Why do People Manipulate

The Merriam-Webster™ dictionary describes manipulation as a change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose.  This means manipulation is an intentional act. 

a. Why do People Manipulate?

Manipulation and life are intractably connected.  All life uses it on a daily basis.  An action is used to accomplish something wanted or needed. 

Plants spread roots for water and nutrients.  But the plants also spread these roots to rob water and nutrients from adjacent plants.  Plants grow taller to capture the power of the sun to grow.  But the plants also do this to starve competing plants from sunlight.  A lion growls to scare off others and announces that this is mine and I will hurt you if you do not listen.  Babies manipulate their parents by crying.  Parents manipulate their children by giving them or taking away something if they don’t behave. 

Manipulation for positive or negatives reasons is simply a part of life.  

In animals, particularly humans, the most effective and quickest route to invoke manipulation is through emotions.   As such, if our emotions are at work, search for a potential manipulation.   For example, the lion’s growl is a warning.  It is to size you up and assess if you are afraid and therefore weaker.  The growl does not injure anything. 

The injury comes from not understanding the growl, or allowing the negative thoughts to create internal fears, i.e. run. 

Ignorance Injuries and Knowledge Cures.

Practice Exercise:   List 5 things you do manipulate your spouse or partner.  It is advisable to be by yourself in order to be brutally honest.  Sugar coating the issues will not help.  Next, write down how to reduce or adjust your approach next time.   

1.  My wife nags me to mow the lawn by saying, “The lawn looks neglected!” 

[The comment is not to describe the lawn, but to use sarcasm to get it mowed.  Mowing the lawn is not for her benefit.  That is not manipulation.  However using sarcasm to secure a perceived win only benefits her.  That is manipulation.  Perhaps the response should be “I am hurt by your sarcasm, but I agree the lawn needs mowing.” This way she knows that sarcasm is the problem and not the lawn mowing.  An emotion behind this particular sarcasm is to say “your lazy,” which is an attack on self-esteem.  It also provokes an anger defensive emotion. ] 

2.  My wife moved my tools and placed them where I could not find them because I didn’t put them away.

[Hiding the tools is not an element of cleaning up, but rather, is to make a point that not returning the tools to the tool box has consequences.  The comment “Honey did you hide my tools again?” is sarcasm or an invitation to an argument.  It does not accomplish what you want — for her not to hide your tools.  The comment, “I’m sorry I did not pick up my tools yesterday.   I’ll try harder to replace them when I’m done,” is a better approach. ] 

3. I accidently hung my dress on my husbands section of the closet.  He rehung the dress in a location that was hard find.

[This is the exact same thing as the tool issue.  Your husband is trying to manipulate you by actions.  Rather than making accusations, it would be better if you said, “I was in a hurry when I hung my dress on your side.  Sorry.  I’ll try and avoid doing that in the future.  Is there anything you can do to expand my closet area?”   Asking him for an explanation is only a precursor to an argument.  You know exactly why he did it.  It was his way to sarcastically  teach you a lesson. ]

c. Manipulation and Emotions Always Team Up.

If the intentional actions of others are directed to your emotions, it is usually manipulation. 


Reason Number One:  Emotion is the strongest persuasion tool.  They are far more persuasive than facts and truth.  Take the expression, you can’t oppose me because you’re ugly.  This is an intentional act to gain an unfair advantage.  It is specifically directed to emotions, i.e. shame, embarrassment.  To the outsider, this example is obvious.  It is manipulation by name calling. 

Reason Number Two:  Emotions blocks effective analytically thought.  Persuasion would not work if the other person knows what’s going on.   Take this example.  The cashier at the grocery store says to a customer, “one apple is one dollar, but you want two apples so that will be three dollars.” 

The analytical thought portion of the brain says, “wait a minute, one plus one does not equal three.”  Hence, simply presenting facts do not shut down the analytical brain.  

What if the cashier brain says?  “You want to starve the homeless, by buying more than your share of apples.”  This is invoking the shame and embarrassment emotions that does suppress analytical thought.  The first example will almost never work, but by bringing emotions into play, the second example will have a higher probability of working. 

With emotions shutting down analytical thought, the manipulation becomes ingeniously hidden.   People have been known to search for their glasses just to have their 6 years old son say, you’re wearing them.”  Hiding in plain sight is often the most ingenious hiding place. 

Take the example in Reason Number One, the person being shamed, does not say “you are shutting me down because you do not want to hear another point of view?”  The person shamed immediately thinks, “I’m not ugly.” 

This means spotting manipulation might appear obvious, but to the person being manipulated, it is hiding in plain sight.  The next section on Signs of Manipulation discusses techniques in finding those glasses you’re wearing.

Motivation and manipulation are similar except for purpose.  Manipulation is to serve another’s purpose and motivation is to serve your own purpose. 

Either can be for positive or negative purposes.  Therefore, search for who is benefiting at a motivation seminar.  Is it your employer or is it you?  Like everything else in this world, things are not black and white.  There are always shades of grey.  This means, the actions can benefit both in various degrees and at different times.  An example of timing is the classic Ponzi scheme.  Benefits to the early contributors are essential to defraud the same class contributors coming in later.  

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