Manipulate Like a Boss

We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.
— Robert Louis Stevenson

All humans are manipulative. And if you're like me, you're already wincing and recoiling at this statement. Hang in there with me for a moment though. After clarifying and discussing with Dr. Steve Harris (my mentor's mentor), I want to offer what he so graciously took the time to share with me. So let's get our foundation set:

  • Fact #1: All humans are manipulative.
  • Fact #2: How the manipulation comes out determines the health of the person.

Still uneasy? Ok...maybe a clarification on the definition. Dr. Harris recognizes, "Manipulation as a word definitely gets a bad rap. But manipulation extends itself into many spheres as this definition shows:

Manipulation is the skillful handling, controlling or using of something or someone. Whether it's the sculpture you made in art class or how you convinced your friend to do your homework — both are considered manipulation."

Based on this, we can see that manipulation can have either an incredible result displayed throughout museums the world over or a painful, hurtful consequence laced with heartache and tears.

What does it look like in relationships? There are four forms of manipulation:

  • Seductive
  • Deceptive
  • Intimidating
  • Negotiating
Negotiation is the highest and most desirable form since it is more relational and mutually respectful.
— Dr. Steve Harris

The first three are focused only on my needs. Negotiation is the only healthy form of manipulation as it invites the needs of others (note: "invites" is radically different from "take responsibility for").  Dr. Harris expounds on this idea, "Negotiation is the highest and most desirable form since it is more relational and mutually respectful. The others, tend to be either less direct, one-sided, or misrepresentational."

He continues, "Although when manipulations are exposed, they more often than not, reveal something less than desirable. But with negotiation, it stops being one person's act upon another, but both people trying to benefit." (Think: Separate/Equal/Open)

We seduce, deceive and/or intimidate to protect ourselves, preventing another from seeing us. It's incredibly vulnerable to recognize our own neediness and it's another thing to share that with someone. We would rather get our needs met without taking ownership of them because it's less threatening to our sense of self. Yet we become bitter and resentful when the other does not meet our needs because we refused to offer them. We are so focused on what is and is not being met that we have little to no capacity to see or give to the other person. 

Dr. Harris points out no relationship is satisfying when both parties are "doing things to each other that may not be direct. We don't like hidden agendas. I think another thing that [we] don't like about manipulation is that something is less exposed, less direct, perhaps even less honest."

Another thing we don’t like about manipulation is that something is less exposed, less direct, perhaps even less honest.
— Dr. Steve Harris

We long for what is true and authentic; it provides safety, stability, and security. Trust is inherent and required for any thriving relationship. It's why betrayal and deception can shatter what seemed like a sturdy foundation. In order to create and establish trustworthy relationships, we will need to be open and honest about who we are, who we are not, our longings, hopes, fears, dreams, failures, triumphs, sorrows, joys. "Perhaps the healthier manipulation becomes, the less it is manipulation and more mutual respect or mutual cooperation--the manipulation is transformed," Dr. Harris.

Will we choose to be people of clarity and truth, honoring our needs by sharing them with another and inviting their needs to be known? 

We need to be open and honest about who we are, who we are not, our longings, hopes, fears, dreams, failures, triumphs, sorrows, joys.

Tiffany Dang

Tiffany Dang, LPC, Austin, TX