Why manipulation is better than its reputation

We want to be in control and make free, independent decisions - guided by rationality and with a clear mind. It's not surprising that manipulation has a bad reputation. It calls on emotions and clouds the senses. 

But sometimes manipulation can seduce us to a better life.


I recently came across a Pinterest account that specializes in old advertisements. Coca-Cola makes you strong like a horse, the right sewing machine makes your family love you more and cocaine... well, cocaine makes your migraine disappear in no time. Might involve jail time, but that's a different topic. The level of sincerity in the presentation of their goods amazed me. 

We all know how advertising works: It catches us beyond rational thinking. It's a success if we stand in the shop and buy the product steered by emotion; without knowing why and how. 

A goal has been injected into our brain. We have been manipulated to feel a need we didn't have before, and we acted on it. We were not even fully aware that we have been manipulated. 

Marketers use a lot of techniques to manipulate our buying behavior. The kind of trickery you will never find on my page, offers and seminars. 

Scarcity, for instance. Seth Godin (who's teachings I very much and regularly appreciate) masterfully presents an offer as rare and exclusive. “"Only a few handpicked students.” We want rare and exclusive things. It's worth more in our perception if it's rare.

If we thought about it, we would know that we will end up in a group of as many students as buy the offer. But we don't have a chance to think if the manipulation is good. 

manipulation old ad picture credit factmyth

Picture Credit: factsmyth.com

How does manipulation work?

It's not as obvious as the presenter on the home shopping network (even though these shopping channels move incredible amounts of product.) Shopping networks are "trying too hard” and that someone wants to persuade us to buy a product is painfully transparent. 

The woman with the big white smile who tells us we are better mothers if we buy that overpriced, obscenely unhealthy desert for our children is more like a caricature than an influencer. 

But it allows us to look at the mechanics of manipulation through a burning lens. 

The scene portrays harmony, happiness, and recognition for the mother who serves the grossly red looking artificial desert. The product is connected to feel-well emotions. We want to feel acknowledged. We want to feel happy and, for once, have harmony at the dinner table. 

That makes a buying decision much more likely and the product seems more attractive. You're not buying a nasty red desert—you're buying the feel-well emotion a marketer connected to it. You have been manipulated. 

What's happening when someone manipulates us

If we analyze the manipulation, the emotional level is most interesting. Someone reminds us in a subtle way and suggestive how often we fight at the dinner table and how exhausting and frustrating it feels. Or how tired we are at work and how tasty a sugary mass melts on our tongues. 

We can nearly feel how we relax at a harmonious dinner while everyone acknowledges our hard work, and we can nearly smell the delicious desert and feel its consistency on our tongue. 

From thinking, we're pushed into feeling and all of our cool and calculating rationality fades away. 

Many people were shocked when they learned how others persuade and manipulate them during my emotional training. Manipulation confronts us with a loss of control by working outside the spectrum of rationality. 

Is manipulation always bad?

For centuries, the ability to make rational decisions was a metaphor for freedom and dignity. A large part of our society, the way we conduct business and our lives have been rationalized. They taught us to push our emotions back, as if they make us unfree and animalistic. 

Operating the emotional level of someone became a despicable action – everyone agreed on that.

That did not change that everyone and everything triggers our emotions in multiple ways. We constantly feel something. We react emotionally to sounds or a touch; to smell and when we see something that pleases our eye. 

Storytelling is a form of influencing. Since ancient times, we learn from stories. We like if someone makes it easy and interesting for us. 

Manipulation also is a form of influence you find in sales, politics, and economy and interpersonal relationships. 

The question if manipulation is good or bad cannot be answered with a yes or no. The answer and ethical diagnosis are: It depends.  

Obviously, manipulating the young couple to buy a house they cannot afford is reprehensible. Here, the seller selfishly persuaded the young couple to an action that causes them harm.  He used his expertise on the matter and persuasion skills to render the young couple a play ball, helping him to a big commission check.

When manipulation is good

If you are worried about your kid because it does not stop texting while driving, and you use the power of story to paint a picture in its head that creates fears – is that a bad thing?

If you use emotion to capture someone's attention so you can teach them something important—is that bad?

When you're in love, and you're trying to win the heart of your crush, you will not use rational arguments to convince your crush you're a great partner. Is that the same? Are we lost, powerless and unfree?

Manipulation can be positive if someone makes a suggestion, but they leave us with options and we have the free choice.

What if I could see you are in pain, and I am able to show you how you can help yourself, but I know you will not listen to scientific presentations about frontal and parietal lobes? What if I painted a picture instead of how you would feel if you went through that training?

Manipulation is not bad per se, it has a bad reputation because many abuse it. 

What is better? Rational or emotional level?

If someone uses the emotional level to suggest something, but we are still free to choose, the purpose of the manipulation is not negative, and our psychic ecology stays in balance. 

Rational control is not always better. When following the rules of ethics, manipulation can help us to a better life. It makes many things easier for us by showing us subconscious paths that simplify decision-making. 

Yes, we are vulnerable. Someone can use manipulation to seduce us to buy something we do not need or to do something that is harmful. 

How to tell good from bad manipulation

The key is to understand that someone tries to manipulate us and why. As long as we can read their intentions and emotions, we're good. 

Emotional intelligence allows us to understand someone's motives and their agenda.

With a high EQ, you cannot be rushed or pushed into making a decision you later regret. Because your rational and emotional levels are in balance and harmony. 

You understand that it's the picture someone painted in your head that you desire. You know why he painted it, and you can consider with your rational brain if the product can re-paint the picture in your life. 

It all comes down to trust. Can I trust the person who is trying to manipulate me? People love to be careless, relax and connect on an emotional level. 

As there are also a few abusive manipulators out there, raising your EQ is your best bet—whether you check how you will feel once you're able to tell one from the other or if you think about it rationally.