Sympathy as a means of manipulation: how others exploit the longing for closeness


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Text comes from: Sag doch JA!: Wie Sie Menschen überzeugen und gewinnen (2015) of Reiner Neumann, published by BusinessVillage Verlag, Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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People want to be close to others, they want to be part of a working relationship. This social desire also makes us susceptible to manipulation of all kinds.

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Reiner Neumann pure-neumannReiner Neumann is a certified psychologist, trainer, coach and author.

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Part of a working relationship

Congenital reflexes in infants mean that they prefer to focus on other people. The babies turn their heads when they hear a human voice or smile when they see a human face. Adults want to be close to others, they want to be part of a working relationship.

We are thinking about what others think of us. We try to be attractive and interesting. Humans are social creatures. They have a need for social proximity, after contact with others. Relations with other people are a reward for this need - we get attention, support, status, confirmation and more.

The theory of social effect

Bibb Latané formulated the theory of social effect. He postulates that social influence is determined by the factors strength, proximity and frequency. The strength is dependent on the status, skills and connection to the audience. The closer a source is, the greater its effect.

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You will find out how you can use the spatial proximity to convince others. First of all, we maintain that proximity to other people creates a greater degree of similarity. If we see people even more often, then you will trust us alone, because we often see them near us.

Repetition leads to prominence

Repetition leads to familiarity, familiarity leads to familiarity, familiarity is more sympathetic to us. This is precisely the case for the people around us. Robert Zajonc demonstrated that people found a stimulus like words or faces more interesting and pleasant the more they were confronted with it. Even when we see people more often, we attribute to them even more powerful features, such as honesty or intelligence.

Viewed from this perspective, the large number of savings bank or Volksbanken branches no longer seems to us as a great service. Just by the fact that we meet so often at their branches and they have in our vicinity, they seem to us trustworthy. This is a clear mistake, because the number of branches does not say anything about the actual performance of the financial products.

Spatial proximity is important for the attraction

The spatial proximity to other people, in turn, is an important factor in interpersonal attraction. Despite the many possibilities in social networks, the most important interactions occur between people who are in the same place. Even our partners are usually found among people who are close to us long enough - at the university, at the workplace or in the sports club.

The need to interact with people in the local environment is so great that there are also Internet offerings in the USA. These have set themselves the task of networking people with virtual offers analogously. The social network Nextdoor wants to bring together people who live close to one another.

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The desire for closeness leads to manipulation

On the website, users can search for their neighborhood help search or offers, but also warnings, for example, from burglars set. Nextdoor has partnered with 170 cities and police in the US. Time magazine ranked it as one of the fifty best websites in the world last year. Currently, one in four communities in the US is registered, more than 40.000.

No wonder that it also makes it very easy to manipulate people: building sympathy and closeness is a crucial part of any sales strategy. I rather believe friends, I trust their advice. Trust is built through similarity. And a lot is manipulated here.

Similarity makes friends?

If people wear similar clothes or share the same preferences, confidence increases. Common hobbies, shared activities, maybe even common friends - and it is already with the hesitant customer.

But why is it like that? Why do we have this instinctive need to look for friends, and more importantly, why let us influence them? The simple answer: people need the emotional proximity to others.

Two-factor theory of emotion

The two-factor theory of emotion, formulated by Stanley Schachter and Jerome Everett Singer, two American psychologists, describes how we interpret our own information, depending on the behavior of other people. In one experiment, a small dose of adrenaline was administered to subjects, causing a condition of mild excitement (heart beat, blushing, mild tremors). Some of the investigators were enlightened about this, another part was not, others were given a placebo.

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After the injection, the subjects spent some time with another person presented to them as another subject with the same injection. In fact, it was a partner of the experimenter, who was restless and exuberant or annoyed. Uninformed subjects who sensed the effect of the drug but could not explain the cause interprets their condition depending on the behavior of the conspiratorial third party.

In case of uncertainty, we orient ourselves to others

The explanation is simple: If we are not sure of our feelings, we are guided by the reactions of the people in our immediate environment. This was certainly a very good survival strategy in the early days of human development. To orient ourselves to the people in our environment saves us in many situations the need to accumulate own experiences.

It goes faster and saves us the consequences of many wrong decisions. When others flee, it is better to run along and not be left alone. Just eating well-known food saves us stomach ache or worse. In most cases, the group was a good guide, and we probably still want to be guided by people who form our personal environment.

Familiarity through physical closeness

For our instinctive behavior also speaks that such a familiarity can be established by simple physical proximity. A short touch on the arm, even from strangers, can have a positive effect. Bus drivers say easier, yes, if they are asked for a free ride and the questioner touches them lightly on the arm.

Randomly selected passersby are more willing to participate in a survey, and guests give more tip if they have been briefly touched before. It seems that unobtrusive touches make us more sympathetic to other people.

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This instinct for proximity may also mean that we are more likely to buy in personal conversation than via the Internet and the telephone. Because of the conditions of our evolution, we prefer to buy from a person who is directly opposite us. If he is still familiar with us, it is very difficult for us to buy.


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