Each person has an impact on their community—especially their close circle of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. There are countless benefits to this impact; mutual emotional, intellectual, and spiritual support buoy us up when we’re feeling downtrodden and give us the strength we need to “level up.”
Some people take advantage of the trust engendered in these relationships and manipulate others to their own ends. While there are many kinds of manipulation, the one we’re most familiar with is the psychological variety.
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive tactics. By advancing only the interests of the manipulator, often at others’ expense, such methods can be abusive, devious, and deceptive.
Avoiding manipulators can save you a lot of nerves and heartache, so you should learn how to recognize their methods. In this post, I will share 12 warning signs of manipulative people—and how you can deflect their abusive tactics.
The Home Court Tactic
A home court advantage is a sports phenomenon, but finds its place in all other areas of life, too. For instance, you probably feel more comfortable working in your office or sleeping in your own bed instead of hotel rooms. A well-known environment gives people the feeling of safety and self-confidence, which is what manipulators know and exploit to put extra pressure on victims.
Manipulative people will take you to a place you’re comfortable with—a favorite restaurant, a well-known park, etc.—where they can be more aggressive and dominant, forcing you to succumb to their influence. If you want to resist this, you should meet people in a neutral setting.
Criticizing Victims Openly
Many manipulators attack their targets directly by criticizing and ridiculing them in the presence of others. It’s their way to prove supremacy and highlight your shortcomings. Using this tactic, they just want to keep reminding you of flaws and wrongdoings, but they never offer help or a solution. That’s because their criticism isn’t at all about you; it’s about their own self-doubt and the need to puff up their own importance.
To counteract this, you can change the subject, claim you’re busy and need to leave, or simply walk away (depending on how aggressive the criticism is). Create space between you and the situation so you can process the criticism in a balanced, reasonable way—instead of simply reacting in anger. Most of the time, this unwarranted criticism is not based in reality or is severely inflated.
Pushing You to Be Vulnerable First
Manipulative individuals will often invite you to start a discussion by sharing your own thoughts, ideas, and opinions. They do this so they can analyze your ideas, detect weak spots, and find your breaking point. They are always assessing your core values in order to hit you where it hurts the most. This gives them weak points to leverage without being vulnerable themselves—a manipulator’s ideal position of strength. They can use this to sway a decision in their favor or simply demoralize you to burnish their own image by comparison.
If you come to the table with a known manipulator, however, you can avoid this situation. Stay calm and talk about things in general; don’t go into details and don’t reveal your points of view until you’re able to share equally. To help achieve that, be sure to offer your ideas one at a time (starting with the least impactful), giving the other person a chance to reciprocate. If they don’t, then keep the rest of your cards close to your chest and seek out someone else who is willing to discuss more openly.
Lying is one of the most frequent forms of manipulation, but skilled conspirators are smarter than that. Instead of lying, they distort the truth by not revealing all information, exaggerating, or intentionally understating important facts. This leads you to wrong conclusions, so make sure to double-check information before trusting a suspicious person.
The Rationalization Tactic
Psychology sees rationalizations as invented explanations that hide or deny true motivations, causes, or actions. Individuals who try to control other people often use this tactic to bombard victims with tons of fake or irrelevant statistical findings, researches, and case studies. This happens mostly in business; many a CEO will rationalize business decisions to ensure personal profit instead of company benefit. Still, they have to offer a justification to stakeholders, which they conjure with the help of manipulated data.
The only way out of this awkward situation is to keep asking questions: Who conducted the research that justifies this decision? How does it relate to your niche? Is it just a one-time exception or a general industry rule?
Once you’ve consider all angles carefully and proofed a decision’s rationale on your own, you can decide whether or not there’s rationalization at play.
Richard Gott, a psychology expert at Best Essays, recently noted: “Manipulative people often exploit administrative barriers to slow you down. They use bureaucracy as the obstacle to preserve supremacy and keep you from revealing essential facts and findings.” In this case, respond by being persistent and creative. There’s usually more than one way to secure the information you need, so think outside the box.
When manipulators avoid answering your phone calls, messages, or meeting invitations, all they’re really saying is that you’re not worth their time. They make you wait because they want to feel more important, fragile, and vulnerable.
If possible, the best solution is to stop calling the manipulator and find another way to get the job done. He or she will soon realize that they no longer have leverage.
If that’s not possible, then let go of what is out of your hands. The ball is in their court; if they’re not responding, incomplete tasks are on them.
We’ve all faced this sort of manipulator at some point in our careers. These are individuals who believe that sheer aggression will produce desired results. That’s why they speak loudly and use threatening body language while talking to you. In these circumstances, just stay calm and offer cogent arguments—not aggression. Also, document these interactions so you can share them with superiors and get witnesses for support.
Most people hate when they have to face sudden and unexpected problems both in professional and private life. Manipulative people are well aware of this, so they use it to put you off balance, giving them the chance to get one step ahead.
Here’s the best response: Stay calm and deal with the problem as quickly as possible. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone endures crises now and again, so it’s expected that your coworkers will be asked to lend a hand.
A common sales tactic is to put consumers under time pressure and persuade them to buy products before they’ve really given the purchase due consideration. Manipulative persons will put you under the same kind of tension to force an immediate reaction, but don’t give in. If you know a decision needs to be made, decide before you have conversations with others what your process will be and how much time you need to consider all options. This will help you stand your ground when others push you—and give you the opportunity to weigh all criteria equally.
Irony and sarcasm are commonplace, but in the hands of manipulative people, they turn into deriding humor that is designed to make victims feel ashamed. Although it appears harmless and trivial, disparaging humor can actually foment discrimination against targeted groups or individuals. There is little you can do to prevent the situation from happening, but the best reaction is to show you don’t care about negative humor pointed at you. Walk away and/or counter with positivity.
Some people will pretend they don’t get your ideas only to avoid completing their duties. They pretend ignorance and play dumb hoping that you’ll finish what they were supposed to do. In this case, the worst thing is to lose patience and do all the work on your own. Don’t let these people get away with their plan; be persistent and force them to take responsibility for their actions.
Manipulation is often used by those with low-self esteem or who are incredibly lazy. Whatever the motivation, keep an eye out for signs of their manipulation and know how to counteract it. (And be sure never to employ the same tactics yourself!)
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