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Strategies and techniques on how people manipulate others

We all would like to believe that our actions are at our own discretion. But we are more susceptible to being influenced by others than we might think.

Strategies and techniques on how people manipulate others

Aristotle once famously said, “man is by nature a social animal”. From the moment we are born, our lives are shaped by our interactions with others.

Almost every aspect of our lives depend on other people as we need them for sustenance, shelter, companionship, and more.

As we are inherently social, other people influence our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, judgements, decisions, and behaviour – and they do it seamlessly, often without even intending to or noticing.

However, being social creatures makes us inherently susceptible to being manipulated, such that others can influence our behaviour by exploiting our natural tendencies with simple tricks.

These tricks are often used by salespeople or in negotiations, but are also widely applicable in day-to-day life and are not necessarily done with bad intentions.

Watch out for these six strategies people use to get you to do what they want, so you can play your cards right next time.

1. Foot-in-the-door

This persuasion technique is among the most well known and used strategies of compliance.

It goes like this: you are asked a small request that you will most likely accept because it is no bother. But then, almost immediately, you are met with a larger request.

At this point, many people figure that they might as well do it – they already have their foot in the door.

For example, suppose you were asked by a friend to add your signature in support to a humanitarian campaign. After signing, they ask you if you’d be willing to make a small donation as well.

Psychology affirms that you would be more likely to make a donation in such a case, with the request incrementally increasing, then if you were asked to donate right away.

2. Door-in-the-face

This trick is the opposite of the foot-in-the-door technique, and is used to attain just one request.

You are initially asked for a large favour, like a donation, which you are expected to refuse in the first place. Then comes the actual, smaller request – the signature.

This strategy successfully guilts people into complying with a request by telling them “You refused option A, then at least accept option B.”

Option B now sounds like a good deal instead of slamming the door in the person’s face once again.

3. Low-ball

Similar to the foot-in-the-door technique, this strategy is aimed at attaining just one request.

The person is first met with a low-ball request that they will most likely accept. Then, after they have committed, the request is made less convenient by changing the terms or introducing previously omitted information.

So, this could be that your colleague asks you to attend a 30 minute meeting to fill in for them, which you agree to. Then, once you have already accepted the offer, they tell you that the meeting is at 7am.

You are more likely to still go ahead with the task then if your colleague had asked you to join a short meeting at 7am.

4. That’s-not-all

If your friend made the mistake of leading with 7am while asking you to fill in during the meeting, there is still a trove of tricks they can utilise to persuade you, including the that’s-not-all technique.

Immediately after asking for the favour, before you’ve had a chance to refuse, they could point out that there are free cookies at the meeting. And that’s not all – they will even buy you your morning coffee!

The idea is to make the inconvenient situation as attractive as possible by putting forward added benefits, making the person more likely to comply.

This is the same technique that salespeople use when they make an initially unattractive offer more appealing by adding free or discounted benefits.

5. Reciprocity

As a powerful social norm, reciprocity is among the most useful techniques to prompt compliance from others.

Favours are welcomed by society as gestures of goodwill, but they are also expected to be returned when the time comes as per the norm of reciprocity.

Thus, if someone had done a favour for you, they might bring up a past favour and ask you to return it in order to persuade you to comply – or a salesperson could give you a free sample of their product.

The power of reciprocity comes from its status as a social norm. Norms define how people are expected to behave in a society and violating them comes with both societal and material costs – leading people into striving to meet these expectations.

6. Propaganda

Last but not least, manipulation can occur on a systemic scale in the form of propaganda.

Defined by Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell as “the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist,” propaganda is often done by misleading people.

Individuals can be persuaded to comply by the propagandist though being exposed to emotionally charged, biassed information. It is especially effective if it strengthens pre-existing beliefs, even if unfounded.

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