Over the weekend I had a conversation around Pick Up Artists (PUAs), the Seduction Community, and the tactics they use and invariably the conversation led to the concept of negging. If you’ve never heard of it, Wikipedia’s got a great definition:
Negging is a rhetorical strategy whereby a person makes a deliberate backhanded compliment or otherwise insulting remark to another person in order to undermine his or her confidence in a way that gains approval.
I was asked a simple question: Does negging actually work? My initial reaction was to say no, but then I got to thinking.
Let’s take the PUA/Seduction aspect out of it and lay things out: Negging is just another form of Negative Persuasion. Not the only form, but a type of negative persuasion. While our first inclination may be to just brush off negative persuasion as an ineffective way to get what you want, to say it doesn’t work would be a bit naive. Lets say you’re a lazy employee and positive persuasion (being complimented when you actually do work hard) hasn’t worked, so your employer tells you to shape up or you risk being fired. Chances are good you’re either going to work harder, or look for a new job. Either way, you were successfully negatively persuaded. We know negative persuasion can work in a professional setting, but can it work in an interpersonal setting?
There’s a great YouTube channel called Charisma on Command that does, among other things, analysis of the communication styles of Game of Thrones characters and why they either fail or succeed in their goals. One such video, which contains massive Game of Thrones spoilers so you’re forewarned, is called Why The Starks Will Always Get Betrayed which I highly recommend watching if you both like Game of Thrones but also like understanding what motivates people. One of the central conceits of the video is that the Starks fail because they do not motivate using both positives and negatives consequences, the Heaven if they do, the Hell if they don’t. If you want to persuade someone, present the potential positives and negatives of your argument and their consequences. Whether that’s in dating, or friendships, or business, I think it stands as one of the best ways to persuade someone. Lay out the negatives, lay out the positives, and let them make and informed decision. Parents do this all the time. “Eat your vegetables and you get dessert or do not eat your vegetables and you get nothing”. We do it in relationships too. “Tell me what you’re feeling and I’ll feel like we’re in an open, communicative, and happy relationship. Keep shutting me out and we’re done”.
While I believe that mixing negative and positive persuasion techniques makes for the most effective way to persuade, it doesn’t necessarily mean only one of these persuasion methods on its own wont work. Benjamin Franklin was well-known for winning over his enemies by being overwhelmingly positive to them. It’s called the Ben Franklin effect and what he’d do was to ask favors of his enemies. By asking for a favor, appealing to someone’s positive view of themselves as generous or benevolent, he’d win them over. If you’ve ever seen someone try to motivate someone else by being overly complimentary, or by ascribing good qualities to them, that’s the technique in a nutshell. Salesmen often employ this tactic with potential clients by mentioning their client’s intelligence or savvy. “A smart guy like you knows the value of a dollar”. Negative persuasion, or negging, is the opposite. You’re imposing a negative attribute onto someone in an attempt to appeal to some of their negative traits, usually vanity or pride. Which brings me back to my initial question: Does negging actually work?
Well, yes, depending on your definition of “work”. Has negging helped some people get laid? Yes, absolutely. I’ve been in enough bars and seen enough single men negging women to know that sometimes it does work. Even if that number is 10% of the time, it still works, even if it isn’t the most effective way to persuade someone. That said, pretty much any motivation technique can work under the right circumstances. There are some people out there that negging would never work on, and there are some people out there who will only respond to being negged. We’ve all met someone who always dates people who treats them like human garbage and yet they never seem to want to leave. I can’t say why some people seek out this sort of negativity, or why they stay in a situation where their entire relationship is just one big neg, but it happens. I’ve seen it happen, and odds are good that you’ve seen it happen. So yeah, negging can “work”, but so can being overwhelming positive, or neutral, or “chill”, or aggressively romantic, depending on the person. If you’re looking to meet someone with low self-esteem, negging will probably work out really well for you. If you were looking to meet someone who is well-rounded and has self-confidence, negging probably wouldn’t work.
That said, I’d never actively encourage negging. I think it’s a trash tool used by trash people. One of the reasons I’m actively not a fan of the whole PUA/Seduction Community is how often the techniques that are discussed rely on dishonesty. Some of the stuff around building confidence? A lot of it could be helpful for a lot of people out there, the problem is that it’s buried under a lot of terrible life advice. Teaching social skills is cool in my book, because millenials are awkward as hell, my problem is the emphasis on being tactless and predatory.
Negging can work, but so can pretty much any confidence trick. That’s what Negging is, it’s a con. You use people’s insecurities to manipulate them, playing on their vanity, pride, and naiveté, to try to get what you want. Yes it can work as a motivating tool, but so can flat-out lying to someone. Or threatening them with violence. Just because something can work doesn’t mean you should do it.
You know what can also work? Being honest, not being a sycophant, and speaking your mind.
Good Luck Out There.