Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to Deal With Manipulative People

(By Ryan Murdoch, extracted from a two-part article first published in Early To Rise at the following website:
Part One -
Part Two -

How to Deal With Manipulative People–Part One

Following your life's purpose with single-minded devotion is a challenging task at the best of times. But it's even harder when faced with people who try to impose their priorities on you in an effort to benefit from your work.

In a prior Early to Rise article about Simplifying Your Life, I talked about removing those things from your life that pull you off track and prevent you from working toward your goals. That includes those people who drag you down, who you spend time with out of sheer obligation, who prey on your good nature, or who pull you back into bad habits when you're trying to change.

You're going to need that support as you go forward on your journey, because not everyone has your best interests at heart. I must warn you, today's topic is a dark one. And I'm going to be very blunt about it.

There's another obstacle in the path to your success that can be much more difficult to deal with...

Today I want to talk about a personality type I call The Manipulator. I'm sure you've encountered this character before. Not content to pursue their own path while you pursue yours, The Manipulator imposes on your time and resources to serve their own ends. They co-opt your labor, play on your emotions and try to impose their worldview and philosophy on you.

We'll look at several common examples of The Manipulator. And I'll give you a few strategies you can use to keep them out of your life.

So who are these shadowy figures that hide in plain sight?

If you've ever worked in a company or an office, you know the type. It starts with "I need to talk to you. It won't take long." And it usually concludes with an "urgent" request for you to do something to help them out. Something that imposes on your time, that takes you away from your own work, that they need you to do right now, and that adds a burden while giving you nothing in return.

This is not the same as asking a favor of a friend. We help our friends out of a genuine desire to do something good for that person. And when we ask a friend for help, we're reaching out to someone we know is looking out for our best interests. It's mutual and it's genuine.

The Manipulator's "requests" are very different from this. They involve coercion. And with The Manipulator, if you give in you send a signal that you're willing to do more of the same.

Before you know it, you're working weekends and staying after hours, putting in time to further someone else's agenda while totally neglecting your own purpose and goals. Step by step, these people take over your life. You're especially at risk if you have a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility, or if you hate seeing work left undone.

Another major area where manipulation has been raised to an art form is, of course, the family. I'm not suggesting that all families involve such power struggles, of course. It's just a typical pattern when things go wrong.

The family is often the realm of the Passive-Aggressive Manipulator. This type masters such tactics as The Sulk, The Huff, and above all, Poor Me.

They browbeat you into submission by making it easier for you to give in to their demands than put up with their constant level of low-grade psychological warfare.

If you've ever heard a phrase like, "I'll never have any grandchildren and I'm gonna die alone!" then you've seen this tactic at work. Or how about, "If you loved me you wouldn't make such a big deal of helping me with this" —immediately placing refusal on the side of not loving or caring about this person. Okay, the first example was a bit of a joke and an imitation of my mother at Christmas dinner. But how many unhappy couples have you seen playing out some variation of the second example?

Unfortunately, there's no arguing or reasoning with a Passive-Aggressive Manipulator. They don't respond to logic, and they change sides and arguments at the drop of a hat. Their chief goal is to get you embroiled in conflict in the first place. Swallow your reply, nod politely, and go about your work. Oh, and good music and headphones help to block out the huffs ;)

There are other types of Manipulator too, but they all have a few things in common. They use emotion to lure you in. They play on your sense of obligation or duty. They're experts at guilt. And they all have an agenda that involves you doing something for them. Once they've drawn you into their world, it's very difficult to put things in perspective and see the relationship for what it is.

If you're reading Early to Rise, then you don't have time to waste on these sorts of games. You've got dreams to fulfill, projects to complete, and exciting visions to bring to reality. And unlike the manipulators, you're doing it through the sweat of your own brow–and with the help of others who pitch in because you're adding value to their lives.

So how do you smoke out these sneaky time wasters?

I'll tell you exactly how to spot The Manipulator in Part Two. And I'll give you a set of strategies you can use to protect yourself and your business. Stay tuned...

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: a covert operator who imposes on your time and resources to serve his or her own ends. If you didn't read Part One I strongly advise you to have a look here.

Today I'm going to tell you exactly how to smoke out these sneaky time stealers.

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 for 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.

NB: Ryan Murdock is coauthor of the Shapeshifter Body Redesign program. When not helping people rediscover the body of their “glory years,“ Ryan travels the world’s marginal places as Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost magazine. Ryan's work has also appeared in Alo Magazine, the anthologies Traveler's Tales Central America and Traveler's Tales China, and Toronto’s Eye Weekly. His Outpost feature "Taklamakan: The Worst Desert in the World" was nominated for a National Magazine Award in Canada.

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