10 Techniques Used by Manipulators (and How to Fight Them)
by Jessica Stillman
Psychopaths aren't just the villains in slasher movies and Wall Street morality tales. They walk among us in offices every day, appearing at first like normal colleagues. One study found that a small but significant portion of business leaders--3 to 4 percent--meet the clinical definition of a psychopath.
The same goes for narcissists. Science shows a touch of narcissism can actually aid business success, but spend any time at all in the world of work and you quickly discover some professionals let their self-love run wild.
The long and short of it is this: In the course of a normal business career you're almost guaranteed to run into a few truly toxic narcissists and psychopaths who will try to abuse and manipulate you. Which is what makes a hugely in-depth Thought Catalog article on the subject so valuable.
Not only does it lay out a whopping 20 techniques toxic people use to get what they want, it also provides suggestions on how to counter their manipulations. The excerpts below might seem extensive, but these 10 short summaries are actually just a small fraction of the advice available in the complete post.
"Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic that can be described in different variations of three words: 'That didn't happen,' 'You imagined it,' and 'Are you crazy?'" Thought Catalog explains. "Gaslighting is perhaps one of the most insidious manipulative tactics out there because it works to distort and erode your sense of reality; it eats away at your ability to trust yourself and inevitably disables you from feeling justified in calling out abuse and mistreatment."
How can you fight back? "Ground yourself in your own reality--sometimes writing things down as they happened, telling a friend, or reiterating your experience to a support network can help to counteract the gaslighting effect," suggests the post.
You know when toxic people claim all the nastiness that surrounds them is not their fault, but yours? That's called projection. We all do it a little, but narcissists and psychopaths do it a lot. "Projection is a defense mechanism used to displace responsibility of one's negative behavior and traits by attributing them to someone else," notes Thought Catalog.
The solution? "Don't 'project' your own sense of compassion or empathy onto a toxic person and don't own any of the toxic person's projections either," the article recommends. "Projecting our own conscience and value system onto others has the potential consequence of being met with further exploitation."
You said a co-worker sometimes fails to consider the long-term ramifications of a certain financial decisions. The office psychopath claims you called him "a loose cannon." You noted the deal could possibly go south if X, Y, and Z conditions occur. Your narcissistic colleague tells the boss you said the deal is "a disaster."
What's going on? It's not just that your nemesis didn't understand what you said. It's that he or she had no interest in understanding.
"Malignant narcissists aren't always intellectual masterminds--many of them are intellectually lazy. Rather than taking the time to carefully consider a different perspective, they generalize anything and everything you say, making blanket statements that don't acknowledge the nuances in your argument or take into account the multiple perspectives you've paid homage to," Thought Catalog says, summing up this behavior.
To counter it, "hold onto your truth and resist generalizing statements by realizing that they are in fact forms of black and white illogical thinking."
4. Moving the goal posts
"Abusive narcissists and sociopaths employ a logical fallacy known as 'moving the goalposts' in order to ensure that they have every reason to be perpetually dissatisfied with you. This is when, even after you've provided all the evidence in the world to validate your argument or taken an action to meet their request, they set up another expectation of you or demand more proof," says Thought Catalog.
Don't play that game. "Validate and approve of yourself. Know that you are enough and you don't have to be made to feel constantly deficient or unworthy in some way," advises the article.
5. Changing the subject
Switching conversational topics sounds innocent enough, but in the hands of a master manipulator, a change of subject becomes a means to avoid accountability. "Narcissists don't want you to be on the topic of holding them accountable for anything, so they will reroute discussions to benefit them," notes Thought Catalog.
This sort of thing can go on forever if you let it, making it impossible to actually engage on the relevant issue. Try "the "broken record method" to fight back: "Continue stating the facts without giving in to their distractions. Redirect their redirection by saying, 'That's not what I am talking about. Let's stay focused on the real issue.' If they're not interested, disengage and spend your energy on something more constructive."
Just because you've been dealing with this one since you encountered your first playground bully doesn't make it any less destructive (and apparently it continues all the way up to presidential politics).
Simply don't tolerate it. "It's important to end any interaction that consists of name-calling and communicate that you won't tolerate it," Thought Catalog says. "Don't internalize it: Realize that they are resorting to name-calling because they are deficient in higher level methods."
7. Smear campaigns
"When toxic types can't control the way you see yourself, they start to control how others see you; they play the martyr while you're labeled the toxic one. A smear campaign is a preemptive strike to sabotage your reputation and slander your name," explains Thought Catalog.
Sometimes true evil geniuses will even divide and conquer, pitting two people or groups against each other. Don't let them succeed. "Document any form of harassment," advises the post, and make sure not to rise to the bait and let the person's horribleness provoke you into behaving in just the sort of negative ways they've falsely attributed to you.
Beware when a colleague seems to love you while aggressively denigrating the last person who held your position. "Narcissistic abusers do this all the time--they devalue their exes to their new partners, and eventually the new partner starts to receive the same sort of mistreatment as the narcissist's ex-partner," says the post. But this dynamic can happen in the professional realm as well as the personal one.
Simple awareness of the phenomenon is the first step to countering it. "Be wary of the fact that how a person treats or speaks about someone else could potentially translate into the way they will treat you in the future," Thought Catalog cautions.
9. Aggressive jokes
The problem isn't your sense of humor, it's the hidden intention of that cutting joke. "Covert narcissists enjoy making malicious remarks at your expense. These are usually dressed up as 'just jokes' so that they can get away with saying appalling things while still maintaining an innocent, cool demeanor. Yet any time you are outraged at an insensitive, harsh remark, you are accused of having no sense of humor," the post says.
Don't let the office abuser gaslight you into thinking it was all innocent fun--it wasn't.
One of the smartest ways truly toxic people distract you from their nastiness is by focusing your attention on the supposed threat of another person. This is called triangulation. "Narcissists love to 'report back' falsehoods about what others say about you," warns Thought Catalog. To resist the tactic, realize that the third party in the drama is being manipulated as well--he or she is another victim, not your enemy.
You can also try "reverse triangulation," or "gaining support from a third party that is not under the narcissist's influence."
Have you personally experienced any of these manipulation techniques?
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