Steve Fenton

How to manipulate people with psychology

Strangely, even though I have only a casual background in Psychology (I recently decided to make it less casual by undertaking an NCFE Level 3 in Psychology), people seem to think that I have special powers. Not all people, but some people. For some reason, when I propose an idea and people take it up and make it happen they think I have cleverly manipulated people using television-show Psychological tricks. This saddens me, because I like to believe that what happened is that I had a really good idea.

So this leads me onto a question that I have been asked twice in my life and that disturbs me greatly.

“How do you convince people to do what you want?”

I got this question in two different forms. One was more along the lines of “why do people listen to your ideas, but not mine?” and the other was a slightly more disturbing “how do I manipulate people to do what I want?”.

This upsets me for many, many reasons – but mostly because of the massive misrepresentation of Psychology as an academic subject and as an applied science.

When I read Understanding Psychology by Dr Nicky Hayes, I did indeed learn a great deal about how people behave and the reasons behind it. (If you want to learn a great deal about the subject, this is the book you start with). The thing is, at no point during my interest or study of Psychology have I thought about applying it to manipulate, influence, trick or otherwise misinform people. What I have done is learned to be more sensitive to the particular situation and how I react to it. Put simply, when someone is shouting at me, I no longer automatically shout back.

I’m not using Psychology to change other people – I’m learning to adjust how I behave. It is really easy to adjust your own behaviour once you understand a little about how your brain works. If your behaviour is improved, you are more effective – and this is where you may become more influential, although a bad idea is always just a bad idea.

So please don’t ask me how you can use Psychological dekes or feints to fool people into doing what you want. Be prepared to let go of an idea that isn’t gaining traction and be ready to listen to other peoples’ ideas.

Written by Steve Fenton on