“Master of Puppets”: Dealing with Manipulative Personalities

It’s safe to say that manipulative behaviour is something we are all confronted with on a daily basis. It’s also something we’ve all been guilty of doing at one point or another. It can be as simple as trying to steer others into going to your favourite restaurant or blaming someone or something else for an unfortunate incident. It’s about as common a thing for us to do as gossiping, farting and picking our noses (common…you know you pick it…)

Sometimes, we come across people who take the manipulation up a notch as they will do whatever it takes to get their way. It’s a lot easier when someone is openly aggressive, because you can state: ‘oh ok cool. They’re an a**hole.’ respond and walk away. But manipulative behaviours are tricky to spot in the moment or we’re unsure how to respond when their behaviour is unexpected. We experience this at work, school and in our social circles. I know I’ve walked away from many situations before where I’ve kicked myself for not picking up on it sooner and got sucked in or where I realised I myself had resorted to manipulating someone (also not a very nice feeling).

Below are some common manipulative behaviours and suggestions on how you could approach these in order to nip it in the bud and set your own boundaries. Again, we’ve all been guilty of some of these ourselves, but there’s no harm in recognising that and trying to avoid it in the future.

1) Confrontational Statements
Statements like this are used to put you on the defensive and to suck you into having a fight rather than resolving the raised issue.
For Example: “Why do you always…”; “I thought you…”; “Are you telling me…”; “I thought we agreed…”

– You don’t have to respond defensively and try to avoid saying “I’m sorry…” if you are not. You can avoid a fight by simply stating things like: “That’s my decision”; “I’ll have to think about that”;
“We don’t always have to agree” or “You’re right” (and drop the subject).

2) The Guilt-Trip
Manipulative people often will try to make you feel guilty about doing (or not doing) something.
For Example: “Don’t you care if….”; “Every normal person would…”; “You could never do…”; “I thought that’s what you wanted”

– Try to recognise these and, when you hear it, ignore it or simply answer ‘no’. You may want to reply to the question/statement in order to defend yourself, but you’ll just get sucked into a debate or argument about why you did or didn’t do something wrong, rather than the issue at hand.
3) Selective Memory
You are certain you had a conversation about a plan or an event and everyone is on the same page, when just before, the manipulator pretends to remember the conversation completely differently.

– Record your conversations… if this is happening at work/school- meeting minutes can be signed off by all parties and e-mails can confirm tasks involved. Of course you won’t record plans to have a night out with friends (might put a damper on the fun there) but having a third person there to back you up can be helpful. Call them out on the fact that they conveniently change the game to fit their needs
4) The Blame Game
Manipulators often try to put the blame on someone else, consequently not taking responsibility for their action or opinion.
For Example: “We were wondering if you…”; “They said you…”; “Everyone thinks you…”

– By asking them to identify “we”, “they”, or “someone” you’re essentially asking for the manipulator’s own point of view.

5) A Questionable Statement
Manipulative people will avoid asking questions, because it might give them the sense that they are no longer in control. So often they will make a statement with a question hidden inside.
For Example: “Perhaps you could…”; “I suppose you are going to…”; “I thought you would…”

– Try to answer questions only, and not statements. By repeating the last 3 or 4 words of the statement back to the manipulator, you might force them to admit it was a question.

6) Liar, Liar pants on fire

Compulsive lying is a common factor when people use manipulation. A few ways that indicate when someone might be lying include: adding unnecessary details to an explanation, pausing to think even though the answer should be evident to them or pretending not to know something that they clearly do, changing the topic of the conversation, and many more.

– It’s hard to pull up someone on lying because it can often result in more lying. Try to keep a distance and walk away from the situation where possible.

7) No Alternatives
When you are asked a question, where a choice seems to be given, but the answer has already been determined by the manipulator.
For Example: “Would you like an appointment at 3:00 or 3:30?” (Who says you wanted an appointment?); “Aren’t you happy that…”

– These can be tricky; but when you know you’re dealing with manipulative behaviours, be prepared and you can respond by saying things like: “I’ll let you know”; “I’ll have to think about that”; “No, I don’t want to” etc

8) I can’t believe it’s not butter
Manipulators will often compliment you or tell you what a wonderful job you did on something. ‘Buttering you up’ so to speak. Afterwards they then might ask you to something for them, or to look the other way as they believe you wouldn’t want to disappoint them after speaking so highly of you.

– If you are not comfortable with their request, return the compliments and politely decline or walk away.

9) Silence
Often manipulation can be paired with the silent treatment (something we’ve all tried to do at one point I’m sure, and for some it’s even a blessing in disguise!). Playing the game and waiting for someone to crack is an attempt to have the power and control.

– If you’re being ignored, put a smile on your face and tell them “Let me know when you’re ready to talk about it” and go about your business.

10) Bullying
Making fun of or demeaning others and their ideas, yelling and raising their voice, spreading malicious gossip, taking on a martyr approach (woes me) making threats or physically intimidating are all classic bullying strategies. They start in the kindergarten schoolyard, are enhanced through High School and in our professional lives and never go away until the day we leave this good Earth.

– Standing your ground and openly stating that their bullying tactics are inappropriate and unacceptable will put a name on the behaviour and identify your boundaries.

It’s important we know our own boundaries as to how far we let someone treat us negatively as well as how far we ourselves would go in manipulating others. I guess there is reason in the saying: “treat others the same way you would want them to treat you”.


pic by Aja from ‘Drawings’





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