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. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- Deniable Intimidation
- Some people achieve or maintain power by intimidating others in deniable ways. Too often, when intimidators
succeed, their success rests in part on our unwillingness to resist, or on our lack of skill. By understanding
their tactics, and by preparing responses, we can deter intimidators.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: II
- Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's
dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration
of the problem of bully chairs.
- So You Want the Bullying to End: II
- If you're the target of a workplace bully, ending the bullying can be an elusive goal. Here are some
guidelines for tactics to bring it to a close.
- Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal
abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers
rely on to avoid disciplinary action.
- Bullying by Proxy: II
- Bullying by proxy occurs when A bullies B at the behest of C. Organizational control of bullying by
proxy is difficult, in part, because C's contribution is covert. Policies that control overt bullying
are less effective at controlling bullying by proxy.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 6: Off-Putting and Conversational Narcissism at Work: III
- Having off-putting interactions is one of four themes of conversational narcissism. Here are seven behavioral patterns that relate to off-putting interactions and how abusers use them to control conversations. Available here and by RSS on December 6.
- And on December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways requires, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
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