The fact you’re reading this means you’re probably a nice person at heart, and a ‘people person’. You probably love to make people feel good. Warm smiles and infectious laughter are what people expect from you. And because people feel good when they’re with you, they want to spend time with you.


But sometimes, even you need to make people feel really bad. Sometimes, you just want to!


That bad feeling can be one of the most effective ways to motivate someone to change: to change their unhealthy habits, to ditch something that makes them unhappy, or to buy your product or service to solve their problems.

People may like the idea of going for positive goals, but in fact real action (and spending) is often more strongly motivated by our desire to avoid discomfort. Remind someone of the distress their problems are causing, have them feel that real-life pain, and they are much more likely to buy your solution.

David Grove, the inventor of Clean Language (on which this technique is based) called the deepening of pain “drawing the arrow back” – the further the arrow is drawn back by an archer, the more power it has when fired at its target.

So, how can you make someone feel really bad, quickly? Here’s how:

1. Focus their attention on a specific problem they have (or have had)
2. Ask questions which highlight the physical and emotional pain it causes
3. Continue asking questions for several minutes, keeping their attention focussed on the problem and their pain.

Use their words in your questions. Don’t paraphrase! This will help you to maintain rapport, even though you’re making them feel bad. Useful questions include:
• “What kind of X?” (where X is one or more of their words)
• “Is there anything else about X?”
• “And when , then what happens?”
• “Where could come from?”

For example, if the person’s problem is that their website is poorly designed, which means they get regular calls from angry customers, ask:
• “What kind of calls?” or
• “And when you get calls from angry customers, then what happens?”

This technique is even more powerful if you notice the metaphor they use for their problem or pain, and ask questions about that. For example, if they say: “It’s like we’re under siege, with burning arrows coming in from all sides,” ask “What kind of arrows?” or “Is there anything else about that siege.”

Take care! Pay attention to the person’s state: in most business contexts, reducing someone to tears is inappropriate and would lead to embarrassment. You should stop asking questions, and start working towards solutions, well before that point.

And before you end the conversation, why not use the opposite technique to make the person feel really good? Ask the same kind of questions about something they like, such as a hobby, a pet, or a sporting success, and you’ll deepen their joy.

    4 replies to "How to make someone feel really bad (and why you might want to)"

    • John Farrell

      Hi Judy,
      Been following your work from down here in Thailand. What your suggesting sounds a lot like the NLP technique (popularized by Tony Robbins) ‘get them in enough pain then push them to make the break through’.
      The challenge with your technique here is that its so much easier if you have a visual reference, watching body language helps with this process.
      Nice to hear your keeping Davids wokr moving laong. Cheers

    • Judy

      Hi John, are you living in Thailand nowadays? If so, I’m a little bit envious!

      I’m no great fan of Tony Robbins – the conversations that prompted this article were about various sales and persuasion models, all of which involve “deepening pain” as a key element (I actually wrote it as part of a series I’m doing for a sales manager to share with his staff).

      But I’m sure it’s all essentially the same core idea. I certainly find I’m keener to act when there’s a “burning platform” 🙂

    • Clean Language And Influence

      […] couple of related posts which may interest you: How To Manipulate People’s Emotions,  How To Make Someone Feel Bad. I will blog in the next few days about why I use the word “manipulate” in my blog […]

    • owen

      This is a nice approach, I hadn´t imagined wanting to make someone feel bad as a way of helping someone before!
      Great idea!

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