You Have a Manipulator on the Team If…
Manipulators make you feel bad when you don’t give them what they want.
“… if you fail to comply with his request, a manipulator will try to make you feel bad, selfish, naive, foolish, guilty, or whatever emotion will cause you to capitulate to their desire.” Bob Burg, author of, Adversaries Into Allies.
- Advantage themselves.
- Disadvantage you. They prime you to complain to the boss. But, they also prime the boss to think you’re a complainer.
- Try to endear themselves to others in the process.
Number one tool of manipulators: Sympathy
Manipulators use compassion against you.
You have a manipulator on the team if:
- They regularly seek some form of sympathy.
- They need exceptions or special treatment.
- You’re giving them what they want, against your better judgement.
- They constantly feel misunderstood.
- They persistently feel unappreciated.
- Others are taking advantage of them.
- Their challenges are worse than others face.
Bonus: You have a manipulator on the team if they pout when they don’t get their way. Pouting is manipulation. “I’m going to be sad if you don’t give me my way.”
Responding to manipulation:
Bob Burg suggests you avoid:
“Respond by very politely letting the person know that you choose not to take that action. ‘Thank you for your request; it’s not something I’d like to do.’” Bob Burg
- Practice radical transparency. Secrecy is a manipulator’s friend.
- Make goals and assignments public.
- Ask the obvious. “Do you want special treatment, while others are stepping up to the plate?
One of the most dangerous teammates is the manipulator. The more sympathy you give, the more they need.
How do you spot manipulators?
How might managers deal with a manipulator on the team?
**Recommended reading: “Adversaries Into Allies: Win People Over Without Manipulation or Coercion.” It’s much more than a book about spotting manipulators!
I haven’t run into too many manipulators. Hopefully that doesn’t me I’m the one 🙂
I like the added bit of including recommended reading. As you know I harass you all the time for more reading on certain blog posts or running themes (like asking powerful questions).
Thanks James. Tell me what you really think. 🙂 … trust you are stepping in new directions empowered by hope.
You must have an incredible ability to read minds! This is exactly what I needed to read this morning as I am dealing with a manipulator now. Timely and helpful, thank you!
Thanks Kim. Best wishes.
On the mind reading…. I think if you get enough readers, you’re bound to write something that applies to someone. 🙂
Sometimes I swear you have cameras at my work, looking in on all of the stuff that needs to be changed here. Keep this type of insight and knowledge coming!!!
Thanks Kyle. It’s a journey. I’m glad to be on it with you. Thanks for the encouragement.
I don’t have manipulators on my team, but i do have Bullies, which is closely related….
Thanks Renae. Your insight makes sense to me.
Love your posts. The posts challenge me to reflect on my own behavior and give guidance on discussing other behavior directed towards me.
Thanks PA. YES! If you look closely, between the lines of this post, you’ll see my inner manipulator poking it’s head out.
Thanks for the interesting article and great suggestions on dealing with manipulators. Bosses too can be manipulators. Repeatedly, my newly incoming boss said one thing, did another. She pointed out that I had an unrealistic job description (which I agreed with), but never followed through on her promise to revise the situation. She told me I had “3-4 full-time jobs” in our 1 on 1 meetings, and that I “needed to offload some of those”, but ultimately responded to my requests for that kind of support over the course of a year by pointing out how that “if I take that (responsibility) away from you, I’ll have to give it to someone else” (as if that were a surprise?) among other excuses. When I finally let her know my situation was unsustainable for me without some support, she responded with an insulting, back-handed compliment about my performance (“I’ve talked to a bunch of people, and they tell me you’re really excellent at —-, so I don’t want to take any of that work away from you, because you’re so good at it”). At the time of my presenting my resignation letter, and then again at my final meeting with her, there was much pouting on her part. I was never certain whether my boss was: 1) being strategically, passive-aggressive and truly trying to help me leave or 2) clueless about what real support of me would have entailed or 3) just did not care. Regardless, I knew I needed to remove myself from that situation.
Thanks Therese. Your story powerfully illustrates some of the issues hard working people encounter from manipulators. You can’t make this stuff up. Best wishes.
I recall working in an environment (many years ago) in which my boss said… “at this company everybody works everybody.” to which I responded “we’ll then I’ll be working my way out!” ..which I did about 3months later. It was a incredibly positive, life changing move into an environment of growth, encouragement, and support. It allowed me to thrive.
Manipulators will often have found just the one “outlier” piece that enables them to justify their trying to bull (not so much as a bully but just a selfish manipulator) their way to control, something they never provide if others cave in.
When teaching, I always had teams with assignments. I encouraged them to draft a set of operating principles, a contract, to help them as a team. When a manipulator (or non-player, …) was identified by their team, I met with the team. I began by asking what changed with regard to the contract. Sometimes, the problem was resolved within the team, sometimes the student engaged via a specific assignment the team identified and I supported. And sometimes, the student totally disengaged – with all knowing the student would get zero project credit. Transparency was always the key.
Thanks John. Your students are learning a great lesson. Thanks for sharing your illustration. I remember team projects when I went to school. It seems there was always a drifter who in some cases was a manipulator as well. I always hated that.
Thanks Ken. The lesson I take from you and Therese is to take action when you see manipulation is part of the culture.
Your management of manipulator tips are superb. Transparency and open communication within a work environment always work. They help to build MUTUAL trust, respect, loyalty, accountability, caring, and supportive/cover each other’s back treatment.
Thanks Painting. Anytime someone uses secrecy to protect someone’s feelings, people get hurt. It’s just silly, unless there is some legal/ethical reason to keep things hush hush. Once we all learn that goals, assignments, progress, and performance are public, people who fit step up.
You have really given great practical suggestions to spot manipulators. I would like to add some more symptoms of manipulators. I recall one incidence when I joined one Institution. When one of my colleagues was introducing me with each one, one person asked me to have tea with him. He prepared tea himself and started inquiring about me. He was known as influential person. He started appreciating other Institutes where he had worked. His approach was so informal, it seemed he wanted to know my opinion. He was very submissive in his approach. Since then, Whenever, he used to see me, he bowed his head and wished me, even though he was senior to me. What I mean to say that I did not find comfort level in his approach. His behavior lacked sincerity.
What I can conclude is that, manipulators show faster intimacy to reveal information from you. They use same information in distorted against you. They are excessively submissive, curious to know about you and faster to pass information.
I always believe in fixing accountability for behavior in place. Objectivity leads to discouraging manipulators whereas subjectivity encourages them.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. Interesting. The idea that manipulators like to quickly escalate intimacy is helpful.
Dan, I agree with everyone else that today’s post on “manipulators” is right on.
It’s like an age-old joke that rabbis, ministers and priests turn everything into a sin. Jurists turn everything into a crime. Business managers see everything as a profit and loss motive. And psychiatrists convert everything into a “complex.”
So perhaps psychiatrists would see manipulators as “histrionic,” or like you suggest attention seekers, chaos-makers until they are in the center of things, and/or even guilt-drivers who want their way and will mess with others until such time they get it.
And how do psychiatrists propose these histrionic persons be dealt with? Again, what you and Bob Burg suggest are right on: Ask the obvious. “You’re not trying to make me feel guilty, are you?” “Is it your intent to hurt me?” “Is it your wish for someone else to do your work?” “Surely you are not saying someone else ought to do their work and yours too, are you?”
Manipulators or histrionics—irrespective of great skill—cannot handle their own technique of manipulation—especially if it is truth.
Thanks Books. I really enjoy your use of terms like chaos-makers and guilt-drivers. 🙂
The message I take from your comment is to turn it back on them by being obvious. Cheers
with manipulators, one needs to keep a file on hand of accomplishments and directives to be called upon at need.
Thanks Bill. Keep a record. This is one reason email can be very useful.
Hi Dan great post
I don’t have any manipulators that I know of in my business team. But I do have some at my day job.I am a Resident manger.
Some of these tenants think I’m just picking on them and yes they call my boss and try to make me out to be the bad guy.
With my manipulators it is always good to put everything in writing and yes keep great records.
I have to keep a positive mindset, these people they will try everything to pull you into their world.
The best thing is that I can take this as training and put toward my business and when the manipulators show up I will be able to use what I have learned.
Hoooo, cool stuff. This is very important. It makes a lot of sense for me, Dan. I have often been met with this question (in my leadership trainings) about how to deal with manipulators. This adds a lot of helpful insights. Maybe, an article on how to deal with “Ear-less but Mouth-full leaders” will help too!!!!!!
Thanks, thats exactly what I needed to read to today. I wonder what to do if the manipulator is a client and making the schedule public does not work? He first ruins the schedule by offering a meeting that changes the contents of the final result AFTER the deadline of the submission and then blames our side for not submitting everything on time? One day saying he wants to finish this project as fast as possible another day saying he will want to last forever until its reached the appropriate quality level. But never indicates what is the appropriate quality level? Any ideas?
I wish I had read this years ago before I spent three years in a job where the mood of the entire staff was controlled in various ways by one master manipulator/bully. Even the chief was cowed by this person, and often made excuses for her awful behavior. I wish I had some of this wisdom back then, when I was so much younger, trying to keep the peace as well as my own sanity with this individual every day.
It is really difficult if the manipulator is your direct supervisor in a toxic work environment. That’s Disney World for manipulators. At the very least, if you’ve had experienced this hell on earth, is that you can spot it easier in the future. Use positive politics to spin things right to your favour. Don’t give them an inch. They will eventually use it against you to help preserve what they have pleasure in doing; manipulating to get ahead.
I went against manipulating colleague of mine and paid the price. I was myself hang out as a manipulator wanting a sympathy, where actually all I wanted a fairness and normal communication tone. Its ok, now but I can see sometimes she comes with one or the other bitter remarks again and I chose not to react to that in any way at all.