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