Manipulative Behaviour: hard to spot, hard to handle

What is manipulative behaviour?

Manipulative behaviour is very complex. We often don’t realise it’s happening. People don’t specify what they want or what they mean, but instead use indirect methods so that you’ll either try to guess their meaning or feel so guilty or otherwise responsible for them that you’ll agree to do something you’d prefer not to do. It’s easy to be drawn in and you may unwittingly or even knowingly collude!

Why are manipulators so indirect? Answer: they lack the courage to say what they want. They may deceive themselves, and initially others, into thinking they’re powerful as they wield their weapons of trickery and deceit.

How can you spot it?

Spotting that it’s happening is a major challenge. After all, manipulators can turn it into a fine art to get their way. All you know is that something isn’t quite right. You may feel confused, angry and irritated, unsure which way to turn or what to do.

So, to help you know when it’s happening to you, here are some popular phrases wielded by manipulators. Watch out for them.

  • ‘If you were really my friend, you’d…’ (emotional bribe)
  • ‘If you do that, I don’t know what I’ll do’ (another emotional bribe)
  • ‘If I were you…’ (deciding for you)
  • ‘I think you should…’ (telling you what to do)
  • ‘If you do this for me, I’ll do that for you’ (bribery)
  • ‘I’m always doing things for you’ (attempt to make you feel guilty)
  • ‘I would do it for you’ (another attempt to make you feel guilty)
  • 'You’re the only one who thinks that way' (isolating you)
  • ‘If I do it, it’ll be a disaster’ (self-put-down)
  • ‘If you do it, it’ll be much better’ (planned flattery)  - and who can resist a bit of flattery?

Trickery, deceit and other devices

Manipulators have so many methods up their sleeve, from sarcasm to sulking; putting you down to false flattery; from ‘poor me’ to arrogance; temper tantrums to the silent treatment. 

Do any of these sound familiar?

Now take a few moments to reflect. Do you know anyone who uses these phrases and techniques? How many more can you think of? How do you tend to react? Do you ever go against your better judgement? How can you change that?

Take a look at some of the soaps on TV. They are full of manipulators, for manipulative behaviour is the very stuff of drama. “How dare you do that!”; “Who do you think you are?”; “No one will ever trust you again if you…” No wonder it creates waves if we let it flourish in real life!

Communication tools to use with manipulators

The manipulator doesn’t have the courage or skills to put their viewpoint forward directly. Instead, they employ every technique to trick the unsuspecting person into doing what they want. It is probably one of the most difficult forms of behaviour to handle, yet also one of the most common in the home, the office, even among friends. So what can you do about it?

1. Recognise it. Be alert to the phrases and techniques that they use such as 'No one agrees with you' (isolating) or ‘I don’t mind, you decide’ (avoidance).

2.Ask for clarification. In response to ‘Everyone disagrees with you’, find out precisely 'Who disagrees? What exactly is their view?'.

3. Self-disclose how you feel on the receiving end of their behaviour, such as ‘I’m confused…’ or ‘I feel uncomfortable or disconcerted…’

4.Be clear and specific: say why. ‘… because I’m unsure what you mean…' or ‘because you haven’t spoken to me since you came in to work today’.

5. Broken record: persist with assertive questions if you don’t get an answer. ‘I would like to know what you prefer’ to the person who keeps saying ‘I don’t mind’.

6.Put your own view forward clearly – 'I know you think it’s a great opportunity for me, but it’s not one I seek for myself right now. I have different priorities'. You don’t have to convince them.

7. Request a change of behaviour, asking them to be clear with you in future. ‘In future I’d much rather know what you’d prefer instead of saying that you don’t mind’

Finally, use an assertive tone of voice which is calm, measured, clear and not clipped, sarcastic or judgemental. Be wary of mirroring the manipulator’s tone.

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

Share this article with a friend
London, NW11
Written by Lucy Seifert, Life Coach London
London, NW11

As one of the most experienced coaches and trainers in the UK, my knowledge and approach have been developed over 30 years of coaching and training. I have worked with individuals and within organisations across all sectors, including NatWest IT R&D, Stuart Low Trust (charity) and University of...

Show comments

Find a coach dealing with Confidence

All coaches are verified professionals

All coaches are verified professionals