Escaping Manipulation by Sales People

Various tricks used by sales people, and how to escape being manipulated by them.

There are some particular tricks to watch out for, that manipulative sales people commonly use.


To escape being manipulated it is important to keep a keen eye on what is happening and what you're feeling. If you feel fear, anxiety, guilt, in a situation where you might be manipulated, you probably are. Be aware of it, and be yourself.

Foot in the door

Manipulators know that you won't just comply to what they want you to. Therefore, they start with a small request, one that is almost impossible to turn down. If you accept complying to it, they are in a position to "work" on  you. You have committed to their first request. Now they can proceed with getting you to commit to larger and larger requests, until they have you commit to what they wanted you to all along.

On the street, for example, a seller of lottery tickets, or someone wanting you to convert to a religion, may ask you whether he may ask you something. You'll feel that, of course, he may ask you something, go ahead! This is the first request you committed to, they have their foot in your door.

Another way is asking you to try something. It seems there's nothing wrong with trying something, but now you have made an initial commitment that they can work on.

While it may seem like a harmless first step, it is a good idea to judge what it is about. If you're aware from the start that that first simple request is intended as a foot in the door, you can consider the option of refusing it. Often, it is possible to see beforehand what they want you to do, like buying something. If you don't feel like having them try to convince you to do that, you can just refuse that first request.

Flattery and other likability tricks

Manipulators want you to like them. It helps hiding the aggressiveness of them approaching you and wanting something from you, leading you, or requesting things of you. Thus, you'll trust them, and let yourself be persuaded by them. You also won't easily be rude to them in order to stand up against manipulations.

So, they'll be nice and friendly to you, and flatter you to be liked, or give you things. They'll tell you how clever you are, how friendly you are, or make you other compliments. They'll be very honest, so as to appear trustworthy, at least about things that don't matter for making the deal. Even psychopaths, the worst of manipulators, usually seem very nice, while they, in fact, don't have much of a conscience at all.

Even when you're aware of what they're doing, you may not stand up against it, as you think that you cannot be rude to a person who treats you nicely. But the aggression may not show obvisously, if you can see it is there, why not be aggressive yourself? How else can you stand up for yourself?

A person who wants something from you, and is flattering you, is probably doing that for that purpose. Keep you eyes on your own objectives, and on the other person's.

Returning the favor

When a manipulator gives you a gift, he wants to use your feeling of needing to return the favor to have you take an action he wants. You're usually not in a position to return a similarly valued gift, so you'll do something else, like buying that car, to reciprocate. When a company offers you a free coffee, they may do that hoping that you will feel obligated to buy at that company to compensate for what you accepted.

It is usually made hard for you to not accept some gift. When someone hands you something, it is hard not to take it. When you refuse that coffee, you're encouraged to do accept it. When you don't want that free beer, they may act insulted.

To not accept a gift being handed to you, it helps to put your hands in your pockets, and keep them there. In some situations, you could insist on paying for the gift to release the debt, or returning the favor with another gift. You can tell that you will not return the favor, while offering to give the gift back. When you can ask whether they expect something in return, and the answer is no, you are relieved from any obligation to reciprocate. But you can also simply not bother: they give you something for a manipulative reason, and without you wanting to do so, so the social rule to return the favor doesn't apply.

Sometimes the gift you get is not so tangible: someone's time. The longer time you spend with a sales person, the more you'll feel compelled to return the favor of it by buying the product you showed an interest in. You can tell them that you have no intention of buying, so that it is up to them not to give you all the time of the world.

When you orient yourself without any help from sales people, you will not feel compelled to return the favor of their precious time, because they haven't even given you that gift. It has the added advantage of your not getting subjected to all kinds of other manipulations. There are nowadays all kinds of websites that offer you information about products for free.

The free bonus

A variation on the free gift is the free bonus. A product you're offered at a steep price comes with a free bonus item, and because of that doesn't seem so pricy anymore. A cell phone subscription may come with a "free" laptop, a briefcase can come with a "free" key ring, a bag of crisps can come with a collectible item for children. Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch, you are the one paying for the "free" bonus item.

Sometimes it is just tempting to go for that bonus, simply because it is a bonus. But does the bonus item really have value for you? Often, extras are a dime a dozen things, and don't really have that much value for you in particular, when you come to consider it. The real value may be low, especially if it's a usually expensive item, like, for example, a laptop.

It's good to keep in mind that you are paying for that extra thing. You may be paying for more than you intended to buy, when a free bonus is part of the deal.

Comparing to make it look cheaper

To make something expensive look cheaper, advertisers and sales people often have you compare a price to other ones, so that it looks cheaper. So an ad may display an "original price" next to the current price, with the original price being higher. [law about something having been sold for higher price]

Escape by: Don't trust advertising and sales. They do this all the time. Get your own information on prices, if price matters to you.

Negotiating starting with a very high request

The seller starts out with a almost ridiculously high price. You'll feel like you'd have to pay that high price in order to buy, but you hav to turn it down. Then he comes with a much lower price, which seems reasonable compared to the first price, but is actually higher than you at first intended to pay. You accept the offer, because it seems reasonable compared to the initial one.

The first high price is intended for you to increase what you'd want to pay, it's a ploy. When you realize that this is done to you, you might, for example, respond with a ridiculously low price in return. That'll feel like being rude.

To make something seem cheap, very expensive, top line models are shown first. Then the average models are shown, making them seem comparably cheap. However, still more expensive than you would have bought otherwise.

Ask to see the cheapest models, to have a better idea of prices.

The last item in stock

When you are pondering whether or not to buy an item, a sales person may say that it's the last one in stock. You're now supposed to be called into action because you have only this chance at buying it, and most people will actually make the purchase.

Escape by: Realizing it's a ploy. There's probably more, don't worry about it. When they can sell something, they get it in stock.

The sales person has them too

Pondering the purchase of an item, the sales person says that he has the item too.

Escape by:  Realizing it's a ploy. Don't take it into account.

Drawing you in

To get some kind of control over you, the manipulator needs to draw you into some kind of situation to have you participate.

Examples: You need to be in a store, and as long as possible, to get to buying something there. So they try to get you into the store. For a sales person to be able to persuade you to buy something, he'll have to get into a situation that he'll be talking with you.

Escape by: Noticing what they're doing to draw you in. Are they getting you lost in a large store? Do sales people approach you? You can stop a sales person from controlling you by waiting until you have actually made up your mind before you approach him to make the purchase. Get information about products from elsewhere, so that you don't need sales people.


By keeping pressuring you, subtly or not so subtly, manipulators may get you to succumb to what they want. Even if it was only to stop them from bugging you.

Escape by: Don't give in, but when a manipulator's persistence starts to annoy you, tell them. Tell them to stop, to go away, and persist at that. If you succumb, you reward them for their persistence, which will make them do it again. All you have to do is keep repeating telling them to stop. Get angry if they don't.


To force you into a decision without thinking it through, manipulators may press you to hurry. They may put up some kind of deadline, put you into a hasty mood by way of music, or tell you that it's the last item in stock. This scares you, and because of that you'll feel like you'll have to do something.

Escape by: Be prepared, so that you know what you want, and rushing you won't affect you. Avoid situations where you're made to hurry, or don't buy when you are in such a situation.

You "should" buy from this person

You may come to believe that you "should" buy from someone. However, if that person has been manipulating you into believing that, why would you? Why would you have any such obligation towards someone who treats you without respect?

Hiding the manipulation

In order for you not to be suspicious of being manipulated, manipulators use various techniques. They make sure they're likable, seem trustworthy and unthreathening.

So, how do you notice you're being manipulated? Unfortunately, normally you don't.

The first warning sign is that someone who might want something from you, is behaving in a likable, seemingly trustworthy and unthreathening way.

The second warning sign would be that you feel yourself reacting with a feeling that is out of character when dealing with such a nice person. Feeling guilty, or feeling pushed to do something.

If you notice that you're being guided towards a buying decision, you are being manipulated.

Escape by: Not making the decision to buy just yet. Take a day or so to let the influence of the manipulator wear off, and then make an intuitive decision.

Not complying can't be justified

The manipulator asks you various rhetorical questions ("You are a good person, right?") that make it virtually impossible for you to justify not complying with what he wants.

Escape by: Realize you have been manipulated into feeling you can't justify it. So, don't justify it, and don't do it anyway: You don't want it.

Reward and punishment

The manipulator rewards you for doing things he wants you to, and punishes when you do things he doesn't want you to do.

Sometimes, as punishment can be resisted, it is made to look like a reward. For example, if in a group everyone is rewarded for certain behavior, but not getting the reward means that you're out, getting the reward is the normal situation. Not getting it is, in fact, a punishment.

Escape by: If the manipulator does not, in fact, have a position of power, you can resist punishment.

Taking the lead

Manipulators often simply take the lead in a situation, taking initiatives and subtly telling you to do certain things. Most people will simply comply, as long as it doesn't seem to go too much against their interests. This however, opens the door to all kinds of other manipulative behavior.

Escape by: Be aware what you're complying with! The manipulator does not have a natural right to lead you, although it might seem so. Take into account what you yourself want, and don't just let that be rejected by the manipulator.

You're phoned by someone you suspect wants to sell you something. If you let them, they'll take the lead in the conversation, controlling the direction, and trying to get you to buy something.

Escape by: Don't let them take the lead. If someone from some company calls you without you expecting it, immediately take the lead by asking them for the reason they're calling. If they don't tell you, they're trying to manipulate you, and you won't need to bother being polite, just hangup the phone. If they do tell you, and you're not interested, tell them, say goodby, and hangup the phone.

These people will do anything to extend the conversation when you show signs of wanting to end it. Don't bother being polite if it seems they're trying to trap you.

Taking away your objections

Someone wanting you to make a particular decision may have you raise your objections. Then, for every objection he offers a solution. When all your objections have thus been counter-acted, you feel like you "should" make the decision.

However, how you really feel about it may not be addressed at all. Also, feeling like you "should" make a particular decision is a bad sign, as it indicates that this is not about your real feelings, but about pressure that's been put on you.

Escape by: Don't make a decision just yet when someone has been discussing your to it objections with you. The other person is not there to help you make the right decision for yourself, but to convince you to make a decision that's suitable to him. It's better to wait some time before deciding. You might give it some thought, but actually, your intuition doesn't need thought to decide right. All you need is clearing your head before deciding.

Getting Beyond Getting Taken is a blog about deception and manipulation, and how to protect against it.