How manipulators get their way with you – and how to stop them

Manipulative behaviour is one of the most common forms of behaviour and, if you watch dramas, you will see it a lot. It’s neither passive nor aggressive, but rather a blend of the two. It is certainly not assertive, yet they do seem to get their way, initially at least. However, it leaves a nasty taste in the air and can easily sour relations. In contrast, assertive behaviour is aimed at developing and maintaining good relationships.

What is manipulative behaviour?

What is the aim of manipulative behaviour?

The purpose is to:

A) Get you to do something you are not keen on doing or may conflict with your better judgement, or B) Deter you from doing something you want to do but they don’t wish you to do.

What clever devices do they use to get their way? 

The emotional tools of the manipulator are clever and designed to draw you in. They include:

  • Trying to make you feel guilty about doing or not doing something so that you’ll feel bad if you don’t go along with their wishes - and so feel you have to comply.
  • Putting you in the position of the person who’s in the wrong if you go against their wishes.
  • Making you feel you are being unreasonable if you do it your way, not theirs.
  • Having you feel responsible for them, when you are not, or to take responsibility eg for a decision.
  • Getting you to feel good, skilled and wanted by the use of flattery so that you can’t resist their pleas.

How do they get away with it, at least initially?

There are three main reasons:

  • You may not recognise it at the time
  • You may be affected and drawn in emotionally by their ‘seductive’ methods
  • You may not know how to respond to it

How effective is this behaviour?

It can produce the results they desire at first, but once the penny drops, and the people they desire to manipulate realise what’s going on, it’s likely to achieve the opposite of the manipulator’s intention and give rise to irritation, frustration and annoyance, so souring relationships.

What can you do in the face of it?

First, familiarise yourself with the most common phrases used by manipulators. Such as:

  • "I’d do it for you."
  • "If I were you, I’d..."
  • "You’re the best person to do it."
  • "I’m hopeless at…"                      
  • "Don’t let me down."
  • "Don’t be so…. (fussy, sensitive, serious etc)."
  • "I thought you cared."
  • "Everyone agrees with me/everyone thinks you’re in the wrong."
  • "How could you possibly think about doing that?/How could you be so stupid!"
  • "I don’t mind. You decide."

Secondly, recognise their methods of guilt-inducement, deciding what’s best for you (in fact for them), sounding pathetic, flattering you, making you feel as if you’re being difficult or silly and refusing to take responsibility and have you decide for them too.

Thirdly, be clear about what you want to do or not do. Here are examples:

“I’m hopeless at….” - “If you don’t feel confident to do it, I’ll do it this time and show you so that you can do it next time”

“Don’t let me down” - “It isn’t a matter of letting you down. It’s a matter of being something I don’t wish to involve myself in”

“I thought you cared” - “I do care. However, this isn’t something I want for myself”

Finally, ask them to approach things differently in future, to ask directly instead of making their needs known in a roundabout way. For example:

  • “Would you be willing to help with this?”
  • “I’d be grateful if you would do x, y and z.”
  • “I’m sorry you’ve decided to do x or y, and I hope you will reconsider”

Manipulative behaviour is complex and confusing, drawing on both the spoken word as above and the unspoken (such as giving the silent treatment, withholding information, sulking, mood changes, facial expressions and tones of voice). Since it can be hard for the recipient to grasp, it can be effective at first. However, once you realise, think about your needs and have the courage to make them known.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, NW11
Written by Lucy Seifert, Life Coach London
London, NW11

Our personal challenges can affect us at home, work and in our relationships. My 25 years of coaching and training experience help you build confidence and design strategies to make positive changes. You’ll find that I have a warm coaching style, with integrity and professionalism. Also, I’ve authored five books about coaching and assertiveness.

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