Manipulation Tactics: 10 Traps and How to Avoid Them

By Ellen Huxtable

manipulation tactics

In business, manipulation tactics can be subtle or blatant. They can be a part of cultural norms, or press uncomfortably into the realm of the unacceptable.

We can argue that almost all of business, indeed almost all of life has elements of manipulation. A good report card might net an ice cream sundae for an elementary school student. Outstanding work performance might be rewarded with a raise or bonus. Desirable behavior is rewarded.

The Danger:

On the other hand, sometimes the model is overturned. Sometimes an individual chooses to use negative behavior to manipulate the system and gain their own ends.

As a manager or supervisor, it is easy to be caught up in the drama, often without realizing it. Manipulators are, well…manipulative. They have had success in employing their tactics, and have honed them to a fine art. Their manipulation tactics are subtle and subversive, because a blatant, outrageous and immediately obvious ploy isn’t manipulative at all.

A manipulator can have years if not decades of success in bending outcomes to suit their own ends. Managers and co-workers assume that “that’s just how that person is.” And if there is no negative impact, then the dynamic can continue, with no harm done.

The Potential Impact:

Sometimes, however, the impact is significant, but hidden. Co-workers may recognize maniuplation and be frustrated by the gullibility of management. Morale may sag, taking with it productivity and tarnishing the corporate culture. Decisions may be influenced by manipulative personal agendas, to the detriment of the organization.

On occasion, the impact is significant and manipulation tactics are called out. The emboldened manipulator steps too far, or is so outrageous that the ploy becomes obvious. Or there is a catastrophe, and in winding the scenario back, the self-serving impact of the manipulator is exposed. Unfortunately, often, by this point, the damage is done.

So how can you avoid being caught short by a self-serving individual? Consider the data source, consider the following manipulation tactics, and be aware of them in action.

Manipulation Tactics 101:

  • Ingratiating behavior: The ingratiating manipulator is charming, understanding and supportive. You are their idol and they look upon you with stars in their eyes. You can do no wrong; all your decisions are wonderful, and to them, anyone who questions you is jealous and ignorant. They’re your protege; they’re your pet. Certainly someone who has the judgement to see your wonderfulness obviously has superior insight on all things. So when they shyly suggest something, it only makes sense that they of course have your best interests and those of the organization at heart. Or not. Beware of the flatterer.
  • Redirection: The redirector is a master of evasion. You approach them to correct behavior or call out an error. And the redirector immediately alerts you to a crisis that requires your immediate attention. Another employee is doing something so horrendous that the redirector’s minor flaw pales in comparison. The typical dialog is “Well, what about Susie? Are you just going to let that go?” And of course, if you get sidetracked to research the …read more

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