Part 3: Deflection of Manipulation

Posted Sunday 15 November 2020 by Urs Riggenbach.

This is post is part of a series of posts of creative writing.


If everyone would be as nice as you, this text would not be necessary. But the truth is there are people out there that take advantage of others, who knowingly or unknowingly act to manipulate others. If we just “believe” in the good of people but actually get to deal with someone hurtful - we may get hurt. And if we continue to live in this positive and hopeful attitude, we may get hurt and hurt again. How can we protect ourselves from manipulative people without giving up hope?

Everyone carries their own mindset and sometimes they clash. Some people may genuinely believe that you owe them something, “belong” to them, or that they “deserve” your time. Maybe you agree. Maybe you agree for a while, but then you notice there is a disbalance. It is important to pay attention to this. Because when you feel it’s unjust, it probably is.

Let’s take the example of a boss, that keeps asking for more. More work done but no compensation. Maybe this boss really believes in the cause and finds it justified that everyone gives their all. Maybe there is a belief that “that’s how it’s done in this line of business” or there is simply time pressure. Whatever the reason, let’s assume it’s passed your own limit of what you deem healthy.

Let’s take the example of a client who asks for a discount. The example of a lover who asks for troubling amounts of attention. The example of getting sexually abused. Some may ask, was it sexual abuse or just “hitting at you”? Here we only consider your perspective because the power of consent necessarily resides with the person in question. Any of these examples may make you feel manipulated.

With this realization comes a pain, that is, a conflict becomes apparent. A conflict is a conflict no matter if it is fought or not. It is there the moment you realize or feel it. Not all conflicts can be resolved, and not all conflicts need to be fought. In fact we often fail to properly engage in conflict as we seek harmony rather than resolution. But if a conflict arises out of acts of manipulation, it probably deserves to be fought, for your opponent is causing harm, knowingly or unknowingly so.

It is hard to imagine sometimes how so much pain can be created unknowingly. But in the case of our exemplary boss, perhaps this person is overworked and has too much stress to be sensitive to co-workers. Confrontation here serves the purpose of broadening this person’s perception to your needs. This itself is though to do, and even tougher if the person is knowingly manipulating.

Non-ideal situations like this are easy to get into, and hard to get out of. But if we learn how to get out of them, and spot them so we can avoid them, we can spend our life’s energy not on dealing with bad situations but on making the world more awesome for ourselves and all. In fact, if you stand up to manipulators and avoid getting manipulated, you take away their power and you show them that they cannot treat you and others like that. That in itself is a better world and helps us all grow.
So how to get out of it? Let’s say you’re in a situation and you noticed manipulative behavior. That’s great because now you can say “No” before it’s too late and try to get out of the situation. Saying No is a powerful and courageous skill like bungee-jumping and rock climbing. But in contrast to those it is an essential skill (that you could effectively use to avoid bungee-jumping which may be the healthier choice). Saying No is an obvious answer but sometimes we simply fail to say No early enough or we feel ashamed of our feelings or limitations to stand by our No.
Sometimes the realization of manipulation only comes a while after a situation has passed, which feels really disempowering. So it is really important to stay sensitive to feelings and perceptions such that you shorten the delay and can react in the situation.

Ok, too late, you went with it, and there is no shame in that. There really isn’t. Why are people feeling ashamed that they went with manipulative behaviour? Any realization comes with a little bit of pain of “why not realize earlier” - but this is a negative thought pattern now really in the way of getting my point across. What I am saying is that manipulators are the culprit of their actions, not you. You have no responsibility to deflect manipulative behaviour, but it is really great if you can. 😊
Now, you may actually need to confront a manipulator about past injustices to avoid future waste. Confrontation takes energy, but at the basis of your action should be the analysis over what’s better: stay in conflict without confrontation, or confront and possibly get to a better situation.

And this really depends on the situation. But we are often overwhelmed and attached in some way to the situation, that we fail to ask ourselves basic questions that can help shed light on the issue.

Here’s a great question. This is also a great question to walk your friends through. It is about dealbreakers. Ask yourself, what’s a dealbreaker. If this situation continues, at what point is/was it too much? Going into this question, you may find for example, that you can continue working like this for your boss for another 3 full months until some other commitment will make it impossible for you to perform like that. Maybe it’s already too much and you urgently need to quit so you can find a new job in time. Maybe it’s not bad enough for you to risk anything. So at least you are aware of it and can try to avoid the next similar situation. Maybe you have no leverage at all and you’re stuck in the situation. I hope it’s one of the earlier options, because if it is, you have leverage.

Leverage is what negotiation is built around, and it’s time to negotiate. Going through the dealbreaker exercise you will most likely find that you have some leverage. With leverage it becomes possible to confront, because the outcome of the discussion now depends on your opponent. With the dealbreaker exercise you have already made up your mind. If we’re more naturally into harmony than confrontation it is really important that we make up our minds before we go into a negotiation meeting because we need to stay strong by our dealbreakers and avoid saying Yes to a deal that’s no improvement.

Maybe you find out that if things continue as they are, you would have to really quit the job in 3 months so you can find something better. That is actually a super great leverage. You can go into a meeting, ask your demands and say, you know what, I’m considering to quit if my over-hours are not paid. In fact, I have to quit if you expect me to work over hours in 3 months because I have this other engagement that will make it impossible for me to perform at this level. There are two positive outcomes here: You get your demands met, or you walk. Either of those options are better than working there in the same conditions. If you go through the dealbreaker exercise and you end up with such a great leverage, you are naturally set up to confront and negotiate strongly for yourself.

Maybe you find that you don’t have enough leverage, here it may still make sense to bring up your dissatisfaction. If you’re dealing with an unknowing manipulator, this can resolve the situation, if you’re dealing with a known manipulator it may send a signal that you can’t be messed with and if you spot more manipulative behaviour it may make you reassess your dealbreakers and create leverage. Of course, a knowing manipulator will try to avoid the very such meeting itself, not give you attention and not take you seriously. But simply present your position, and if need be, repeat it. There is nothing to discuss here. Your feelings are your feelings and can’t be negotiated, they’re yours. No one should make you feel different about your honest dealbreakers.

Once the situation is either improved or exited, you can start spending your energy on building up something positive instead of dealing with and being bogged down by draining situations. You may also be more aware of your feelings which can help in many ways. Maybe you identify another obstacle in your life and start getting rid of more negative influencer’s power over you. Normally, after the first one, it will only get easier. And it becomes a natural habit making life more comfortable.
Perhaps these words can help us take courage in our feelings and stand up to manipulators. Help us notice them, and not following their demands. Help us disempower them and show them a better way. And so hopefully this text won’t be all that necessary for the next generation.

Disclaimer: I am writing from a very privileged position and do not want to blame anyone for the situation they’re in or what they’re doing about it. I am merely expressing some concepts I believe can empower people.