Don’t you dare keep reading this article! If that sentence compelled you to continue, you should already understand why reverse psychology works. None of us like being told what to do, so we have a tendency to be naturally contrarian. It all comes down to something called reactance—the psychological impulse to do whatever you can to maintain total control over your decisions. However, reverse psychology won’t work on everyone, and there’s an ethical consideration here as well. Still, if someone is being stubborn and you’re thinking about using reverse psychology on them, you’re in luck—reverse psychology basically only works if someone is being stubborn!
Method 1 of 10: Try reverse psychology if they love to disagree.
If they’re naturally contrarian, reverse psychology will probably work. Take what you know about the person you’re trying to influence and combine that with their initial reaction to the situation to see if they’re going to be susceptible to reverse psychology. There are four basic psychological combinations when it comes to decision-making, and reverse psychology won’t work equally well with all of them. They are:
- Independent conformity. If someone independently conforms, they want to be agreeable, but only because it’s what they want. Reverse psychology is unlikely to work with these people.
- Independent anticonformity. These folks live to be different and they often play devil’s advocate. Reverse psychology will work often here.
- Uniform conformity. People with this psyche hate being different. Reverse psychology is unlikely to work with them because they’ll be prone to agreeing, but it might work if you want them to do something popular.
- Uniform anticonformity. This combination is rare. It occurs when someone wants to be like everyone else, but only when everyone else is different. Reverse psychology will work with these folks if you make your position sound mainstream.
Method 2 of 10: Remind them that they can do whatever they want.
This is called reinforcing autonomy, and it’s the only way reverse psychology will work. To start, make it totally clear that the other person is in charge (even if that isn’t true). When they feel like they’re in control, they’re going to be more likely to disagree with anyone who threatens that sense of freedom.
- If you’re trying to close a sale, you might start, “Now, you’re free to spend your money however you like, and I can’t tell you what to buy…”
- With a child refusing to eat their veggies, you might say, “You’re free to eat whatever you want. I can’t force food down your throat or anything like that…”
- If you’re trying to pick what to eat for dinner with your partner, you could say “Look, I picked the last restaurant, so it’s your turn to choose what we eat…”
Method 3 of 10: Talk down the option you want them to choose.
Do some very subtle trash-talking about your preferred option. If you make your case too strong, you may end up actually convincing them. Slip in some minor criticism. You don’t even need to provide context or state an opinion outright. Just throw it out there like you’re thinking out loud.
- With your sale, you could say, “I know that the product is a little on the expensive end. It’s a good chunk of change for most people…”
- With your child, you could continue, “I remember that I didn’t like the taste of broccoli either when I was young…”
- With your partner, you might say, “We had Indian food last week, and I know you aren’t super fond of spicy food sometimes…”
Method 4 of 10: Suggest that they do the opposite of what you want.
Throw out your suboptimal suggestion at this point. By now, you’ve talked down one option and told them that they’re in the driver’s seat. If they’re intrinsically contrarian, their first reaction to this will be to go in the opposite direction of your suggestion. There’s always a risk that they actually do end up choosing the suboptimal choice but if you’ve done this right, they’ll push back.
- To close your sale, you might say “Honestly, I’d totally understand if you want to wait and buy something else. If you’ve got time on your hands, there’s no reason to rush it.”
- With your child, you could say, “I totally understand if you don’t want to eat anything for dinner tonight. I’m sure you won’t get hungry, it’s not a big deal.”
- To get your significant other to choose what’s for dinner, you could say “Why don’t we just get a pizza? That’s easy enough. We can share!”
Method 5 of 10: Put up a bad counterargument when they bite.
The moment they suggest your preferred option, play bad defense. If you immediately give in and agree, they may get the vibe that something is up. On top of that, you’ll help reinforce their position if you put up an ounce of resistance. If they’re an especially stubborn person, this is a key ingredient in getting them to choose the option you want.
- If your customer seems primed to buy your product, you could push back with, “Well, I know it’s a little more expensive. You can always order online and just wait a few weeks for Competitor Brand’s product to arrive. I won’t take it personally!”
- If your child is thinking about eating that broccoli, you could say, “No, it’s okay, I can just eat your broccoli. I’m sure you won’t get hungry later tonight.”
- If your partner finally does suggest Indian food, you might say, “Are you sure you’re in the mood for Indian? Isn’t it a little late for something so heavy?”
Method 6 of 10: Concede once they fall for it.
Once they shoot down your bad counterargument, give up. This is where you seal the deal. If you picked a bad-enough counterargument, they’ll explain why it’s bad. Once they do that, you’re in! Give up and don’t make a show out of it. Just don’t let any joy shine through in your tone or they may get the hint that something’s up.
- You might tell that customer, “No worries, I totally understand. I’ll ring you up over here.”
- With your kid, you could say, “Alright, well if you really want the broccoli, you can have it.”
- If your partner is insistent, you might say, “Well, alright, if you want Indian we can get Indian.”
Method 7 of 10: Try turning it into a challenge.
This works mainly with kids and competitive friends or coworkers. A little playful banter or a small challenge may incite someone to do what you want. If it’s a low-stakes situation, try throwing out a challenge or a call to action. You may trick them into doing what you want!
- This move isn’t ideal in a professional setting unless you’re talking with a coworker in a low-stakes situation. If they tend to not speak up in meetings and you want them to share more often, you might say, “I bet you won’t throw out that good idea at the meeting next week!”
- With your child you might try, “I bet you can’t finish your broccoli before your sister!” This is most likely to work with younger kids, but you’d be surprised to see how quickly a child will take to an idea if it’s turned into a game.
- With your partner, you might say, “I’d bet anything that you won’t pick a place to eat tonight before 5 pm.”
Method 8 of 10: Maintain an even, unconcerned tone.
While they’re weighing their options, play it off cool. If you sound super invested in their decision, they might not push against it (even if they are inclined to be disagreeable). Don’t inject any emotion into anything you say so that they don’t feel like their authority over the decision is being called into question.
- Use the same tone you’d use when you’re ordering a cup of coffee in the morning—a little sleepy, calm, and friendly.
Method 9 of 10: Give up if they won’t bite.
If you can’t reverse your way into getting what you want, don’t push it. You may elicit some negative reactions if you keep trying to engineer your way into getting what you want. Reverse psychology won’t work on everyone, and it won’t work in certain scenarios where the other person’s mind is made up. If you can’t reverse psychology your way into the desired outcome, don’t sweat it and move on.
- This is also the kind of thing that will only work every once in a while. There is a degree of manipulation taking place here as well, so don’t do this if someone has a serious decision to make.
Method 10 of 10: Consider stating your case outright, if possible.
While reverse psychology does work, it may not be the most ethical option. In certain situations, like a child refusing to eat vegetables, it’s not going to be a big deal. But if you’re trying to trick someone into making a decision they wouldn’t have made without your influence, are they really making a decision for themselves? Whenever possible, don’t try to manipulate people. Just explain your reasoning, present your evidence, and let the other person choose on their own.
- Again, there are certainly situations where this isn’t going to be a big deal. You really shouldn’t try to use reverse psychology if your teenage child is choosing a college, your partner is upset about something you said and wants to discuss it, or your coworker is debating whether they take a promotion you want or not.