People often approach us with worried looks and furtive questions after we speak about manipulation and how it derails Authentic Conversations and relationships.
“I sometimes stay silent in meetings because I need time to think, not because I’m afraid to speak up. Is that manipulation?”
“Is it manipulation if I give people a compliment before I ask them to do something that needs to get done right away?”
Our answer is almost always the same: Only you know if you are using language for manipulation.
We define manipulation as an attempt to make someone to do something or feel something without revealing my true intentions. If I am doing or saying one thing while appearing to do another, that creates fiction — and it’s manipulative. Although we all have been on the receiving end of acts or words that felt manipulative, in truth, intentions are intensely personal. If we don’t want people to misread our intentions, the best way to do that is to make them transparent.
It is intention that drives our technique. If we intend to be manipulative — even for what we think of as a good cause — we might drop a powerful name, describe a circumstance in rosier tones than it warrants, or pretend to be interested in you when in reality, my true aim is to get you to like me so you’ll do what I want. When we engage in these sorts of techniques, we are creating something no one can believe in.
We start learning these techniques early on, and by the time we’re adults, have honed a fine, sharp set of manipulative tools for supporting our intentions. We use them with impunity, justified by the notion that it is necessary for our survival or getting our own way
Most people we talk with readily see this phenomenon in the behavior of others, but sometimes are reluctant to admit doing it. Others admit it, and justify their actions by claiming to know what’s good for others, having their best interest at heart or deciding it is the best way to produce a desired outcome. In the workplace, these techniques have been codified into leadership and management development programs. Managers are trained in the art of crafting of conversations designed to motivate others, get predetermined results, or hold others accountable, but that’s just manipulation in action that’s been blessed by someone.
If you want to stop manipulating others and create authentic relationships and cultures, we advise you to stop focusing on the techniques (what you say) and begin focusing on your intention. It means choosing for hope and optimism in the goodness and intelligence of people, and focusing on disclosure and transparency.
Create a transformative intention, “I will stop manipulating others and use language for disclosure, rather than manipulation and effect.” Consciously making this commitment reflects the belief that relationships are richer and more meaningful when they’re authentic. That belief gets tested in situations where it is difficult to disclose.
We find it is helpful to deal with 5 areas :
- Stop blaming others. No one can make me do anything — I always have a choice.
- Realize it isn’t possible to know what is best for others. Only they can determine that for themselves.
- Live with my own vulnerability. Disclosure and vulnerability go hand in hand.
- Learn to forgive myself and recommit frequently. I am not perfect.
- Let go of my attachment to certain and specific outcomes. Give up the illusion that my outcomes are the only or best ones for this situation.
Conversations and language can be used as powerful tools to manipulate others or for inviting partnership, collaboration and engagement. But it all begins with intention.