Dealing with a Manipulative Person

Manipulative people are challenging and terrifying to deal with. They prey on fear, insecurity, and uncertainty to get what they want. Deception isn’t out of bounds for them. Dealing with them requires you to change the game.

We’ve all encountered or dealt with a manipulative person at some point in our career. These people induce fear, anxiety, and stress. In some cases they will stop at nothing to get what they want. Dealing with them and staying sane and healthy in the process is a monumental challenge.

Sometimes what’s required is changing your perspective. Sometimes you have to change the rules of the game. Other times you need to recognize the situation for what it is and extricate yourself. Here are some suggestions on how to survive dealing with a manipulative person.

Recognize the Manipulation

Sometimes it’s hard to spot a manipulator. They can ply their trade slowly over time. Every day they behave in a way that leads you to change your thoughts and behaviors to match their desires. It’s possible to not realize you’re being manipulated until the situation has become unbearable.

Ask yourself a few questions to see if you’re in a manipulative situation:

– Do I behave differently around this person compared to how I behave around others?

– Does my relationship with this person feel one-sided in their favor?

– Do I feel afraid, threatened, or anxious when I’m around or interacting with this person?

– Do I find it easier to just give this person what they want instead of pushing for what I want?

If you answered “yes” to many of these questions, you might have a manipulator on your hands. Some manipulative people use fear or threats to get what they want. Others make you feel sorry for them. Yet others make you feel like their best friend or that you’re wonderful. What they all have in common is they use these approaches to get whatever it is they want and they don’t care about how it impacts you.

If you’re dealing with a manipulative person, you can either choose to let things continue as they are or you can try to remedy the situation. I’d recommend the latter.

Changing Perspective

Once you realize you’re being manipulated, changing perspective can help you get out of the dysfunctional cycle. If you’re feeling threatened, ask yourself if their threats are real or just perceived. Ask what the real damage is that they can inflict versus dealing with vague threats. Ask if you really feel sorry for them or if they’ve put themselves in their situation and they’re just playing the victim. Seriously question whether their approval and praise are that important to your self-esteem.

For example, if you have a manipulator threatening to tell the boss you’re not doing your share of the work, that can feel very threatening. Pause and ask yourself if they’ll really follow through on that threat. Ask yourself if the boss will find that credible. Ask yourself if there’s any truth to what they’re saying they’ll share. If you know you’re pulling more than your weight and you know you have credibility with the boss, all of a sudden this threat loses its teeth.

If someone is playing the victim and getting you to give them what they want because you feel sorry for them, assess the situation objectively. Are they making their situation seem worse than it really is? Is the situation they’re in really their own fault? For example, if someone on your team is making you feel guilty for not picking up the tab for a meal but they just bought a brand new car that is much nicer than their old one, should you really feel sorry? I don’t know about you but I’m asking the waiter for two checks.

Step outside the emotions of the situation and look at it objectively. This shift in perspective can break the manipulator’s spell over you.

Changing the Rules of the Game

Is the manipulator a bully? Consider pushing back on them. Are they a victim? Create your own victim situation. Do they shower you with praise? Instead of basking in it, be dismissive of it.

If you change your reaction to their manipulation techniques, their approach may lose effectiveness. If you can see how they’re manipulating you and react differently, they may not know what to do and could realize they don’t hold sway over you anymore. Beware though – if their approach stops working but they still want things from you or want you to behave a certain way, they might simply change approaches. They could go from showering you with praise to threatening and bullying you. The good news is you’ve hopefully realized they’re a manipulator and their new techniques won’t be effective.

I know one executive who was dealing with a manipulator who would threaten and bully them. The stress this caused was chronic. The executive found themselves in constant fear of how their manipulator would treat them. One day, during a particularly threatening situation, the executive snapped and yelled at the manipulator. The executive went ballistic and an interesting thing happened – the manipulator stopped bullying them almost overnight. The game had changed.

Extricating Yourself from the Situation

If you’re unable to change perspective or change the rules of the game, sometimes you need to resort to bailing out. This can mean asking for a transfer, leaving a job, or having your responsibilities shifted so you no longer have to work with that person. This is a drastic measure but sometimes it’s your only option. Try the other approaches first. If they don’t work, ask yourself how bad the situation really is and how much longer you think you’ll have to endure. If you think you can handle it and can survive the term of their manipulation without too much emotional or physical damage to you, consider toughing it out. If the manipulation is too severe or the time period seems interminable, it might be time to reach for the eject button.

By Mike Figliuolo