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Negative Affect


Techniques General persuasionKellerman and Cole's 64 Strategies > Negative Affect

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Get others to comply by being negative in some way that results in them feeling discomfort or distress.

Be unfriendly. Be unkind. Act in ways that cause the other person, even as an onlooker, to be unhappy in some way. Then make it a condition that they give you what you want in exchange for you being more pleasant or at least acting in a less negative way.

You can also create negative feelings in others simply by being negative about something unrelated to them. Then when people show concern, ask for what you want as a condition of feeling better.


You know you should understand this. You're going to have to stay here until you know it backwards. Though I guess if you let me take over, you can get onto something that is easier for you.

Are you stupid? What do you think I mean. Just do it, eh? Just do it!

I hate him. He's so, so nasty to me. He's an utter swine. He's awful. Can you lend me some money, by the way.


Being unpleasant to other people or otherwise causing them discomfort as a means of persuasion works on the transaction that 'If you do as I say then, in return, I will stop making you feel bad.' This seems a most unkind and uncivil way of going about persuasion yet it is remarkably common through all societies, all ages and all abilities. Indeed, many toxic and abusive relationships are based on such coercion.

While it may seem strange, the oppressed person may get some strange comfort from this regular unkindness, perhaps because it is the only way they can get attention, or maybe it lets them take a child position in which they can absolve themselves of responsibility.

There are many dysfunctional relationships based on one person being negative in some way, and others constantly trying to cheer them up or otherwise being a slave to avoiding negativity. A typical example is the 'grumpy grandparent' who gets what they want by complaining about pains, politics or whatever, then rewarding with a brief smile the exhausted family members who run around after them.

Negative Affect is the 44th of the 64 compliance-gaining strategies described by Kellerman and Cole.

See also

Aggressive Body Language


Kellermann, K. & Cole, T. (1994). Classifying compliance gaining messages: Taxonomic disorder and strategic confusion. Communication Theory, 1, 3-60


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