Freedom from Manipulation © Martyn Carruthers 2005

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Recognize Compliance and Overcome Manipulation

Many marketing programs are designed by professionals to influence and persuade you … to access your money, influence your vote, gain your obedience or to implant obsessions. Representatives of religions and political parties may want to persuade you to obey some dogma or promote some slogan. Common ways of gaining compliance are:

Social Proof Reciprocity Likeability
Scarcity Consistency Authority


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Compliance & Reciprocity

In your desire to be fair, do you:

  1. hide your power from other people?
  2. ignore other factors in your decisions?
  3. repay a tiny favor with a much larger favor?
  4. forget to decide whether you wish to feel indebted?

If a seller shows you a luxury car – you may be more motivated to buy a cheaper model. If a designer shows you a top of the line package – you may become more willing to purchase a less expensive deal. Many compliance games start with offers for you to reject, followed by a lesser offer that they planned for you to accept.

A defense against reciprocity is to admire the bait or accept a favor, if you want it, but be ready to redefine it as a trick. Then you can better reject manipulation.

Malicious Compliance (Working to Rule)

Malicious compliance inflicts harm by strictly following orders, knowing that compliance with the orders will cause loss or damage. This form of sabotage is used to harm leadership or is used by leadership to hurt subordinates.

A work-to-rule is malicious compliance in which rules are carefully followed in a deliberate attempt to reduce productivity.

Compliance & Consistency

You probably want your words, attitudes and deeds to be consistent. This reduces your need to reprocess information and offers shortcuts through complex decisions. If you are invited to take a position (e.g. a loyal member of an association), you may act in ways that do not support your own values, goals or even your life.

To resist consistency, you can ask yourself, “If remember my own values, would I still make this commitment?

Compliance & Social Proof

Before making decisions, check what other people believe. An organization may misinform you that many  other people have purchased their products or used their services. This may motivate you to do something that you would otherwise avoid.

Social proof can most influence you when:

  • you feel uncertain (you are more likely to accept others’ actions as correct)
  • people like you do something (you are more likely to follow people like you)

You can test the evidence of what others are doing and recognize that other people, even people like you, need not be a basis for your decisions.

Compliance & Likeability

You are more likely to agree with people you like. You credit people you like with talent, kindness and intelligence. Many organizations, politicians and other salespeople use this to influence your decisions. Remember that most salespeople are selected or trained to be likeable. Effective sales includes:

  • being physically attractive
  • giving praise and compliments
  • association with things you want
  • contacting you in pleasant circumstances
  • building familiarity through repeated contacts
  • appearing to have similar values and beliefs to you

If I notice that I like a seller, I mentally separate the person from the product, and decide about the quality and desirability of the product independent of the apparent personality of the seller. I also analyze which sales techniques were used to influence me … this helps me remain cool and realistic. Martyn

Compliance & Assumed Authority

If you comply with authorities mindlessly, you probably respond to symbols of authority rather than to real authority. Three authority symbols are particularly effective – you may be more compliant to people with any of these symbols – even to people who have no other evidence of authority!

  • Automobiles (does a BMW really indicate success?)
  • Titles (fake university degrees can be purchased by mail order)
  • Clothes (thrift or charity stores often have quality clothes for little money)

You can defend yourself against compliance and assumed authority by asking for details about their automobiles, titles and clothes … or just by asking yourself:

  • Is this person competent?
  • What proof of expertise is available?
Compliance & Scarcity

Do you fall for “limited amount” or “deadline” tactics? A message may seem more powerful if presented as exclusive or special. If a product or service is presented as a special offer – it may seem more desirable and you are more likely to buy it.

Check if you want the goods or services. Maybe the items are available elsewhere … most marketers and salespeople are trained to manipulate you by distorting truth.

Stop Being Manipulated

Some people will try to manipulate you, and knowing their tricks can help you prevent this. Once you observe their methods, your attention reduces their ability to abuse you.

You can feel buyer’s remorse BEFORE you buy a product or service … and then you can better re-evaluate their offers independent of their sales techniques.
Just imagine that you’ve already owned it for a few months.

Another simple defense is to upset their pattern. I sometimes congratulate sellers on their skill in sales, persuasion or manipulation. I may ask where they learned this and what they do with it. This interrupts them … I can learn and I can leave.

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