There are some simple ways to proof yourself against manipulation and undue influence. Influence is a reality of daily life. For good or ill, every day, every hour, we are immersed in influence, from advertisers and associates, family and friends, bosses, bullies, and even those bizarre people on the Internet. We are exposed to thousands of persuasive words, every single day. Everybody has an opinion, and they want us all to know about it. But how do we distinguish those who just want to share an idea from the people who are luring us into an abusive or exploitative situation?
Here are nine simple approaches to sort out the helpful from the harmful influence in your life, and to proof yourself against manipulation:
Listen to your gut
From the “micro-expressions” flashing across a fraudster’s face, to the mismatched font on a bogus webpage, many clues to wrongdoing won’t register consciously, but we still perceive them. You know that something isn’t quite right; you just can’t put a finger on what it is. Even if there isn’t a con in the offing, it’s always good to stop and ask yourself why red flags are being raised.
Ask who is in charge, ask about the ideas you are being presented with, ask to see references, ask your friends what they think, ask yourself “does this make sense?” –these questions and more are essential when making any important decision. The more time and money you are being asked to invest in anything, the more it is worth knowing as much as you can, up front, before signing on the dotted line. If something doesn’t make sense to you, then an important piece of the puzzle is missing: keep probing until you’re sure you understand.
Listen for “weasel” words
Even more important than asking the right questions is listening to how they are being answered. Are you being told not to put aside your questions and just “take it on faith”? Are there a lot of qualifying, modifying words in what you’re being told? Has a real authority been quoted, or just common belief? Are there vague generalizations scattered throughout the glowing recommendations given? None of these are good signs. Recognizing these slippery words and phrases is an important part of Bamboozle Detection, which is a useful tool to proof yourself against manipulation.
Understand the scientific approach
Or, at the very least, learn what constitutes scientific proof and what doesn’t. People who know nothing of the scientific method will have you believe that science is a faith like “any other faith system,” but real, scientific proof can be demonstrated: a given result can be replicated, predicted, quantified and measured – no matter who does it, or when. Anecdotal evidence – such as “Well, it worked for my Aunt Bertha when…” – might provide a personal touch, but it should NOT be taken in place of valid scientific proof.
If a method or system is scientifically valid, it will be recognized by several separate, independent sources. Conversely, organizations claiming to have the “only real proof” of something might tell you that the “scientific community” has colluded to suppress their vital knowledge, but when we consider such a statement objectively, the idea can sink from the improbable into the preposterously infantile. Scammers will simply insist that their approach is “scientific”, without offering a single study or experiment to support their claim.
Take your time
As we’ve said in this blog before: if you must “buy now”, walk away. Hard-selling is manipulative. An honest friend or salesperson will take “no” for an answer; a predator will keep pushing. If you feel pressured, it is time to end the discussion. Those offering a good deal will let you sleep on it before committing to a costly purchase. If a decision is worth making, it is worth taking time over – and you should have time to revisit that decision. Have you been given what was promised? High-pressure groups and abusive partners are notorious for keeping their members too busy to wonder if they are really doing what they want with their lives.
Don’t just go with your feelings
Beyond taking your time to make a decision, it is always good to make sure that you are making that decision from a rational position. If you have recently lost a job or a loved one, or had a bad breakup, an accident, or a significant change in life circumstances, now is not the time to change anything else about your life – grief and loss can fog our judgment to disastrous effect. Even hunger and loss of sleep can severely inhibit our ability to think clearly. It is also important to “cool down” when we feel that our emotions are at breaking point –clever manipulators press our emotional buttons. On the other side of the scale, beware anyone who directs you to suppress or intellectualize your emotions – your feelings are important. Whether it’s the facts or your feelings about them, it’s important to pay attention to both heart and head.
Have varied interests
A person who is not in a coercive situation has several “roles” in their day-to-day lives: parent, sibling, offspring, lover, friend, student, employer, team-mate – we shift from activity to activity naturally, each part of us as authentic as another. But when undue influence has become the norm, there is only one important role in life, and that is the relationship with the abuser, be it student, spouse, or child – nothing else matters but your response to the predator’s rules. Many abusive groups and individuals fabricate all sorts of reasons why you should abandon your stamp-collecting club, but anyone who wants to narrow the focus of your life is not doing it for your good or even any greater good.
Cultivate your own relationship with the world
Whether you believe in an ultimate Being or not, your concept of the universe – and your relationship to it – is entirely personal to you. For this reason, a vital part of being able to proof yourself against manipulation is to remember that no one else has the right to tell you what God thinks you should do, or what your purpose in this life is; that discovery is yours and yours alone. No one else has the right to intrude between you and your unique perception of reality.
Just say “No!”
Too often, predators use the normal, social behavior that keeps society running smoothly, and subvert it to their advantage. Muggers often use the tactic of stopping a “mark” with a request for directions or assistance – serial killer Ted Bundy would fake an injured arm to lure his victims; when they went to help him, they were in his power. Door-to-door proselytizers and scammers rely on the guilt sociable people feel at turning them away at the door, so that at least a few people feel unable to refuse. Pedophiles use a child’s instilled obedience to elicit compliance. Just as Ira Chaleff teaches in his “Blink, Think” campaign, the simple act of empowering children to say “no” to something that doesn’t make sense can save them from predation and bullying; we all need to cultivate this vital skill: to say “no,” and leave any situation where we feel threatened or coerced.
Living an independent life is not a gift, but a practice, a practice of learning to proof yourself against manipulation. In order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from manipulation and undue influence, we must remain vigilant to the environment around us – and aware of the predators who walk amongst us.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a tool you use to proof yourself against manipulation that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!