Earlier this week I wrote about a powerful principle as it relates to the NBA and its fans. The more I thought about it the more I felt it deserved further consideration.
The principle of least interest goes like this, “In any relationship, the person who has the least interest has the greatest power.” - Willard Waller
There are two types are people in play here; those who understand and respect this principle and those who repeatedly fall victim to it.
Play back the relationships you’ve had in your life, look at the relationship you are in at the moment. Now tell me it’s not true. Liar!
I’m reminded of this daily as my wife owns me. It was over before it started. I was immediately smitten by her and longed to be near her. I gladly forfeit this power as I am overwhelming interested in her and her happiness.
There are times when it is out of our control. For instance, if you work for a large company odds are their interest in you being employed is less than your interest in having a job. Therefore it’s probably unwise to show up late in flip flops and a Hawaiian shirt to gut a fish on your desk unless your interest in being employed with them has waned.
Sometimes this power just swings naturally to us without thought or effort. If you really want Chinese food and would gladly dine alone and your friend wants Italian but really wants to talk with you over dinner, he’d better get his mind wrapped around dim sum and sweet and sour pork because that’s what he’ll be eating tonight.
Women are in the driver’s seat in one particular area that men care about infinitely more than they do. They will always have the power in this sextuation, I mean situation. Women will always have the power in this situation. [Apologies to any minors who may have been shocked or offended by the preceding sentences. That begs the question, why is a minor reading a 1,000 word article on interpersonal relationships? But I digress] Oh and guys don’t even bother trying to fake disinterest to retake the power. That’s like trying to outlast a camel in the desert. That hump’s got water for days and days, you will lose.
Relationships aren’t just about people close to us either. I love shopping for cars. Salesmen are crafty little devils, full of tricks. You go to them because you want something they’ve got and they know it. They will seek to create urgency and scarcity to drive up your level of interest and their level of power in this relationship. Understanding this principle is paramount to getting a good deal. Here’s a story to illustrate what I’m talking about.
Years ago I was looking to purchase my first car. I found an ad on cars.com for a used 1999 Isuzu Rodeo for $9,000. I called on it and went down to the dealership with my friend. We took it for a test drive and it was just what I was looking for. I really wanted this car. The salesman told me that there had been a mistake on the cars.com ad and that the Rodeo was actually $11,900. Shaking my printout at him I said, “Not for me it’s not.”
He agreed to honor my price after changing the price to $11,900 online right in front of me. I said, “Good deal. That’s still more than I want to pay.” He looked at me like I was a crazy person and started telling me that he had people lined up to look at this vehicle later that evening. At the time we were expecting our first child and I started telling him about all the diapers I’d soon be buying. He was unfazed.
After several entertaining minutes he’d come down a few hundred dollars but he was still a little higher than I wanted. I thanked him for his time and left my number with him saying I needed to sleep on it and we left.
I wanted that car and I thought I was getting a good deal but that’s not the point. I had called him and therefore he had the power. By leaving and forcing him to call me I could take back that power. I didn’t sleep all night as I thought about the fictional other buyers who no doubt had scooped up that killer deal leaving me wanting. My morning bowl of cereal tasted like emptiness and despair as I waited for the phone call. Many times I fought the urge to call him and see if the car was still available. Finally the phone rang and I heard the voice of Mr. Isuzu Sales Guy on the line. I pretended to not have been waiting for his call and half-heartedly committed to returning and talking about the Rodeo. As I hung up the phone an evil laugh involuntarily emitted from my person as I felt the power coursing through my veins. Oh the power, the absolute power! Ha ha ha haaaaaaa!
Wait, what was I talking about? Oh right, interest and power.
Of course there is risk with this kind of tactic as you may be dealing with someone who is truly less interested than you. You have to be prepared to lose out if that is the case [see above camel in the desert analogy].
The lesson here is temperament. Wanting something is fine but there’s no need to be reckless. If you’ve lost the upper hand in a relationship you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. Taking a relaxed or even an aloof approach sometimes is the wise path. Be cautious though because being indifferent or callous to someone you care about is just stupid.
The principle of least interest is like building a fire. You can’t just stack piles and piles of wood on and light a match, you’ll smother it. The fire needs fuel, it needs room to breathe. Put a little space between you and what you want, be willing to let it breathe, and before you know it you’ll be enjoying the warmth and light from the flames.