A Subtle Manipulation Tactic: The Unexpected Key To Manipulation

How Is Psychological Manipulation Done?

Today we are going to talk about the unexpected key to manipulation. The key is learning to use someone’s momentum.

Manipulation Misconception

But first let’s clear up a common misconception about manipulation. Many think that true manipulation involves hijacking someone’s mind and forcing them to do as you wish, almost like a video game character.

Manipulation doesn’t work that way. This is because when people get a single whiff that you are trying to control their behavior, they will dig in and resist. Subtle manipulation tactics are much more effective.

The Most Subtle Manipulation Tactic

That is why Intelligent people know that manipulation relies on tactfully reframing a person’s existing momentum so their actions bring about the result you want. You take the type of thoughts and behavior that people are already likely to do, and get them to trigger in the right situations so that the person does what you want.

This is how social media platforms manipulate us. They use our need to feel connected and belonging to persuade us to do certain things. In other words, they use our momentum to feel liked to nudge us into changing our opinions to fit what the group appears to think and want.

But social media isn’t the only power using this technique to manipulate.

What Is An Example Of Subtle Manipulation? Example 1

Take for example this scene from the show The Mentalist. The show is about a man who uses his superior understanding of people to help the police catch criminals. In this situation, the police have brought in a suspect for questioning. 

At the beginning of the show the police had overlooked this man because they thought he had mental issues. Pay attention closely in these scenes we can see the key to effective manipulation.

In this scene the man pretends to have mental issues so that the police overlook him. But Patric Jane notices a complex novel that is well warn and realizes that this man is simply playing dumb.

People have the desire to think they are better than others. They have a type of psychological momentum where they look for reasons to feel superior. 

By appearing stupid, this criminal allows people to fulfill their need. He uses their momentum to hide in plain sight. This almost allowed him to get away with a crime. Only the ever observant main character spots the trick. The criminal has used the investigator’s momentum to manipulate them. Think about it. How often do you stop and ask yourself if you are justified in thinking you are smarter than someone else? 

A Question To Help You Understand Manipulation

So Instead of trying to force a person to take an action head on, ask yourself this question: In what situation would this behavior or character trait be a disadvantage? In what situation would this person’s behavior or thought process cause them problems? In what situation would this characteristic benefit my goals? Then construct that situation, trigger the behavior, and watch the person walk right into your trap. Let’s look at how to do this in a more practical situation.

Subtle Manipulation Example 2

Pretend you are at war with a person who is very blunt and outspoken. People like this often say what they think, despite the feelings and reactions of other people. Under what situation would this be a weakness?

One situation where outspokenness would cause problems is if they are in a room with someone who is sensitive. Find a topic that would offend the sensitive person and then bring it up. The outspoken person’s psychological momentum, or their desire to speak their mind at all costs, will then lead to the person becoming more isolated as they offend people around them. Thus you have manipulated the person into isolating themselves by reframing what used to be a positive personality trait.

Stick around till the end if you want to know the simple method for defending against this type of manipulation.

What Are Some Psychological Weaknesses?

So what are some common examples of psychological momentum? Weaknesses that can be exploited include, outspokenness, low self esteem, overly naive or trusting, a contrarian personality, or excessive empathy. Look for these in yourself if you want to not be manipulated. Look for these in others if you want to learn how to manipulate. But the key to remember here is that any commonly repeated behavior can be turned into a weakness if you create the right situation.

Subtle Manipulation Example 3

Here is another example from The Mentalist where the main character uses people’s existing momentum. One policeman feels insecure about how short he is. The other policeman likes to joke around. Watch how the Mentalist creates a situation where these behaviors cause a problem.

In this clip Jane takes an innocuous comment by one police man and points it out to the insecure one. He says that the insecure police man shouldn’t take the comment seriously. Then while he is stirring on the comment, Jane goes to the other police man and gets him laughing. Then he gets him to signal how short his child is. The insecure policeman sees the conversation from far away. He thinks they are talking and laughing about him. He goes and starts a fight because of it.

So we see again how Jane uses one man’s light hearted attitude and joking personality to make the insecure police officer feel even more insecure.

This pattern of using a person’s momentum can be done with anything. Picture someone who is always well prepared and thinks through situations ahead of time. They have plans and backup plans. This is typically a strength as it leads to people respecting their opinion. How can you reframe this momentum? In what situation would thorough preparation be a disadvantage?

Thorough preparation looks impressive when it is aimed towards making a project successful. But what if it was focused on how the project could fail?

One way to use a person’s thorough preparation is to emphasize all the time spent focusing on what could go wrong. What type of person focuses that much on what could go wrong? Someone who doesn’t believe in the project in the first place. Someone who isn’t really part of the team. Someone who thinks the people around them will fail. Thus, by focusing people on the negative part of the person’s preparation, you reframe their strength into weakness.

Part of the power of this method is that it is such a subtle manipulation tactic. So how do we defend ourselves if someone tries to manipulate us this way? 

How Do We Respond To This Subtle Manipulation Tactic? Defenses

The main way to fight back is to spot the tactic long before it happens. Seek to understand your own weaknesses, strengths, and characteristics. Ask yourself what characteristics would people attribute to me? Think about how you would manipulate yourself. If you can spot manipulation in its infant stages, you can counter with your own strategy, reframing the manipulator’s momentum to serve your own goals.

Robert Greene shares an example of this in one of his books. See members only bonus content for the full reference.

There was once a man who pretended to have heart issues. He used his wife’s empathy to get her to act in the way he wanted. He guilt tripped her. Eventually, she began to feel manipulated and wanted to do something about it.

The woman decided to use her husband’s momentum against him. She knew he would continue to whine about his heart issues. So every time he whined about medical problems, he decided to take out funeral brochures and start calculating the costs. 

This behavior reminded the man that he would die, which he obviously didn’t like. Eventually he stopped whining because he didn’t like being reminded of his mortality. Thus, instead of trying to stop the manipulation head on, she found a way to use his momentum against him.

This leads to another aspect of manipulation that is important to understand, control. If you want to learn how to establish control so you can persuade or lead a group, or how to stop someone from controlling you, stay tuned.

Also, check out our post that lists the tactics and tricks of manipulation here.

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