Influence or Manipulation?

Influence or Manipulation?

Baby’s do it, Moms do it, CEOs do it. The truth is, we all do it. Some of us overtly, some of us in ways we are not even conscious of. I’d like to write today to help us all think about this - both from the side of resisting manipulation from others and from finding healthier ways to communicate and get our own needs met.

For manipulation to work there has to be leverage. The person manipulating us is counting on us deferring to their thinking, their feelings, their judgment over our own.

Preston Ni has done some excellent writing on this topic and in the article link below looks at 14 signs of manipulation. Here is his definition, it’s excellent:

Psychological manipulation can be defined as the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits and/or privileges at the victim’s expense.

There are psychological disorders - called personality disorders - that take this to a whole new level. The extreme versions can exaggerate what manipulation can be like and really teach us a lot. The attempt to seize power or benefits can be achieved by intimidation, anger, sadness, “victim” positioning, withdrawal of communication, etc.

What are the steps towards being less vulnerable to manipulation attempts?

There are many but here are some I’ve used in my own growth:

Notice. Start by noticing the use of emotional communication in others. Notice when emotions can change quickly. Someone appeals to me through my sympathy and if that doesn’t work they quickly change to using anger. That’s a clue. Notice more subtle situations where for me to speak my truth feels awkward because I’m inappropriately worried about how the other person might feel.

Process. In relationships with frequent manipulators we get stuck in thinking about how they will be feeling and we lose sight of how we are feeling. Take time to feel and think about your own emotions, needs, desires, etc. You might have to jar yourself out of a pattern of ignoring your own feelings if you have lived around a lot of manipulation.

Practice. Beginning to stand up to manipulation may be a new muscle for you. Don’t expect to start out perfectly, it may be messy. Try to avoid the temptation to use unhealthy communication in response to manipulation. The “win” is being able to clearly and assertively communicate in response. Lashing back can be just taking the bait. Practice with a friend. Write out what you want to say. Journal. All these things help bring clarity and prepare you for the real conversation.

Using statements like “I want to acknowledge your emotions of … and I also want to say that my response is …” can call the manipulation out in to the open. 

Part of the strategy behind manipulation is to keep it somewhat in the shadows. Calling it out and shining light on the facts really can give you back some power. click to tweet

Now, what about when we see this pattern in ourselves?

Choosing vulnerability through honesty can be scary. If I just give someone the clear choice to meet my needs or not without manipulation they might choose not to. Let’s talk more about that and how to move forward in healthier ways next week.

Until then,


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Marilyn Orr is a Professional Certified Coach, who, through her coaching business “Capacity Building Coaching”, thrives on building both personal and organization capacity through leadership coaching and development.

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