Stop it, I hate that: Recognize the 10 most common manipulation techniques

How to protect yourself from being manipulated

How to protect yourself from being manipulated




What is manipulation?


The term manipulation has different, sometimes more and sometimes less negative meanings. This article is about targeted and covert influence aimed at controlling perceptions, decisions and the behavior of individuals and groups. This can be done with good or bad intentions. Manipulate means for most people to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner:




Which protection options exist?


The first step is to identify the most common manipulation techniques. Then you can use the appropriate counter strategies.




How can manipulation attempts be identified?


The most essential requirement – to protect yourself from manipulation – is to know yourself well. Then you can interpret a possible gut feeling without detours.

We are especially manipulable when we are uncertain. Point!

Okay, I’ll decorate it a bit more, but that’s the core message: Someone who rests in himself is harder to manipulate! Many manipulation techniques are based on sowing doubt, making others feel guilty or taking advantage of low self-confidence.




The 10 most common manipulation techniques


Let’s start with the different manipulation techniques in detail. Which manipulation techniques are there?


Here is a selection:


  1. The principle of reciprocity
  2. Exclusivity / scarcity
  3. The persistence trap
  4. Herd instinct
  5. The friendship trick
  6. The authority trap
  7. Repetition
  8. Emotional tricks
  9. Selective information
  10. Killer phrases




1. The principle of reciprocity


With small favors, other people can be guilty. That’s a popular way of manipulation. Living together is mutual. As long as the principle of reciprocity leads to a largely balanced exchange, everyone benefits from it. Thus, the reflex of responding to a gift with a gift is deeply rooted in many people. However, the connection between give and take can also be exploited. For example, investing one easy favor on another makes one feel obligated and desirous of reciprocating. Frequently, the response does not correspond to the actual intention in other circumstances.

Unfortunately, the experience of being manipulated in such a way often leads to a profound reluctance to accept a favor from other people in the future.

As with all other attempts at manipulation, coexistence becomes more difficult when people feel manipulated. Too bad, because small gifts are good for human relationships. As long as these mechanisms are not unilaterally abused, the principle of reciprocity benefits everyone.




  • If a small favor of a colleague is accepted there are then inhibitions to reject the request for an inappropriate favor.
  • Beggars with flowers, who first give away a withered flower and then demand a donation, for which one could buy a whole bouquet of fresh spring flowers.
  • A harmless variant that uses the principle: There are higher tips if the waiter puts a candy next to the bill.




2. Exclusivity / scarcity

While stocks last! Not only the spectators of the teleshopping channels succumb to the fascination of scarcity. It is easy to get the impression that offers that are almost always sold out must be particularly worthwhile. Otherwise, they would not be so popular, right? In fact, the bottleneck is usually homemade to manipulate and make something more attractive than it is. Again, it helps to understand your own needs, instead of being pressured. Reject inappropriate calls without guilty conscience!




  • Special editions
  • Auctions
  • Sale, special offer, special occasion. The impending loss of freedom to make a decision urges people to choose the option, even if it has not been a priority so far.




3. The persistence trap


The “foot-in-the-door technique” entices to take a first step in a certain direction. This happens, for example, by asking for a small favor. This favor serves as a door opener. People are then much easier to persuade. Sometimes it is enough to ask someone to take a look at a task for a moment and then ask them afterwards if they take over the task completely. This persistence trap significantly increases the probability that we say yes. People tend to be consistent.

In other words, once a person has taken a commitment, he or she is more willing to comply with requests that are consistent with it. “He who said A must also say B” or “what has been started must also be brought to an end. This often works, but is nonsense. Pay attention to your gut feeling; Do you really want that?




  • During the Milgram experiment, this principle was also used. Initially, subjects were asked to administer harmless surges. This was then slowly increased, so it was harder to get out.
  • Fundraising collections that ask for a signature and then a donation.
  • Colleagues asking you to read something first and then ask for help.
  • Sales events with friends




4. Herd instinct


Holy crap: Billions of flies can not be wrong … Even humans are herd animals. What many others do and approve of is considered proof of correctness. As we know from the lemmings, this is not always recommended in practice. It’s not that easy with group intelligence. So beware of purchased references and peer pressure.

The safer you are, what is important to you, the harder you are to manipulate.




  • Haha! In shallow TV series and talk shows recorded laughter ensures that the audience also laugh.
  • A company describes its product as the best-selling. Well then …
  • Wollt Ihr den totalen Krieg? (Do you want total war?) To this question in the speech of Joseph Goebbels of 1943 probably no mentally healthy person would have answered with “Yes”.




5. Friendship trick


Pleasant, nice to meet you. For people who are sympathetic to us, it is much harder to deny wishes. That makes use of the friendship trick. It creates a pleasant atmosphere first. This creates a basis for influencing by the manipulator. Experienced observers recognize the overly conspicuous techniques for the promotion of rapport, such as the mirroring of body language, statements etc.




  • The cliché of the used car dealer in TV series agrees with the customer during the small talk, coincidentally has the same hobbies etc.
  • Excessive praise.
  • Trying to anchor good states.
  • The exaggerated imitation of verbal language, body language and statements.




6. The authority trap


I am Professor Dr. hc. Trickster.

The authority and expert trick is based on combining a convincing appearance with credible-sounding arguments that are not always true. This works especially well if we ourselves have no authority in the relevant field.

Authority can also be borrowed. Some manipulators hide behind other supposed authorities. This often has the purpose to prevent open expressed doubts. A particularly striking example of this is the electric shock experiment by Stanley Milgram. In experiments, more than 60 percent of the authority-led participants were willing to administer surgeries to supposed participants who would have been deadly in reality. And that, although the supposed participants groaned after every impulse, screaming in pain and begging, the experiment may be ended. No mercy, the expert said …

Knowledge is power? Yes! So in case of doubt, inform yourself! And that’s especially true when you encounter resistance. How real is the expert status if he refuses to prove the correctness of statements or if we want to inform ourselves? The alarm bells should ring!




  • Acquisition and use of titles.
  • Status symbols like expensive cars, luxury watches etc.
  • The dentist or the wife of the dentist in advertising for tooth cream.
  • The quality seal of a more or less prestigious institute.
  • The reference to the result of a well-known management consultancy.
  • American scientists have found out …
  • The colleague who claims that the management wants …




7. Repetition


Through constant repetition we can be manipulated. It is often tried to increase the credibility of a statement by the constant repetition as in a brainwashing. As the number of repetitions of an assertion tends to increase, the willingness to accept an assertion as true tends to increase. Through repetition, a notoriety effect occurs that causes us to adopt a familiar friendly attitude. Yes, we humans are quite vulnerable.




  • Advertising messages that are repeated very often.
  • Brand symbols that are placed at sporting events etc. in as many places as possible.
  • Repetition of messages in presentations.




8. Emotional tricks


Appealing to a person’s feelings is often more effective than turning to their reason. Concerns that are likely to fail at the logical level can sometimes be enforced on the emotional level. This is often used to eliminate our logical decision-making ability.




  • Sad photographs at a fundraiser.
  • Horror scenarios in sales talks with solution by a particularly expensive product.
  • Creating feelings of guilt to reduce self-esteem followed by a request (emotional blackmail).
  • To appeal to vanity.
  • Donation or hell as in the Middle Ages




9. Selective information


The exposure or omission of relevant information is very often used for manipulation. Even the line between truth and lies still offers a lot of leeway for liars. Sometimes this latitude is even used with good intention, but it is a delicate step to the dark side.

Education offers some protection, as well as own research, as far as information is available. Good listening provides unintentional hints. Whereby sometimes the missing statements are more informative than the voluntarily expressed information. The exploration of possible interests of the manipulators also provides clues and urges caution.




  • Propaganda
  • Study reports with predetermined goals
  • Lobbyism




10. The killer phrases


Ouch, what a painful argument! Killer phrases are attempts to manipulate individuals or groups by ostracizing any further treatment of a topic. Killer phrases are to be discovered as such and may not distract you. Killer phrases are a taboo!




  • We have always done this way!
  • That’s not possible anyway!
  • That’s none of our business.
  • If I were you, I would say so.



Do you recognize attempts to manipulate you?

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. Albert Schweitzer

Initial release: 20.03.2016
Author: Karsten Noack
Revision: 07.12.2018
Translation: 7.12.2018 / Editing required
German version: