Psychological Tactics of Manipulation

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Published by:
Practical Psychology
Andrew English
Reviewed by:
Andrew English, Ph.D.

How do you get what you want? Take a minute to think about a recent situation where you wanted something from another person. Maybe you wanted your partner to clean the dishes. Or you wanted a promotion from your boss. Or you wanted a person at a party to go on a date with you. How did you get it? In an ideal world, we could just ask for everything we want from people, and they would comply. But the world is imperfect, and we can’t get everything we want on a first try. So what can you do to get what you want?

There are a lot of honest, ethical answers to this question. But there are also unethical answers. If you attempt to get what you want through deception, lies, or indirect tactics, you use one of the 11 psychological tactics of manipulation.

We are not giving you these tools so you can go out and manipulate others. Think of this as a warning video. People are trying to manipulate others every day. Suppose you can spot the signs of manipulation tactics discussed in this article (or earlier). In that case, you can see through them and have more control over your decisions and relationships with others.

What Are The 11 Psychological Tactics of Manipulation?

  • Charm
  • Coercion
  • Silent Treatment
  • Reason
  • Regression
  • Self-abasement
  • Responsibility Invocation
  • Hardball
  • Pleasure Induction
  • Social Comparison Theory


We all know someone who uses a wink and a compliment to get what they want. People want to feel attractive and wanted. Manipulators play into these feelings by being charming. They believe that when a person starts to get a little flirty, they’ll be attracted to the manipulator and more likely to submit to the manipulator’s demands.

charming people


This tactic isn’t all fun and flirty. When someone is “coercing” another to do something, they may be using fear of harm or threats. They might say, “If you don’t help me rob this bank, I’ll kick your dog.” Yikes. The person being coerced may feel that the consequences of not doing the action are worse than those of doing the action.

Silent Treatment

Silence is a surprisingly effective manipulation (and negotiation) tool. Silence makes us anxious; if someone is silent or refusing to speak, we may feel the urge to give in to their desires or something they want just to break the silence.

silent treatment


Not all manipulation tactics are unethical, but they may be used unethically. The reason is a great example of such a manipulation tactic. People may use reason or logical arguments to get what they want. They may tell someone (or themselves) something like, “If you help me rob this bank, you will be able to feed your family.” Nothing inaccurate about that, right? But when it’s hard to argue against someone who uses reason as a manipulation tactic, you may be likelier to break down and give the manipulator what they want.


When two people reason with each other like adults, it can be easy for both parties to hold their ground. But things may go haywire when one person reverts to acting like a child. This is the regression tactic; people may whine, cry, or pout until they get their way. People may give in simply because they want childish behavior to stop.


Not all manipulation tactics involve insulting or forcing others to do something. If a manipulator uses self-abasement to get what they want, they will humble themselves. Self-abasement may be used when a manipulator wants someone to forgive them, believe them, or make other efforts to strengthen a relationship.

Responsibility Invocation

Let’s say you are considering getting your nails done. It’s easy to decide, “No, I’m not going to get my nails done.” However, if you already booked an appointment, it’s not easy to skip out and not get your nails done. Responsibility invocation uses these obligations to convince someone to follow through with plans. A manipulator might say, “But you promised…” or “I’ve already booked the reservations…” to make saying “no” a lot harder.


Hardball tactics take coercion to the next level. While someone may use coercion to instill fear of harm, hardball tactics actually cause harm or bodily injury.

Pleasure Induction

For many, pleasure induction is a harmless manipulation tactic. When someone invokes the pleasure induction tactic, they are simply telling a person that the action will be fun and that the person will enjoy it. “Come on, it will be fun!”

Social Comparison

The Social Comparison Theory describes how we compare ourselves to others. Many people measure their success, attractiveness, and presence of personality traits through their comparison of others. Manipulators know this tendency well. They may use social comparison to convince people to take action. “Your friend at work does this for her partner.” “The celebrity in the magazine is on X should be too.”

Monetary reward

Manipulators may play into a person’s greed by offering money to commit acts they normally wouldn't commit. If you were offered a million dollars, would you commit a crime?

Psychological Tactics of Manipulation - Examples 

Let’s put your knowledge to the test. The following are some examples of manipulation defined in this post. Try not to scan too far to the bottom, and guess what type of manipulation is described!

Example #1

Jenny is telling her girlfriend, Marissa, that she wants Marissa to be more open and friendly to her family members. This issue has caused tension between the two women for a long time. Marissa has pushed back on this idea for months, but Jenny clearly expresses her wants and needs to Marissa. Instead of considering Jenny’s idea, Marissa begins to cry and pout. She tells Jenny she doesn’t know why Jenny is so mean to her. Jenny did not yell or scream or call Marissa names - just calmly explained that it would make Jenny happy if Marissa were more friendly to her family. But with Marissa’s crying, Jenny just puts a pin in the whole conversation. Trying to talk through these issues is exhausting if Marissa is whining and pouting like a child. 

Example #2

Brad asked Simone out on a date, but Simone was not interested. Even on days when she had nothing to do, she did not want to spend time alone with Brad. Upon hearing this, Brad tried to “up the ante.” He asked Simone if she wanted to go on the date with him, knowing he’d pay for the whole meal. She said no. What if it was a three-course meal at one of the best restaurants in town? No. What if he took her shopping afterward? Still no. Brad continued to up the ante with more expensive and elaborate plans, hoping that Simone would cave and say yes. 

Example #3

His boss, Greg, approaches John about reimbursing a personal expense with company money. John feels uneasy about this, as he believes it toes the line between what can be covered by the company. When Greg asks him just to bend the truth a little bit, John says he can’t. This doesn’t make Greg happy. He tells John that if John can’t be trusted to be loyal to his boss, how can he be expected to receive a promotion? Worse, Greg assures John that plenty of people are looking for jobs who would bend the truth. 

Okay, do you know which tactic of manipulation is used in each example? Here are the answers. 

Example #1 is an example of regression. 

Example #2 is an example of a monetary reward. (It doesn’t have to come in the form of cold, hard cash!) 

Example #3 is an example of coercion. 

Not all examples of manipulation are cut and dry. Some people will try to use multiple tactics at once. Others will say and do things that might be completely normal in one context but slimy in another. If you believe someone is using psychological tactics of manipulation, consider their intentions, past behavior, and what they may or may not be doing to make sure you are comfortable in your decision-making process.

Who Are Master Manipulators?

Let’s break down some stereotypes here. Women are often framed as master manipulators. This just isn’t true. There are no sex differences in tactics of manipulation - research shows that men and women equally perform these tactics. Just watch any “pick-up artist” work his “magic” on YouTube, and the myths of women being manipulators will disappear before your eyes.

How Do Psychological Tactics of Manipulation Show Up in the Big Five and Dark Personalities?

Five Factor Model of Personality

Manipulation tactics show up frequently in The Prince. Machiavelli is one of the world’s most famous manipulators. He is so infamous that one of the Dark Triad personality traits is named after him.

People who are more “Machiavellian” are more likely to use (and justify their use of) manipulation tactics. They believe that they are above ethics and deserve to get what they want, even if they get it through manipulation. This connection is rather obvious, but there are also some connections between manipulation tactics and the Big Five personality traits. Let’s take a look at them.

If you'd like to see your personality scores, you can take my free personality quiz. However, it doesn't factor these tactics of manipulation into your results.


People who score high in extraversion are likelier to invoke coercion and responsibility.


People who score high in agreeableness are more likely to use pleasure induction and reason to get what they want. These two manipulation tactics are some of the most ethical; they convince people they will get something positive out of certain actions.

Conversely, more disagreeable people are more likely to seek revenge on people through coercion and silent treatment.


Similar to agreeableness, people scoring high on conscientiousness are likelier to choose reason over other manipulation tactics. People with low conscientiousness are likelier to pick potentially criminal tactics, like coercion or unlawful monetary reward.


People who score high for openness are more likely to use reason and sometimes pleasure induction or responsibility invocation. Successful reasoning often requires a higher understanding of logic or higher intelligence. High openness and high intellect are commonly linked.

Conversely, people who score low in openness are likelier to use social comparison.

As you evaluate relationships, watch for master manipulators and signs of the following manipulation tactics. The more you know about manipulation, the easier you will see these tactics at work and gain more control over your decisions.

How Do You Deal With Psychological Manipulation?

Once you recognize psychological manipulation tactics in another person, assert some boundaries. Boundaries will reduce the chance that this person takes advantage of you. Do what you can to avoid that person; if you can't avoid them, do not be emotionally invested in their behaviors and actions. Most importantly, find other people who don't display these behaviors who can support you during this time.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2019, February). Psychological Tactics of Manipulation. Retrieved from

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