Beyond Persuasion: How to recognise and use Dark Psychology, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and Mind Control in Everyday Life
Author: Rebecca Dolton
Reviewer: Douglas Winslow Cooper
This book’s title grabbed me immediately. Persuasion, influencing the thinking of others, fascinates me, as does the general study of the mind. But what is “beyond persuasion”? It is manipulation, largely the subject of this book, and compulsion, touched upon only in passing here.
I will follow the author’s outline to share some of the valuable information she presents.
Whereas persuasion may arguably be done to you by someone for your best interests, at least as they perceive, manipulation is done against your welfare.
We benefit from recognizing both persuasion and manipulation, but most importantly we need to protect ourselves from the latter, the book’s primary theme. Ms. Dolton promises to show us the tricks that others often use with little regard for our wellbeing.
Manipulation vs. Persuasion
“Manipulation” means to influence in an underhanded manner, to the disadvantage of the one being manipulated. Sadly, it is too common in many contexts, especially where rewards of some type are being competed for. People manipulate others selfishly. Persuasion is less malign, often benign. You may be persuading someone “for their own good.”
The author notes that manipulation is often marked by sadism, selfishness, and malevolence. Manipulation may involve authority, deception, or even force. Manipulators often convince their targets that the desired behavior is “right” or that it will make them loved or respected.
Dolton cites psychologist George Simon’s triad of characteristics that separate a manipulator from a persuader: concealed aggression, targeting of weaknesses, and ruthlessness.
Are we all manipulative? More or less. And less is better.
Right or Wrong – The Ethics of Manipulation
Our desire to fit in with our group, whatever it is, exerts a depersonalized force on each of us to conform. Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay, “Self-Reliance,” noted that society is in a conspiracy against the individuality of each of its members. Some of this is necessary for society to function; some results needlessly in our not knowing what we want or should do. Then group-think swamps individual cognition.
“Churches, cults, political parties, and other institutions that draw clear lines between members and outsiders provide their members with strict, clear guidelines of behavior and attitudes….and separate members from outsiders.” Today, you are pro-Trump or anti-Trump, and deviation from your group induces scorn.
Persuasion used to harm others is often called “manipulation,” and this could well have been the title of this fine book. So, the intent is more the determinant than is the method. In a personal context, greater care is needed than in a business context, where the participants realize that some persuasion is selling or manipulation. Whether deception is used is a significant criterion for whether persuasion or manipulation is underway. If one is dealing with criminals or with enemies in war, manipulation is often defensible.
Dark Psychology 101
The psychology of those who routinely manipulate others is sometimes called “dak psychology,” a field that studies a subset of personality types: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. The author discusses these usefully and at length. Unfortunately, such people are hard to spot at first, often tending toward “friendly” and “compassionate,” the better to fool their victims. The characteristics of those in the “dark triad” are explored in depth. As are many other traits, these are significantly heritable and hard to correct. Such people cause real harm, especially as they tend to be drawn to leadership roles, where manipulation pays off.
They tend to be good-looking because they realize the value of physical attractiveness in influencing others and thus spend more effort on enhancing their looks than most others do.
As they are skilled at manipulation and hard to detect, much less change, your best defense is avoidance.
Mind Control and Brainwashing
“Brainwashing” received national attention after the Korean War, when the collaborating behavior of many of the Americans who were Chinese prisoners of war was studied. Few if any limited their release of information under interrogation to “name, rank, and serial number.” Their captors were skilled at instilling guilt and obtaining cooperation through persuasion and manipulation and punishments and rewards. The manipulator is seen as the enemy but still complied with. A 12-step process is described. Escape is the only cure. Release from captivity needs to be followed by counseling and deprogramming.
“Mind control” became known in the discussion of cults, like those that led to mass suicide in Jonestown. The techniques relied more on rewards and the desire of the participants to conform and to obtain praise from their leaders. The manipulator is seen as a friend and eventually complied with, often without realizing a change has occurred in the participants’ thinking. “The most important weapon you have against it is your ability to think critically.”
NLP – Theory, Research, and Development
“Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (NLP) maintains that ”language has a direct and measurable effect on the brain’s neurological processes.” Its practitioners have found subtle ways to enhance our words’ influence on the behavior of others.
“It is used variously as a self-help tool, a persuasive tactic, and a tool for manipulative influence.” The author wants us to protect ourselves from NLP manipulation. NLP's key concepts are subjectivity, consciousness, and learning.
NLP techniques of influence include: establish rapport (often by mimicry), gather information about the target’s problems and goals, make interventions to shift the target’s image-associations, and integrate changes by having the target view himself differently. It is more an art than a science.
NLP – Practical Applications
You can use dissociation to break the mental connection between one state of mind and a stimulus for it. You can reframe an argument to change its context radically. Use anchoring, “a simple physical stimulus to recreate a powerful emotional state,” such as putting your hand on someone’s arm while reassuring them. Imitating them, subtly, is “mirroring” and can lead them to enhanced trust in you.
“…affirmations are also an NLP technique.”
The book presents a set of questions to help you analyze what is likely to succeed with a given target. Persuasive “scripts” are described.
Knowing these techniques, you can recognize them when used on you. Avoid physical contact. Analyze vague words. Keep alert and in the present.
Most of our communication with others is, surprisingly, non-verbal…body language. The signals vary from culture to culture. For example, how close one comes and where one person touches another will convey much about their relative status and their relationship: intimate, personal, social, or public. The tone of voice counts heavily, too.
Some body language is easier to master than others: facial expressions, head and neck movements, body posture, shoulder positions, gestures, handshakes, breathing, various physical movements.
Persuasion - Professional vs. Personal
Commercial contexts announce to all involved that persuasion is underway, possibly manipulation, too, and the participants often give each other more leeway in what they find acceptable.
The best business persuaders are often in fact manipulators. Rebecca Dolton lists six tactics of persuasion/manipulation described by influence guru Robert Cialdini: reciprocity, social proof, commitment and consistency, liking, scarcity, and authority. If done with the other person’s wellbeing considered, that’s fine.
How to Recognize and Defend Against Controlling and Highly Manipulative People
“The better the manipulator, the harder they are to catch.” They are good at making their targets feel responsible. Generating guilt is a favorite tactic. Your best response: say “no!” You may need to enlist allies. Never get separated from your loved ones. Watch out for those who make you doubt yourself. Don’t accept responsibility for their hurt feelings. Be alert to repeated harm and their repeated criticisms. Retain supportive allies. Continue to work toward your goals. Communicate honestly. Challenge any manipulation. Know your rights.
Say goodbye to manipulative people.
Scores of information sources and their web links end this book.
My evaluation: this highly readable and informative book is a treasure.