Manipulation is the act of deceitful or improper influence over others. Manipulation is a way of tricking or fooling people into meeting your needs. Manipulation is often used when the direct approach is unlikely to work or the direct approach is unknown. Whilst there is a lot of information about how to identify if you are being manipulated by others, how much information exists which explores whether you are manipulative? Is there some sort of test you can take which can determine if you are manipulative? Whilst there is no test as such, here are some questions that might give you insight into whether you are being manipulative rather than forthright.
You have recklessly spent your rent money on clothes, drugs or alcohol and your rent is due tomorrow. How do you get your rent money?
A). You go to your parents, friend, partner, etc and tell them you have blown your money on clothes, drugs, etc., and now you don’t have enough to pay your rent. You ask your parents, friend or partner for the money that you need.
B). You call your parents, friend or partner and start a general conversation. During the conversation you ‘randomly’ recall that you rent is due tomorrow. You inform your parents, friend, partner that you had to buy a lot of medicine and now you cannot afford your rent. You begin crying and sobbing and the person you are talking to offers to give you the money you need.
If we look at part A of this first question, which is actually the non-manipulative option, we can see that being honest about our reckless spending habits and then asking directly for money is unlikely to result in our needs being met (getting money to pay our rent). Since our lack of money is the product of our stupidity, we are unlikely to engender sympathy and empathy in the person we approach so our chances of them feeling ‘sorry’ for us is lower. Part B then is the manipulative option which avoids all of the shortfalls of part A. By being dishonest about paying for medication which we supposedly had to buy, we are more likely to engender empathy, sympathy and support and so the chances of getting our needs met (receiving money to pay our rent) is much higher. I will give you some more questions to explore and see if you can decide which is the manipulative approach.
You are at work and you overhear your boss approaching co-workers about being able to do an extra shift over the weekend. You really don’t want to work this weekend as you have plans to go drinking and dancing. How do you let your boss know that you are unavailable this weekend?
A). You approach your boss after lunch and let him know that you overheard that he is looking for someone to cover an extra shift over the weekend. You advise your boss that you are not available as you have plans with friends but you offer to do some extra work today if that helps at all.
B). You are in the lunch room with co-workers. Your boss comes into the lunch room to make themselves a coffee. Whilst your boss is making their coffee you ‘randomly’ and loudly explain to your co-workers that you have a wedding to go to this weekend and how much fun it will be and how devastated the wedding couple would be if you were not able to attend.
You have been invited to a no children allowed girls/guys night out. You desperately need a babysitter but you cannot afford one. How do you get your parents to babysit for you?
A). You approach your parents and directly ask them if they can come over and look after their grandchildren for a few hours while you go out with the girls/guys.
B). The entire week leading up to the girls/guy’s night out, every time you meet and interact with your parents you complain to them about how tired and sick you are and how you just wished you could have a few hours alone to sleep and rest.
Several months ago, you loaned a friend a significant amount of money. To date your friend has made no attempt to pay your money back. How do you get your money back?
A). You directly confront your friend and ask them to repay the money you loaned them. You explain to your friend that you need to the money to pay your own bills and if they are unwilling to repay the money then you will have to explore your legal options.
B). You continually complain to your group of friends about the mutual friend who refuses to repay your money. You complain to your group of friends that you are going to pay your children’s school fees without your friend repaying you. You ‘suggest’ to your friends that the other friend may pay up if one or all of them speaks to them and convinces them to.
You have a lot of work left to do and it is quickly approaching 5pm. You are meant to go on a date at 7pm but you need to go home and get ready first. If you cannot get your work done you will have no choice but to miss out on your date. How can you get a co-worker to finish your work so that you can leave on time and so enjoy your date?
A). You approach your work colleague with your dilemma. You ask them if they could complete your work tonight and you will make it up to them another time.
B). You talk with your co-worker and you compliment them on how much better they are at completing this sort of work compared to you. You tell your co-worker that the boss was really impressed with the work they completed last time and they even overheard their boss talking about promoting them if they hand in more great work.
These questions are designed to encourage thought and insight into how you go about getting your needs met. These questions (and your answers) do not definitively define you as a manipulative person. Not all indirect approaches are manipulative but a direct approach is generally best. The direct, non-manipulative approach runs the risk of not getting your needs met but disappointment is a fundamental part of life. We must learn to tolerate not getting our needs met occasionally. Some people are so distressed by not having their needs met AT ALL TIMES that they inevitably become manipulative, exploitative and entitled. Over all, though, manipulation is more a product of social immaturity and a lack of skills and knowledge about getting ones needs met rather than being a product of maliciousness intent or ‘evilness’.
Manipulation is potentially harmful towards other people because it tricks or coerces them into taking actions which they may not necessarily have taken had they been fully informed and so were able to make fully informed decisions. Telling white lies is not always the same as being manipulative but all forms of dishonesty can cause relationship problems and breakdowns. Manipulation and manipulative behaviour can be overcome once we first learn to specifically identify what our needs are. We must then learn how to then express those needs assertively and manage our stress and distress if those needs go unmet for whatever reason.