Resisting Persuasion: How to Say No to Anyone

Posted by Jake Teeny on January 17, 2016 in Psychology, 650 words.

Resisting Persuasion

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 Psychology84, 1123-1139.

Burkley, E. (2008). The role of self-control in resistance to persuasion. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin34(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 Research39(2), 371-381.

About the Author

Jake Teeny Course

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.

2 Comments
  1. Jake Teeny 6 months ago

    Hi Zuri,

    I’m sorry I didn’t see your message until now, and as well, I’m sorry you didn’t find value in the article I wrote. Many of the points you raise are fair and accurate; though, I would like to comment on a couple of them.

    First, I agree that it’s hard to predict when someone will try to persuade you, and similarly, what advice column wouldn’t advise being well-rested when that time arrives? The point of discussing sleepiness was to help people recognize that this psychological state can result in being more easily persuaded–not necessarily an intuitive association. And although you can’t always know when people will try to persuade you, there are instances when you know they’ll try (e.g., buying a new car. entering a negotiation, having a “talk” with a parent). In which case, understanding that a lack of sleep can make you susceptible to persuasion, people can ensure they have a coffee or good night’s rest before going into one of those encounters (or if the persuasion encounter happens spontaneously, it may help people introspect on how their tiredness had contributed to their yielding).

    Second, my point about connecting it to the self-concept was only to increase your own confidence and commitment to your stance; this advice was not supposed to speak to invalidating the persuader’s feelings and reasons. Of course, like you suggest, there are times when we SHOULD give into persuasion: even if we think we’re right, we’re often not. However, there are also times where the opposite is true. For example, someone may recognize themselves as a “push-over,” and in order to get better at resisting others’ requests, they can connect their resistance to their self-concept to reduce chances of giving in to the persuasion.

    Finally, I would like to more broadly comment that this article was intended to be written at a level that encompasses many different persuasion settings. As with all things, the context will matter. For example, like you point out, sometimes eye contact can indicate to the other person that you are genuinely interested. At other times, eye contact can indicate authority or even a “challenge” to the other individual. The same can be said for head nodding, where sometimes it can be genuine, while at other times, it can be sarcastic. Again, I’m sorry you weren’t able to find value in this post after spending time reading/listening to it. The goal wasn’t to provide a panacea for resisting persuasion, and instead, it was intended to simply shed light on some of the psychological mechanisms that relate to resisting persuasion.

    Sincerely,
    Jake

  2. Zuri 11 months ago

    There are several holes in these arguments.

    1.) Most people aren’t going to schedule a time to ask you to do or give your permission to do something, especially a partner. “Make sure you’re rested.” Isn’t that important in every aspect of life? There are few advice blogs out there suggesting that you not be well rested. Also, the person asking can do so at any random moment. They could even wait till you’re just about to go to bed. Coffe?! “Hey babe, hold that thought. Let me run to Starbucks before I answer that.”

    *Shakes head, Sighs*

    2.) “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.”
    You mean, invalidate that person’s reasons and feelings, reassure them that their wants and needs are nowhere near as important as your ego? Insult them and say “Responsible people don’t do that”? There are a number of instances where this advice can be taken and used the wrong way! What if the person asking is in the right and what they are requesting is in your best interest and theirs?

    3.) Eye contact is threatening?! Last time I checked, it showed genuine interest and consideration as an audience. It should only be threatening if the person is a bad liar.

    4) Refrain from nodding? See ex. 2. Plus, I believe a lot of people use this as a sarcastic gesture for a reason.

    Wow. So is this bizarro advice or something?

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