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:
- Responding to Threats: II
- When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often
are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to
avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
- How Targets of Bullies Can Use OODA: I
- Most targets of bullies just want the bullying to stop, but most bullies don't stop unless they fear
for their own welfare if they continue the bullying. To end the bullying, targets must turn the tables.
- 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.
- Entry Intimidation
- Feeling intimidated about entering a new work situation can affect performance for both the new entrant
and for the group as a whole. Four trouble patterns related to entry intimidation are inadvertent subversion,
bullying, hat hanging, and defenses and sabotage.
- Even "Isolated Incidents" Can Be Bullying
- Many organizations have anti-bullying policies that address only repeated patterns of interpersonal
aggression. Such definitions expose the organization and its people to the harmful effects of "isolated
incidents" of interpersonal aggression, because even isolated incidents can be bullying.
See also Workplace Bullying and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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