Reverse psychology is a popular technique that can be used to influence the decisions of friends, relatives and partners without them even being aware. It’s one of the more well-known examples of ‘pop psychology’ but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work – or that you can’t use it to get what you want out of your relationships!
What Is Reverse Psychology?
Reverse psychology is simple: you suggest someone should do the opposite of what you really want them to do, or you present an idea that is the opposite of what you want them to believe and that way, you help them to reach the conclusion that you want them to use.
This works because we are naturally inclined to reject ideas that are being forced on us. We don’t like being told what to think or do and thus we will very quickly present counter arguments to any argument we’re presented with.
Tell someone to sit down and not wash the dishes and they will be more likely to say ‘no, they need doing’.
Tell someone that they should stop worrying so much and they will worry more.
Reverse psychology can even be used to gain compliments – just say out loud how you don’t like your hair today and someone is bound to tell you how nice it looks!
There are more nuanced and subtle reasons that this works too – which go beyond our simple contrary nature. For example, when you tell someone to do the opposite of what you want them to do, it hides your motivations and thus makes the argument more compelling.
If you tell someone to relax, then they will suspect you have their best interests at heart – rather than thinking you just want a clean kitchen!
How to Use the Strategy With Finesse
There is a certain finesse with which to use this strategy though.
If you use the technique in an obvious way – by asking them to wash the dishes as per our last example for instance – then they will often see through it and reject the idea. And apart from that, this is a somewhat manipulative way to get what you want and isn’t terribly helpful for the relationship in the long term! This much more straightforward method of reverse psychology can be more effective on children however.
A better way to think about it, is simply as a way to help people reach the conclusions that you want them to reach. For example, you could wait for a time when there are no dishes to clean and just make the statement that you guess it doesn’t matter if the kitchen looks like a mess the next time you have friends around – they don’t need to think you live in a nice house! This can just provide some food for thought and help your partner to come to their own conclusions at a time when it won’t seem like manipulation. Better yet, say something along the lines of it being your responsibility really, seeing as your partner does X.
It can also be used to address difficult topics. Friends not volunteering to pay for petrol after you gave them a lift? Announce that they don’t need to pay for petrol, they will be filled with an overwhelming obligation to refuse your offer and expect that you’re just doing ‘the dance’ and will insist on your point. Instead, you relate and say ‘that’s $30, thanks.”
Try to use reverse psychology at times where it isn’t obvious what you stand to gain and use it to provoke thought and conversation. Understand that it is emotional and not logical and that it works best when you want to push someone gently toward a certain outcome rather than trick them in a more direct fashion.
But be careful how and when you use this technique as it can potentially alienate people. Using it to unsettle a competitor in a sporting event is fine – using it repeatedly on those you love might ultimately have the reverse effect to the one you intended.