The Secret to Defeating Manipulators
Don’t get played.
Cowards, manipulators, and backstabbers encourage you to take risks so they don’t have to. They posture in shadows. Let others get dirty. They step into the light when it’s safe.
Leading requires risk-taking. Don’t lead if you can’t take responsibility. Backstabbers and players, on the other hand, manipulate leaders. They want benefit while others take risks.
Players and manipulators always drive toward self-interest, secretly. Even when making others look bad, its to strengthen their own position.
Exposing manipulative players:
Ask ten questions to see if you’re being played.
- Are you being asked to keep secrets?
- Is someone creating paranoia and weakening relationships?
- Has someone whispered negative information about another in your ear?
- Who’s in the loop? Who’s left out?
- Whose life gets easier? Whose gets harder?
- Why is it important for you to take the lead, rather than someone else?
- Who looks good if it works?
- Who takes the fall if it fails?
- How is the team impacted?
- Are you functioning within organizational values?
Bonus: Who’s doing the work? Manipulators maneuver others into doing most of the work.
Defeating manipulative players:
All organizations have players and backstabbers who place self-interest ahead of all other interests. They thrive in silence and secrecy.
Silence implies permission.
Secrets strengthen manipulators.
Openness and transparency defeat manipulative players. Don’t attack them. Don’t play their games. Open the shades. Turn on the lights. Watch them fall in line or scurry like cockroaches.
Performance wins when everything’s on the table.
Transparency defeats manipulators.
When you smell the stench of manipulation, invite all stakeholders to a meeting that spells out all deliverables, responsibilities, deadlines, and communication channels. Don’t waste time attacking manipulators. It’s a distraction. Create high performance cultures with transparency.
How can leaders lessen the power of manipulators?
This is so on target. Thanks so much for aways having what I need at exactly the right time.
Thanks for the good word Bob and here’s to defeating manipulators with openness and transparency. Cheers!
Hi Dan, to answer your last question is to be patient. Situations don’t require character they reveal them. What goes around eventually comes around. Sometimes it appears to take a really long time.
One other thing I do for me is if what I am up to is so big I just do have the luxury of letting my mind become cluttered with meaningless minuesha!!!!!! Not sure I spelled that last word right but think you got my drift!!! I just don’t have a lot of free time to not be doing anything but pushing the proverbial rock.
Sometimes my mind gets going faster than it can spell!!!
One last thing! If I stop what I am up to to deal with what comes down to meaningless minuesha (that word again) then aren’t I doing the exact thing I am upset about them doing???? One finger pointed out always has two coming back.
Meant above do not have time
Thanks Scott. You’re focus is important….Thanks for bringing it out. The best I could do in 300 words was say, don’t get distracted and don’t play games that players play.
Many say, when the environment has manipulators in it, let your work speak for itself. For sure! If you don’t have the work you better get busy. 🙂
You did great as usual with your 300 words or less Dan.
First. The lead dog in the Iditorod has the best view! Whew!
What I was getting at is I need to be what I want others to be. If I don’t want them to be focusing on stuff and things that are not bringing us closer to our goal, it starts with me.
I could spend all day long focusing on what is not working, who is not working, who is lying, who is not!
In reality we all have our shining moments and what we can call the less shiny. I want them focusing on their jobs so I got to be solution I want. I got to be the example by looking forward. Yes there is a time to take a breath and check up on how things are going and how we are doing. Then back on the beam, me first!
If I choose to spend all day pondering such things then I am being focused on what I need to be taking action on? Seems like no, instead of doing my part I am evaluating what others are doing. If I get into that habit I have found I can spend all day there. I come out great in my own mind and others lacking. Either that or I can choose to rise above that and work as hard at what I need to do looking forward.
I need to be the worker bee I want others to be not just a reflective manipulator myself. I need to be getting results with what I am doing as much as monitoring what is happening with the guys with a lesser title and paycheck.
The other thing I meant about dishonesty is over time people’s true selves reveal themselves. Who they are speak so loud I can’t hear what they are saying. Karma is a …tch pardon my French.
I think you are an artist with your 300 words or less Dan or I would not read and participate if I didn’t.
Excellent post Dan. Assuming the leadership entity is operating within ethical/moral standards. (Not akin to a group of ‘Hitlers’! 🙂
Some of us have had experiences where it was the leadership that benefited at our expense. In those situations, there are times where justice is desperately needed.
Transparency and openness is critical in today’s culture. It will take a great deal of courage from each of us to live this way. I believe it can be done. Although not always ‘easy’.
Thanks for chiming in Samantha. You bring up the other side of the coin. Leaders who manipulate. For sure, it comes both ways!
I think the series of questions in this post applies to the situation you bring up. Creating transparency when you aren’t the leader is more challenging.
All the courage we need is the courage to seek and speak the truth. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
Those are an excellent set of starter questions Dan. For anyone. And yes, creating transparency when you aren’t the leader is very challenging! : ) However, it is experiences such as those that forge us IN to leaders over time. Although there is a caveat to this as well: the trials we face can lead us to the dark side or to the light when it comes to our own leadership. Similar to Star Wars in the case of Luke Skywalker. Or the contrasts between Maximus and Commodus in Gladiator.
Then there are those in the middle. Such as Robert the Bruce in Braveheart. Caught between wanting to follow his heart and do the right thing for his people, yet temporarily stuck in the system called ‘family loyalty’ when it came to the power his own father had over him. It took his own betrayal of William Wallace to see the light. And that is the personal pain that provided the ‘weight’ to change the balance in his own heart. To finally do the right thing even if it meant going against his own father.
As for simple. The odd thing I keep finding from my own personal experience is that some of these things ARE indeed. VERY simple. Yet the journey to GET to the point where we each understand just how simple it is…can be a long one! haha
I am particularly impressed with the discussion bringing in character. It is the easy way out to let go of what matters. Leadership is about being a role model regarding values.
We have plenty of such Characters in the modern and real world. Unfortunately the sort of positive Leadership Dan is mentioning is fading. In the past 45 years I notice the path of eroding values: it is the weaker who looks up to the stronger and copy his/her behavior – an excellent cover. As example, when Politicians find new ways of avoiding paying taxes, they have a lot of options at hand due to the way they can access know-how – Big Business will take it up and follow in those foot steps – the next level of followers are the next “lower class” and so on, and so on.
As Dan wrote, unfortunately we find way too many people also on Leadership level (Politics and Economy) who have lost their role model function but are still there.
So my question is: who is Leading if the Leaders are failing?
On the discussion of character and value, this reminds me of the saying: “Take care of your character, and your reputation will take care of itself.”
What an incredible discussion, and I love the title you chose for it. I don’t hear this discussion often enough, even though The Art of War discusses this on different levels frequently (if not entirely some would argue).
Manipulation is definitely an obstacle to get over in different areas: personal, professional, etc., but usually, the only role it should have is to be eliminated from the equation as soon as possible.
I feel though that one other point should be added:
Manipulation can be defeated through clarity, but it can also be turned against itself through counter-manipulation; at time, there is no other way but this especially for safety reasons. In other words, sometimes you have to allow the manipulators to fall into their own trap.
So far this is a part of my experience along with what you’ve discussed on your post.
Do you agree with my last point?
Thanks for another great post, Dan.
Gone stressed out having meetings with manipulators many times but havent figured out how to defeat them. Thank you very much for these inputs Dan. More power!
Trust is at the foundation of organizational health. Manipulation destroys trust.
Manipulation is a characteristic of sociopaths. Although not well defined in medical literature, sociopathy involves about 3% of the population, the “me-first” people with no conscience who consciously work to dominate others, and have no problem lying. A good read on the subject is “The Sociopath Next Door” by Dr. Martha Stout. Her advice is simple, “Disassociate Yourself”.
Manipulation cannot be tolerated among leaders, no matter what their power or expertise. The first time a person manipulates, a good leader will point it out in private. If it happens again, the leader will cause negative consequences for the manipulator, up to and including dismissal. There can be no compromise with manipulation.
Manipulating leaders are not leaders, but tyrants. If your boss is one, join another organization.
I’ve been a pawn in people’s manipulations. One of the key tactics of manipulators is gaining one’s trust. In other words your guard is let down. If your workplace has numerous manipulators due to poor senior leadership then exposing them does nothing but put a huge target on your head. Be thankful when they finally pull out the knives and get rid of you because that business has obvoiusly lost their way.
Per usual Dan, you have touched on a very important topic. Having spent the better part of three decades in a corporate environment, I am well versed in the world of manipulators. Sadly, these people are not restricted to big business – or any business for that matter. Manipulators exist in every facet of life.
In my experience – learned the hard way – it is often advisable to say and/or do nothing in the face of manipulation. Some are so masterful at intertwining just a touch of truth with a degree of trust (ill gotten trust) that to undo their actions is nearly impossible.
Awareness of manipulators and manipulation is needed. Blogs like this will help to do just that.
I find that assuming that all manipulation is negative or for negative intent is incorrect. Manipulation in its definition is defined as : Verb
Handle or control (a tool, mechanism, etc.), typically in a skillful manner: “he manipulated the dials”. To handle or control situations sets optimum essence for learning, to control parameters of experience allows safety. What is not okay is the desire to use tools and actions to control belief that is out of alignment with the truth of the experience or purpose.
Great questions and thought provoking post.
This should have been a weekday blog!
All of the prior comments are interesting and valuable. I think I can add another detail or two.
First, true manipulators have flawed characters. They cannot be changed and to try to do so is a waste of time. Do not frustrate yourself or hold out hope that you can “fix” a true manipulator.
Second, your tool for dealing with manipulators is clear communication. Clearly define your needs and your goals. As a manager, it is acceptable to allow people their “paths” but it is your responsibility to clearly present your vision.
Third, conversations with manipulators are a lesson in diversion. Stay on topic, bring them back to the point, avoid emotion.
Hope these add something to the conversation. I certainly appreciate this blog and its contributors!
What really stands out for me here: SILENCE IMPLIES PERMISSION. SECRETS STRENGTHEN MANIPULATORS. I am making this experience over again and again, particularly in my social life.
It takes a leader to stand up when manipulation- or any other unethical behavior is occurring. I have worked in business as well as the academic world and of course the entire range of human behavior occurs in both as well as in personal life.
Students in my classes are nearly all working and speak out about the difference between a leader and a boss- they will leave a better paying job to work for a leader.
I appreciate the thoughtful comments. I am grateful I have discovered this forum.
The truth will set you free.
I have been out of the corporate world for a long time. I worked as a high level executive admin assistant in a world class corporation, and due to master manipulators, it did get rather painful at times.I’m elderly now and live in an independent living facility for the elderly and disabled. We have our lovely example of a master manipulator here too. This woman is a super extrovert who loves to play games. I mean card games, dice games, gambling at Casinos, etc. She thinks she is the smartest person here, and she isn’t. She talks like an ignorant hick with “ain”t every other word and many mangled southern expressions. She is the informal “manager” of social events. She is also wiley and loud, funny and manipulative. Which gets her attention and power because there are some people in a place like this who don’t mind her taking the lead. She gossips mercilessly and hurts the reputations of whoever falls out of favor with her, calling them lazy, stupid, crazy, smelly, etc behind their backs. It may seem silly compared to some of the stresses in corporate environments, but the principles of manipulativeness are still the same.
Lately I have fallen out of favor with her. It was inevitable. I don’t play the game. She influences others against whoever she doesn’t like. I find that very irritating. So, tonight I was playing dice with her and she was doing her typical, “I hate you, ha, ha, ha” to one of the people who beat her in a roll. I got a gut full.
I stood up and said I had to leave and walked out. Oh, she would love to use that to tear me down, but if I am clever, she won’t get very far. I am going to start using the techniques to expose her tactics. First, I will avoid situations where she can take control. Then I will pick my moments carefully to expose her ridiculousness. I think it is all about saying the right thing immediately after she has thrown down a really ridiculous zinger. Case in point. There is a guy here who had a stroke. Poor guy. He is very sweet, but he can’t do a lot for himself. And he has little disposable income. So I offered to take him to the food bank once a month to help with his food bill. He actually cried and thanked me. She, however, has declared him as weird. Instead of shrugging my shoulders I should say, “Well, if he steps out of line with me I can tell him to stop, or do you think I should just smack him?” But I have to say it in front of others so her ridiculousness is exposed.
In the mean time I went to “meetup” tonight and found several off site groups to join. A photography group, a dice group, a hiking club, etc. I don’t need to be in this nasty, narrow little world she thinks she is queen of. But I am retired and have options. I actually can get away from the manipulators. Those who are at work building their kingdom of “yes” men and doormats upon which they wipe their dirty shoes. Trust me. It can happen anywhere.
Thanks color… You left me a powerful comment with lots to consider. I respect your transparency.
Thank you. I hope I haven’t been too harsh about his lady. Because I have to remember we all have flaws. I think my frustration is high right now, but ultimately I just want to be cautious and not get into a cycle of difficulty with her. It is scary not knowing exactly what to do sometimes. I don’t want to leave compassion behind and thought last night about the fact people here are aging. And the aging brain isn’t as very easy to deal with from the inside either. So last night I thought that perhaps she has struggles with that. I should have mentioned she is very good at organization and has other talents. I get torn. And frustrated. Thank you for your article. It does allow a person (me at least) to vent some ideas and then think about what I’ve said. Take care…
I wish there was an edit on my last reply. I did think today I’ve been very selfish in a way and critical. So I thought of a way to do this better. I will go to a person and be kind to them and ask them to not do something that bothers me. But before I do that I will do something nice for them. Like bring them cookies or help them in some way. Then say, “Could you do me a favor please? Please don’t talk ill of my friends. I really like them and I really like you. And sometimes I just need to hang onto my own point of view. But at times I do appreciate your insight too.”
I really need to preserve the dignity of these people around me. And work on these things when the timing is right and as it seems safe to do so. I can’t expect elderly people to be so perfect. But also I need to not be manipulated. Again, thank you for your article. Somehow it helped bring all these thoughts to the surface. I need to be gentler and kinder. I forget that sometimes. 🙂
rI really needed this, I just retired because my administrative was so manipulative, actually I believe she has a Machiavellian personality now that I’ve been reading all i can about the subject. Unfortunately she was an expert manipulator and wanted my job, my supervisors were completely convinced I was a “demon seed”. To my face she loved me dearly, behind my back she was calling our “chain of command” and telling lies that were beyond belief. Unfortunately they played right into her hands by not asking me if these things were happening. She portrayed herself as my victim and they listened, secret phone calls, she made sure we never compared notes.
She was so unscrupulous I decided to get out to protect my good name and reputation. Unfortunately in my case we had an office by ourselves so there were no witnesses to confirm with me that she was a lier,
But the most important information I have read is Exposure, Exposure, Exposure they rely on secrecy and playing both sides against each other. Reality you have to be in a position that your Supervisors will listen (I wasn’t), but I have learned, I know the warning signs, I pray I will never be taken unaware by this again—-it’s absolutely awful!
Can’t seem to see my post – so my apologies for double posting if this is the case.
Dan, thank you for this – this works well in a business related environment where results matter – and thus indeed the leader can be transparent. But. How do you expose a manipulator when the ‘playground’ is less concrete.
Let me put it this way in short – I am following a tuition that lasts 4 years – we are all in the second year of our course. The team spirit is very important here and I was under the impression that I finally landed with people who genuinely care – so I did not hide my feelings and was open with everyone – apparently that was a mistake. There was a woman in our class with whom I connected very well last year. At some point things turned sour and I could not fathom what happened. She now gives me the cold shoulder and refuses to even talk to me – she had a lot of drama in her life and focuses only on minimizing that. Now, this all seems to be the work of someone in our class, another male who is quite the sneaky manipulator. He used my openness as a weapon to discredit me behind my back to just wreck the relationship between me and the woman – whatever the reason may be – Jealousy, me being too popular with her, for the sake of gameplay or manipulation. That is irrelevant, what is relevant is that it’s ruining my relationship with her and also the general coherence in class – since he does play other games as well. Although he is slippery enough to always stay out of the spotlight. He also has feelings for the same woman and is an opportunist waiting to strike after ruining my good wave that I had before. In short – he is bluntly said – a cock-blocker – someone who plays the chaperone spreading lies around to hit on your date. How do you deal with someone like that and expose that behaviour unilaterally – so that everyone knows what is going on, except him of course… until it is too late. I’m really fed up with people playing games with someone elses emotions and getting away with it – I don’t want to pretend neither by acting cool and unconcerned – that will probably alleviate him from playing with me, but it will not solve the bad seeds he has put in place – and it will be an early warning for him to stop doing what he’s doing. I want him to get caught in the act while the whole class sees it for what it is in order to label him for what he is once and for all. Any tips you are willing to share?