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  • Bob Burg

“You've basically revolutionized the way we are doing business. . . Your teaching style is very, very effective.”

~ Thomas J. Bartosic, SVP, Career Sales, G.E. Financial Assurance

The Telltale Signs of Manipulation

August 5th, 2010 by Bob Burg

In the previous article, we saw that the key difference between persuasion and manipulation is intent. Certainly not all there is to it; it goes deeper than that, and some of the excellent comments, both from those who agreed and disagreed with my basic premise, eloquently pointed that out.

I called persuasion and manipulation cousins because both are based on certain principles of human actions. These principles are not inherently positive or negative; they simply are. Again, this comes back to intent.

Two asterisked remarks concluded the article. The first basically said that while the principles and methods can be similar or often even the same, there is something that a manipulator will do that a persuader never will, and it’s important you are aware of it:

A manipulator will play on your negative emotions in order to elicit your compliance. In other words, if you fail to comply with their request, they will then try and make you feel bad, selfish, naive, foolish, guilty or whatever emotion will cause you to capitulate to their desire in order for you to obtain relief from those negative feelings.

So, how then can you tell; how can you be aware that someone is in the process of trying to manipulate you? It’s actually very easy to recognize:

  1. You feel any of the negative emotions mentioned above.
  2. You are being asked to do something that you simply would not do of your own free will; if you had the chance not to.

Good news: You have the free will and you absolutely can refuse. Just stay conscious of what is happening. If you feel any type of negative emotions as you’re about to “do the thing” ask yourself why? You’ll know the answer. And, as far as refusing? Just be polite and don’t make excuses as to why you are not going along with them. Any excuses will simply be looked at as “objections” which the manipulator is an expert at overcoming.

If you’d like to know a simple, yet effective way of saying no graciously, and in a way that cannot be refuted by the manipulator, feel free to check out this brief two-part article.

By the way, manipulation comes in varying degrees and isn’t always of mal-intent (though it still ain’t a good thing!). For instance, the person who wants you to serve on the committee certainly isn’t evil. They may really believe it’s for the “greater good” (that reason being — at times — one of the greatest causes of evil events, but that’s another post) and don’t even realize they are being manipulative. They just want you to do it.

But it’s still manipulation. Of course, I’m not saying whether or not you should serve on the committee. That’s up to you. I’m only suggesting that, if you do, it should be because you consciously choose to and it is congruent with your values and desires; not because someone manipulated you into doing it.

The second asterisk was about questioning and keeping on top of our own motives in order to not cross that often “fine line” between positive persuasion and negative manipulation.

And, we’ll discuss that in the next article.

2 Responses to “The Telltale Signs of Manipulation”
  1. Russ Thoman said at 9:19 pm on

    More than one sales thought leader has advocated the importance of steppin’ on the prospect’s pain–making them cry, so to speak–until the pain of their current circumstances exceeds the risk of the seller’s proposed remedy. Some see this tactic as Exhibit A for sales manipulation, while others see it as a very legitimate way of leveraging negative emotions to motivate action. Both sides make strong arguments (or justifications/rationalizations, depending on which side you’re on) for their philosophically polar opposite positions.

    For me, in most–if not all–circumstances, I would be uncomfortable with intentionally stepping on a prospect’s psychological sore toe in order to “motivate” him to action. (I am open to the possibility that I am incorrect in my view, btw.)

    What say you, Bob?

  2. Bob Burg said at 10:40 pm on

    Hi Russ, while I believe there is a proper time and place to effectively and persuasively communicate to one’s prospect that they are better off with your product than without it (this would cover both of the well-established motivating factors of “The pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain”) I would be absolutely opposed to doing it in such a way that you describe above. Although I don’t discuss this point specifically in tomorrow’s article, I believe you’ll see where I’m coming from in this regard. Thank you for writing.

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