Exploring The Ethics Of Social Seduction And Authenticity With Melissa Van Oss

When you hear the word seduction, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s the idea of getting someone into bed. Maybe it’s describing a dangerous kind of charisma. Seduction can be viewed more than one way and it’s a matter of perspective.

That’s the attitude Melissa Van Oss brings to the table in her work with reframing seduction in coaching, creative writing and workshops. It was a pleasure to interview Melissa about her experiences with putting a nuanced spin on seduction and how it can be used ethically.

What’s your personal story and how did you get to where you are today?

I call myself a Midwest transplant to our nation’s capitol in DC. I grew up in a small town in the Midwest and we have a larger soybean population than people. So it was very much one of those wholesome types of growing-up experiences where everyone knows each other.

When most people think of that setting they wouldn’t imagine there’s conversation about the art of seduction, which is my vocation and vacation of choice. It’s interesting thinking about what was sexy about the place, with jeans, white shirts, cowboy hats and a country kind of vibe.

I’d be flipping through the pages of Vogue and see glamorous women looking seductive, powerful and confident and that would always fascinate me. As I got older, I did sales jobs and found I was learning a lot about human nature and dynamics in the sense of why one person would buy from me and another wouldn’t.

I stumbled across The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene and it was a lightbulb moment when I realised that seduction isn’t only about sex. It’s also a mindset and understanding human nature.

After that, I turned myself into a guinea pig to experiment with the principles in the book to see how I can have better engagement with different people. It started a domino effect where I eventually wrote some books about seduction and shook up the idea that it’s so much deeper than sex and persuasion.

Seduction and persuasion can be used for good or ill and I’m interested to hear how you think they can be used ethically. 

Let me start with a Star Wars reference. You can use The Force for the betterment of mankind or you can use it for evil, right? Unfortunately, I think over the past decade seduction has gone in the direction of manipulation and been relegated to pickup artist tactics.

That’s where it’s dangerous territory because anytime you learn these principles and you become charismatic and you awaken your seducer’s aura, people become drawn to that. So, when we learn these principles we do have to use them ethically.

Let’s say you use these principles for social seduction in a business setting and you want to get a new client. If you go about manipulating them and using the knowledge you have to make them want to pull the trigger, their intuition might be telling them something different. It’s like pulling teeth.

If you’re able to override someone’s intuition that’s a lot of power. But there might come a time when someone finds out they are being manipulated and who knows what could happen then.

So, you shouldn’t use seduction for manipulation. I’m all for using seduction principles to provide a win-win situation.

You’ve touched upon this idea of social seduction and what techniques would you recommend that people can use in personal and business life to create a win-win situation?

First, it’s having the right mindset to create a win-win scenario. The second thing is we want to have done the work internally so we know what makes us tick and buy-in with people on various levels. Think small and large transactions and interpersonal relationships

Once you’ve done this work, you can engage with people and take your personal emotions out of it. I think where a lot of people go wrong with good intentions is that when trying to create a win-win situation they don’t take their emotions out of it.

We might be thinking about having to pay the mortgage, making sure our kids can eat and as a result, we’re not in the moment. We’re not focused on that one person and how we can best serve the relationship.

So when we go from the head down to the heart and say I’m going to engage with this person whether they become a client or not, that makes a difference. They can become a friend, an ally or a collaborator and you realise there are many avenues to travel down with the right mindset.

It allows us to have greater win-wins and expand the definition of what it is. I think most people see a win-win as getting a customer and assume the win for the customer is our product or service. Instead of it being transactional, why not focus on building an authentic and organic relationship?

I do agree that it’s so important to develop an authentic connection. What’s always interested me is the notion of living an authentic life and I think seduction has its part in that e.g. with seducing yourself.

What’re your thoughts? 

I’m a big fan of becoming your authentic self and I’ve found myself in situations where I’ve hosted private events with couples and sometimes I’ve thought I couldn’t do it. So I’ve had to give myself a mental hack or short circuit to get into another space beyond my comfort zone.

I created an alter ego to help and I’ve always found this idea fascinating because when you’re embracing another persona you’re bringing out a side that isn’t afraid of fear, criticism or judgement.

Alter egos don’t care if you like them or not and they let you be like a little kid who’s playing a crazy game that others can get involved in. My alter ego was about getting out of my country girl body and becoming a city vixen who was the most confident person in the room and dressing up to give a performance.

I found by embracing this and going all in, more people engaged with me and other women said they felt comfortable dressing how they wanted to. It’s interesting how embracing qualities of yourself actually inspire other people to want to be their authentic selves too.

The line of authenticity happened when I was doing everything I was doing because it needed to be done.

That is a great way to look at authenticity and a great segue into my next question. I’m a pop culture geek and I think there are many powerful examples of seduction in different characters and genres.

What pop culture genres come to mind that depict seduction well for you?

I’m a big old movie buff and a genre that really speaks to me about social seduction, relationships and scheming is film noir. I love those films because in daily life we’re having things brought to us all the time and we have a tunnel vision approach.

We don’t look at things in a creative or introspective way. To go from the high def colour world we’re living into to the simplicity of a black and white movie takes adjustment. You have to adjust to the pace and see how the actors dress from head to toe, listen to the music, look at the lighting and recognise that everything had a purpose in the movie.

When we open up to this black and white world it takes us to a different place in our mind. When we get into these movies we have to realise that they were controversial for the time. They covered complex murders, people getting secret abortions etc and there’s still so much to enjoy about the witty repartee, the Femme Fatales and the intellectual characters.

Film noir movies provide a sense of how charm and intellect are key in psychological seduction. They challenge your thought process of what is good and bad.

Wow. I feel like I’ve had a masterclass in film noir there! That’s awesome. I love the connections you point out between psychological seduction and the genre.

What types of psychology do you think are involved in seduction? 

I enjoy reading psychology and self-help books that provide a window into human nature. Psychology is understanding human nature and whether we study it through movies or heroes and heroines in books, it all blends together.

You start to see a person’s archetype and once you get an idea of that you can start to have engaging and enlightened conversations. Once you can understand and dissect the parts of yourself that got you to where you are, you can remove any blockages that prevent moving forward.

Looking at psychology and seduction through a business lens, I see a lot of romance there. It’s like romancing customers and prospects in a first and second-date scenario. 

What kind of nurturing techniques can be used to create this kind of connection with prospects and customers?

To use your first date example, imagine we get a drink and start to get into niceties and then I take a book from my bag and say, “I’ve made this really simple for us. Here’s the book all about me. Each chapter includes my life, experiences, pet peeves and baggage and I’m going to sit over there and let you read it at your leisure. When you’re done, if you think we should continue to date, we will. If not, we’ll go our separate ways.”

That’s crazy yet in business it’s the exact same thing where people think it’s acceptable to slide into your DMs and say “I’ve got a great programme, do you want to sign up?” I’m exhausted just thinking about those messages and it goes to show a few things.

First, they probably watched a so-called YouTube ‘expert’ talk about how to build relationships instead of being a person who’s had life experience and thinks about what would make a customer want to go on a second and third date.

It’s about providing value to that person and I like to have a mix of different techniques and tips. These could be inspirational quotes, thought provokers, video tutorials where you solve one of your ideal customer’s problems etc. This means becoming the guide to the customer and placing them as the hero. They are Luke Skywalker and you are their Yoda.

Business owners need to think about how they can solve a Dark Side like problem, what keeps people awake at night, what challenges need to be overcome etc. Once you step into that role, you have the empathy and understanding to solve those problems and the dance becomes smoother.

That’s really useful advice. Going back to these manipulative ‘experts’ and people who employ bad seduction techniques, how would you advise recognising and guarding against these practices?

The first thing is always to trust your gut and think about the kind of energy the person is putting out there. The second thing is we have to realise that anything we want to be successful at takes time, drive, determination, focus and intention.

If someone is telling you they have all the answers and everything can be solved by taking a quiz, you know they are full of BS. Life is a journey and it’s about getting better and better.

Someone telling you they can solve all your problems shows their insecurity and it’s a red flag.

Also gauge how they’re speaking and interacting as well. You can often tell what they are setting you up for by their speech patterns. It might be ‘I have a great offer and I’m going to keep talking at you and I’m going to send you a lead magnet or get you to sign up for my email list.’

A good YouTuber will be talking in a stream of consciousness and provide practical tips for how something specifically helped them and how it can help you. Because if you tell me something that you haven’t done in your real life, it’s garbage.

My final question is what creative projects are you excited to share with the world in the near future? 

I’ve started to put together a publishing company called Star Tracker Publishing, where I’m helping authors figure out how to become best sellers on Amazon. This was off the back of the work I’ve done with my books.

I’ve found a passion for helping authors get their stories out and developing their courses. I’m taking on the guide role and moving people along to help them become experts in their field.

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