You're Free To Read This Post Or Ignore It Altogether!

Today, we'll take a look at the psychology of Reactance: the tendency to do the opposite of what someone wants you to do because you think your freedom of choice is being threatened.

I'll share a research study and tips on how to use Reactance to your advantage. But, don't believe a word I say. Test my ideas, or not.


If you remind people that you're not trying to control them, they'll more likely be influenced by what you ask for. A study was conducted in France to get people to complete a simple survey. Initially, the request was asked along the lines of, "we're conducting a questionnaire. It will take around 5-10 minutes to complete. Will you please do this for us?"

When they went in cold like that, 75% of people said yes, (which is a good result by the way) but, when they tweaked it to, "Hello, we have something to ask you, but you are of course free to accept or refuse," compliance shot up to 90%. All it took was telling people they were in control, and ultimately it was their choice.

Link to the video that talks about the research.


How could this translate to what you do at work and the people you need to influence, whether customers, partners, senior management or direct reports?

See examples:

Need to get a prospective customer to say yes to a meeting? Try this, "I'd like to schedule a meeting with you, but, you're free to say no, of course." I prefer this to the more common and what I consider pushy tactic of, "When is a good time to book a meeting with you?"

Planning to renegotiate a contract or partnership? Before you talk about the new rules of engagement, start with, "We've made some changes to the contract, but of course, you're free to agree or disagree. Here are the changes we propose..."

Final Note: Forty-two different studies found that "but you are free" a reliable tactic, though more influential if used in person and less influential via email (I'll be testing it either way).


You can use reverse psychology to diminish Reactance. Here are some suggestions:

Want people to believe in your expertise and insights? Present your facts confidently and end (as I did above) with, "But don't believe a word I say." Say it with a smile. Inject humour as this puts people at ease and makes them more likely to believe what you say. (Of course, you also have to believe in what you say).

Want a potential client to agree that their challenges are similar to other companies? Couch your narrative with, "This might not be relevant to your organisation, but our clients in your industry experience..."

When you're about to say something you know the other person will disagree with, but you need them on your side, start with, "you'll probably disagree, but here's my take on the situation..."


I'm curious. What are some of your reverse psychology tactics to counter Reactance? Let me know, but you don't have to, of course! :-)

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