jueves, 13 de agosto de 2009

Anti-Manipulation Techniques

What to do when you notice that you are being manipulated? Because of the indirect nature of manipulation, it's not easy to defend yourself against it. When someone tells you "Do X." it's easy to say "yes" or "no". But when they don't openly ask for X, refusing to do it gets tricky. How do you say no when you weren't asked for anything in the first place?

In this post I will share a few of my favorite anti-manipulation techniques. These techniques are nothing without the right mindset, though. I'll talk about that in my next post.

The translator method

The translator method is the easiest and the most efficient anti-manipulation technique I have found. It works like this: you are in a situation where you are being manipulated by someone whom  I will call your opponent to keep it general. Then you simply translate what your opponent is expressing both verbally and non-verbally into a simple sentence. And you ask them if this is what they mean.

Example: you don't want to attend the family gathering. Your mother says "OK, I understand." but with a very sad look on her face. You feel guilty, and now you're trapped. You really don't want to attend, but you feel bad about your mother being sad because of you. What to do?!

Translator method: you say "Do you mean that I am breaking your heart by not attending?"

This can be done in a very friendly, loving tone. You can sit down next to your mom and ask "I'm not sure I'm understanding you correctly. Do you mean that ...".

The translator method is great to find out what your opponent really feels or thinks. Many people don't say what they really think, or don't say it directly. With the translator method, you can gain interesting insights and even heal some of your relationships. It's particularly appropriate when dealing with friends, lovers and other people who are important to you and whom you would like to communicate with in a healthy way.

The translator method is also great in situations where you are not sure whether your opponent is trying to manipulate you or not. It will give you clarity.

Example: Your mother could be sad that you are not attending the family gathering, yet genuinely understand your decision and grant you the freedom to make this choice. In that case, no manipulation.

You: Do you mean that I am breaking your heart?
Opponent: Nah, of course not. Sure I am sad that you're not attending. But it is your right, and I respect that.

-> Conflict solved. No problem. You can hug her and tell her that your not attending changes nothing about how much you love her.

The other possibility is that she really was trying to make you feel guilty so that you change your mind. What happens when you use the translator method in truly manipulative situations?

Outcome #1: they agree.

You: Do you mean that I am breaking your heart?
Opponent: Yes! It breaks my heart that you won't be there! You are such a bad son. / You don't love me. / What will the relatives think. / etc.

This is a great outcome. At least things are being brought from the subconscious to the conscious level now. Calling a cat a cat is always healthier. Now you can talk about the real problem in a clear and honest way.

Outcome #2: they deny.

Usually the answer you'll get is "no, no..." followed by "just", and often by another manipulative attempt.

You: Do you mean that I am breaking your heart?
Opponent: No, no... It's just that I almost never see you. / No, no.... I just thought that your grandmother would be happy to see you, she's getting old you know...

In that case, continue using the same technique.

You: Do you mean that I am breaking your heart?
Opponent: No, no... It's just that I almost never see you.
You: Do you mean that you would like to see me more often?

And so on. You can continue using the translator method until you reach the point where your opponent clearly says what they really think. And then you can discuss the real problem.

Outcome #3: they get really pissed off.

Dealing with angry people is beyond the scope of this post. If they try to manipulate you further, you can continue using the translator method. If they stop beating around the bush and are straight with you, you can talk about it. If they get downright insulting, make personal attacks, threaten or shout, state clearly that you refuse to talk with them under these circumstances. Break the conversation off and leave.

The literal method

The translator method consists in making the subtext (= the underlying, unspoken message) clear and conscious by talking about it. A completely different approach is to simply ignore the subtext. React only to what's being said. Basically, feign emotional stupidity.

Example: You don't want to attend the family gathering. Your mother says "OK, I understand." and looks very sad. You ignore the sadness, give her a kiss on her cheek and say "I knew you'd understand!".

Another example: Your neighbor wants you to help her assemble her new book shelf. Instead of saying it, she tells you what a nice apartment you have, and how talented you must be with your hands, talks about furniture, all this innocently followed by a description of her problem with the book shelf. She looks up at you with big helpless eyes and says "I don't know what to do.".

Now instead of thinking that you have no other choice than to help her, you reply by quoting Steve Pavlina for her edification: "“I don’t know what to do” is pure nonsense. Of course you know what to do. You’re just scared that you won’t be able to handle it.". Or you simply tell her that you are sure she will soon get an idea.

This method is particularly appropriate when

it is very clear that your opponent is trying to manipulate you
your opponent is not very important to you, or
you are fed up with making efforts to better the communication between the two of you

This method is logical. It's based on the premise that we are all responsible for asking for what we want, and if your opponent does not clearly say what they really want, there's no reason they should get it. Using this method means refusing to consider any subtle cues and indirect communication. It educates others to straight talk.

It definitely is a radical way of discouraging your opponent from ever manipulating you again! However, it requires you to be able to take a fair amount of pressure, which can be difficult if you are not as insensitive as you feign to be. Some people won't let you escape that easily. When they see that it doesn't work, they could intensify the pressure and if you don't have the right mindset, you will feel really bad. If it doesn't work out well, switch to the translator method.

The subtext exaggeration method

Here, instead of ignoring the subtext, you ignore the rest and react only to the subtext. That is, you don't react to it. Instead of having the reaction that your opponent expects, you openly agree with the subtext and even exaggerate it, but without taking action.

Example: Again you don't want to attend the freakin' family gathering, and once more your mother says that she understands, but looks very sad. Let's assume that she's generally manipulative and you know she's just trying to make you feel guilty. You say "Yes absolutely! I am such a bad son for breaking my old mother's heart like this. Really, I should immediately go commit suicide!".

Another example: Your helpless neighbor behaves like I explained above, looks up at you and says "I don't know what to do". You reply with a big grin: "Oh wow, I would be a true hero then, if I rushed to such a helpless victim's aid!". But you don't do it of course. You just say it. You can even lean back and cross your arms while saying it to clearly show that you won't do it.

And then just look straight into their eyes.

This method is particularly appropriate when you know for sure that your opponent is trying to manipulate you and you want to make it clear to them that you see very well what they're up to, and that such tactics do not work with you. It's like the translator method, but instead of fostering dialog, understanding and honest communication, this one is more of a "in your face" kind of response.

To use this method you will need to analyze the subtext of what they are saying quickly, since that is what you will be replying with. If you're not that good at getting unspoken messages, use the translator method instead. Then you can ask if that's what they really mean. If you just rub it under their nose it's better to be accurate first!

Here too you will need to be able to take some pressure as well as to deal with angry opponents. This method is especially likely to piss them off because it debunks them so insolently.

The time delay method

Use this one if you feel that you are being manipulated without knowing exactly how. If you aren't able to translate the subtext, or not aware of what's going on exactly, but just feel uncomfortable and under pressure, then just refuse to make a decision immediately. Ask for a time delay.

You could say something like "I'll think about it. I'll let you know what I have decided." or "I cannot decide this right now. I need more time to think about it. I'll come back to you when I have made up my mind.".

What's important is to tell them that you will let them know when you have made up your mind. This shows that YOU are in control, not they. You are free to think about it as much as you want. You are free to decide whatever you want, whenever you want. You will inform them of your decision - which means that your decision is entirely yours.

Plus, this way they have no valid reason to bug you with this topic anymore. If they keep bringing it up, you can say "I told you I'd let you know what I have decided. Let's not talk about this for now, please.".

This technique is particularly useful when your mindset is weak, and you feel very strongly compelled to give in, although you know you don't want to. Then a time delay is a good emergency solution. But it is only that: an emergency solution. Work on your mindset and get stronger.

There are a lot more anti-manipulation techniques. Verbal self-defense is an absolutely fascinating topic anyway! But with just those few ones you should already be able to deal with all kinds of manipulators.

Using techniques to counter manipulation is just one small part of the whole though. To truly defend yourself you need more than techniques. You need the right mindset. That's much more important than to use any tricks! It will also make using the above techniques wayyyy easier - or even completely unnecessary.