How to use Reverse Psychology

Reverse psychology refers to trying to get another person to say or do something that is the exact opposite of what they want. It is a technique that is very successful in advertising and can also be useful when dealing with certain individuals. However, great care is needed to know how and when to use this type of psychology, as it can be interpreted as manipulation by some individuals or in specific cases. Stick to using reverse psychology only occasionally and in situations that aren’t serious.


How to get a person to change their mind with reverse psychology

  • 1) Start by presenting an option. Initially, it is necessary to expose to the other person what you want, causing the option to be “hammered” into the target’s brain. Even if it’s something the individual would normally resist—making him or her make fun of what you say—he needs to be aware of the option being addressed. 
    • For example, suppose you are deciding which party to go to on Friday. There are two options: one where there will be a series marathon — which pleases your friend, who loves them —, or another with board games all night long, which is your preference.
    • Tell your friend which option you prefer. Say, “Did you know that Elaine and Lucas are having a party just so we can play board games? Kind of boring, right?”
  • 2) Use subtle ways to turn this option into something attractive. You need to find ways to make this party something you want to go to. Leave subtle “clues” that can create a desire for the target to choose the option you want. 
    • In the example above, one way is to mention the board games that will be the “main event” of the party. If you like, play with friends a day or two before the celebration, allowing psychology’s “target friend” to see how fun they can be. #*An alternative is to highlight other qualities, such as those of others who will be at the party. Talk about cool memories you have with Lucas and Elaine. Something like this: “Elaine knows everything about wine; the most delicious ones are always in her cellar.”
    • You can also make your friends look more interesting. Say some fun facts about them, such as “Joana always has the best wines at her house”.
  • 3) Use non-verbal cues. In front of your friend, play a mobile version of the board game that will be brought to the party, or invite “Elaine” and “Lucas” to have coffee with the same friend before the party, so that he understands how the couple is friendly and fun.
  • 4) Try to dissuade or dispute the option. Once the friend is more likely to accept you, you need to be mildly argumentative. This is the extra “push” it takes to get your friend to do what you want, as they will already be willing to accept what you want. By backing off at this point, a naturally resistant person will say they prefer that option. 
    • Going back to the example above, wait until you both leave work on Friday. Call your friend and say “well, we can go to Lucas and Elaine’s house or check out that series marathon at Ricardo’s house. What do you prefer? I think playing at Lucas and Elaine’s house can be a bit boring.”
    • At this point, the friend will try to “convince” you to go to Lucas and Elaine’s party. However, if he is still undecided, try to be more frank. Say “we can always go to their house some other time”.
  • 5) Force your “target” to come to a decision. To end the negotiation process, it is time to force the individual to decide; the idea here is to make him think he is making a decision on his own. Politely ask what he wants to do and listen to the answer. What is expected is that the “target” chooses the option that you also wanted. [4]
    • In the example above, say “we can all go to Elaine and Lucas’s party, or the series marathon at Ricardo’s house. What do you think? You decide.”.
    • By emphasizing that the decision belongs to the friend, he will think that he is asserting his own autonomy. By talking about Lucas and Elaine’s party, you’ve already made this option more attractive, but you’ve also exposed some resistance to it, which people who like to go against everything (like your friend) can also go against your resistance. Hopefully, he’ll opt for Lucas and Elaine’s party.


Situations where reverse psychology is effective

Discover the personality types that respond best to reverse psychology. Not everyone is an easy target for reverse psychology; more compliant individuals generally respond positively to direct requests. When meeting people who are resistant by nature, reverse psychology can be a good option. [5]

  • 1)
    • Think about the interactions you’ve had with the “target” in question. Does he generally take things as they are or does he tend to resist? If you know someone who thinks more independently and tries to go against imposed conventions, they may be more susceptible to reverse psychology than someone who normally accepts dictates.
    Tip: This should also be taken into account when trying to use this type of psychology on children. When having stubborn children, the chance of responding to reverse psychology is much greater than a child who obeys.
  • 2) Try using reverse psychology for fun purposes, especially with children. Reverse psychology should be employed in light or humorous situations. This is even more true in young children; try using it in a way that the “target” thinks he is outsmarting you. 
    • Say, for example, you want your child to make his bed. Ask him to wait until you finish brushing your teeth to start, as he is still a child and needs help with this task. Most likely, when he enters the bedroom, he will already be starting to make the bed, as he wants to prove his autonomy.
    • In teenagers and adults, try to employ reverse psychology in the same way. Allow the individual to feel that he is asserting his autonomy in the situation. When choosing between two films with a friend, for example: one of them is a dubbed animation, and the other is a German film, with subtitles, where people speak very quickly. You want to see the German work, so say “I don’t think I can keep reading quick subtitles”. The friend might insist on watching this movie to prove he can understand the context, even with fast subtitles.
  • 3) Consider what the other person wants. Before using reverse psychology, think about what the individual is likely to want given the situation. Sometimes it may be necessary to employ a more complicated form of reverse psychology; if someone wants to do something and manages to “ignore” the urge to resist, this method can backfire. Example: a friend wants to go to a concert in a part of the city where it is not recommended for him to go alone. You think this is a bad idea, but using simple reverse psychology might not work. Saying to the friend “yes, go. There is only one life, enjoy it” can make him even more excited to go, as the desire to watch the show is great. [7]
    • Try arguing against yourself in such cases rather than making the choice in question. Going back to the example above, say “I can’t do anything you don’t want. This part of town is kind of dangerous, but only you can decide what’s best for you.”
    • You will be encouraging your friend to think for themselves in this case. If he is resistant by nature, he may listen to your advice instead of thinking for himself. The friend may end up deciding not to go to the show.
  • 4) Think about the end result. Never get it out of your head by reminding yourself what you want the other person to do. Sometimes it will be necessary to argue when using reverse psychology, causing you to forget what you want during the argument. Don’t lose track of your goal.


Avoiding the Overuse of Reverse Psychology

Avoid overuse of this method. Despite working very well in certain situations, psychology is still a subtle form of manipulation. Employing reverse psychology can always be very harmful to your own relationships. 

  • 1)
    • Smaller situations like this can build up, leading to a kind of resentment in the relationship. Your partner may, for example, be irritated by always having to submit to you.
    Hint: Use reverse psychology in situations that don’t really matter. Employ the tactic when, for example, you are with your wife and deciding which movie to watch, but don’t do it all the time. It is important to allow your partner to choose recreational activities from time to time.
  • 2) When using reverse psychology, stay calm. Reverse psychology can be frustrating, especially when using it on children. Stubborn people and children can resist your way of thinking a little more, requiring you to stay calm and not lose your composure. 
    • If a child becomes psychologically upset after “suffering” from the use of reverse psychology, remain calm and let him do what he wants. With patience, she will calm down and behave normally.
  • 3) Avoid using reverse psychology in serious situations. There are some opportunities where reverse psychology can backfire on you, leading to very serious consequences. Always avoid it when one’s well-being or health is in question. [10]
    • Say, for example, that a friend of yours has a chronic fear of doctors. He has a large bump growing on his right shoulder, but he doesn’t want to see a specialist.
    • Never say “you’re right, you shouldn’t go”. Your friend’s great fear of doctors can easily overcome his need to resist; you will make the situation worse and reinforce dangerous behavior.

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