A Lesson In Gaslighting
There’s a psychological technique called gaslighting which is incredibly potent especially in persuasive situations.
A few nights ago I was watching TV, just flipping around aimlessly, and came upon an old episode of M*A*S*H. In this episode, BJ is bored and to entertain himself he cooks up a plan for amusement at Winchester’s expense.
BJ takes a pair of Winchester’s pants and in their place replaces them with a pair two sizes too large. When Winchester eventually puts the pants on, BJ asks if Winchester is okay. He mentions that he’s noticed him looking a little under the weather and suggests that he maybe has a virus because he’s looking too thin.
Later, BJ replaces the pants that are too large, with a pair that are way too small. When Winchester changes again, BJ casually notices how heavy Winchester has become, which has a dramatic effect on Winchester, prompting him to go on a crash diet.
Hawkeye, having observed the interactions, asks BJ, “What’s next?”
“Tomorrow he gets taller,” BJ responds.
This illustrates the very essence of gaslighting. In this instance, gaslighting is a harmless prank. Gaslighting also has the potential to be quite dangerous and cruel when used with malice. So why am I writing about it? So that you might protect yourself from it should someone try to use it against you.
With all of the persuasion techniques I teach, know that they are incredibly powerful tools and when used without integrity will get you nowhere fast. They should always be used ethically and with integrity.
The term gaslighting came from the 1944 film of the same name and came to be defined as the ruthless manipulation of a person into believing something that isn’t true.
In ‘Gaslighting’ the husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane so that she’ll have to be institutionalized, thus getting her out of his way. His subtle manipulations cause her to doubt her own grasp on reality.
Using gaslighting in a way that is not unethical could include understanding how your affluent prospect interprets their own reality.
The technique of gaslighting has five main strategies.
The first strategy involves repeatedly questioning a person thus planting doubt.
If you watch game shows, you’ll notice that they use this to raise the level of tension and oftentimes this results in the contestant doubting their decision. “Are you sure? Is this really your final answer?”
This can be accomplished without even speaking. Picture someone cocking their head, raising their eyebrow. This can install in the receiver that doubt putting them off guard.
It works all the better if you come off as having their best interest in mind.
The second strategy is to point out things that simply aren’t there.
This is useful in undermining their feeling of reality. It can also be used in pointing out assets and qualities in a person who has no idea that they have these assets and qualities (whether or not they actually do).
For example, appealing to your boss’, client’s, prospect’s or authority figure’s sense of vanity or ego can work tremendously.
If the ego massage is completely without merit and the compliments are baseless, then you’ll most likely be discovered. Use subtlety with tiny portions of reality.
Strategy number three is primarily for the use of experts–someone who has specialized knowledge or divine access to information which you haven’t the ‘connections’ to learn. . .i.e. think therapist, minister, psychics. They have very esoteric, mysterious or specialized knowledge that will give you the answer you seek. Rather, the answer that they wish for you to believe you seek.
This will cause lowered defenses and a more trusting feeling from the client.
Strategy number four is to reveal the secret thoughts of others.
This is also known as gossip. It’s a special kind of gossip which maneuvers in an attempt to give insight. It’s just between ‘us’, it’s from me, someone who cares enough to tell you what other people are saying. . .
This can be used with ‘nice gossip’ i.e. compliments about that person that you weren’t supposed to share. It can install positive behavior.
And last, but not least, the final strategy is to use the power of the many against the tiny power of one.
You’ll see this used by children, politicians, in religion, through the media, by the military, and throughout society.
Orwell called it ‘group think’ and as the corporations gain more and more control over the distribution of information, it becomes harder and harder to find accurate information, and even harder to stand away from the crowd, especially when you’re right.
It’s powerful to have ‘the many’ on your side, and very difficult to maintain your position when you’re up against the many.
Gaslighting isn’t nice. It’s designed to trick people into self-doubt. And yet, there are positive ways it can be used.