Dealing with a Polite Manipulator

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People tend to notice when communication goes awry with people who tend to get explosive. But what about with those who may communicate with a smile on their face, all the while attempting to manipulate you into doing what they want?

When someone appears to be kind upfront, but is in fact being manipulative, it can be difficult to even realize that the person isn’t being up front with you.

Let me share a little story with you…

Last summer, we needed to have our deck replaced.  So, I reached out to a few different contractors for quote.

The market was beyond swamped, mid-pandemic.  Everyone and their dog were renovating their homes and it was really difficult to find a contractor who could even come do a quote, never mind promise that the job would be finished before the end of summer.

My chances of getting my deck done were slim.  The contractors knew it and so did I.

I’d had a few conversations with contractors who told me they would put me on a list and reach out if they had availability, but couldn’t promise anything.

Until I finally found one who had space.

Not only did he have availability, he could start the work almost immediately.

Great right?  Well, you know what they say about when things seem to be too good to be true?

The contractor approached the entire conversation in a friendly, conversational “I’m here to help you” kind of tone.

Except he kept harping on how I was oh so lucky to have called *just* as he’d had a cancellation for (of course!) the following week.  This in and of itself wouldn’t have made my radar to be on alert.

There was just something about the way he kept talking about how I needed to act right away to not miss out on his slim availability that sounded fishy.  It was clear that he was trying to lead me to believe that he was my only shot on earth of ever having my deck replaced.

Check out this excerpt from our conversation to get a sense of what I was dealing with:

“The market is swamped. There are absolutely NO contractors who have ANY time. But I’m really here to help you. I’m so incredibly busy right now, but am willing to take time out of my schedule, just to help you, because you seem like a nice lady. I know how desperately you need this done and I’ll come over even though I really don’t have any space.

But it’ll have to be today. Because if I don’t come today, there’s no way that I’ll be able to fit it into my schedule at all until next year.  And you definitely won’t be able to find anyone else with a market like this. So really, I’m the only shot you’ve got at getting that deck done right away.

You definitely don’t want to wait until next year because to get it done.  I mean, it could be dangerous if one of your kids were to fall through a hole on your deck. You wouldn’t want that now, would you?”

(paraphrased, but a pretty accurate representation of the actual conversation)

What an elaborate story of fears and consequences he laid out for me!

I could do nothing but laugh at how ridiculous of a story he’d painted to try to convince me to have him come immediately and sign a contract right away.  

I hadn’t shared a single one of the fears that he’d outlined.  I wasn’t even experiencing them.  Sure, I wanted my deck done last summer. And I also didn’t really care if we had to wait until the following spring. 

And I had zero fear my kids would fall through a hole.  I mean, they aren’t toddlers. Plus, we could always fix it ourselves in the meantime, if needed.

His story of how he was willing to go out of his way just to help me just because he cared so much didn’t make much sense either. If he was that busy that he couldn’t do a quote another day, how would he ever fit in the actual work?

The entire conversation felt off to me.  It lacked transparency and felt disingenuous.

I felt manipulated.

For obvious reasons, I didn’t choose to work with this contractor.

I got the sense that although he was presenting himself as being willing to sacrifice himself to meet my needs, he was actually free as a bird and desperate to close some immediate business. 

In other words, I had a sneaking suspicion that he was trying to use fear to manipulate me into making a decision that would be in his best interests regardless of whether or not it was in my own best interests.  While also selling it to me as being in my best interests. And that’s the where real problem laid.

I chose to listen to my gut and not look back.

Have you ever seen similar dynamics taking place in your workplace?

This may happen when one or several individuals are trying to influence decisions without being upfront about the real factors that are influencing their opinion.

Perhaps they’re making certain decisions or undertaking certain actions because they know it will line them up for that promotion they’ve always wanted, while denying the position of conflict of interest they’re in in while pushing a specific agenda.

Maybe it’s a team member who’s attempting to manage up on a team where they don’t respect their manager. They may constantly lobby other team members to convince them to rally against the manager instead of addressing their issues with the manager directly themselves.

Perhaps senior leadership is asking you to deal with a situation in a way that leaves you feeling uncomfortable because the requested actions feel biased and unjust.  And yet, you’re being sent very clear messages that you are to be on board and deal with the situation as requested, regardless of your discomfort.

There are a ton of different ways in which messages can be communicated in a way that lacks transparency and attempts to ensure a particular outcome of an exchange.

So how do you notice that you’re feeling manipulated?

If someone is attempting to manipulate you to do something that solely serves their own interests, there will be signs of this in your body.  Something will feel off, just like it did for me in the example I shared about the contractor for my deck.

The first step is noticing it and taking a step back to sort out what you’re experiencing.

You may find yourself feeling defensive, or perhaps feeling scared or insecure.  Or you may feel pressured to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or feel selfish or guilty for not wanting to do so.  You may well simply feel confused.

Regardless of what exactly comes up for you, take a moment to tune into these messages. Know that they are there for a reason.  Don’t go poll everyone else about what they would do or how you should feel.  Rather, try to get a sense of your own experience of the situation.

Try to only reengage once you have a clear sense of how you feel.  Come back to the situation and express your concerns with transparency and be sure to be clear on your own boundaries.

The conversation that follows will undoubtedly be pretty enlightening, one way or another.

Bottom line?  If you find yourself feeling manipulated, give yourself permission to explore this and have an open conversation with the other person.

If you happen to have found yourself filled with a sense of complete dread the moment you read about having a transparent conversation with the other person to explore this further, I encourage you to take a look at my free e-course: Free Yourself from Workplace Conflict and Confrontation – For Good This Time!  It might be just what you need to nudge you one step closer to those awkward conversations that will truly set you free from difficult interactions in the workplace.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

3 Signs that Fear is Ruling How You Communicate at Work

Does Fear Hold You Back from Saying What Needs to be Said?

9 Tips: How to Deal With Confrontation in the Workplace

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech-Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two neurodivergent children, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two children with pervasive mental health challenges, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

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Hi, I'm Lindsay

Leadership communication skills to elevate team performance.

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