You might experience the occasional twinge of unease when you realise that someone is pulling your strings. You might find yourself uncomfortably caught in a personal or professional relationship which is defined by the power imbalance created by the use of manipulation.
The manipulators in your life might be family members or friends, or they might be colleagues who may or may not be senior to you at work. What they have in common is a desire to control your behaviour.
Once you have recognised that manipulation is an unwelcome feature of the relationship, you can take steps to resist this strategy and adjust the balance of power.
Change yourself, not the other person
There is no point in hoping that the game-player will change. They are stuck in a pattern of behaviour which benefits them, and it is not your job to unstick them.
What you can do is make conscious decisions about the way you respond to their behaviour.
Focus on developing some of the strategies which will bring about a change in the relationship.
There are two main ways of making a difference:
You can change the way that you think about the situation.
You can change the way that you behave in the situation.
Don’t blame yourself
Get out of the self-blame way of thinking.
Remember that you are being manoeuvred into feeling bad about yourself. So ditch the self-recrimination and stop beating yourself up.
Be clear about the price you are paying
What’s the pay-off for you in this relationship?
You might like the thanks you get when you do a colleague yet another favour you really didn’t want to do.
It could be that you get a buzz from being associated with your social magnet friend whose tab you always seem to pick up.
You might allow someone to twist your arm because you like a quiet life and dislike unpleasantness. Weigh this against the loss of, say:
Learn some assertive skills
Being able to refuse requests and turn down suggestions is a key skill in dealing with manipulators.
When you begin to say no, you begin to reclaim a sense of control, and you cause the other person to view you differently:
I know that everyone will be there. Unfortunately I have other plans for that evening.
I’m not able to help you with that at the moment.
Acknowledge your feelings
Stating how you feel is another powerful way of derailing a manipulative move:
I’m not sure about what you’re saying.
I don’t think I understand what you mean.
I feel as though I’m being pushed in to something.
I feel that you want me to agree with you.
Control the encounter
Work on ways of cutting conversations short. Don’t let the other person dictate the pace of an encounter. Be ready with phrases such as:
OK, I need to go now.
Right, that’s sorted.
Ask for time
When you feel uncomfortable, or uneasy, or as if you are being pushed, don’t reply straight away.
Get rid of those self-doubting fears such as oh, they’ll know I’m not keen, or they’re not going to like this.
Being too ready to please other people makes you a target. Have a phrase or two ready that you can use when you want to decide how to reply:
I’ll get back to you on that one.
I need some time (a few minutes, days, weeks, whatever) to think about this.
Assertive questions put the ball back in the manipulator’s court. Focused queries make it clear that you are not a sitting duck:
How exactly will this benefit me?
Who are the other people you asked?
Call their bluff
Here are two very powerful ways of dealing with manipulative techniques.
What they do is show that you are on to the game that is being played and that you are not going to be drawn in.
These strategies are non-confrontational and non-aggressive. You might like to practise some examples before you use them, to make sure you get the tone right.
It’s more effective if you don’t sound sarcastic or argumentative. Aim to speak in a firm, level tone. Don’t say too much, and don’t get drawn into further discussion.
At the same time, there is no need to be scared of sounding gentle, or friendly, or understanding. You’re still the same person. You’re just not going to get suckered in.
Show that you know what’s going on
Acknowledge the behaviour.
If someone sulks or gives you the silent treatment, instead of playing their game by asking what’s wrong and trying to please them by putting it right, just show that you have noticed:
You’re not talking, so something is bothering you.
You’re clearly in a bad mood. I’ll leave you alone.
I know you’re annoyed that I disagreed with you about our holiday plans, but being off with me isn’t going to make me change my mind.
Ignore the sub-text
This is particularly useful when someone is playing the ‘poor me’ or sympathy card. Don’t respond to the underlying message that if you cared, you would do what they want:
‘I suppose I can manage without you.’
‘If you don’t let me borrow the car, I’ll have to walk back in the rain.’
‘You’ll be fine. Your waterproof is in the hall.’
People use manipulative means do so for a number of reasons. Whatever the reason, it is their choice to behave in this way, and it is their responsibility to deal with the outcomes.
By presenting a stand against these techniques, you are paving the way for healthier and more honest communication.
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