by Linda Allen | Featured Contributor
How do you know if you’re a victim of manipulation? Is what you’re experiencing an acceptable attempt at persuasion? Or is it a veiled attempt to deceive, mislead, and control?
We accept the daily efforts by other people, businesses, and government to use the tools of persuasion. Manipulation, on the other hand, is by its nature cloaked. You’re lead down a path that’s not what you’d choose given clear facts and rational thinking. The challenge is the lack of a clear line separating the two. There’s a large gray area that’s between them. And it’s the presence of that gray area that actually empowers a manipulator to convince you that whatever their agenda is, it’s right.
The “fake news” that’s in the news is a current example. Using writers skilled in the arts of persuasion, they use truth, exaggeration, and outright lies spun together so that you, the reader, is convinced that what you’re reading is accurate. So much so that you share it, and help the perpetrator in their efforts to deceive. You’ve been manipulated.
How do you spot manipulation? Where is it commonly found? And, how should you respond to it? Here are some answers that will help you remain vigilant of and keep yourself safe from the results of manipulation.
Manipulation Can Be Anywhere
We’re most vulnerable when we are unsuspecting. So if you think there is a place or time when you’re not susceptible to manipulation, beware. That’s when you’re at the highest risk. That doesn’t mean you should spend every waking hour in a defensive mode. Rather, it means you should always have an evaluation filter running. You may want to think of it as listening to your intuitive voice. I prefer to think of it as my bullshit alarm.
Manipulation wears many faces with a single objective: to get you to act in ways you otherwise would not. So a friend might entice you to take a dare. Or a business might incite you to buy their useless product or service. Or the government or a politician might use “facts” to get your vote. But it’s you who pays the prices for all of these. Whether a broken bone or body, wasted money, or the enactment or election of laws and people that are far from what you want, it’s you who will live with the results.
Given that opportunities for manipulation are all around us, it’s important to become skilled at spotting it. Your intuition, or bullshit meter, needs to be in good working order, all the time. Here are some examples of what manipulation looks like:
In the media:
Whether it’s photoshopping images to elicit sympathy or “spinning” stories a certain way to support a particular viewpoint, little of what you see on the media is unadulterated. This not only sways your opinions, it implants biases against everything from body image to political beliefs.
It’s long been known that businesses use various methods to manipulate us into buying their product. Guilt. Envy. Fear. The most basic of human emotions, and effective tools to use in getting you to do what they want. And remember, the term “business” includes the sales reps they hire to promote their service or product. Think back, and I’m sure you’ll remember the last time you were on the receiving end of a sales pitch that included a healthy dose of guilt, envy, or fear. Or all three.
Perhaps the worst kind of manipulation occurs at the hands of a loved one. Because you’ve got such an emotional investment, it’s easy to deny what’s right before your eyes. The master manipulator will convince you that their way is best, that they have only your best interests at heart, and, if something goes wrong it’s certainly not their fault and is probably yours. You can find yourself in a dizzying cycle that fills you with doubt about yourself and your self-worth. If you feel something is wrong in your relationship but can’t quite put a finger on it, learn the signs.
Politicians and government in general loves to use statistics to sway opinion. The problem is that they define how the statistics are gathered and filtered to show exactly what they want. If there is something that makes them look bad in the eyes of the public, they can and do just change the way the measure is presented. Unemployment, for example. One would think that a 5% unemployment rate means that 5% of the workforce is unemployed. But what’s the variable? It’s how you define the workforce. Currently, that definition is people who are jobless, actively seeking work, available to take a job. And each of those elements has a lengthy definition. The result? Estimates of actual unemployment are 10% or even higher.
Responding To Manipulation
Your first response to suspicion that you’re being manipulated should always be the same. Ask questions, lots of questions, and seek answers from sources other than the suspected manipulator. When you calm your mind and emotions, does what they’re saying really sound reasonable? Is it making you feel exploited, used, or inferior? Ask more questions. Is it reasonable in terms of your own experiences? Be alert for any efforts to make you submit to their will or desire, and refuse to make commitments until you’ve had time to work through your real feelings. Any reasonable person, company, or business will not insist you make a decision immediately, and if they do you should walk away.
While the term fact checking has become familiar in political events, it’s a term that applies to any part of life in which you feel manipulated. Those claims by the car salesman that seem surprising? Check them out. Blatant attempts to manipulate you by stating flatly that if you don’t do what they say, you’ll be sorry or miss out or suffer? Shut them down. And anyone who would have you believe that they alone have the answer, or especially your answer? Run the other way.
Believe in yourself, your worth, and your ability to make good decisions. Develop trust in your intuitive self. Yes you’ll make mistakes. But they’ll be mistakes you’ll learn from rather than just feel like a victim about.
Linda Allen, Editor and Writer for MsCareerGirl.com.
Currently you will find Linda editing or writing articles on all things of interest to career women. She’s passionate about equal rights, equal opportunity, equal pay, and being a cheerleader for aspiring young women.
Linda is a self-described serial entrepreneur, with a resume that makes her look like a Jane of all trades. Her managerial experience includes teams as large as 25 and as cozy as two.
She has a MA from Miami University (Ohio, not Florida), BA from Cal State. Not to mention a graduate degree from the toughest school of all, Hard Knocks U.
You can connect with her via
3 Replies to “Manipulation: How To Spot It And How To Respond by @MsCareerGirl”
Great piece Linda. My major take away, “Yes you’ll make mistakes. But they’ll be mistakes you’ll learn from rather than just feel like a victim about.”
I am experiencing this very thing in my business right now. I’m truly grateful for the lesson as it’s made me adjust my business practices. Your words are so very timely.
So glad you enjoyed the post Tanea! I agree that the post is very timely and I’m grateful that Linda is sharing her insights with She Owns It.
Linda Allen[ Post Author ]
Yes, Tanea, there are a lot of would-be manipulators out there who would have you feel guilty it you don’t agree with them. Tools of their trade! Thanks for your reply!