Manipulation is everywhere. It is embedded within our lives and constantly plays on our emotions. If you look up manipulation on the web, there are now multiple categories ranging from psychological manipulation to data, media, internet, marketing and so on. This article will focus on how someone seeks to manipulate you and how you can detect it to employ their own tactics. Here is some short content you should familiarize yourself with before going further:
Manipulation is not evil
Here is the definition of manipulation;
- The action of manipulating something in a skillful manner
- The action of manipulating someone in a clever or unscrupulous way
(unscrupulous meaning; having or showing no moral principles, not honest or fair)
It’s not as bad as it sounds. Perhaps the second definition lacks integrity, but its moral significance will depend on the outcome. For example, you who are reading this, are manipulative. If you’re not, you probably will be at one point in time in your life.
You will manipulate your child to not eat that cookie for the benefit of his health. You will bribe him to sleep at bedtime for his own benefit. If you are an effective leader with integrity, you probably use manipulative methods all the time to get others to do things for their own benefit. Remember that most people don’t know what is good for them. They largely make choices that are responsible for their own misery. A mandatory part of being a leader is to be able to manipulate your followers to do something for their own benefit.
Separate it from Morality
So this means manipulation is not an immoral concept. Its moral significance depends on its utility and outcome. Your first step is to recognize and dissociate manipulation from morality. It is a tool used that is indifferent to good & evil, and only seeks to serve an outcome. What the outcome substantiates to, will depend on the person utilizing it. Your parents used to manipulate you by doing you favors as a reward for good behavior for your own benefit. A sociopath could manipulate you by doing you favors to hold something over you for his own benefit.
Same method. Different outcomes.
Rationality Is The Enemy Of Manipulation
Your parents promised you a bar of chocolate in the morning if you went to sleep during bedtime. Obviously there’s zero rationality here. There’s no associated benefit that results by giving chocolate to someone in exchange for them to go to bed at an allocated time.
But there’s plenty of evidence that suggests children love chocolate and it makes them happy. Your parents promised you ‘happy time’ if you did as you were told. The currency exchanged was emotions. Not rationality.
A rational argument would be for you to go to bed at your allocated time, because your body needs routine and the right amount of sleep allows the body to function optimally.
No one cares.
Specially not children.
If you applied this simple example as a concept to everything, you will quickly see that we are far more motivated by emotions than we are by rationality. And if you’re familiar with my shadow work then you would quickly know that this makes sense from a psychoanalytic perspective. We are not alone. We possess sub-personalities each with their own desires that manifest emotions according to what they want.
This is not a bad thing. After all, its emotions that gives us the drive to aim towards values and attain them. But it does expose us to manipulation. Because we are more likely to do something, when the transaction involves emotions than logic. And again, this makes perfect sense. Truth is nature. It’s harsh, unfair and brutal. Rarely do people prefer to transact under these conditions.
So now you know for manipulation to take place, it needs to play into your emotions; your wants, your needs, your urges, your tendency to act when sad… and your tendency to act when happy.
The more you express emotions, the easier it is to manipulate you.
This also means that the person seeking to manipulate you will suppress all rational arguments in order to attain their particular outcome.
So a typical conversation with a manipulator will involve the following ingredients:
Something that promises a ‘happy state’ or implicitly threatens a ‘sad state’. The essence of that something that is being expressed lacks factual elements and is difficult to quantify. Identifying the obscurity of truth is not easy. It requires critical thinking, low neuroticism and patience. But it is much easier to identify emotions and when you’re being sold a ‘happy state’ or a ‘sad state’.
Understand that a manipulator uses emotions to achieve a particular outcome. They convolute the truth, evoke feelings and desires to align means to achieve their ends. A rationalist is the polar opposite. They apply critical thinking to rationally analyze the truth to attain (more so discover) an outcome. Keep in mind that neither are necessarily evil, they simply utilize separate tools to attain results. There can be rationalists that execute evil acts and manipulators that deliver benevolent outcomes. The reason why manipulators get a undesirable name is because it is easier to commit evil acts through emotions than it is through logic.
It just so happens that the world around us is governed by a cosmic force teaching us through trial & error, that striving for the truth delivers life-furthering outcomes as opposed to obscuring it. But we never learn. And we continue to obscure the truth assuming it will deliver a better future.
Truth can be life-negating
What I just said is not entirely true though. There is a counter argument that there are times where the truth is in fact life-negating. Here’s an example. I have a staff of twenty that I have managed for years. I’ve familiarized myself with them individually to understand their strengths and weaknesses. I can confidently say that eight of them are very industrious and competent problem solvers. They are also ambitious and always explore ways to ascend.
The rest differ in their personality, but it is very clear which of them work to just get by. If I, as their leader revealed how their temperament and nature lets them down in their work and that there’s nothing they can do about their genetic shortcomings, they will quickly lose faith, hope and confidence in themselves. Instead, I empower them. I tell them that everyone can be industrious and creative, and that they should strive to improve everyday. ‘Happy state’ sold.
But for the greater good of their own benefit.
I have also spoken to them individually, and given them truthful feedback on their strengths. And how they should align it with a future that could lead to achieving a better state of conditions. Even if that means leaving their job to find something more suitable.
So an effective leader also tries to align people’s strength with their future. Just because you sold an egalitarian happy outcome does not mean that you should lead them to an imaginary island. Fake empowerment is better than a miserable state of self-contempt. But it’s also a leader’s responsibility to channel this empowerment in a truthful manner by guiding them to something they could in fact achieve. An effective leader plays into people’s positive and negative emotions, to manipulate them for their own benefit while guiding them on a path of truth towards achievement.
Negative & Positive Emotions
Emotions can be classified into two categories; positive and negative. I have provided a small list here for you to get an idea of how the two states differ. You don’t need to memorize every
emotion that falls under the categories, but you do need to recognize whether you experience a negative or a positive emotional state. It is also useful to understand your personality; extroverted people have by default, a high baseline of positive emotions, which means they appeal towards feeling positive all the time. People that score high on neuroticism, have higher negative emotions, which means they are sensitive to feeling negative.
Extroverted people are easier to manipulate with positive emotions.
Neurotic people are easier to manipulate with negative emotions.
Extroverted people respond better to influence.
Neurotic people respond better to compulsion.
Extroverted people will be inclined to engage in matters that would evoke their positive emotions. Getting them to do something in exchange for something thrilling is likely to get an ideal response out of them. An effective manipulator would promise something in exchange that would instill the prospect of ‘happiness’.
Neurotic people would be inclined to NOT engage in matters that are sensitive to negative emotions. Instigating fear is an effective way to manipulate them into doing something. An effective manipulator would promise security and comfort in exchange for getting them to do what he wants them to.
It is also worth noting that the more agreeable someone is, the more likely they are to be manipulated. Agreeable people are more empathetic than disagreeable people, which poses as a weakness for a manipulator to exploit. The emotions that revolve around empathy (resentment, sadness, sympathy) are the weakest link that a manipulator can use to compel someone to do something. Also note the association of empathy with negative emotions. You can draw loose conclusion here that agreeableness is likely to be more neurotic than disagreeableness due to their propensity towards feeling empathetic and sentimental.
This leads us to develop the perfect archetype for a manipulator to exercise his manipulations on; An agreeable person that is high on the spectrum of neuroticism. This now explains why it is easier for women to be manipulated than men. Women are higher on baseline negative emotions and are on average more agreeable and empathetic than men. With this information, we can develop certain traits to improve our defenses against manipulators before we identify the tactics they use to manipulate us.
Defensive Trait Against Manipulators
If you are naturally an extroverted person, it will be easier to manipulate you by promising positive emotions. This means a clever manipulator would approach you using a proposition that gives them the outcome they desire in exchange for giving you a ‘happy state’. I’ve seen this many times at work. For extroverted employees, giving them more work in exchange for them to have the weekend off is enough for them to agree, as they fantasize about having weekends off to go pursue whatever evokes their happiness. Whereas to an introverted masochist, it would pass off as a dismal exchange.
These are extreme cases on opposite ends, but everyone falls on this spectrum in varying degrees. So if you appeal to positive emotions, master manipulators will try and sell you a ‘happy state’. Your will power in resisting the desire to experience this happy state will determine whether you will critically explore the truth of what the manipulator is trying to do.
A quick way to find out about your level of neuroticism is to determine your stress tolerance. Fast paced, high pressure jobs can help you assess your tolerance and how well you can handle pressure in comparison to others. If you don’t work in such environments, then do several personality tests only and answer them truthfully.
The higher your neuroticism, the more sensitive you are to negative emotions. The more sensitive you are to negative emotions, the easier for a manipulator to manipulate you. If someone seeks to manipulate you, they will do so by evoking anxiety and fear. Leaders use this in the form of compulsion; ‘if you don’t do X, then the consequences will be Y’. Mainstream news make tremendous amount of revenue out of neurotic people. This is why bad news is highly engaging, because most people have high enough neuroticism for it to sell. Also take note that negative emotions are far more powerful than positive emotions. They are subject to our primal survival instincts. People don’t necessarily want to thrive. They just want to survive.
If you are an individual with high neuroticism, you need to integrate your shadow. Look out for “Neuroticism & Self: A Shadow Integration Article” which will be published for subscribed members only in the coming months.
If you are a man reading this, you shouldn’t be agreeable in the first place. This trait should be exclusive for women. However, for the sake of argument, lets assume you are agreeable. Understand that your fear of confronting conflict by default makes you an ideal candidate for manipulation. Your inability to say ‘no’ will instantly make you a target and objectives will be utilized through you. This means you need to learn to say ‘no’. And this requires you to confront conflict, which in turn requires you to be tolerant to negative emotions. Holistic change is required for someone who is agreeable to become disagreeable. They need to learn to develop competitive behavior and become more selfish with their time. Pushing yourself to move up the organizational hierarchy will forcefully transform you into becoming more disagreeable.
The empathy triad was defined by Daniel Goleman who is a psychologist that lectures professionals and business students. I extracted his development of this concept and utilized it in my psychopathy research to develop models which help people build defenses.
Cognitive empathy is used when a manipulator pays attention to your emotions, understanding how you feel to adjust their persuasion accordingly. They assess your current state; whether you are happy or sad and will try to mirror it. Some will read into your personality and make an accurate assessment. For example, if they figure out that you are an extroverted person, they will more likely get you to do tasks that pertain risk. Because humans often take risks when their positive emotions are on overdrive.
Emotional empathy is used when manipulators try to bond with others over sensitive or vulnerable matters for the purpose of revealing weaknesses. These weaknesses are then leveraged. Often they will share fake vulnerabilities to get you to disclose your own sensitivities. Later, you will find that they manipulate your weaknesses through the compulsion of ‘sad state’, i.e. “do this or else”. Also take note that it is more likely for neurotic people to share secrets and vulnerabilities as sharing it brings on sympathy which comforts them.
Compassionate empathy is often used by manipulators via synthesizing a problem, sympathizing with reaction, & then offering an ideal solution that aims to achieve their objective. This is a classic Hegelian Dialectic method that gets used by the very top of organizational hierarchies and politicians.
Observe those who are easily irritated, agreeable and emotional. They are the easiest to apply the empathy triad on and manipulate. Remain objective, calm and goal-orientated. If you expose your emotions, you are subject to manipulation.
The Perfect Archetype Against Manipulators
Profiling people into their personalities and separating emotions has enabled us to understand which angles manipulators use to exploit us. It has also helped us look inward and understand the defenses we need to work on. Combining what we have learned here, we can conclude that the personality archetype which best repels manipulators are; introverted, disagreeable people with low neuroticism. These types have no appeal for positive emotions, nor are they afraid to experience negative emotions. Their appeal and sensitivity to positive and negative emotions respectively are both low on the spectrum. This is the archetype we should strive to embody. This article will be the consultation topic of the month in The Lobby Room where we explore ways to accomplish this.