The Silver Salt Shaker Effect

A mentee of mine recently asked how she should confront a co-worker about a delicate situation. Her intentions were good but she was worried the conversation would quickly escalate – to the point the co-worker might lash out at her. What should she do?

As the situation could have had legal ramifications, I encouraged her to be upfront with her co-worker but allow him to remedy the situation. In other words, don’t back him into a corner.

To bring the point to life, I told a story attributed to Winston Churchill, the former prime minster of Great Britain:

During dinner for Commonwealth dignitaries, the chief of protocol approached Churchill and quietly informed him that a distinguished guest had slipped a silver salt shaker into her pocket. Rather than confront the dignitary about the salt shaker, Churchill guided her out of earshot of the other guests and pulled out the matching pepper shaker from his pocket. “Oh dear,” he said in a guilty-sounding voice, “We were seen! Perhaps we’d better both put them back.”

Of course, the dignitary understood that Churchill knew the truth but was allowed to correct the wrong on her own.

I call this the Silver Salt Shaker effect. We know from research studies that people are more likely to choose the desired outcome when they believe they are choosing for themselves. In contrast, people are more likely to resist when they are told what to do. Anyone with a teenager witnesses this daily.

So the next time you have to confront someone in a delicate situation, remember Winston Churchill and invoke the silver salt shaker effect.

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3 Responses to The Silver Salt Shaker Effect

  1. jdunnett May 14, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    A good reminder – definitely applicable in a few different areas. Thanks for sharing, Jonathan!

  2. dodd1959 June 13, 2015 at 9:25 am #

    Good WC story. What helped him (apart from being a force to be reckoned with) was that he was clear of the end result: salt shaker returned and no further action. A clear solution without ramifications.

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