6 psychological tools that seem honest but are secretly manipulative

Many psychological tools have an evil after-effect.

I’ve been taught many psychological tools in sales training over the years. I don’t use most of them. Why? Because people are smart. They notice when you’re trying to deceive them with tricks.

Manipulation doesn’t work because the people you deceive figure out what you did, except it happens when you’re not there. Why deceive people when you can be honest and get better results?

Honesty sells better than deception. That’s what is rarely taught by gurus.

These psychological tools are the best ones to avoid, so you don’t become a manipulative little liar that ruins your credibility.

Mirror a person’s body language to make them like you

In face-to-face sales as a 20-something schmuck, I got taught this technique called matching and mirroring. Any Neuro-Linguistic Programming Course will teach you this.

Basically, you look at the prospect’s body language and copy it. If they lean their chair back, you lean your chair back. If they stand up, you stand up. If they cross their legs, you cross your legs.

It’s like a children’s game of Simon Says. Simon says stop.

I tried it a few times many years ago. It feels dumb. People notice that you’re copying their every move and don’t like it. They get turned off whatever you’re trying to persuade them to do.

A copycat is a pain in the butt. Instead of being fake by copying people’s gestures, just be yourself. An honest version of yourself is far more convincing and you’ll outperform in life.

Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.
― André Malraux

“Let’s park that and come back to it”

Ever had a conversation with someone and then heard this phrase? It’s common in business. A time-poor leader will say it during a meeting with zero intention of coming back to your point.

Why? They know there’s a high chance you’ll forget.

This phrase is manipulative. A better way to handle a sudden shift from the agenda is to say “let’s make a note on the whiteboard so we don’t forget to come back to it, and everybody please remind me to.”

That’s an honest way to park a point rather than dismiss an innocent person who’s trying to be heard. To speak up at work is rare. Let’s not park courageous people’s thoughts so they’re never heard.

Ask for help when a person is tired

A colleague I worked with used to always come over right before home time. He knew what time I went home as I made a point to tell him daily. The end of the day was the perfect time to ask me to a make a decision that worked in his favor because I was tired from talking to customers all day.

To ask a person, who is clearly tired, to make a decision is manipulation. The trouble with this strategy is when you use it on someone, and their energy returns the next day, they’re likely to change their mind or curse you in their head for forcing them to make a dumb decision they now regret.

The same applies to romantic relationships. Podcaster Tim Ferriss has a well-known rule: No decisions before bed.

I’ve adopted a similar strategy. Decisions made when your energy is low are normally not well-thought-out. Low energy equals shortcuts. And shortcuts with decisions act like swiss cheese holes in the result.

If you care about someone, don’t ask them to make decisions before bed.

If you want to trick people into liking you, ask them for a tiny favor

Another common trick is to ask people for a favor when you don’t actually want one. Like “hey, can you hold my bag for a minute?” The person is supposed to think they like you because they’re doing you a favor.

The truth is you’re being dishonest by asking for a favor you don’t need. Smart people will figure out what you’re doing.

“Can I ask your advice?” is another tiny favor that can be used for expert manipulation. I once had a boss who’d ask for my advice. According to research, being asked to be an expert for a few minutes is addictive to our attention-seeking psychology.

We’d sit down over coffee and he’d get me to explain something about social media. Then he’d take what I said and use it against me. The fungus breath man in bike shorts eventually fired my ass with the fake favors he used to collect data.

Every time you see a colleague you know, smile and say hello

“They’ll think you’re nice.”

No they won’t. I call these corporate politicians smiling assassins. They spend their whole day walking the corridors and sitting in foyer coffee shops smiling and waving at people like the queen. In front of the big boss they’re throwing employees under the bus like a corporate psychopath.

A fake smile or a “hello, how are you?” that you don’t have the time or care to listen to just isn’t worth it. People know you’re being fake-nice for the sake of it. Fakeness doesn’t build your reputation at all. People can see through empty interactions that feel awkward to the average person. Ditch them. Choose real interactions that are genuine.

Fake hellos and smiles mean nothing. What matters are your actions.

“You can say no if you’re busy”

One popular study recommends this phrase as a way to get more yeses. I get emails frequently that say something like “But obviously don’t feel obliged.” It can have the opposite effect.

When you make a request there’s a level of guilt when the person says no. This phrase doesn’t actually make it easier to say no. If anything, it draws attention to the possibility of a no, which I find means the requester knows their ask is weak in the first place. You’re better off with a strong ask than a weak one that subtly says “please decline me, it’s okay.”

The truth is we’re all busy — it’s a given. Pointing out that someone might be busy is detracting from the key message you’re trying to get across.


Don’t use psychological tools like these that are actually manipulative. The average person is smart and will figure out what you’re up to. The best persuasion technique I’ve ever learned is brutal honesty.

Honesty shows confidence. Honesty sells. Honesty is easy because you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not.

This article was originally published on Medium.