How to Test-Drive Friends and Irritate People



Sometimes you need to make friends and influence people. Other times, you should just test drive them and push their buttons.

The art of irritation can, in fact, be just as valuable as the art of persuasion. How so? Let’s start with the problem: people are good liars and actors… up to a point.

What if it were possible to fast-forward relationships, whether with new friends, business partners, or romances? To get past the honeymoon facade of niceties and see their true tendencies underneath all it all?

I’ve been experimenting with methods of “removing the mask” so-to-speak, and it can be done. Relationships cost a premium of attention and time, and I—like most–want people in my life whose real personalities and motives will uplift and strengthen me instead of drain and demoralize me.

Catching bad apples early begins with recognizing a truism:

Adversity doesn’t primarily build character—it reveals it…

Therefore, by putting someone under pressure or in an adverse situation, you can pull back the covers and get a glimpse of what’s in store a few weeks or months down the line.

The little things are the big things. Josh Waitzkin, 8-time national chess champion (and the subject of the film, “Searching for Bobby Fischer”) explores the surprisingly accurate cross-referencing of behavior in his book, The Art of Learning:

“As I moved into my late teenage years, many of my tournaments were closed, invitational events where ten to fourteen very strong players gathered for two-week marathons. These were psychological wars… It was during these years that I began to draw the parallels between people’s life tendencies and their chessic dispositions. Great players are, by definition, very clever about what they show over the chessboard, but, in life’s more mundane moments, even the most cunning chess psychologists can reveal certain essential nuances of character. If, over dinner, a Grandmaster tastes something bitter and faintly wrinkles his noes, these might be an inkling of a tell lurking. Impatience while standing on line at the buffet might betray a problem sitting with tension. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone when they get caught in the rain! Some will run with their hands over their heads, others will smile and take a deep breath while enjoying the wind. What does this say about one’s relationship to discomfort? The reaction to surprise? The need for control?”

Here are a few options for doing your own behavioral cross-referencing with a new potential friend, partner, or mate. All of them happen naturally over time, and the concept is to pick/create circumstances here and there to get an advanced read. Before you label me a bastard, read the whole post:

1. Meet them for dinner or lunch at an appointed time, and indicate upon their arrival that you made a mistake and set the reservation for 30 minutes prior. See how they respond to the change in plans. (Testing: how they contend with mistakes on your part)

2. Same as 1, but tell them that the reservation was accidentally made for 30 minutes after their arrival. Alternatively, travel with them and purposefully orchestrate things so that you miss a bus or train. Obviously, you then fix the problem and cover costs. (Testing: how they deal with waiting and unexpected changes in plans)

3. Take them to a restaurant with good food but bad service. (Testing: how diplomatically they contend with and resolve incompetence, which is the default mode of the universe)

4. Invite them to an event or function and then profusely apologize when you realize you’ve forgotten your wallet. Offer to repay them later or treat them the next time out. (Testing: how they relate to money issues. Wonderful people sometimes turn into irrational monsters as soon as even a few dollars are involved. It drives me crazy to keep a running ledger of who owes whom for a few dollars here and there, especially in social settings. Repaying the favor is mandatory, but dwelling on differences of pennies is tiring.)

5. Take them somewhere extremely crowded where they’ll be inadvertently bumped, preferably where they are exposed to people of different races and of lower socio-economic classes. Large outdoor markets are good, as are subways during rush hour. (Testing: biases against specific races and social classes, which are usually fast to emerge after there is any physical contact.)

6. Explore the most controversial topics until you find something the two of you disagree on. Ask them to explain why people have the opposing viewpoint. I use this mostly for potential romantic partners and potential travelmates. (Testing: how well they listen and both consider and summarize points-of-view or feelings opposite their own. I always look for both friends and girlfriends who fight well. Not in the physical sense, but in the intellectual and emotional sense. If I travel with one of my best friends for even a week straight, there will be times when we butt heads and fight. It’s inescapable. In those cases, are they civil and good at listening and finding compromises? Good at identifying common ground, picking their battles, and laughing off the unimportant? Or, do they lose control of their emotions and make hurtful personal attacks or generalizations? Do they use guilt or other negative emotions instead of taking time to discuss things logically? Hold grudges?)

Needless to say, I’m not recommending you cram all of these into a single meeting (not unless you want a punch in the mouth), but the premise is simple: life is both too long and too short to suffer through toxic relationships. The sooner we have an accurate read on someone, the better.

Rather than hoping for the best and getting trapped in relationships you are unwilling to end due to guilt and inertia, you can test drive using a few specific situations and get a taste of what’s in store. I realized how revealing the above scenarios were while traveling, as they came up organically with the inevitable mix-ups and occasional bouts of bad luck. The question then became: can you go about glimpsing someone’s true personality in a more reliable way? That said, there is no need to orchestrate bad service at a restaurant, for example, if you can achieve the same end doing something fun but uncontrolled. A good long weekend of getting lost with someone will reveal most of the character you need to see. Just ensure you expose them to adverse conditions or awkward situations.

Most people spend more time planning their weekends than their relationships. Don’t make that mistake. You are the average of the 5 or so people you associate with most.

Choose wisely.

[Postscript: There have been some very strong comments on this post! Could it be that I’m using this entire post to see how people respond to a controversial viewpoint? Hmmm… :) To see my responses, just search ### in the comments by using Ctrl+F.]


Odds and Ends: 4HWW in more than 25 countries!

I just received the Dutch version of the 4HWW! Yay! Can anyone translate the subtitle and quote? “Leid een rijk leven zonder veel te doen” and “Geweldig! Dit boek zal je leven veranderen. -New York Times” Here is the Dutch cover and the other 24 publishers, in case you want to find someone who’s working on your language or country:


Arabic- Jarir Bookstore

Brazil- Editora Planeta Do Brasil

China- Hunan Literature & Art Publish

Denmark- Borgens Forlag A/S

Estonia- Eesti Ekspressi Kirjastuse AS

Finland- Basam Books

France- Village Mondial

Germany- Ullstein Buchverlage GmbH

Holland- De Boekerij BV

Hungary- Bagolyvar Kiado

Indonesia- OnRead Books Publisher

Israel- Babel Publishing House

Italy- Cairo Editore

Japan- Seishisha Publishing

Korea- Bookie Publishing Company

Latin America- Grupo Editorial Planeta SAIC

Lithuania- Eugrimas

Poland- MT Biznes

Portugal- Casa das Letras / Noticias

Romania- Minerva Pub House

Russia- Dobraya Kniga Publishers

Spain- RBA Libros S.A.

Taiwan- Crown Publishing Company, Ltd

Thailand- Bliss Publishing Co., Ltd.

Turkey- Inkilap Kitavevi Yayin

UK- Vermilion

Posted on: November 15, 2007.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

190 comments on “How to Test-Drive Friends and Irritate People

  1. The rough translation of the subtitle line is:

    “Lead a rich life without doing a lot” and the New York Times quote is: “This book will change your life”

    However the word “Geweldig” means “Terrible” though, so that doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me.


  2. “Leid een rijk leven zonder veel te doen”
    In English:
    “Lead a rich life without doing much”

    I think this would have been a better pitch:
    “Leid een rijk leven zonder veel te werken”
    In English:
    “Lead a rich life without working much”
    Since not doing much is pretty boring, and exactly the opposite of the message you are bringing. I see the 4hr workweek more as “work less, do more, lead a rich/fulfilling life” … anyways … I was just going to translate this :-), so …

    “Geweldig! Dit boek zal je leven veranderen.”
    In English:
    “Amazing/Great/Wonderful! This book will change your life.”


  3. Here is the translation of the dutch book:
    title: “A workweek of four hours”
    subtitle: “Have a rich life without doing too much”
    quote: “Amazing! This book will change your life!”

    b.t.w. I read your book in english since the translation was not available yet. Loved it!


  4. Leid een rijk leven zonder veel te doen”

    “Have A rich Life withouth doing much” or “Have a rich Life witouth to much work”

    “Geweldig! Dit boek zal je leven veranderen. -New York Times”

    “Great! This will change your life.”


  5. The Dutch translation:
    Leid een rijk leven zonder veel te doen”
    Lead a rich life without having to do a lot

    “Geweldig! Dit boek zal je leven veranderen.

    Excelent! This book will change your life


  6. > Can anyone translate the subtitle and quote?

    > “Leid een rijk leven zonder veel te doen”

    Literally: Lead a rich life without doing much

    > “Geweldig! Dit boek zal je leven veranderen.
    > -New York Times”

    Terrific! This book will change your life.


  7. Timothy,

    Free translation of the Dutch subtitle ‘Leid een rijk leven zonder veel te doen':

    Live a wealthy life without working hard.

    ‘Geweldig’ means Great/Fantastic.


  8. Mr. Ferris,

    The way summed up in these verses will hardly enable one to be good.

    You fail to recognize that in order to stimulate certain behaviors in a peer through your recommendations, one risks sacrificing one’s own values and integrity. To intentionally deceive or mislead a person with whom you may like to build a relationship seems rather asinine.

    I find this advise sorely misplaced. Your readers and all others ought to comport themselves with honesty and integrity.


  9. Not only did this post make me think of my own actions when I’m in stressful situations, but it makes solid commentary about cutting to the chase in the most difficult arena on the planet, human relationships.

    I’d say these are excellent techniques for job interviews.


  10. Fantastic stuff. I find that those who perform well in nice neat formal settings are rarely the ones who perform well under extreeme conditions. The best thing we can do in life is make conscious decisions regarding who we will associate with and what behaviours we will accept. We’re all to often too far down the road before we realize who we are dealing with.


  11. Whoa, nice language list… How does it feel to be an internationally known and published author? Well done!

    Good points on testing personalities, I wish I had done that with the last couple of friends I chose to go on vacation with!

    As always, keep up the greatness!



  12. Congratulations!
    I am dutch and read your book in English. I found that there is quite some information specific for Americans (several business tips and reference websites for example). Is this information translated to Dutch, or is it rewritten to apply more to the Netherlands?


  13. Congratulations!
    I am Dutch but read it in English (only version available at the time, I loved it), but now it is in Dutch too, nice. Is the book a direct translation from English to Dutch, or is the business information directed more to the Netherlands?
    (sorry if I posted this twice, not sure the previous comment got through)


  14. Great Blog,

    It is often late in the game before one realizes whom they are really with. These are good strategies to see what surprises the other is holding for you. May I also suggest that one may also observe complete different behavior if it is just you rather than you and some of your friends.

    Have a great Day,

    Jose Castro-Frenzel


  15. You made my morning. Laughed totally out loud AND am adopting your strategy. Do ya realize therapists are gonna have a lotta free time if people take you up on this? ( they can then buy your book) Love it!
    Merci and congrats on all your many successes. Laissez les bons temps….Jan


  16. Tim: loved the post. I have one my Mother taught me that is similar to your restaurant test. She told that when you go out for dinner observe how your date interacts with the server. If they are nice to you but unkind or rude to the server then they are not worth spending time with.
    Congrats on the huge success of the book. I’m a fan.