Brain and Body

5 Ways to Trick People into Doing What You Want

September 16, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Quote: If you can't convince them, confuse them.
Photo credit: brett jordan/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Some of these tips may seem a little manipulative, but all is fair in the game of psychological persuasion.

1.    Use a “decoy” option to make your proposition look like a better choice

The “decoy effect” was first noted by researchers in 1982. It’s proven to be extremely useful for marketing techniques.

Dan Ariely, a professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics, gave a TED Talk explaining the phenomenon with an old Economist advertisement. The ad featured three subscription options: $59 for online only, $159 for print, and $159 for print and online. Clearly the option to pay $159 for print by itself only exists to make the option to pay the same price for print and online more enticing. This kind of “decoy effect” makes people more likely to go for the more expensive option because it looks like they’re getting a great deal.

SEE ALSO: Neuroscience Tips to Remain Calm under Pressure

2.    Confuse people to get them to agree to your requests

A sneaky way to persuade people to comply to your requests is the “disrupt-then-reframe” (DTR) technique.

In a social study, experimenters found that they made twice as much money while going door-to-door selling cards for charity with the DTR method. Instead of telling people they were selling eight cards for $3, they phrased it as 300 pennies for eight cards, “which is a bargain.” Researchers say the routine thought process is disrupted by DTR techniques, so people will most likely just accept the idea that they’re getting a good deal while they’re distracted trying to figure out how many dollars 300 pennies comes out to.

3.    Preface what you really want with something outlandish

If you start out by asking for something completely outrageous, chances are an individual will agree to your second, more-reasonable request. For example, if you ask someone for a $1000 donation to sponsor a charity event, it’s likely they’ll say no. But if you follow up asking for a simple $25 donation (the amount you actually wanted in the first place) you’re much more likely to get it than if you’d started out asking for the $25.

4.    Use nouns instead of verbs

A study published in the book How To Get People To Do Stuff highlights people’s need to feel like they belong. For this reason, it’s more effective to pose questions using the individual as a noun instead of using verbs. In the study, people were asked the same question in two different ways: “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?” and “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” Results showed that individuals who were addressed as “voters” were more likely to cast their ballots the following day.

People are driven by a sense of belonging, so using a noun reinforces their identity as a part of a certain group.

5.    Copy people’s body language and facial expressions

If you’re in a job interview or trying to chat up a pretty girl at the bar, subtly mimicking the subject’s mannerisms will probably make them like you more. Pay attention to the way someone sits or speaks, and try to follow suit.

Scientists call this the “chameleon effect,” and interestingly, the phenomenon occurs without our knowledge that we’re even being influenced. Unconsciously, we tend to like conversation partners that mimic our body language and facial expressions. So, if you imitate someone’s mannerisms, postures, and expressions, they’re more likely to be receptive of you and your requests.


Psychologists also recommend methods like asking someone to do something for you when they’re tired, or communicating your ideas as quickly as possible so people are more likely to agree before processing them. Some of these techniques may come off a bit manipulative and ethically questionable. But then again, how are you so sure people aren’t using them on you? No one said the art of persuasion never got a little dirty.

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