Understanding Reactance in Sales: How Freedom Influences Buying Decisions

Reactance in Sales

Understanding Reactance in Sales: How Freedom Influences Buying Decisions

In the world of sales and marketing, understanding human psychology is key to effectively influencing purchasing decisions. One fascinating psychological phenomenon that sales professionals often encounter is reactance. Reactance, a concept rooted in social psychology, sheds light on why some sales tactics succeeds, while others fall flat, and how respecting customer autonomy can lead to better outcomes.

Two women having argue






What is Reactance?

Reactance can be described as the emotional resistance or backlash individuals experience when they perceive their freedom of choice is being threatened or restricted. It’s a natural response to perceived attempts to control or manipulate behaviour. In sales, this can manifest when customers feel pressured, coerced, or manipulated into making a purchase decision.

psychology behind reactance






The Psychology Behind Reactance

At its core, reactance is deeply tied to our innate desire for autonomy and freedom. When individuals sense that these freedoms are being undermined, they often react by asserting their independence or resisting the influence. This can manifest as scepticism, defiance, or outright rejection of the persuasive message.

Common Triggers of Reactance in Sales






Common Triggers of Reactance in Sales

  1. Aggressive Sales Tactics: Pushy or aggressive sales tactics can trigger reactance by making customers feel cornered or manipulated.
  2. Scarcity Marketing: While scarcity tactics can create a sense of urgency, they may also provoke reactance if customers feel pressured to act quickly without considering their options.
  3. Overbearing Authority: Customers may resist sales efforts if they perceive the salesperson as domineering or overly authoritative.
  4. Manipulative Messaging: Persuasive messages that come across as deceptive or manipulative can evoke reactance by undermining trust and authenticity.

mitigating reactance for better sales outcomes






Mitigating Reactance for Better Sales Outcomes

To navigate reactance and build positive relationships with customers, sales professionals can employ several strategies:

  1. Empower through Information: Instead of pressuring customers, provide them with transparent and relevant information to empower their decision-making process.
  2. Respect Autonomy: Acknowledge and respect customers’ freedom of choice by offering options and allowing them to make decisions on their terms.
  3. Build Trust: Foster trust and credibility by being honest, genuine, and transparent in your interactions.
  4. Focus on Value: Highlight the value and benefits of your product or service without resorting to manipulative tactics.
  5. Listen Actively: Take the time to listen to customers’ needs and concerns, and tailor your approach accordingly.


In the dynamic landscape of sales, understanding reactance is crucial for building meaningful connections with customers and driving successful outcomes. By recognising and respecting individuals’ autonomy, sales professionals can create a more positive and collaborative sales environment where customers feel empowered to make informed decisions that align with their needs and preferences. Ultimately, by prioritising authenticity, transparency, and respect, sales professionals can navigate reactance and foster long-term customer loyalty and satisfaction.

For another take on this Josh Kaufman cover this topic in his book The Personal MBA – Master the Art of Business See Here

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David Doyle

David has spent 30 years in sales successfully building business from zero to acquisition. Having studied Electronics and Computer Science at DIT and Enterprise Ireland's Export Sales Development Programme, he has spent most of his time in selling technology. He is founder and Managing Director of B2B Sell and leads a small team of experienced business and technology trained sales professionals.
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