Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 48;   November 29, 2017: Manipulators Beware

Manipulators Beware

by

When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators.
A human marionette

A human marionette

Psychological or emotional manipulation is the use of influence to disrupt the target's ability to think critically and logically. Some definitions of manipulation require that the manipulator consciously choose to disrupt the target's thinking. My definition doesn't require intentionality, because many manipulators are so accustomed to manipulating others, so successfully, that they're unaware they're even doing it.

An example of manipulation at work (or at home): raising your voice in debates to intimidate others into compliance. An example from advertising: announcing the one-day sale one day in advance, to limit customers' ability to research prices or sales elsewhere.

There are dozens of manipulative tactics. Most of us have used some of them many times. Even infants manipulate others, though the tactics they use are, well, infantile. Adults are subtler about it.

For example, suppose you're one who flatters others to get them to accede to a request you're about to make. Flattering the target at the beginning of the conversation can be clumsy. People tend to recognize the manipulation immediately. Instead, the clever manipulator lets the conversation develop. Then, in the natural flow, the target is less likely to recognize the flattery as manipulation.

Flattery can be even more effective when cloaked. In "backdoor flattery," the manipulator conceals the flattery, perhaps with an admission of a failing on his or her part, as in, "I'm deeply sorry I never told you this, but you were very helpful to me and my family after the fire. We're really grateful." Admitting regret about failing to express gratitude is disarming. It tends to evoke compassion. Delivered in public, with witnesses, it's probably a sincere gift. But delivered in private, with no witnesses, the flatterer's vulnerability can be little more than a distraction whose purpose is to make the target more vulnerable to the flattery that follows.

Targets who recognize manipulation have several options that present problems for manipulators.

Act as if the manipulation is working
Let yourself Witnesses deter manipulation.
If you find yourself alone with
a known manipulator, be alert.
appear to be manipulated, despite knowing exactly what's happening. With that advantage gained, you can respond in ways the manipulator doesn't expect, possibly at a later time.
Steer clear
You'll probably be happier with one less manipulator in your life. Mark this manipulator as someone to avoid.
Limit their access to data, particularly about yourself
Information is fuel for manipulators. If you deprive them of fuel, they'll find other people to manipulate. This might not be an option at work, if, for example, the manipulator is your boss. You might have to find a new boss.
Provide disinformation
Give manipulators information that's incorrect, and let them make fools of themselves. Of course, it must be information that you can later plausibly claim to have believed yourself.

Confronting the manipulator might be unwise, unless you have power sufficient to protect yourself from the manipulator's response. Manipulators who have power of their own might use it to protect themselves from anyone they recognize as a threat. Go to top Top  Next issue: Reframing Revision Resentment: I  Next Issue

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See also Workplace Bullying and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
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