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How to neutralize manipulators.

Learn how to spot these devious people and thwart the psychological games they play.

The pressures associated with the myriad changes taking place in healthcare today provide an environment that encourages people at all levels of an organization to manipulate others. Manipulation occurs when a person tries to control another without appearing to do so. The action can be blatantly aggressive or amazingly passive.[1] It may be a conscious attempt to control or may be carried out on a subconscious level.

Manipulators typically enjoy their ploys to control others. Many feel exhilarated each time they are successful at putting something over on another.[2] When these actions are done subconsciously, manipulators feel better about themselves.

Because manipulative actions are far less effective when the targeted individual is aware of the manipulator's intentions, it behooves us all to be more alert to certain behavior in the workplace and to learn how to protect ourselves from other people's attempts to control.

Methods to their madness

Some manipulators achieve their objectives by instilling guilt or fear in other people. For example, when Joan left work early one afternoon because of a dental appointment, a manipulator called out, "Leaving us with all the work again, Joan?" (guilt-inducing). At a staff meeting, a laboratory supervisor responded to a staff member's query about the company's vacation policy by saying, "I'd be very careful about asking that question again if I were you!" (fear-inducing).

Aggressive manipulators intimidate, bully, and threaten. One such schemer might say to a coworker, for example, "If you don't come up with a good way to improve Stat turnaround time by the end of the week, I'll have to take it up with the boss."

Passive manipulators con, seek pity, request rescue, or try to use flattery: "Oh, you can run that test much quicker than I can, so you might as well finish it up." Or, "I have four kids at home, so you can't schedule me for the weekend shift." A comprehensive list of typical manipulative behavior is shown in Figure 1.

Self-imposed manipulation

Do you ever find yourself doing things for others that you really would rather not do? For instance, you might buy an unnecessarily expensive car for your teenager or an exorbitantly priced bottle of wine for your boss. Doing so makes you feel guilty, and yet, if you hadn't made these purchases, you would have suffered from guilt anyway.

Self-imposed guilt and fear are ghost manipulations from earlier periods in our lives that haunt us down the road.[1] As adults, many of us still look to our parents for approval. Feeling guilty about leaving our homes messy in the morning as we rush off to work is a perfect (and also common) example of such self-imposed penitence.

Why are people susceptible to manipulation (whether self-imposed or otherwise)? Why do some of us fail to exert our assertive rights? Figure 2 highlights the types of people who are the most susceptible to manipulators.

Types of devious controllers

Now, let's take a look at the various types of manipulators lurking in the workplace:

Over-reacting employees. These folks respond to requests for increased productivity with plaintive protests such as, "I can't do all that!" or "That's not in my job description!" When their leader persists, there may be a bombastic display of ill temper that intimidates even the stout-hearted. At performance evaluation time, these people react to a less-than-outstanding review by ranting and raving, threatening to resign, claiming favoritism, and/or storming out of the room.

Self-declared victims. These people get their way by whining, crying, pouting, or clamming up for hours on end. They call in sick whenever someone pushes their hot buttons.

Hypersensitive people. These thin-skinned individuals take offense at almost anything when it serves their hidden agendas. Their reactions include bursting into tears, dashing off to the restroom, and claiming sudden illness to stay out of the workplace.

Passive aggressives. These employees conceal their antagonistic behavior. They pretend to be helpless while infuriating their superiors and associates. Lacking the confidence to challenge authority directly, they express their anger indirectly. They may show up late for meetings, submit incomplete reports, or spill coffee on their supervisor's desk. They probably will apologize superficially, offer endless excuses, or just say nothing. Inwardly, however, they enjoy the anger and discomfort they cause other people.

Sycophants. Supporting bosses and giving them credit for their ideas is loyalty in action. But remember, undeserved praise is a form of manipulation.

Reverse delegators. These "upward dumpers" practice a form of manipulation in which they try to get their supervisors to do their work. For example, Sue, a chemistry technologist, hates to tinker with balky instruments so she calls Jerry, her supervisor, whenever an instrument acts up. When Jerry arrives, Sue mumbles something about other duties, and rashes off - to the coffee shop, that is!

Exploitative leaders. Certain supervisors and team leaders are expert manipulators. A few are human chameleons - nice one day, monsters the next. You never know what they will do next.[3] Often they promise more than they deliver. They may say they agree with you on some issue but that rules and regulations prevent them from acting on your behalf.

Others practice a form of upmanship," using discourteous maneuvers to distract or fluster their victims. Manipulators are notorious for keeping people waiting, interrupting them in the middle of sentences, and breaking off discussions to make or receive unimportant phone calls.

How to confront manipulators

"The name of the game is to get your emotions out of the way and let your mind take charge."[1]

Authenticate the manipulation. Become more sensitive to manipulative attempts. Your initial feelings may be that you are being used. Passive forms of manipulation may elicit suspicion, distrust, resentment, or guilt, while aggressive forms will leave you feeling angry or defensive. To make matters worse, you may feel additional guilt for even having these emotions.

Whenever you hear a "but" or a "should," suspect manipulation:

* "I don't mean to sound demanding, but...."

* "You should be more considerate of my wishes in this matter."

It's important to ask yourself, "Exactly what emotion am I feeling?" Then question, "Why is this person trying to manipulate me?" If the feeling is one of guilt, turn off your self-imposed guilt button right away. If you feel fear or anger welling up, tell yourself the workplace is not the time or the place to afford yourself the luxury of becoming emotional.[1]

To determine if true manipulation is taking place, simply tell the person in question how you feel. This allows the individual the opportunity to apologize for inappropriate behavior or to give a reasonable explanation for it.[1] On the other hand, if, after telling the person how you feel, you get an argument or a denial, chances are you're being manipulated.

Ignore what was said or done. Always give people a chance to clean up their act. Ignore what is being said or done to you, and continue to treat them in a friendly fashion. This response usually nullifies a manipulation. It can ease controllers out of their subconscious need to control you and can actually make them doubt themselves.[1] It also will earn you enough increased respect from them that they treat you better in the future. Case in point:

Physician: "Where can I find the idiot tech who sent me this incomplete test report?"

Laboratorian: (No response. She continues to work at the computer.)

Physician: "Hey you! What's the matter with you? Are you deaf?."

Laboratorian: (Now acknowledging the irate doctor.) "Oh, hi, Dr. Jones. How can I help you?"

If, after such a dialogue, the manipulator's obnoxious behavior continues or escalates, move on to one of the following techniques:

Escape. This can be either physical or conversational. If, for example, the physician cited above continues using nasty comments, respond in one of the following ways:

* "I have other things that need my attention now." (Then either walk away from the physician or turn your attention elsewhere.)

* "I heard you." (Then walk away.)

* "I'm not going to argue with you. Now, please go on." (Stay and listen to what else the physician has to say.)

Expose the manipulation. Hold up the manipulator's behavior for someone else to see. Once the manipulator has said something unreasonable or intimidating, call someone else over and ask the manipulator to repeat what was said. Now the manipulator probably will feel guilty - exactly the way he or she tried to make you feel.

Be vulnerable; play victim. State how you feel when the manipulator makes demands on you or puts you down. (It's okay to exaggerate a bit.) Examples:

* "I get upset when people yell at me." An irate rebuttal will prove a manipulation has taken place.

* "I get uptight when people speak to me in that condescending way."

Whenever possible, use the first person pronoun to focus in on the manipulator's negative behavior - not the manipulator. Constantly stating "you" puts the manipulator on the defensive (something you hope to avoid).

Use special verbal techniques to deal with criticism. The technique of fogging (agreeing with part of a critical remark), negative assertion (openly admitting to negative things about oneself), and negative inquiry (inviting still more criticism) can minimize anxiety. On the other hand, logic, argument, and counter-criticism seldom work.[4] (See Figure 3 for suggestions on how not to respond to manipulative behavior.)

The habitual schemer

Following are a few helpful hints for coping with chronic manipulators:

* Never trust or rely on these deceptive people. Think twice before making commitments to them. Try to ferret out what they're really after. Generally, it is counterproductive to accuse people of manipulation, however, it is appropriate to describe the impact of what they have said or done on your feelings.

* Be on the lookout for false claims of authority. Never assume people have complete jurisdiction just because they were sent to discuss something with you, but do not challenge such false claims with accusations of distorting the truth.

* When an employee responds to your justified criticism with manipulative behavior, don't back down by apologizing for what you've said. In the long run, responding with, "Gosh, I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings," isn't going to do you or your coworkers any good.

* Recognizing the cause of manipulative behavior is helpful in coping with it. When it is based on anxiety or feelings of powerlessness, people may be encouraged to verbalize their feelings to minimize their anxiety.[5] This is especially true when dealing with patients or employees.

* In some cases, limit-setting is effective against manipulative behavior and can increase feelings of security. For example, a lab supervisor may say to the employee who avoids extra assignments by loudly complaining and throwing things around, "I'm always ready to listen to your complaints, but I will not tolerate loud outbursts in front of the staff." If, on the other hand, the supervisor appears to be indecisive, the result may be more manipulation.[5]

While manipulators can often gain a temporary advantages over their victims, sooner or later the negative behavior catches up with those who play these psychological games. Every manipulator must live with at least a small modicum of guilt that bubbles up from their subconscious memory banks from time to time. People who lie to get their way usually are found out and may even be ostracized by their colleagues.[6]

Our on-the-job relationships can be improved or enhanced, and much unnecessary emotional stress can be avoided, if we learn how to detect and effectively neutralize manipulators.

Figure 1

Examples of manipulative behavior

* What is said is different from what is meant, e.g., someone saying yes when he or she means no

* Name dropping

* Shading the truth, exaggerating, or cheating

* Passing the buck

* Understating the downside

* Using language that masks reality

* Misrepresenting facts, authority, or intention

* Exaggeration of influence

* Threatening to take action or to withhold action

* Flattering or pandering

* Blaming another for mistakes

* Taking credit where credit isn't due

* Divulging confidential information

* Directing subordinates to violate rules, policies, or laws

* Practicing unethical and illegal behavior

Figure 2

What types of people are most susceptible to manipulation?

* People who are insecure and who suffer from low self-esteem

* Those concerned about offending others or worried about what others might think of them

* People with a strong sense of obligation or responsibility

* Individuals who fear they may be taking advantage of others

* People with a physical appearance that reflects vulnerability (i.e., small, frail stature; timid body language) and those with introverted mannerisms (i.e., low/soft voice)

Source: Davidhizar R. Handling manipulation. The Health Care Supervisor. April 1990;8(3):37-44.

Figure 3

How not to respond to manipulation

* Never become apologetic.

* Don't accuse the person of manipulation or of trying to get you to feel guilty or afraid. Doing so will only bring on a greater attack as the person denies he's manipulating you, paints you into the crazy corner, or openly points out your guilt for all to see. Eventually, he will get you so angry you'll wind up saying or doing something stupid.

* Refrain from getting into a battle. Argument simply leads to further argument. Remember: A fight avoided is a fight won.

* Don't counterattack, especially once you have made yourself vulnerable. If you fight back, you're only playing by his rules, Follow your own guidelines by taking evasive action and neutralizing the manipulation.

Source: Green GH, Cotter C. Stop Being Manipulated. New York, NY: Berkley Books; 1995.

1. Green GH, Cotter C. Stop Being Manipulated. New York, NY: Berkley Books; 1995: 6-10, 50-91, 111-143.

2. Payne B. Managing the manipulation in the OR. AORN J. 1977;26(5):839-842.

3. Hochheiser RM. How to Work for a Jerk. New York, NY: Vintage Books; 1987: 27.

4. Smith MJ. When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. New York, NY: Random Books; 1975:100-119.

5. Davidhizar R. Handling manipulation. The Health Care Superv. 1990;8(3):37-44.

6. Cohen AR, Bradford DL. Influence Without Authority. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons; 1990. Preface.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:manipulation in the healthcare environment
Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Aug 1, 1997
Words:2352
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