Unintentional Blackmail

Unintentional Blackmail

When we think of blackmail we think of someone using leverage to make you do something that you don’t want to do. We think of this usually in very concrete planned out situations.

There is a version of emotional blackmail though that happens in our lives quite often. It happens on our personal lives and it happens in the workplace.

Based on the emotional reaction of the other person we scale back what we are asking for or what we need. We don’t want to be responsible or causing emotional hardship for the other person so we pull back on what we are asking for.

When does this transition from kindness and compassion to blackmail? 

  • When there is an ongoing pattern of the other person’s emotional state leading you to change your requirements, willingness to ask for accountability, ability to stay emotionally connected or even impacts what you think you “need” from them.
  • When instead of coaching the other person to a different way forward we buy in to their story and limit our own thinking of what they are capable of.
  • When we are making choices in response to that person’s (perceived) needs that impact our own legitimate needs.

These patterns - both of wanting people to treat us like we are less capable and the pattern of asking less of others to avoid the emotional consequences - usually have roots back to our families of origin. Feel free to explore the ties but in the meantime here are some practical things you can do:

  • Use the coach approach - describe the situation as you see it from your angle including the (perceived) limitations of the other person and get them to brainstorm solutions with you.
  • Make decisions ahead of time and document them if the other person being emotional is likely to sway you away from what you really need.
  • Separate out the emotional time from decision making time. It's okay to actually encourage the person to get out some feelings without feeling like you have to fix it! (If you haven't seen it or haven't seen it in a while, watch "It's Not About the Nail" for inspiration!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg
  • Talk it out with someone - a colleague, a coach, a friend. Saying out loud some of the ways that you are bending over backwards for this other person bring clarity.
  • Get more comfortable with other people's discomfort. It's not yours, don't own it and you likely don't need to fear it. Just listen but let them carry it!
  • Be intentional about learning and growing in this area - be less likely to be manipulated or controlled by other people's emotional pulls.

You know I love to highlight resources, so here's a book on the topic you might really enjoy if this topic is highly relevant for you:

Last thoughts. When we buy in to the limited thinking that the other person has we actually help to keep them in their box. 

What would it look like if you held a bigger space for them? What if you held strong to their potential even when they can't see it yet?

Who gave you that gift of seeing more in you than you could at the time?

Until next week,


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