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cartoon: Arabian man tells wife he wants three more wives

How to Manipulate People for Fun & Profit

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

So, you want to manipulate someone. Okay. We could pretend that there is an ethically valid reason you want to do this, but why waste your time and mine? Sometimes, you just need to manipulate another person. Sometimes you just want to. For times like these, I offer you a few tips.

Never Say You Are Too Busy

If you want someone to do something for you, never ask her to do it because you are too busy. When you say this, you are effectively saying, "Could you do this boring task because my time is more important than yours and I cannot be bothered to waste mine."

Of course your time really is more important than other person's. But she mistakenly believes otherwise and will only hate you for suggesting her time is unimportant. As a result, she will either refuse the task or do it badly to teach you a lesson.

Instead, when you ask someone to do something for you, explain why the other person is able to perform the task way better than you could and ensure that the reason is a complement.

Compare

"Some people from our Beijing branch are visiting headquarters next week. I have no time for them. Could you show them around?:

Versus

"Some people from our Beijing branch are visiting headquarters next week. You've got great people skills − way better than mine − and it's important to give them a good impression of our operations. Could you show them around? I'm sure you'll give them a great tour."

Compare

"The Jeffersons are coming to dinner tonight, darling, and I am really busy. Would you mind cooking something?

Versus

"Darling, the Jeffersons are coming to dinner tonight. You are a much better cook than I am. Why don't you prepare something?"

Do you see how the second example in both of the comparisons is more compelling?

Exploit Loss Aversion

Loss aversion is an economic concept that states that people place a higher value on loss than on gain. For example, most people would be feel greater loss at losing €100 than they would feel a sense of gain if they found €100.

Here's another way of looking at it...

Scenario 1

While walking on a bridge over a small lake in the park, you accidentally drop your gold ring worth $500 in the water and cannot see it. The water is not too deep, but it's a cold day. Do you jump in the water to retrieve it?

Scenario 2

While walking on a bridge over a small lake in the park, you look in the water and see what you believe to be a gold ring very much like your $500 gold ring. It is a cold day. Do you jump in the water to try and fetch it?

Most people would jump in the water in scenario 1, but far fewer would in scenario 2. That is because the fear of losing a $500 object is greater than the anticipated pleasure of possibly gaining a $500 object.

You can exploit this knowledge when you need to manipulate someone. Rather than try and convince him of the benefits of doing what you want him to do, make him fearful of the consequences of not doing what you want him to do.

This is something that American presidential candidates do all the time. Instead of explaining why his policies would benefit the American people, the typical candidate focuses on why his opponent's policies would cause tremendous loss to the the American people.

You can do the same thing. Instead of telling your victim the benefits of doing what you say, describe the terrible things that could happen to her if she does not follow your suggested course of action. But do this within reason. If the potential loss seems too great, people will discount it. For example, "If you do not do what I say, you will probably have a heart attack and die," is unlikely to be taken seriously unless you are a doctor giving instructions to a patient with a heart condition.

Compare

"Our solar panels cost just €1000 and are guaranteed to generate at least €50 worth of electricity every month."

Versus

"Did you know your house is losing €50 worth of heating every month? That's like flushing money down the toilet! Our insulation package costs just €1000 and will stop that loss completely. It will pay for itself in just 20 months."

Never Give Up

Loss aversion also means that once a person invests time, money or effort into a project, she is unlikely to want to give up. An extreme example of this is gambling. If a person bets €50 in slot machines and loses it, she is all too likely to spend a more in hopes of winning it back. This is how a €50 loss can soon turn into a €500 loss. And the irony is, the more a person losses, the more likely she is to bet more.

Here's a practical example. You've convinced a group of friends to invest in your business idea. After six months, you are still losing money and you need more investment. You could tell your friends, "I know the company has lost a lot of money, but within three months I am sure we'll be bringing in a good income and the dividends will soon make your investment worth while." But that does not sound terribly convincing, does it? It implies the friends could lose more money.

A better approach would be to say, "You've already invested a lot in my company. You don't want to throw it all away, do you? If we cannot invest more now, that's exactly what will happen. But a little more investment will get the company to profitability within three months."

The second approach leaves your friends feeling that they will lose money if they do not invest a little more in your company.

Ask a Small Favour in Advance

The Ben Franklin Effect states that if someone does you a favour, you will probably like that person more and it has been demonstrated in research.

Moreover, someone who likes you is more likely both to trust you and bend to your will. These are two critical ingredients to manipulating others.

So, if you want to manipulate someone in the near future, ask her a small favour now. Borrow a book. Ask her to help you with a problem. Ask her to perform a non-demanding tasks for you. Of course it is important the task is not too great or she will likely refuse.

Ask for More than You Want

If you were to try and sell your house, you would probably list it at a higher price than you would accept. For example, if you want at least €350,000 for your house, you probably list it for €380,000 or €390,000 in the knowledge that most buyers will propose a smaller amount (at least in most markets).

Do the same thing when you want to manipulate people. A couple of years ago, I did a creativity workshop in Saudi Arabia. During the lunch break, one of the participants said to me, "Jeffrey, I have a problem that needs a creative solution."

"What's that?" I asked.

"I am doing well at work and earning a lot of money. So, I want to take a second wife. But I do not know how to make my current wife agree," he said in a way that implied he was a little scared of his wife.

I suspect he may have just been playing with me as he knows I come from a culture where multiple wives is not allowed morally or legally. Neither do I approve of multiple wives (moreover, my partner approves even less and she's dangerous!). Nevertheless, I cannot resist a creative challenge. So, I thought about his question for a few minutes.

"I know," I said. "Tell your wife, 'I am doing very well at work and have decided to take on three new wives.' She will object in a big way and say, 'Three wives! Are you out of your mind?! I will not allow it. You may have one more wife and that's all!'"

I do not know if he took my advice and, if so, what happened. Nevertheless, this is a good example of asking for more than you want in order to get what you want.

Flatter Your Victim Shamelessly

Some time ago, I read the summary of a paper on a research project that aimed to determine how much you could flatter a person before he or she stopped believing you. The researchers never found that limit. In other words, provided your flattery is reasonable, it seems you can never flatter another person too much. This is good news when it comes to manipulation. When you flatter a person, not only is she likely to like you, but she is more likely to trust you. She will feel that you are a good judge of people!

Nevertheless, you need to flatter with care. "You look beautiful today, absolutely beautiful! How do you manage to look so young when you have three teenage kids? Can I borrow €100?" is pretty shallow. It is better to start a campaign of flattery in advance in order to build up your likeability and reputation − then move on to manipulation.

 I also believe that complements on ability, decisions and actions are more powerful than compliments on looks. Indeed, if a man tells a woman (other than his partner, of course) that she is very beautiful, she is likely to suspect that he is trying to make a pass at her. However, if he tells her that she is an excellent people manager, she is far more likely to accept the compliment as recognition of her skills.

Remember Your Manners

A gentleman or woman is usually perceived as being refined, well educated, well brought up and, as a result, trust worthy. If you are not in the habit of saying "please" and "thank you", get in the habit! It is much easier to manipulate people who trust you than people who do not trust you.

If You Are Busted

Even the best manipulators get caught out from time to time. And no one likes being manipulated. This means that if you get caught out, your victim is likely to be upset with you. when this happens you may feel a need  to defend yourself. Don't. When a person becomes highly defensive of herself or her actions, she becomes suspect in the eyes of others. They wonder why she has become so defensive and suspect it is because she is guilty!

Moreover, if your victim has doubts about you, she does not really want to hear your self-protective defensiveness. Rather, she wants to tell you how she feels and she wants you to listen.

So, if your victim catches you out and accuses you of manipulating her, shut up and listen politely. Acknowledge her accusations and apologise for the consequences of your manipulation rather than the manipulation itself. Instead of saying, "I am sorry I convinced you to invest €5000 in my business when I knew it had no future," say, "I am sorry that you are so disappointed by the results of your investment."

There are three reasons for this. Firstly, your victim feels hurt and so the apology should be in the context of her feelings rather than your actions. Secondly, by focusing on her feelings rather than your actions you create less evidence that might be used against you should you be taken to court over your actions. Thirdly, by not actually acknowledging your actions, you may plant a seed of doubt in her mind and from that seed, renewed trust may grow.

Most Importantly

If you are ever caught out for manipulating another person, you must never, ever cite this article as the source of your behaviour.

Otherwise, please share this article widely! The best way to avoid manipulation is to understand how manipulators work. Arming your friends with knowledge like this could save them from being manipulated.

 

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