How to Spot and Overcome Manipulation

Leaders become manipulators when self-serving goals outweigh organizational interests.

Self-serving goals require manipulation, coercion, deception, and pressure tactics. Shared goals, on the other hand, pull everyone forward.


“There is perhaps nothing more dangerous than a bad person with good people skills.” Bob Burg in Adversaries to Allies.

Manipulators are skillful persuaders.

Context of manipulation:

“No” is the most obvious context of manipulation. Say no to a manipulator and experience things like:

  1. Guilt. “If you really cared …”
  2. Bullying.
  3. Flattery. Manipulation often begins with, “I really admire your ability to …”
  4. Intimidation. “You could lose your job.”
  5. Withholding information.
  6. Half-truths designed to create wrong decisions. They often only tell the side of the story that makes others look bad.
  7. Shame.
    (See the complete list given by Facebook contributors.)

Bob Burg writes, “… if you fail to comply with his request, a manipulator will try to make you feel bad, selfish, naïve, foolish, guilty, or whatever emotion will cause you to capitulate to their desire.”

Manipulators use your own emotions against you.


  1. Aim at control, not cooperation. (Dr. Paul Swets, The Art of Talking so People Will Listen.)
  2. Use pressure to force compliance.
  3. Get angry when they don’t get what they want.
  4. Serve themselves at the expense of others.
  5. Shift the focus from what they want to the wrong you are doing by not complying with them.


Escalating pressure is the sure sign you’re dealing with a manipulator. When they don’t get what they want, pressure increases. You’ll see more anger, guilt, shame, and/or intimidation.

Overcoming manipulation:

  1. Identify what they want. Keep their goal at the forefront. Ask yourself, “What are they after?”
  2. Clarify what you want.
  3. Identify shared and/or conflicting goals.
  4. Avoid compliance based on avoiding bad feelings.
  5. Learn to say no. (Bob’s book has a useful chapter on saying no.)

Connect with Bob:

Bob Burg
Twitter: @bobburg 

How do you spot manipulators?

How do you deal with manipulators?