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:
- Guilt. “If you really cared …”
- Flattery. Manipulation often begins with, “I really admire your ability to …”
- Intimidation. “You could lose your job.”
- Withholding information.
- Half-truths designed to create wrong decisions. They often only tell the side of the story that makes others look bad.
(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.
- Aim at control, not cooperation. (Dr. Paul Swets, The Art of Talking so People Will Listen.)
- Use pressure to force compliance.
- Get angry when they don’t get what they want.
- Serve themselves at the expense of others.
- 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.
- Identify what they want. Keep their goal at the forefront. Ask yourself, “What are they after?”
- Clarify what you want.
- Identify shared and/or conflicting goals.
- Avoid compliance based on avoiding bad feelings.
- Learn to say no. (Bob’s book has a useful chapter on saying no.)
Connect with Bob:
How do you spot manipulators?
How do you deal with manipulators?
It’s been great to see this very culture of manipulation go from accepted to outright ostracized at our company. I wish I could give better advice on how to deal with it. But other than pointing to this book Dan already lists, I’d have to say counseling is probably your next best bet, especially if the stress follows you home.
I’ve had experts tell me that some manipulators don’t have a conscience. If this is the case, the best thing to do is separate yourself from them.
I know a few people who naturally live the manipulators life. It’s sad and unnerving as well.
Thanks for sharing your journey.
How to tell if a person is manipulating….their lips are moving.
How to deal with manipulators…listen to them, what they may be attempting to encourage me to do might just serve me well!!!
At the end of the day aren’t we all looking to satisfy our own desires and supposed needs? If so, not too bright to be too harsh towards others doing what we all do.
Thanks Mary Ann for enneagrams yesterday!! Turns out it is confirmed!!!! I am a number 8. The Challenger, who knew!!!!
SP back to challenging in the now!!! Lol
I think there is a difference between ethical influence and malevolent manipulation. The difference is intent.
So Dan, what do they both have in common?
A desire and a strategy to have it fulfilled.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. That is a quote from somebody, right? I heard it or read that just yesterday!
So yeah, “I am manipulating but it is for good, determined by me”! See how that sounds?
The common intent we all have, in my opinion, is to get what we perceive is going to allow us to keep what we feel we HAVE to have or gain what we think we HAVE to have. Basic instincts. Feeing safe, loved.
Plus, who decides which is which? I bet ya the person you may decide is a malevolent manipulator does not see themselves that way. All UNC fans ROCK! All dookie fans are DUMB! According to WHO????? I believe this but that do not make it TRUE!!!!! LOL
Don’t we all see ourselves as ethical influencers? Really?
We all think we are heros in our own story’s. I do! I admit it!
So what I do is just hear folks out. If they inspire me with their story I will play along. If not, NEXT!
Just been my experience is all.
Really great post by the way, always mentally engaging stuff you share.
SP back to now!
Putting yourself first will usually make a person a manipulator. The inability to see ourselves through others eyes usually contributes to a manipulative personality. “Playing along” rather than “buying in” is a manipulative strategy used to mislead true intentions. A person needs to possess humbleness in their personal being to avoid being manipulative in nature. I do believe the comment that manipulators don’t see themselves as such is absolutely true and there’s little or nothing we can do to change this or even make the manipulator see himself for what he/she truly is.
Again, hugely honored to be mentioned in your post. And, you totally nailed it regarding the manipulator. Thank you so much for your leadership!
It’s a pleasure Bob. I hold you in high regard.
Very true comment Dan – seperate yourself , quite often these type of people have been doing this for so long that they become “experts” . If you don’t seperate yourself from these type of people you can become a victim. People need to identify whether they can be bring about a positive change in this type of situation or not ( sadly quite often you can’t ) as most criminals , cult leaders etc are experts at this type of behaviour. So give it over to someone who can bring about the change or solution & set yourself free. Don’t allow a manipulator destroy who you are or make you question yourself – Move on !
What makes separating so challenging is some people have co-workers they are forced to deal with.
Perhaps, in those cases, emotional separation is called for.
Thanks for your insights
Very true Dan ! It’s a shame when you have to do both .
Manipulators = Con-Artist/Narcissistic Personalities.
I just lived through a year of this exact thing. My best advice is to keep track of the data – make sure you know and can show where you really stand, and to choose your “line” – what you won’t compromise – and stick to it. You may have to work with a manipulator every day, but you have to look at yourself in the mirror every day, too.
Very true Kate , must have been the year for it !
This post seems like it could be titled “portrait of a politician”. Pick your favorite one and run them past the lists in this post and see if it ain’t true. 😉
I’m trying to avoid politics but it’s hard! 🙂
when the bully and manipulator is the CEO, any idea on how to separate and keep the job?
Well one thing is for sure. Don’t use a lousy CEO as an excuse to do poor work. We only shoot ourselves in the foot when that happens.
I doubt if you will change this person. (JUst a gut instinct) IN that case, and you want to keep your job. Then you have to put up with it.
You have my best for the journey
“How do you spot manipulators?” That is a huge and very problematic issue when forced to deal with a manipulator. To paraphrase Bob Burg’s quote at the opening of your post today, Dan, they are dangerous (and hard to spot) because they have good people skills. Their great grasp of these usually beneficial skills is what make their potential to do evil so great.
I’m usually pretty astute at reading people but, at least in my case (from personal experience), I’m not confident that I can spot a manipulator. Not up front anyway. Not until he or she has been able to do some damage.
So absolutely true. The true nature of a person’s “cooperativeness” is seldom evident at the outset. However, once a person has identified themselves as a manipulator it is wise to be wary whenever you transact with them. These can be supervisors or subordinates and, as a business manager, you must find methods to cope either way. Manipulators may change stripes but they will always have the same heart and you must consistently manage your association with them. My best methodology has been conciseness and clarity in all forms of communication without even a touch of emotion…cold, but clear.
Sad but true. The people who have manipulated me made me think they were on my team but as time passed I realized they had a personal agenda. It’s very disheartening.
I hate being skeptical of people but it’s dangerous not to be …
I struggle with that, too, Dan. It’s my nature to want to give people the benefit of the doubt, without being skeptical. But it seems as though we must carry that little seed of suspicion with us at all times . . . just in case.
A favorite motivational speaker/trainer once said, “You cannot not manipulate!”. We manipulate one another all the time. Some people call it “persuasion”. The real question is what is the motive behind our manipulation/persuasion: selfish goals or interest (antisocial motives) or community/corporate goals/benefits (pro-social motives)?
I agree. Intent is the key issue.
These clues to look for are great and will help us all identify those people.
Having learned about manipulators the hard way, I now know that those gut feelings, those inklings that can’t be explained are always right! And we need to listen to them. If we can learn to speak up for ourselves and set boundaries (see my blog) with manipulators, they magically go away!
A great deal of our being around manipulators has to do with being easy targets for them. Once we establish ourselves as not being easy marks, they move on to others.
As I read your comment I thought about the power of candor and transparency from an organizational point of view. It’s harder for manipulators to manipulate when organizations expose information like performance metrics for everyone to see.
Secrecy is a manipulators paradise.
Working with manipulators in general including both staff and management can really be a serious pain in the butt. You are always forced to “watch your back” or face losing your job.
interestingly enough even the new guys are being informed to look out for “rotten apple” of the firm. Unfortunately the only way to deal with manipulators is to quietly search for a job of which it’s management doesn’t tolerate manipulation but fairness.
Sticking around will just be a waste of talent and time. Rather work for a boss who sticks to goals of the organization by relying on figures instead of word of mouth.
Manipulation has existed across cultures, and through the centuries. If you read authors like Kautilya and Machiavelli, you may even say that they have been glorified. This will not change. It is important to recognize them, and to manage them
One of the hardest part of dealing with manipulators is the fact that they are so good at communication. Most of them start out as very personable and excel at building relationships, slowly pushing you to places you don’t want to go. It is often very subtle, using tactics like taking swipes at your self esteem and taking advantage of people’s willingness to go out of their way for them.
I have discovered a test how to know if you are dealing with a manipulator. If he has persuaded you or proved smth to you and made you think you have agreed yourself into something and you think it all looks logical and makes sense and must be true etc. etc, BUT you have a bad feeling, then congratulations, you are dealing with a manipulator.
On the contrary, if the full information was disclosed and you are in based on your own views and you feel GREAT about your choice, then you are not in a manipulative relationship.
Thought this was an interesting read
My boss is the manipulator AND she’s the HR manager. I’m her assistant, hired to take her place when she retires. She insecure and a bully. She’s very close to the president of our company, who is oblivious to her shenanigans. She’s had several complaints filed against her. She’s had four ethics complaints filed against her within last past 3 months, and yet the president believes whatever she tells him. I don’t know what to do and I’m so stressed out.
I’ve only been at this company for a year and was unemployed for a year before I found this job. I’m 50 years old and don’t want to have to get another job. Any advice would be very much appreciated.
They are allot of leaders who manipulate. They use fear which is bullying. When people fear you, they do not respect you. Manipulators are never respected. Eventually they will fall
Leadership is a very broad category. Good leaders understand that ethics guide purpose, rather than the reverse. Manipulators, can also be leaders, but use unethical means, towards self serving purposes. Here are some traits of a person, recently removed from an organization.
Collects people, (in his own mind) which he refers to as “my people” and treats them as property.
Uses this concept to leverage individuals and groups for personal acclaim, or control.
Acts as an information and resource, “gatekeeper”.
Regular petty thefts.
Takes credit for the work of others.
Blames others for shortcomings or refers to some benign “illness” such as, “my adult ADHD made me do it”.
Tends to be bullying.
Attempts to dominate meetings with, false dilemma, false equivalency and speaking out of turn.
Conspires to throw partners “under the bus” for personal reasons.
Flaunts rules and the law, for personal gain.
Needs to be the center of attention
Rarely, if ever finishes what he starts.
Causes conflict and disarray then blames it on identifiable groups eg. “…black people can’t think rationally…” ( yes, he actually said this!)
Persons with these traits may bring some value to an organization, but at a high cost. When given free reign, I have seen an organization totally destroyed and left in chaos, with painful personal differences, lasting for years. A diagnosis from DSM-V would likely be some form of sociopathy. My advice to managers, or anyone working with groups would be to learn and remember the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog.
A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the
scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The
frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion
says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”
The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream,
the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of
paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown,
but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”
Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”