Soften up

World English Dictionary
soften up
 
vb
1.  to make or become soft
2.  (tr) to weaken (an enemy's defences) by shelling, bombing, etc
3.  (tr) to weaken the resistance of (a person) by persuasive talk, advances, etc

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

soften up

Reduce resistance, as in His sales motto was: a fine lunch and a few drinks often will soften up a prospective customer. This expression transfers lessening of physical hardness to lessening mental resistance. It was first used, however, in World War II, where it meant "reduce the enemy's defenses by preliminary bombing." [c. 1940]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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