I. Outmaneuver Manipulators
Condensed from PACE
Bruce A. Baldwin
AT A STORE, five-year-old Sam spots a toy truck. His mother knows the ritual:
“Can I have this truck?”
Sam bursts into tears. “You never let me have anything!” he cries. “Mrs. Brown bought Tommy a truck.”
“Oh, all right,” his mother says. “Just this once.”
Sam is used to getting things this way. He has learned to use emotional pressure to manipulate his mother. Because Sam’s maneuvers work so well, his manipulative behavior is reinforced—and will be used again.
If a child of five can manipulate others by discovering their vulnerabilities, think what a savvy adult can do! This is the way it works:
Locating an emotional vulnerability, often by trial and error, the manipulator exploits that knowledge to arouse our emotions and create internal pressure. We lose objectivity and make decisions to appease the one who has created the pressure—rather than do what is right. Then we feel used.
But if we can recognize and reduce our weaknesses, we will feel more in control, and our relationships will improve.
To help you close up the chinks in your emotional armor, consider the following list of vulnerabilities.
- You feel guilty. Inducing guilt is the most common form of manipulation. Martyrs are masters of this kind of emotional blackmail.
- You fear conflict or anger. Many nonassertive men and women agree to almost anything to avoid a fight. Sometimes a person’s early family life was so filled with parental conflict that he or she learned to abhor differences of any kind. Other parents so carefully hide conflict that their children grow up with an unrealistic idea of a “good relationship.”
- You consistently fall for a “hard luck” story. Some people become expert at the game of “woe is me.” They “hook” others into taking care of them. When confronted by this kind of manipulator, ask yourself: “Is this person playing on my emotions? How should I respond to help him help himself?” Tears are also a favorite ploy. Children can turn tears off and on like a faucet and use them selectively on the parent who is most vulnerable. (Don’t forget that some adults can cry on demand too.)
- You fall for flattery. When little Johnny is about to be punished, he professes undying love for his parents with bear hugs and sloppy kisses. His parents melt, and Johnny gets off scot-free. Similar cons are used in adult relationships. Flattery distorts your perception and makes you want to please.
- You fear disapproval. It’s surprising how many otherwise bright and insightful people can’t stand the thought of not being liked by someone. So they give in. These unrealistic adults have never learned that the price of their need for approval is self-respect—and the respect for others.
- You feel insecure in your role. In a defined role (as parent, manager or supervisor) you have been given responsibilities, prerogatives and boundaries. Another person, usually one who makes an unfair or unwarranted demand, makes accusations (“You don’t like me!”) or threats (“I’m going to report you to your supervisor!”). The recipients of the threats become insecure in the assigned, defined role and gives in.
- You can’t stand silence. Here a manipulator’s responses are formal, monosyllabic. As time passes, feelings of rejection grow within you. To deal with this power play, avoid participating: pressure the pouter to end the game by going about your business as usual.
- You’re afraid to be different. At work here is a feeling that if you’re different, you’re somehow wrong. Two facts should be considered, however. First, what everyone else is doing isn’t necessarily right. Second, when your major frame of reference is other people, you lose the capacity to define and live by your own values.
HOW DO YOU reduce your vulnerabilities? Begin by thinking about occasions when you gave in to others or felt used. What feelings were dominant? What did others say or do to arouse those emotions? Who in particular arouses such feelings?
Once you pinpoint situations, people and feelings that influence your decisions, you can use two strategies to avoid being manipulated. The best is to resolve the underlying issue that makes you vulnerable. For example, you can define your role in a given situation so that no one can make you insecure. Or you can decide what you owe yourself so that others can’t make you feel “selfish.”
Even if you can’t completely stifle your vulnerability, you can still resist manipulation. Define the feelings that lead to your exploitation, and then use them as cues to be cautious. For instance, if you are susceptible to guilt, any feelings of guilt should make you wary. Do what is right to avoid being manipulated in spite of your feelings.
By outmaneuvering your manipulators, you regain control, and your decisions reflect what’s right for you. This feels good, and others learn to respect you. It’s interesting that those who are easily manipulated are well-linked but not respected. By working through your emotional weak spots, you create a basis for respect and approval.
© 1987 BY BRUCE A. BALDWIN. PACE (PIEDMONT AIRLINES) (FEBRUARY ’87), GREENSBORO, N.C.
Bruce A. Baldwin, Ph.D., is a practicing psychologist and author of Beyond the Cornucopia Kids: How to Raise Healthy Achieving Children.
II. Take the Sting Out of Criticism
Condensed from Marathon World
Richard F. Graber
ASK TEN PEOPLE what they think of criticism, and nine will call it frightening and destructive. They go to great lengths to avoid it. Only the tenth may see its positive side, which is growth.
Indeed, you can make criticism work for you. Here’s how you can respond to criticism without losing your cool and making yourself and others miserable.
When you find yourself being criticized, determine if the criticism is valid, advises Margaret Verble, a communication consultant in Lexington, Ky. Tell yourself to consider the source. “Mothers have advised this for generations,” Verble says. “It’s maddening how often our studies prove them right.” If the source is an expert, or is powerful—your boss, for instance—you’ll be wise to listen. But not all things can be judged, psychologist Marsha Linehan of the University of Washington points out. Missing a scheduled appointment can be justifiably criticized, but the color of your walls cannot, because it is a matter of taste.
Next, ask yourself if you’ve heard this criticism before. “When we’re criticized repeatedly for the same things, we probably should pay attention,” Verble says. However, consider the critic’s motive. Try to gauge the emotional climate. If your critic is visibly upset, he or she, rather than you, may have the problem.
What you do not say in response to criticism often is as important as what you do say. Destructive responses serve to cut off criticism, and you may miss the point, because initial criticism is seldom right on target. Here are some responses to avoid:
- Do not overgeneralize. If someone says your shoes do not go with your outfit, react only to that. Resist saying to yourself, “That means I have poor taste in everything, and I’m a clod and an awful person.” When your superior asks you to be on time for morning planning sessions, this does not mean he or she is about to fire you. Stay with the specific criticism.
- Do not counterattack. This “topper” technique fosters nothing but ill feelings. Verble explains, “If I arrive home late and my husband greets me with ‘You’re late again,’ it does no good for me to counter, ‘What about you? You’re never on time.’ It’s hard for some of us to resist, but it’s worth the effort.”
- Do not offer excuses or retreat into silence. Defensiveness leads nowhere, and silence in this context is far from passive. Both of these responses cut off further discussion.
- Do not use dishonest “agreement.” If you appear to agree with the criticism but honestly do not, your critic will look for evidence of change. When nothing happens, it will seem to the critic as though you have been lying.
Behavior experts say we should avoid destructive responses like those above, and we should also help our critics. Here’s how:
- Be quiet and listen. Rein in your emotions and try to hear what your critic is actually saying.
- Ask for more information, if needed. A simple “Can you be more specific?” is a good way to start.
- Ask for a solution, or for help in finding one. “What specifically would you like me to do?” often clears the air.
When you find a criticism valid, you then have three options:
- Straightforward acceptance. “You’re right—I see your point. I won’t do that again.”
- Delay. Your critic has initiated this confrontation, which is to his or her advantage. But you seldom have to give an immediate answer. Something like “I need time to think about what you’ve said. Let’s come back to it in the morning” is a reasonable response and gives you some measure of control.
- Disagreement. When you disagree, be diplomatic: “I can understand how you feel, but I’m sorry I can’t feel the same.” Or you can focus your disagreement, accepting part of the criticism. “If my husband says, ‘You’re late tonight; you’re always late,’” Verble explains, “I can agree with the first part, which is true, but not the second part, which is untrue. This response often helps both parties to better define the criticism.”
Sometimes, standing up for yourself requires you to be the critic. The cardinal rule in giving criticism is never to do it publicly. Do it privately to give the person every opportunity to save face, and criticize when it will achieve the most good. Don’t let resentments build up.
“Because it takes so long to work up courage to criticize,” Marsha Linehan says, “many of us match the criticism to the courage and make judgmental, all-encompassing accusations instead of sticking with the much smaller criticism we wanted to make.”
Separate the deed from the person and be sure you know what the deed is. It’s not enough to say, “He’s driving me crazy.” Zero in on the specific behavior problem you want to help correct. If it is a habit of constantly interrupting, stay with that. Since people usually change just one behavior pattern at a time, it’s best to limit your criticism to a single goal.
Specifically, what does this behavior cause? Antagonism? Lost time? Be sure you know, because this is your basic reason for criticizing. Explain how you will help.
Empathize with the person you criticize. Use the pronoun “I” often. “It helps if you couch your criticism in terms of ‘When you do X, I feel Y,’” Linehan says.
Select a good time and place. Sharp criticism the very minute a spouse walks in the door from work or just before an employee leaves on vacation almost assuredly will be poorly received.
Follow your criticism with appreciation for positive characteristics. If you criticize someone for constantly interrupting, be sure you also explain how much you need his or her ideas and information.
Verble recommends that no criticism be longer than three or four sentences, beginning with a statement of desire: “I wish you’d call when you’re going to be late (desire). When you don’t call, I worry that something may have happened to you (effect). If you call when you know you’re going to be late, I’ll start dinner later (incentive and how the person will help).” Most of us will almost always react positively to something like that.
People who learn these basic techniques for improving the way they criticize and respond to criticism seem to go through life without emotional upsets that plague so many of us.They believe that criticism can be a positive tool, and it works that way.
© 1988 BY RICHARD F. GRABER. MARATHON WORLD (ISSUE 2, ’88), 600 GRANT ST., PITTSBURGH, PA 15230
It’s bad enough when walls are thin
And quarrels overheard,
But even worse to have this din
and not catch every word!
–Quoted by Ron Alexander in New York Times