How to Avoid Being Manipulated

I was reading this interesting book the other day on the train. It was a really good book, one that I’ve read several times. It’s one of those non-fiction books that is so packed with fascinating information and new ideas that every time you read this you can find something interesting and worthwhile.

The book is The Red Queen, by Matt Ridley. It addresses the issue of the evolution of sex. Why sex? Why are there two sexes, instead of reproduction without the need for two genders? How and why did humans evolve such a big brain compared to all the other mammals? What is so special about us?

The more questions Ridley asks and answers with evidence and theories, the more questions are seemingly brought up.

One interesting paradigm that grabbed my attention was the idea of verbal communication. One of the arguments behind humans huge brains (compared to the rest of the animals) is the evolution of language. What then, was the driving force behind language? What is the purpose of language?

Most people will automatically say to communicate. Ok, so why communicate? Why did those who were able to communicate with words better off than those than weren’t? Monkeys and other apes are still doing fine without the need for exchanging thousands of words on a daily basis.

One reason that was suggested is that the reason for language is to not to simply convey information, but to persuade. Children cry because they want their mothers to perform a certain action. You tell your husband the garage door is open because you want him to perform a certain action. Kids come home from school and shout, “I’m hungry!” because they want their moms to perform a certain action.

Politicians give long and eloquent speeches about health care because they want people, (and other politicians) to perform a certain action.

TV is filled with programs designed to keep you sitting in front of the TV long enough to watch the advertisements, which in turn will do their best in thirty seconds to convince you to perform a certain action (BUY NOW! OPERATORS ARE STANDING BY!)

When you consider that the all of the language that comes out of your mouth, and all of the language that goes into your ears is designed to persuade, then it makes sense that you should learn certain techniques.

Techniques to persuade others, in an ethical, win-win manner, and techniques to guard against the inevitable persuasive messages you hear on a daily basis.

One way to guard against persuasion is to ask yourself “How will I benefit?” and listen for the answers. Be careful, because one powerful way that persuasion works is to convince you that you have a need, when you really don’t.

If, when you ask yourself “What’s in it for me,” the answer is to fulfill a need that was only recently generated, watch out. Somebody is pulling your strings.

The best defense is a good offense. Be clear on what you want, and when you plop down in front of the TV, be clear of your intentions. Passive entertainment is fine, so long as you don’t open your mind to easy manipulation by advertising Jedi knights.

If you have a list of solid goals, both short term and long term, this can be very powerful in resisting temptation. Just ask yourself, when presented with an opportunity, “Will this help me get closer to my goal of…” and listen for the answer. If it does, then by all means, buy that product. But if it doesn’t then be careful.

The unfortunate truth is that most people simply do not have a list of solid goals, so when they hear those persuasive messages, all they have to go on is basic human needs: Food, sex, companionship, feeling appreciated, moving away from pain and toward safety.

These triggers are all too easy to manipulate when you don’t have a solid idea of how you will fulfill them.

When you make a solid decision to figure out a list of powerful goals that you’d like to achieve in life, it will be much harder for you to be persuaded by unethical marketers. Keep that in mind next time you switch on the TV.