Although the art of manipulation was initially developed for sales, nowadays it’s used in many different spheres, from mass media to interpersonal relations, consciously and not so consciously. This time I intend to name some specific techniques, and tell you how they work and what to do if you realise that you’re involved in a manipulation game.
«The foot-in-the-door» technique is one of the most common and also one of the easiest ways of manipulating others’ behaviour and attitudes. Its working principle is pretty straightforward: you’re asked, first, to do something modest before saying «yes» to a more significant request. A curious experiment took place in the middle of the last century under the supervision of American social scientists. One hundred twelve men and women were chosen and divided into four small groups. Psychologists came to the houses of the members of the first three groups, asking people there to put on their windows a small sign that either promoted safe driving or keeping California clean. Two weeks later, researchers came back to the first three groups plus the fourth group, with whom they had had no earlier contact. This time, the request was way larger. Scientists asked people to put big, unattractive billboards in their yards, promoting one of the previous messages for a second time. Obviously, the percentage of those in the first three groups who agreed to put up a billboard was almost twice the percentage of those who agreed in the fourth group.
But there was a question that needed to be answered: was it the message itself that influenced people to do what they did? And the answer was: no. If the participants first agreed to put up a small sign about safe driving, it wouldn’t matter if later they were asked to put up a billboard about keeping California beautiful. The crux of the matter was compliance.
The results of this experiment were truly brilliant. It demonstrated how much it matters to us to have the self-image of being the kind of people who can comply and say «yes» to others, even if there was no willingness to do this based on actual conviction.
The iconic example of using this technique is the situation in the shopping mall, when a woman comes to you, saying: «May I ask you a question?» You usually let people ask you something, so there’s no point in refusing her. A few moments later, you’re about to spend some money on what she wants from you, leaving her a phone number and so on. It’s not the hypnosis, it’s a simple manipulation. You already said «yes» which means it’s easier to make you say “yes” again.
There’s one more technique, which is exactly the opposite of «the foot-in-the-door» tactic. It’s called «the door-in-the-face» and it’s also got two steps in its structure. First, people are asked to do a large favour. After they decline it, they get a ‘less important’ request, which is actually the real objective. Under these circumstances, you’d rather say «yes» because you feel like you have to make amends. I guess we have all been faced with charities in the streets, when a boy or a girl approaches to ask us if we can help homeless animals. They need volunteers, and you realise that it’s going to be absolutely heartless to say «no» but you really cannot spend 5 hours per day in an animal shelter. They see your perplexity, so they ask you to consider at least donating some money. And you’re happy to do this to get away from them as fast as possible. There’s no doubt that we have to help those who need help so much. Yet I see a big difference between donating from your heart and being manipulated into donating.
Let’s take a look at one more technique. Its name is curiosity gap.
What is it, actually? Curiosity gap is the discrepancy between what we currently know and what we would like to know. It’s mostly used by social media agents, yet it works quite well in our day-to-day communication processes. I bet most of us have been caught by headlines like «You’d never believe what we found out! Read the article now» at least onсe in our lives. Is it actually harmful? I don’t think so. However, the myth about Pandora’s Box proves that this technique can take us onto dangerous turf. Just try to think how many times you have agreed with the following offer:
- You have to promise me that you’ll give in to one of my request. Please-please-please, I’m begging you!
- What is it?
- Promise me first, and then I’ll tell you. Otherwise, you wouldn’t accept it.
Is this honest? Not at all. Are you willing to say «yes» just to find out what it is all about? Absolutely.
And, as a theory never goes on without being put into practice, here is an example of the compliance method in real life. Ashley is a talented photographer. She was a student of one of the best photography schools in her country, and all of the equipment at the school was pretty expensive and cool. Her photoshoots are popular and not cheap, of course, - let’s say 100 € per hour. Her ex-classmate, Jessica, thinks that there’s nothing difficult about taking nice pictures and she just cannot understand why a session with Ashley costs so much.
One evening, Jessica sends a text to Ashley, asking her to make some photos for free. Jessica says she doesn’t need a whole hour for a photoshoot. A few pictures would be enough. Ashley tries to explain that her work is planned in a different way, so it’s not possible for her to spend hours on setting everything up to take a couple of pictures.
«Do you remember our school friendship?» asks Jessica. «If so, can you give me a discount? How about 40 €?» Ashley knows that her work is worth much more. But at the same time, she clearly realises that saying «no» right now would lead her to having a reputation as a presumptuous girl who doesn’t respect her old friends. What just happened? Right: «The door-in-the-face». And it works perfectly here.
As you can see, manipulation techniques are everywhere. And I could advise you to be careful, think about each and every one of your steps, analyse what others tell you and what they really want from you… But I won’t. Instead, I’ll ask you another question. Can you imagine how many times you have been not a victim of a compliance strategy, but its active subject? Do you remember all the ways of achieving your goals, whether it was intentional or not? Manipulation is not some kind of a ‘life sentence’. It can lead to positive consequences as well. Examining everyone around you on the implications of compliance is a very tricky thing. It’s so easy to become a paranoid, suspicious person who sees manipulation in every word and action.
So don’t forget that there are two sides of this coin. Always think about your needs and demands first. And if you feel that you’re forced to do something you don’t really want to do, use the assertive behaviour training you can learn from the previous article about how to say «no».