Education psychology: Reverse psychology refers to getting another person to do or say something by telling them the opposite of what is desired. A simple example is telling a child that they won’t be able to finish all of their vegetables so they end up trying and eating their vegetables (the desired outcome). Reverse psychology can be very successful in advertising and may even be helpful when dealing with certain types of people. Keep reading to learn how to use reverse psychology (plus when you shouldn’t). You should also keep this in mind if you plan on using reverse psychology on children. If you have a child that tends to be stubborn, they will be far more likely to respond to reverse psychology than an agreeable child.
Start by presenting an option. Get this option embedded in the other person’s brain. It may be something the person would normally resist, and they may initially scoff at it. However, you want to make sure the person is aware of the option at hand.
- For example, say you’re deciding between two parties to attend on a Friday night. Your friend is a film fanatic, and their group of friends are having a movie night. You’re more of a board game person, and another group of friends is having a game night.
- Make your friend aware of the option you want. Say something like, “Did you hear Madison and Emily are doing that board game night? Kind of boring, if you ask me.”
Use subtle ways to make the option enticing. Find ways to make the option desirable. Drop subtle hints that may create a sense of desire in the other person.
- In the above example, you could casually mention board games that will be played at the event. You could also play a game of cards with your friends a few days before the event, allowing your friend to see how much fun games can be.
- You can also make the friends sound more enticing. Bring up fun memories you had hanging out with Madison and Emily. Talk about their good qualities. For example, say something like, “Madison always has the best selection of wine at her place.”
Discourage or argue against the option you want. Once the person is hooked, you want to be slightly argumentative. This will add the extra push you need to get the person to do what you want. They are already somewhat enticed by the option. If you push back on that option at this point, a naturally resistant person is likely to push for it more.
- Going back to the above example, wait until Friday night comes around. Say something like, “Well, we can go to Madison and Emily’s, or that movie night. What do you think? I think Madison and Emily’s thing may be a tad boring.”
- At this point, your friend may push to go to Madison and Emily’s. However, if they are still ambivalent, try to be more overt. Say something like, “We can always go to Madison and Emily’s another time.”
Push the person to make a decision. To close the negotiating process, you can now push the person to make a decision. The idea here is to make the person think they’re making their own decision. Ask them politely what they want to do, and wait for a response. Hopefully, the person will go for the option you were vying for.
- In the above example, say something like, “So, we can go to Madison and Emily’s, or the movie night. What do you think? It’s your decision.”
- By making your friend think it’s their decision, they’ll think they’re asserting their autonomy. You’ve already made Madison and Emily’s party sound enticing. You’ve also expressed some resistance to it, which a naturally contrary person may push back against. With luck, your friend will opt for Madison and Emily’s event.
Figure out the personality types that best respond to reverse psychology. Not everyone responds well to reverse psychology. People who tend to be more compliant may respond better to direct requests. If you know someone who is resistant by nature, reverse psychology may work well on this person.
- Think about the interactions you’ve had with the person in question. Do they tend to go along with the flow of things, or do they tend to resist? If you know someone who is a more independent thinker, and likes to resist the status quo, this person may be more susceptible to reverse psychology than a person who’s generally agreeable.
Aim for lighthearted uses of reverse psychology, especially with children. Reverse psychology should be lighthearted, and humorous even. This is especially true when using the technique on very young children. Try to use it as a means to make someone think they’re outsmarting you.
- For example, say you’re trying to get your son to make his bed in a timely fashion. You could ask him to wait to make his bed until you finish brushing your teeth, explaining to him he’s young and really needs a lot of help. You may come in the room to find he’s already started the process on his own, as he wants to prove his autonomy.
- With an adult, try to use reverse psychology in the same way. Allow the person to think they’re asserting their autonomy in the situation. You may be choosing between two movies: a foreign film with subtitles versus a lighthearted comedy. You really want to see the foreign film, so you may say something like, “I’m not sure I have the attention span for subtitles.” Your friend may insist on the foreign film at this point, wanting to prove their superior attention span.
Consider what the other person wants. Before using reverse psychology, think about what the other person is likely to want in a situation. A more complicated version of reverse psychology may be needed in some cases. If someone’s want to do something outweighs their need to resist, classic reverse psychology may backfire. For example, your friend wants to attend a concert in a bad part of town alone. You may think this is a bad idea, but using simple reverse psychology could be ineffective. If you say to your friend, “You’re right. You should go. You only live once!” your friend may wholeheartedly agree, as they really do want to see the show.
- Try arguing against yourself in these cases, rather than the choice at hand. Returning to the above example, you can say something to your friend like, “I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. I’m pretty sure this part of town is dangerous, but only you can decide what’s best for you.”
- You’re encouraging your friend to think for themselves here. If your friend is naturally resistant, they may instead yield to your advice rather than thinking for themselves. Your friend may very well decide not to go to the concert.
Think about your end goal. Make sure you keep your end goal in mind. Remind yourself periodically what you want the person to do. Occasionally, things can get argumentative when you use reverse psychology. It’s easy to lose track of your own wants during the duration of an argument. Try to stay on track, and remember your desired outcome.
Do not overuse reverse psychology. Reverse psychology can work great in certain situations. However, keep in mind it is a subtle form of manipulation. Using reverse psychology habitually can be incredibly damaging to relationships. Reverse psychology should never be the mainstay of an individual’s method of communication, rather they are principles used in moments of compromise and persuasion.
- These kind of small situations can build up overtime, leading to resentment in a relationship. Your partner, for example, may get tired of not getting their way and begin to get mad at you.
Stay calm when using reverse psychology. Reverse psychology can get frustrating, especially if you’re using it on children. Headstrong children, and people in general, may take awhile to come around to your way of thinking. You want to keep calm and maintain your cool.
- If your child has an emotional outburst while you’re using reverse psychology, remain calm. Allow the child to carry on. With patience, your child should calm down and behave.
Avoid using reverse psychology in serious situations. There are certain situations where reverse psychology is likely to backfire, and the consequences can be serious. You should always refrain from using reverse psychology when someone’s health and wellbeing is at stake.
- For example, say your friend is chronically afraid of doctors. They have a suspicious mole growing on their right shoulder and is resistant to getting it checked out.
- Do not say, “You’re right. Do not go to the doctor.” Your friend’s fear of doctors may greatly outweigh their need to resist, and you may reinforce a dangerous behaviour.
Sometimes, especially with quite intelligent or stubborn people, using quite obvious reverse psychology can back-fire completely because they know what you are doing. Be careful who you use this technique on, it might make things worse!
This isn’t the healthiest way to communicate, since you’re essentially taking advantage of (and spurring) someone’s misguided rebelliousness. In the case of children, they usually grow out of it, but most adults will realize how silly they’re being and respond to nonviolent communication instead.