Reverse Psychology: How to Influence Mismatchers and Get Things Done

Does getting some employees to do what you want, remind you of trying to get a young child to eat their vegetables? Sometimes, it’s just not happening. The secret is through using reverse psychology.

If you say, “don’t eat that” or “don’t do that,” This act in itself,  can become a whole lot appealing. Their sub conscious takes on the challenge, and before you know it, they’re doing more of what you don’t want them to do.

The simple reason is by telling someone the opposite to what they believe or expect, you invariably threaten their sense of freedom. Now, they will more than likely choose to exercise that freedom. This is all part of the reactance theory, which says that people will often do the opposite of what they are told they cannot do.

Reverse Psychology Examples

In 1982, a famous study was conducted by Wilson and Lassiter to illustrate the reactance theory, using children.

The researchers took two groups of children and observed them while they played. They then chose a toy that was the least popular and told one group that the unpopular toy could not be played with. They later let them play with that very toy.

What they found was that the groups who were told they couldn’t play with the toy, actually played with it 3 times longer than the other group.

This is but one example of reverse psychology at work that became a scientific study for many social studies.

Other reverse psychology examples include:

  • A parent saying that they are going to wait for someone stronger to take out the garbage, instead of having their teenage son do the chore…The son then jumps up and gets things done;
  • A boss telling an employee that they don’t think they’re going to have enough time to finish a project so they will give the work to someone else… Things sometimes get miraculously finished on time;
  • At a furniture store, the salesperson states that while a whole sofa set doesn’t need to be purchased, there’s a discount for those who do buy everything. The customer may well exercise their desire now to buy that furniture, rather than wait.

Matchers vs. Mismatchers

It’s important to understand the different between a Matcher and Mismatcher because we can use reverse psychology easier on a certain psychological type.

Matchers and mismatchers frequently come up in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) as a “meta-program.”

This meta-program is an inbuilt script that we run sub consciously in our minds, which helps us think, control and decide things.  These also have influences on our body language, speech patterns, and problem solving attributes.


Matchers are not the ones who need reverse psychology, because these kinds of people agree with what you say. They seek cohesiveness, and they abide by the rules.

Throughout life, matchers look for similarities and rarely cause trouble in the workplace, since they largely want to be liked and respected.


On the other hand, mismatchers vary between one another and their views of the world. A mismatcher, depending on their maturity level, will always spot inconsistencies. They are the first to find exceptions rules.

These people like debating the details. It might sometimes appear as if they are doing it just to be annoying.

In short, matches see that all the above are shapes first or that they are primary colours. A mismatcher will typically describe the above as each shape being different or a stating the difference in colour.

You should already be able to see how reverse psychology will work on mismatchers. We simply introduce an obvious difference and let them take it up!

Steps For Effective Reverse Psychology

Reverse psychology is not something that can be learned overnight, and you need to be able to hone the skill by applying it to less pressing scenarios than the workplace or highly important things to start with.

However, understanding the effectiveness of reverse psychology and the situations in which it can be used will help you not only manage mismatchers more effectively, but you will then be able to work with type A personalities, stubborn workers, and egotistical people more readily too.

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t use reverse psychology on matchers, because they will simply do as you say. Furthermore, don’t use reverse psychology techniques on people with low self-esteem. Your wording and actions can dent their self worth even more.

With that said, let’s look at the steps for using reverse psychology to effectively influence mismatchers:

  1. Figure out whether you’re dealing with a matcher or mismatcher. For a mismatcher, any conversation may focus on negatives or differences rather than finding commonality. An example is:

A: Hey, nice weather today, isn’t it?

B: Actually, it could be cooler.

  1. Once you know the person’s a mismatcher, start phrasing your questions and ideas with negative twists. Not all mismatchers focus on the negative—they might merely focus on differences. For example, you might say, “I don’t know if you like this kind of thing…” The mismatcher will respond, “Of course I like it.” Or, you may say, “I don’t know if you have time for this,” in order to have the mismatcher say, “I have more time than you’d expect.” And so on;
  2. As the dialogue continues, give the mismatcher opportunities to disagree. Typically, these opportunities will steer the conversation in the direction you want to go. Here is a sample dialogue using this reverse psychology tact:

A: Do you have a moment? I have an idea that I don’t think is going to work, but I wanted to ask your opinion.

B: Sure! (After looking over the idea) I think this could work.

A: Really?

B: Yes, this is actually a decent idea. I can help out too.

A: Thanks. I didn’t think this kind of project was something you’d be interested in.

B: Of course I’m interested in it. This has me written all over it.

A: That would be great. I wasn’t sure you had the time, since I know you’re busy.

B: I actually have plenty of time.

A: Great, thank you very much.

B: You’re welcome.

As you can see, the trick is to create polarity. It will take some practice, but once you know how to counter the way mismatchers process information, you’ll be able to control conversations with them more readily.

Tips For Using Reverse Psychology

In the modern workplace, reverse psychology is a common practice that is utilized in both peer-to-peer scenarios and with manager-to-employee relationships too.

There are some tricks to ensure that you can become more proficient in using reverse psychology without coming to a major pitfall.

  1. Use a calm, undemanding tone. This can be challenging because speaking with mismatchers can something make you feel slightly pessimistic. Remember to think about what it is you’re saying rather than how it has to be said;
  2. Welcome both matchers and mismatchers into the workplace to create a diverse environment. Mismatchers can help matchers find the generalizations and faults in plans, while matchers can create balance;
  3. Reverse psychology can backfire. If the mismatcher realises that you’re trying to manipulate their thought patterns, they might begin mistrusting you;
  4. Don’t overuse reverse psychology. People are not Pavlov’s dogs, and they are much more aware of your practices than they let on. If you continuously employ reverse psychology to get people to work with you, you’re teaching your staff to disobey.

Final Thoughts

Reverse psychology is an extremely powerful tool that, when used in a subtle way and ethical way, can be a motivating and positive method for bringing about the best in all of your employees.

This is true for teams with matchers and mismatchers present. Just be careful about how you use it and when. Use reverse psychology when you want to maintain strong leadership while keeping up with the personalities and cultures of a diversified workplace.