A former copywriting mentor often referenced the 1973 movie, The Sting as a way of teaching us the art of manipulation.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford played a pair of grifters who teamed up to con a rich gangster. Redford played the young, impetuous upstart, eager to stick it to the guy who killed his friend. Newman played the wise elder, who crushed that desire when he remarked, “He can never know you conned him.” In the ideal con, the mark never knows he’s been taken.
Skilled manipulators follow the same rule. They’ll fool you, fleece you, and deceive you. When they move on, they depart with hugs and handshakes.
It makes sense.
Once you know they’re manipulating you, their game ends. The manipulator seeks to sustain the ruse as long as possible. To accomplish that task, they rely on subtle strategies to lull you into submission while cushioning themselves against reputational damage.
My mentor at the time had been in the copywriting and mail order business for decades and taught me some of the most devious manipulation schemes ever devised.
To make a sale, he said, requires a willingness to get your mark so riled up, so confused, and so out of sorts while you position yourself as their last hope to cure their affliction, find a lover, achieve financial independence, or whatever desire they seek to fulfill.
I didn’t have the stomach for it, so I left the business, but the education paid for itself many times over as I applied the lessons to real life.
No matter the form — the written word, face-to-face communication, or even one-way communication — seasoned manipulators follow a standard fare of tactics, recycled and modernized over the centuries, exploiting the same set of human weaknesses.
Once aware of these five techniques, you’ll equip yourself with the best defense against manipulation — awareness.
They feed your grievances.
Let’s play a game of fill in the blank.