We live in a society that thrives on people’s inability to resist persuasion. Whether that’s your boss convincing you to stay late, a company advertising its new product, or your mother’s “suggestion” not to get that nose ring, we are constantly assaulted with others’ attempts to change our attitudes and behavior.
However, susceptibility to persuasion can be a dangerous thing. In our world, others tend to value their own interests more than yours, and that can result in buying things you never wanted or giving into requests that really aren’t fair.
So, instead of being “convinced” to act contrary to your own wishes and desires, let’s talk tactics to make you invulnerable to others’ manipulation.
Often, we enter situations where we know the other person is going to try to persuade us, and in these cases, there are some steps you can take ahead of time to reduce their influence.
First, make sure you’re well rested. Research shows that when people are mentally tired, they’re more easily persuaded. A big part of resisting persuasion is being able to counter-argue the persuasive attempt. In this regard, consider having a coffee before engaging with your persuader. That boost of energy can provide the extra “push” to combat the speaker’s influence.
However, having the energy to defend your pre-held beliefs is only half the battle. If you don’t want to be persuaded, you need to be confident in the attitude you already hold. For example, if you’re significant other wants to purchase something the two of you can’t really afford, being certain in your stance will make you better at resisting.
To this effect, try to connect the belief that you hold (that is, the belief the other person is trying to change) to a component of your self-concept. For example, if we return to the instance where your partner wants to buy something you don’t, connect your stance on this matter to your self-concept of being a responsible person. That is, rather than thinking about how you oppose this singular purchase, consider how it reflects on your overall identity as a mature and conscientious individual.
Along these lines, when someone tries to convince you to do something you’re opposed to doing, instead of saying “I can’t do this,” say “I don’t do this.” By saying “don’t,” you’re connecting this instance of persuasion to your personal identity. And when people try to convince you of something based on your self-concept, they’re much less likely to be successful.
However, not only can you use your mind to resist to persuasion, but you can also use your body.
Research shows that when listeners stare at the eyes of the persuader, they are less convinced by the message than if they’re looking elsewhere. Scientists suggest that prolonged eye contact can produce feelings of “combativeness” or “threat” in the listener. From our evolutionary, animal roots, eye contact signals challenge. So when we engage in it while conversing, it makes us subsequently less receptive to the speaker’s influence.
And for a bonus tip while staring down your persuader, try to keep from smiling or nodding your head. Vast amounts of research show that thoughts in our head can be influenced by the actions of our body. For example, research shows that nodding your head while listening to a persuasive message actually makes you more convinced of it.
Thus, if you refrain from smiling or nodding while the speaker tries to cajole you, your brain will infer from your body that you’re not very convinced. Plus, the speaker him or herself will react to those cues from your body language, reducing their own confidence in the message for which they’re trying to convince you.
So, the next time you think someone is going to try to persuade you—or you believe they’re already attempting it, use some of these validated tricks from psychological research to believe and act as you wish to do.
Briñol, P, & Petty, R. E. (2003). Overt head movements and persuasion: A self-validation analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1123-1139.
Burkley, E. (2008). The role of self-control in resistance to persuasion. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(3), 419-431.
Chen, F. S., Minson, J. A., Schöne, M., & Heinrichs, M. (2013). In the Eye of the Beholder Eye Contact Increases Resistance to Persuasion. Psychological Science, 24(11), 2254-2261.
Patrick, V. M., & Hagtvedt, H. (2012). “I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), 371-381.
About the Author
Jake Teeny is currently pursuing his PhD at Ohio State University, where he researches how people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are influenced by the presence of other people–real or imagined.