Six Sigma is a hoax! Or, is a key to quality? ISO 9000 is a hindrance. Or is it a roadmap to quality? Judging by the mail received during the last couple months, Six Sigma and ISO are all of these things.

How can it be all of these things? Well, the simple answer is that the world isn't black and white, and what works for one company may not work for another. The real question is, "What is best for your company?" Or, put another way: "How does one know? Whom does one trust?"

I thought of this as I edited this month's Probing the Limits column (p. 56). In the piece, a sentence jumped out at me and it was one that I first thought to edit. The sentence read, in part, "...I believe many quality consultants have seen ISO 9000 and quality trends du jour as great opportunities to line their pockets."

I thought to remove that line because I know a number of consultants and they seem trustworthy to me. I've read case histories and testimonials from their customers. I think that these consultants legitimately earn their fees. But, are there others out there that peddle medicinal potions like some stagecoach hustler?

My confusion grew as I read other letters that are flooding my office as the value of ISO is debated in the pages of Quality. One consultant agreed that some of his brethren line their pockets promoting whatever quality trend is in fashion that year. However, many writers felt that consultants helped their company meet quality objectives.

Again, how do you know whom to trust? Trust is a complicated issue that incorporates emotions and intellect; it also can be manipulated by those in the know. It turns out that there are a number of compliance-gaining techniques that marketers use against consumers. These tactics each have esoteric names such as pregiving, foot in the door, foot in the mouth, door in the face, rejection-then retreat, reciprocal concessions and low-ball tactics. They are all meant to get us to comply with a request.

Social psychologist Robert Cialdini explored "weapons of influence" in his book, Influence, Science and Practice. These weapons can be used to manipulate people into doing something that may not be in their best interest. Have you ever had a consultant get you to agree to a small job and before you know it he is overseeing a large project? This tactic is called "foot in the door" and it means to start with a little request in order to gain eventual compliance with a related larger request.

The opposite of that is called "door in the face." According to the book, Persuasion, Social Influence and Compliance Gaining, by Robert Gass and John Seiter, the door in the face tactic begins with a large request that it is turned down, and then is followed up with a second smaller offer. Of course, the second request is the one that the seller wanted you to agree to all along.

While space doesn't permit the exploration of these other concepts, their mere existence shows that all of us are susceptible to manipulation. A good defense against these tactics is to do what I did with the consultants: ask for testimonials and references. Do your homework. Be open to trust, but be ready to verify.