How to Deal With Manipulative People – Part Two

In Part One of this article, I introduced you to a personality type I call The Manipulator.

This person is a covert operator who imposes on your time and resources to serve his or her own ends.

Today I’m going to tell you exactly how to smoke out these sneaky time thieves. But first…

How to Spot a Manipulator

Here are some common warning signs that will help you spot the manipulators in your life:

    • Manipulators use a lot of “I” focused language. “I need you to do this” or “It would really help me if you did this.” They rarely consider how to give value back to the person they’re asking favors.


  • Manipulators use a collective “we” that really means “I.” Try translating what they just said by substituting “I” for “we.” If all the benefits that will supposedly help the group, team, or community really end up profiting that person alone, you’ve just spotted an attempt to manipulate you.
  • Manipulators “size you up” to assess where you’re vulnerable. They use this to determine which tactics to use against you. Strong work ethic? You can be manipulated through your sense of duty. Empathetic? They can make you feel sorry for them. Intensely loyal? They’ll use that sense of friendship to their advantage. Just remember, the problem is NOT that you’re loyal, caring or a hard worker. The problem is the person who uses that to manipulate your thoughts and actions. Most people don’t stop to think that their strengths can also be a weakness. But your strengths and values can be used against you because they make your behavior predictable.
  • Manipulators make a big show of talking about how dedicated they are to serving others. According to George K. Simon, author of In Sheep’s Clothing, they use the “servant role” to cloak a self–serving agenda in the guise of service to a more noble cause, for example acting in a certain way out of “obedience” and “service” to some authority figure. I’ve known a few incredibly genuine, spiritual, charitable people in my time. They spoke at great length about those they wanted to help, the needs they were trying to meet, the good works they hoped to do and the resources it would take to accomplish their vision. But I never once heard them talk about themselves or how devoted they were to “service.”
  • Manipulators often make a great show of their humility, and they take any opportunity to remind you of it. This makes them look harmless, and like they’re “only trying to help.” Have you ever heard the Dalai Lama talk about how humble he is? Me neither.
  • The frustrated Manipulator often drags a history of drama in their wake: broken friendships, failed partnerships, stories of sabotaged projects and detractors lashing out at them from every dark corner. They love to tell you all about these things, sorrowfully and with a pious expression, in order to play on your sympathy. And despite the obvious pattern in these incidents, Manipulators never take responsibility for their behavior. It is never their fault. Someone has always betrayed or taken advantage of them.
  • Manipulators rationalize. Their explanations seem to make sense. And you want to believe, because honest people want to believe that others are honest too. But their story never holds up upon further reflection. Up close, it’s filled with obvious inconsistencies and holes.
  • Manipulators flatter you. They pretend to like the same things you do. To believe the same things you believe. To hold the same values. They ingratiate themselves very subtlety in an effort to win your loyalty, so you’ll want to help them. Watch them with a totally different group of people and see them do the same thing. They have a history of swapping beliefs and convictions the way hikers change socks.
  • Manipulators make a point of telling you how honest they are–right before they rake you over. Honest people don’t need to drone on about their virtues. Their actions and integrity speaks for itself.

This list is not exhaustive, of course. And not every red flag will be present in each case. But it does send a clear warning. If you encounter any of these behaviors, be on your guard.

How to Protect Yourself And Your Dreams

Unfortunately there’s no easy answer to this. Expert manipulators are good at pressing your buttons, and if you have even a shred of compassion you won’t be impervious to every form of guilt.

In a work setting, I think the key is to set clear priorities and goals–and stick to them. Master the phrase “I’m not available right now.” Defend your territory from the beginning, because once you give in it sends a message that you can be worn down. If you answer the phone on the 15th ring, it doesn’t send the message that you’re busy and don’t want to be bothered. The Manipulator interprets this as “It takes 15 rings to get him to answer.”

You must also be very clear about your own personal values. Think about them. Write them down. Stick to them. Having a clearly thought out code of conduct makes on–the–spot decisions much easier. If something conflicts with your code or your purpose, don’t do it.

And that brings us to the next defense. Learn how to say “no.” It’s healthy to have boundaries and to know what you stand for. If you feel bad about turning someone down, you’re a prime target for a manipulative personality. Remember: “I’m already committed, I’m not available right now.” Manipulators have no power over you unless you give it to them.

Don’t engage, and don’t explain.

The manipulator will try to call your values into question and put you on the defensive. You have no need to defend yourself, and you’ve done nothing wrong. You’re free to follow whatever path you choose. Don’t forget this when the pressure is on.

And what about those manipulators who operate closer to home?

It’s a lot more difficult to set clear boundaries when it comes to close personal relationships, because you can’t remove yourself from the situation or just stop interacting with them. In my experience, the best thing you can do is communicate your intentions clearly and firmly. And then stay true to your word. You’ll have to ride out some flack regardless, but the Passive–Aggressive Manipulator will move on to easier targets if you consistently stick to your guns.

Above all, never feel guilty when dealing with these people.

You never have to apologize for following your dreams and working hard on your goals. You never have to make excuses or justify your decision when you say “no”. And you should never feel bad for refusing to drop or postpone your most cherished dream to contribute to someone else’s purpose.

And that’s what it comes down to in the end. Your best protection against guilt is having a clear, strong sense of your purpose.

I remind myself each day that life is short. That I have only a limited amount of time in which to fulfill my dreams. That time spent on other things is time taken away from the fulfillment of my purpose. I take full responsibility for my life, my choices, and my success. And I keep my eye on the road ahead, and get back to work.

Ryan Murdock

Ryan Murdock is the author of Personal Freedom: A Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams. When not helping people find their own brand of personal freedom, he travels the world's marginal places as Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost magazine. His first book is called Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. He lives on the small Mediterranean island of Malta.]