If you google the definition for social engineering, you’ll probably find something like “the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes.” While it’s true that social engineering is used to manipulate people, it can also be used to motivate people. At SECOM we define social engineering as “the act of influencing someone to take an action that may or may not be in their best interest.” For example, by using social engineering principles such as reframing, commitment, and authority, a high school counselor can influence a student to improve their grades and thus have a better chance of attending college.

Social engineering is about influencing others, but what if I told you that you can social engineer yourself? Let me share with you some ways that I’ve used social engineering on myself and how it has benefitted me.
Social Engineer Yourself

Know Thyself

The first thing I learned when I attended the Advanced Practical Social Engineering course (APSE) was identifying my communication style. In class I took the DISC assessment. DISC is an acronym that stands for the four main personality profiles described in the DISC model: (D)ominance, (I)nfluence, (S)teadiness and (C)onscientiousness. It is not a personality test, rather it’s an assessment to discern your predominant way of communicating. Some may be short and direct communicators whereas others will include many details in their explanation. There is no superior or inferior communication style. However, a very direct communicator may find details annoying. On the other hand, a person that needs details to make a decision may find a direct way of communication abrasive.

In social engineering adapting the way we communicate with others is crucial. During an engagement when we can quickly assess the communication style of our target, we have a much better chance of success by adapting how we communicate with them. We can apply the same principle in our personal lives. Have you found yourself arguing with your significant other, just to realize you were both saying the same thing all along? Being self-aware of our communication style and that of the other person can help us reduce conflict and improve relationships, both professional and personal.


As social engineers we use pretexts in our everyday work. In essence, a pretext is a simple but believable story that we create to influence the target’s behavior. For example, during a vishing campaign I will call employees pretending to be from their IT department seeking to confirm information about their computers. I adjust my pretext and the way I speak to play the role of the IT specialist and sound as realistic as possible. However, I am not the most technically savvy person. So, believing the pretext myself conveys the needed trust in order to succeed with the vishing calls.

I have found myself creating pretexts in my mind to help me accomplish personal goals or to behave in a desired manner to fit a situation. There was an instance where I was asked to be part of a video shoot for an upcoming company project. This involved reading a teleprompter and appearing natural and at ease in front of professional cameras and blinding lights. To make matters worse, the whole production would take place with my peers. As an introvert, I found the whole ordeal very intimidating. Then it occurred to me: “If I can become another person during my vishing calls using a pretext, could I do the same now?” So, I created a story (or pretext) for myself that I was an experienced news anchor for the day. This gave me the motivation to complete my part of the project with confidence.


Social Engineer Yourself
A large portion of our communication is not conveyed with words, but through our nonverbal communications. In the book Emotions Revealed, Dr. Ekman explains that we can convey emotions such as anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and happiness, just by how they show across our faces. This not only provides signals for others to identify our feelings, but it can also alter the emotions of the other person. Social engineers must become masters at understanding, reading, and influencing, people. During an in-person engagement a colleague spilled coffee on his shirt and resume, then walked into the office building with a sad look of disappointment. He then told the receptionist how important this job interview was and asked if he could hand her his flash drive so she could print a copy of his resume. The receptionist moved with pity complied. The SE accomplished the goal of exploiting human vulnerability.

Try a Smile

If we can affect the feelings of others by using our nonverbals, could we change the way we feel by changing our facial expressions? A recent study published in the journal Experimental Psychology, states that smiling (even a fake smile) can have a positive impact on mood. We trigger certain facial muscles by smiling and can “trick” our brain into thinking we’re happy. It may seem silly to just smile at yourself by yourself with no apparent reason. Instead, try thinking of something that can evoke a true smile. It’s surprising how well it works.

Power Poses

Another way we can use nonverbals to our advantage is by our posture. Amy Cuddy became well known for a 2010 study about the effects of “power poses.” The study found that by posing, standing, or sitting in certain positions — legs astride, or feet up on a desk — subjects experienced stronger “feelings of power” than they did before.

I was somewhat skeptical that the way I stand (or sit) can change how I feel, until I put it to the test. My natural disposition in social events used to be sitting with my arms crossed and shoulders down, so as to not draw attention to myself. Although this felt comfortable, I did not benefit from having meaningful conversations with others. I started to become self-aware during social interactions and would adjust my posture; standing tall, shoulders straight (maybe a hand on my hip) and a smile. I must admit, it did not feel natural at the time but the more I practiced this, the more confident and comfortable I was making conversations with new people.

Continue to Learn, Continue to Grow

Social engineering is deeply rooted in psychology. The more we can understand our psychology and that of others, the more we can grow as professionals as well as individuals. For the sake of time this article considers just three aspects of social engineering that we can self-apply, however there are so many more. If you are interested in learning more about how social engineering can help improve your life, you may want to consider attending our Foundational Application of Social Engineering course. This course delves deep into subjects such as communications profiling, rapport, elicitation, and influence. Make it a goal to continue to learn and continue to grow.

Written by: Rosa Rowles