Is that what you really want, or are you being manipulated? Keep an eye out for the nine most common manipulation tactics that people might use to control you.
Unlike movie villains, most manipulators you come across in real life don’t have a cunning plan. They might even be genuinely decent people. But intentionally or unintentionally, they employ manipulation tactics to control others. Learn how to detect the most common emotional manipulation tactics and avoid falling victim to them.
Why is Manipulation Bad for You?
To manipulate essentially means to handle, influence or control something for your benefit. And when it comes to manipulating people, we typically view it negatively. Is manipulation always a bad thing? Aren’t we also trying to control someone when we use logic and reasons to persuade them?
No, there is a big difference between convincing someone and manipulating them. The main factor is the intention behind it. Ethical persuasion respects the interests of all parties. In contrast, when someone manipulates you, they force you to act against your better judgment and do what they want, even if it hurts you or other people.
Manipulative behavior is not healthy. It harms not only the victim but also the manipulator, preventing them from connecting with their authentic selves. That’s why detecting and unmasking manipulative intentions can benefit everyone involved.
How can you tell if someone is trying to manipulate you? Here are the nine most common emotional manipulation tactics you might experience.
Using your charm in communication is certainly not a crime. We all enjoy being around charismatic people who make us feel good. And this is exactly why it’s so hard to spot this common manipulation tactic.
Manipulators use charm to make you feel good and lower your guard. They flatter and compliment you because they want you to do something for them. In romantic relationships, they might use love bombing to confuse you and control your behavior.
But bear in mind that not all charming people are out to get you. Being mindful of those who are actively trying to win you over doesn’t mean that you should mistrust every compliment you hear. Some people compliment others to make them feel good and use words of affirmation without any ulterior motives.
2. Social Comparison
According to the social comparison theory, people judge their own social and personal worth by how they stack up against others. According to research, people can potentially discover inspiration and motivation for their own behavior by comparing themselves to others. But it’s also been proven that social comparison can be damaging to our self-esteem and well-being.
Manipulators use social comparison to steer their victims’ behavior. They might insist that because “everyone else is doing it”, you should do it too. Or, in an attempt to undermine your self-worth, they can point out that another person is more attractive, successful or physically fit.
Studies show that this manipulation tactic can have negative effects on the victim’s life, even when it’s used with what appears to be the best of intentions — like when parents use social comparison to motivate their children to study harder.
3. Lies as a Manipulation Tactic
Lying and spreading misinformation is a common emotional manipulation tactic that is especially dangerous in the modern era. Think of all the fake news that is being spread through social media to influence the views and actions of millions of people.
Manipulators lie to you or withhold important information to control your perception of reality and steer your behavior. If you catch someone continuously lying to you or to others, it’s a sign of a toxic person you’d better stay away from. Continuous misinformation could be an indication of gaslighting, a very dangerous form of emotional abuse and manipulation.
Consider a situation where you are arguing with an adult, and instead of giving you a reasonable answer, they start acting out or pouting like a child. Although it might not be very effective in a business context, this emotional manipulation tactic is often used in close relationships. Manipulators use regression to annoy you and influence your behavior. They may childishly whine and sulk for hours to make you feel bad and eventually do what they want.
5. Using the Silent Treatment as a Manipulation Tactic
Silent treatment, or stonewalling, is a form of passive-aggressive behavior when one person refuses to communicate with another. Manipulators use this tactic to punish and hurt another person.
This common emotional manipulation tactic is more dangerous than it might appear. According to studies, the silent treatment can make a victim feel unworthy of love, isolated and unimportant. When romantic partners mindlessly use silent treatment against each other, it can eventually result in a breakup. Because communication and deep listening are essential for healthy relationships.
6. Responsibility Invocation
Are you a responsible person who doesn’t want to let others down? Manipulators might try to use it against you. Responsibility invocation is a manipulation tactic that uses your sense of obligation to control your behavior.
An example of this might be if you tell a manipulator that you might do something, they can treat it as a promise and even make necessary arrangements without informing you. And if you don’t want to do it after all, they will demand that you take responsibility and comply with their wishes.
7. Harmful Criticism
Unlike constructive criticism, which aims to teach you about your weaknesses and help you improve, this manipulation tactic has a radically different objective. Manipulators use it to make a victim doubt their abilities and decisions.
Manipulators don’t always openly criticize you. They can use backhanded compliments or mean jokes to ridicule and belittle your achievements. If caught, they might say they didn’t want to hurt you and were just trying to make you laugh. If they constantly dismiss your defense and accuse you of being overly sensitive or paranoid, you might be dealing with a gaslighter.
Triangulation is an emotional manipulation tactic that involves engaging a third person in an argument. Sometimes people unintentionally draw a third person in when a quarrel gets too difficult to resolve. Manipulators usually do it to divert attention from the main problem and tip the scales of the argument in their favor.
If you are dealing with a manipulative narcissist, they can engage their flying monkey — the narcissist’s support person — in your conversation. Then, all of a sudden, you might find yourself outnumbered and doubting your opinion.
9. Coercion: Manipulation Tactic or Abuse?
Some experts list coercion among the most common manipulation tactics. Others, however, point out that when someone threatens you, yells and demands that you act a certain way, it’s no longer manipulation but plain abuse. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline statistics, at least one-third of abused victims experience coercion control. That’s why we should take any coercive behavior in a relationship very seriously.
How to Counter Manipulation Tactics
Here are five tips on unmasking and neutralizing manipulation tactics:
1. Be mindful of your emotions.
Being manipulated usually feels uncomfortable. Even if another person seems nice, you will most likely feel uneasy if they try to make you do something against your will. This feeling is your red flag and a sign that you need to pay closer attention to the person who is causing it.
2. Spot the manipulator.
Awareness is an important step toward avoiding manipulation. If someone is trying to convince you to do something, don’t respond quickly. Instead, listen and pay closer attention to their behavior. Are they always trying to get their way? Do they take no for an answer? Do they make you feel bad? Are they trying to manipulate others as well? If you notice such problematic behavior, try to distance yourself from that person. Even if it’s difficult to totally avoid them, you’ll feel more equipped to handle them in the future.
3. Maintain your frame.
Your frame is your own perspective of the situation. Even if it’s different from everyone else’s, it’s still a valid viewpoint. In a healthy conversation, you should be able to maintain your opinion even if someone else disagrees with you. If someone makes you feel confused and doubt your own beliefs, it’s perfectly normal to ask for some time to think. If another person insists on an immediate answer, don’t be ashamed to reveal your discomfort or simply end any toxic conversation.
4. Seek support.
Manipulation can be very hard to detect, especially when it’s a family member or a partner who’s manipulating you. Share your feelings with someone you trust and seek their advice. If you feel like you have no one to turn to, consider calling one of the warmlines where you can anonymously share your thoughts and concerns. It might help you gain a new perspective on the situation.
5. Accept that it might happen.
Manipulators are going to manipulate! Intentionally or not, some people will try to control your behavior. But that doesn’t mean that you have to fall for their manipulation tactics. Trust your ability to detect and avoid manipulation. The last thing you want is to become a bitter skeptic who suspects everyone of evil intentions.
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