Manipulators as Mirrors

Mirror, mirror, on the wall …  Do you want to see yourself as you really are, instead of as you wish you were?  If so, you can’t do much better than to see how successful manipulators see you.  Listen in on successful professional marketers, salesfolk, coaches, bosses, recruiters, etc. telling each other how to manipulate folks like you.  And since some of our most cherished illusions are on romance, frank romantic advice could be especially disturbing:   

Unfortunately, these may be advisors telling people what they want to hear, rather than successful professionals giving frank inside advice.  How can we find the most frank inside accounts of how we are successfully manipulated?

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  • Anon-y-mus

    Do you want to see yourself as you really are, instead of as you wish you were? If so, you can’t do much better than to see how successful manipulators see you.

    Try This

  • I’m wondering what credentials these people have, because I read the second link in its entirety and it sounds awfully low brow. I’m not an expert, maybe this works on some women, but frankly it’s silly and insulting to any independent woman with any smarts. My wife and I are equal partners, and any attempt to play silly mind games like this would get me laughed out of the room.

    Maybe on average people really are this shallow and transparent, but in that case it’s worth noting the specific population we’re talking about.

  • As to how we can find the most frank inside accounts of how we’re successfully manipulated, I don’t think you can do better currently than academic literature. It’s amazing to me the subservise microsociological insights buried in technical social science journals.

    Gurus (including marketing) seem to me to be on the whole less helpfully informative than behavioral economists and other social scientists, probably because as Robin identified, the “insights” that sell best are often not the same as the most accurate or helpful insights. I think the best gurus in the seduction community have been an exception to that due to a historical quirk centered in one guru (Mystery of VH1’s The Pick Up Artist) that differentiated his seduction brand by grounding it heavily in demonstrated empiricism. I call that a historical quirk because so few new brands use that approach to differentiate themselves.

  • burger flipper

    I don’t know Roissy’s bona fides, but his stated objective is to get laid, he holds the institution of marriage in contempt, and he claims to have not loved more than 1 or zero women (I can’t remember which) in recent years.

    His commandments are designed to manipulate young and attractive women, not construct equal partnerships.

    I’d bet he does get laid plenty, but I wonder how much alpha signaling can be faked through behavior and how much relies on physical traits that display high testosterone and the like.

    I wonder how genetic betas fare face to face with those they’ve wooed online by exhibiting alpha behavior.

  • randy

    robin hanson is god.

    i don’t really read eliezer’s posts anymore, they really go on and on. many are over my head. i appreciate his contributions very much, but i will probably just buy his book when it comes out.

    this is an excellent post again robin. i recently found out about Roissy and have read through a few of his posts. his feed is now in my reader and i read everything that he writes, so far. honstely, i do not like the guy one bit. anyone that lives in DC…that’s one strike against them. and i don’t care for his overly-macho apparently womanizing ways, but there’s NO WAY he could be getting less poon than i do. so i’m going to read and try to take it to heart and, more importantly, put it to use.

    with regards to the first commenter, it’s nice to hear from someone who is not cynical like so many of us are. still, i think my cynicism is warranted. there is a certain phoniness which is so pervasive in our social interactions. robin hinted at this with his “disappeared” post here on

  • J Thomas

    Anon-y-mus, I believe your link is a copycat of this one:

    I was impressed when I heard about this guy, he did something special. Here’s how it went. There were some people who were teaching something they called Neuro Linguistic Programming. This was supposed to be a collection of advanced techniques for understanding people and understanding yourself, the claim was that the techniques would let you learn faster and more effectively and train your reflexes to do what you want them to, etc. But the teachers found that there weren’t a whole lot of people who wanted to learn faster.

    They tailored their advertising and found that there were many more people who wanted to manipulate other people more effectively. So they claimed they would teach that.

    Reasonably enough, they found that their students learned the course material faster and better when they paid attention. And one way that encouraged students to pay attention was to persuade the students to respect and admire the teachers. So they used their methods to encourage their students to respect them — which had side benefits.

    But it also had a bad side effect. Many of their students, rather than attempt to use NLP techniques to succeed at whatever goals they set themselves, chose to become NLP teachers. They admired their teachers and wanted to be like them. Soon the supply of NLP teachers far exceeded the demand. They struggled to get by teaching NLP. Some of them must have wondered why it was so hard when their techniques were so good.

    But Ross Jeffries did better. Rather than become just another NLP teacher he asked what would a lot of people like to learn other than learn NLP? He decided that a lot of men would like to learn how to seduce lots of women. He tried it, and it worked! He got lots and lots and lots of customers. After awhile he was running regular large seminars in hawaii. He contracted distinguished but impoverished NLP teachers to help teach his courses.

    And some of the NLP teachers did not respect him, because he was teaching crass Speed Seduction (SS) instead of being a real NLP teacher.

    I attended 10 weekly NLP sessions taught by a guy who wanted to become a professional NLP teacher. I have not taken any other NLP or SS course, but I listened to a number of graduates of both. The central technique was to establish “empathy”. If you can watch an expert at something in action, and imagine you’re him, how it feels to do what he’s doing, etc then it’s easier to learn to do it yourself. I found this feels like it works for me. If you want to persuade somebody of something, it helps to first get in tune with them and get a sense of how they feel and what they think already. Then you can influence them.

    It looked to me like the SS students were shy guys who didn’t feel comfortable around women. They learned a pattern. A man would go someplace where there were a lot of women who might talk to him. He’d find a woman and empathise with her. He would explain that we should live for the moment, that what we did one day didn’t have to be a lifetime commitment, that we can have fun without anyone getting hurt. Women who agreed with that were less likely to act crazy afterward. Empathizing, if the woman was resistant to his ideas he would notice and politely say his farewells and move on to someone else. When his technique succeed the empathy would be mutual and would build on itself, and typically they would leave the park/bar/picnic-area/etc together.

    It looked to me like SS let shy men find women who were looking for a quick fling, and believe they were manipulating the women into it. But not knowing the women, I can’t be sure it wasn’t real manipulation. And some women might prefer to say “I don’t know how that happened, he was a master manipulator” rather than announce that they were just in the mood for a quick almost-anonymous fling.

  • Alex J.

    Roissy outlines rules which work for him. That doesn’t mean they would work for anyone, especially not the people who need advice. Here are Tom Brady’s rules for success with women:

    1) Be Handsome..
    2) Be Attractive..
    3) Don’t Be Unattractive.

    Ross Jeffries’ number one rule was don’t beg. That at least is a rule anyone can follow, but it’s also not going to instantly make you successful in your endeavors.

  • Alex J.


    It seems to me that much of what Ross Jeffries teaches is how to be confident and reform your own counter-productive behavior, rather that actually manipulating anyone else.

    (In other words, I agree.)

  • Astonishingly, it is possible to sleep with lots of women while thinking of them and treating them as human beings. I strongly suspect it’s a happier and more fulfilling way to do it too.

  • Andy Wood

    I find Roissy’s rules completely obvious, after a certain amount of experience with women. These are very far from the more cynical dating “rules” you might encounter. These aren’t especially deserving of the label “games”, except insofar as all interaction can be considered a game. This is simply behaving in a way that accommodates human instinct. And you’d better believe that instincs are very strongly in play during mating.

    The idea is to enhance the experience for BOTH people by understanding and respecting the natural rules that are likely to be at work whether you like them or not. There’s no need to take anything to extremes, but these types of principles can be consistent with love. People will trivially admit that it is good to understand who your partner is. Consider that it is also good to understand what they are.

  • As between the con man and his mark, which one really needs a good look in the mirror?

  • robin hanson is god.

    anyone that lives in DC…that’s one strike against them.

    And yet Robin lives in DC. Come back to California, Robin. Eliezer is here. Many others.

  • Stefan King

    Those ‘players’ don’t know how to teach their ‘skills’, because everyone is different. But combined with decent psychology and biology, one can draw valid conclusion from their perspective. IMO, understanding love (domain knowledge of mating) relies on the intersection of sound psychology and biology with personal experience.

    My comments on the “The Sixteen Commandments Of Poon”, by commandment:

    1. Overestimation of the importance of language. In love, words don’t matter, only tone, and actions.

    2. No need to provoke jealousy. A woman should be able to decode your attractiveness to other women from your observable attributes.

    3. True.

    4. True, but ideally not needed. Drama queens are not very rewarding.

    5. Nonsense. Violates basic principles of economy. Giving and taking will be a function of relative strength and weakness in interaction with the environment. If status is unequal the relationship will not last long enough to be fulfilling.

    6. True, for any type of relationship. Keeping supplying new stimuli or attention will wane.

    7. No need to keep an actual second, because the other ‘options’ are implied by your attractiveness.

    8. No. If you made a mistake, you are sorry, and there is no need to hide it. Love is not politics. Deception is usually a bad idea.

    9. True only to the extent the woman lacks education. Logic is hot for the learned.

    10. True, but unfortunately it also diminishes your enjoyment of it.

    11. Fakers will be caught. Since when did irrationality pay off?

    12. True, not just in love.

    13. No comment… 🙂

    14. Yep, but not sustainable.. try it for week.

    15. True.

    16. True.

  • Douglas Knight

    I have not read The Rules, but my impression is that it is a typical example of manipulation advice in that it tells you what to do but does not explicitly do what RH is suggesting here: it does not give a model of the targets of manipulation. Of course, he only suggested that we can try to extract a model from it, but contrast that with Roissy’s list, which is quite explicit in connecting a model to the advice. I think this is nothing special about Roissy, but is about how the (male) seduction community is much more explicit and analytic than other manipulation advisors.

    Why is that?
    How can we find other such sources of explicit models?

  • Shawn Gettler

    Roissy tells men to respond twice for every three emails/calls/whatever. Fein and Schneider suggest women respond once for every four. Both sides rely on plausible psychology, but one or both is obviously offering rather poor advice.

  • Cyan

    To almost all commenters so far: UR DOIN IT WRONG.

    If you are a heterosexual male, and you’re commenting the 16 Rules of Poon link, you’ve missed the point — you’re not the target of pickup artists’ manipulative techniques. You should be looking up “The Rules” to see what they say about you as a “manipulatee”.

  • celeriac

    Where’s the RSS feed that has everyone’s posts except for Robin?

  • WTF

    Materialist’s guide to getting me something else that I think will make me happy.

  • here are ‘the rules’ referred to by cyan, for comparison–a strategy for women to get what they want from men.

  • The “16 commandments of Poon” seem pretty much like how Mr. Big behaves in “Sex and the City”. Given the popularity of the show, and of Mr. Big’s character, one might conclude that these commandments do capture the fancy of a large percentage of the female audience.

  • Wouldn’t master manipulators be the least likely to tell the truth about what they’re doing?

  • It seems however that “The Rules” for women and “The 16 commandments” for men are incompatible. Both sets of rules try to encourage the person who follows them to be dominant, rigid and unrelenting, while requiring the other person in the couple to provide the warmness and flexibility to compensate.

    Because of this, it seems that if two people in a couple were to follow these rules strictly, they would not be able to have a loving and warm relationship at all.

    I would think that the people seeking this type of advice would most likely be those who are struggling to find loving relationships, and therefore are likely to be more insecure than average. Such people can benefit from this advice insofar as it helps them be more confident and assertive. However, overdoing this by strictly following the rules would likely be counterproductive and destructive. Regardless of who you are, a happy relationship requires a partner who complements your traits. People who are overdominant and follow all these rules, simply require an overly meek partner for a functional relationship.

  • Word to Lebovitz. Wow, a lot of people just AREN’T PAYING ATTENTION to the main post.

  • Stefan King

    I don’t feel all that manipulated by The Rules. Similarly to the 16 commandments and other player advice, it’s partially common sense psychology and partially nonsense. It does look more commercial than the commandments. People are making bucks here, where players are usually not selling anything.

  • Also, at least in the case of “The Rules”, it is most clearly the buyer of the advice, not the opposite sex, who is being manipulated.

  • Ten jillion points to Nancy Lebovitz.

    Also, is there any reason whatsoever to believe any of these tactics from either side actually work (and hence to believe that they’ll give one insight into oneself on the theory that they’d work on oneself), aside from a bunch of random anecdotes? What’s that old line: “the plural of anecdote is not data?”

  • Douglas Knight

    A lot of manipulation advice is about how to find people to manipulate, not about how to manipulate general people, and thus might not reveal general truths. I find that quite likely about these two examples, and sales more generally.

    Where can we find advice on manipulating people without filtering?
    From RH’s list of manipulators, bosses seem like the best bet.

  • Okay, I read both. The accuracy of these various dating dictums seems like things that should be investigated by social scientists (and I’m sure have been to various degrees). So Robin, what’s the results of these investigations? Links to them?

  • Cyan

    Guess I was doing it wrong too…

    I payed too much attention to, “frank romantic advice could be especially disturbing,” and not enough to, “these may be advisors telling people what they want to hear.”

  • I woke up last Sunday and decided to set off the causal chain of events leading to this post. TA-DA !

  • “How can we find the most frank inside accounts of how we are successfully manipulated?”

    Consider Ian Rowland’s book on how professional magicians “cold read.”

  • Stefan King

    @Hopefully Anonymus: Read “Influence: The psychology of persuasion” by Robert Cialdini. He is a professional social psychologist who spend years working undercover in ‘manipulator’ jobs like salesman and waiter. He combines it with empirical studies. His book is a standard work in marketing literature.

    He discovered 6 principles of persuasion who rely on strong heuristics and biases:

    Consistency: Like “Foot in the door”.
    Reciprocation: Give a little then take a lot.
    Social Proof: People want what others want.
    Authority: The dentist selling toothpaste, experts are usually right.
    Liking: We concede to those who are like us.
    Scarcity: If it is expensive it must be valuable.

  • Stefan King

    @Robin Hanson: In case can take my word for it: I have been a professional manipulator myself. I used to sell newspapersubsciption on the street in college for a year. Cialdini’s book is right on (pregiving, social proof, consistency). I was most surprised by these facts:

    1. Words don’t matter much. We called it “Talk, tone, stance”. Emotions are infectuous.

    2. It’s far easier to sell to the opposite sex.

    3. In rural towns selling is easier.

    Note that even the most succesful salesman landed no more than 15 subscriptions in 7 hours. I guess that once you get someone to listen, your odds were 5% of success. Manipulation is clearly an uphill struggle. People from the seduction community would probably agree.

  • Grant

    After browsing Roissy’s blog, I think his views are the product of serious selection biases. His experience with women seems to be from those who fall for “game”. While I’m sure this is a significant number of women (I don’t doubt it works well for many men; we’ve all seen it in action), I kind of doubt its even a majority in the upper intelligence ranges. His thesis seems to be that women are either incapable of or unwilling to cooperate in the prisoner’s dilemma of dating (or perhaps that they are, but that men are better off not cooperating anyways). I’m surprised more women don’t find his blog more insulting for this reason.

    It seems to me that without more rigorous study, we should trust “common knowledge” over the unscientific opinions of a manipulator. Surely it must be very important for a manipulator to select his targets well. We may get better “mirrors” from manipulators who don’t have that luxury (waitresses, car salesmen, etc).

  • mjgeddes

    The master manipulators are the people most likely to be claiming that they are honest and fair.

    Jonny Fairplay
    , from the ‘Survivor’ TV series, comes to mind again.

    This guy’s my role model man.

    Hee, hee, hee

  • Zdeno

    I’m late to the party… as most cool people usually are.

    Anyways, great point in that in the ecosystem of ideas, the most prevalent will be those that replicate, not those that are true. This means that the most successful advisors will be those whose preachings resonate the most with the advisees pre-existing opinions, i.e. “truth-soundfulness.” This explains a lot of probably false, yet still popular beliefs, from The Word of Oprah to the prevailing diet wisdom of less calories in + more calories burned = less fat.

    Any rationalists who haven’t already should take a glance at the seduction community, i.e. roissy’s blog linked above. For one, whether you are repulsed by it or not (and as good rationalists we shouldn’t discount something just because it brings a bad taste to our mouths, right?) it is very informative for anyone interested in the upheaval the dating world is going through right now.

    Second, you will be impressed with the extent to which the community is based on science. Unlike most targets of self-help, the community is composed of high-IQ, rational men who (implicity or explicitly) understand the power of the scientific method and have harnessed it to empower themselves in their dealings with women. The commumity holds in low regard the theorizing or supposition of techniques and ideas that have not been examined empirically (“field-tested” in the lingo) and emphasizes the importance of testing ideas for effectiveness before accepting themas effective.

    Third, the advice offered by the community is for the most part counter-intuitive to men in our society. Tease women. Don’t pay for dates, don’t buy drinks. Resist exclusivity and commitment, even if these are what you truly want. So if the advice runs counter to our preconceptions, that dismisses the telling-us-what-we-want-to-hear theory, leaving the-advice-is-damn-good as a strong contender.



  • Pete

    Second, you will be impressed with the extent to which the community is based on science.

    You mean, not based in science at all? No, I’m rather not surprised. (Or do you, for instance, know the effect size and level of statistical significance that these techniques achieve?)

    The magician Derren Brown is a master manipulator who also says he uses “neurolinguistic programming”. He does his magic routine, gets people to pick the right card or tear off the right piece of newspaper, etc., to great applause. Then he shows a quickly edited-together set of clips from his routine showing that he dropped “suggestions” or used words that sounded strange but were clearly pointing toward getting the marks to make the right choice. He claims that these suggestions forced the marks to go along with the trick in just the right way.
    Except… the manipulation has succeeded if you believe that “neurolinguistic programming” is really how he did it. He is in fact just another magician, doing the same tricks people have done for centuries. He’s just putting a new spin on it that makes people fall for it – it’s not magic, it’s “science”.

  • Grant


    Science seeks to understand the world (or in this case, what women want). The seduction community seeks to understand how to seduce women. The problem is, their models don’t need to have predictive power over all or even most women, whereas scientific models should be as broadly applicable as possible.

    How much of the community’s processes are devoted to screening potential seductees? Screening should increase the chances of any manipulator succeeding, but it is not something desirable in scientific models.

    Which of the following seems the most likely to you?
    1) Roissy is correct about all women, and common knowledge and practice is flat-out wrong.
    2) Roissy is correct about some women, but not others, and he’s too narcissistic to admit it.
    3) Roissy is correct about some women, but not others. He uses screening techniques to maximize his success, but the women he seduces are not indicative of the female population as a whole.
    4) Roissy is wrong about all women, and common knowledge is more accurate.

    I vote for #3 (and ok, maybe a little of #2 too).

  • Pete: Could you please list the mainstream-science-endorsed programs that have had the success that Mystery has had in teaching men to be seducers?

    Mystery got results that academics could not. If they were somehow more scientific than him, they should have “beat him to the punch” a long, long time ago. But where is the book or program that e.g. Neil Strauss could have discovered that would have led to the conversion in his life that he got from meeting Mystery?

  • J Thomas

    Roissy is correct about some women, but not others. He uses screening techniques to maximize his success, but the women he seduces are not indicative of the female population as a whole.

    How is this unscientific? When you do an experiment don’t you try to control for extraneous variables? If you want to look at nuclear fission do you assume it ought to work the same for every isotope of every element, or is it worth doing some purification first?

  • Roberto

    I disagree with the idea that men are especially attempting to manipulate. No matter what Roissy says, both sides of the mating game have tried since the advent of higher brain functions to influence the desire of the other side. Smells (perfume), colors (makeup), shapes (clothes), sub-communicate and influence a lot more than some pick-up lines, no matter what the intentions behind the lines were.

    There are plenty of places (like and others) where men come to discuss these techniques, just like women do. Dating is the ultimate sales call; the best customer is the one that sees through it.