12 Manipulation Tactics Used in Business and Life


The end of the year is kind of an interesting time. People are taking stock.They’re thinking about how to close the year on an upnote, while starting the new year with a clean slate. This can be true for sales, advertising, bloggers who want to bring in readers and television networks wishing to bring in ratings. They tug at our heartstrings, urge us with urgency and guilt us into submission.

Manipulation doesn’t have to be a negative thing, either. Sometimes it’s a strong, but positive sales pitch, or using pictures of emaciated children to guilt us into donating. Other times, some pretty pushy people use whatever means possible to get things to go their way, even if it’s not always legal. Everyone has their own methods of manipulation and if we’re not careful we can fall for some pretty dirty tricks.

What follows are some tried and true manipulation tactics.

Are you going to fall for them?

1. Expectation

Expectations are a funny thing. We’re disappointed when we don’t meet someone else’s expectations of us. We also worry about disappointing the people we work for, work with, and love. It’s one thing to set our bar on a high notch, it’s a whole other story when others set up that bar for us because they want us to follow a particular direction. It’s even worse when the failure to meet expectations is thrown back in our faces. Making sure expectations are realistic is one way to get around this. However, when other people set expectations for you, this is easier said than done.

2. Guilt

Guilt is what happens when folks want to make us feel bad about not doing what they want us to do. They pout. They cry. They let us know how disappointed they are in us. They show us pictures of the underprivileged and tell us to feel bad about our successes or they make us feel as if we’re bad people for not following a certain direction. Often times, it’s guilt that causes us to save the children or buy a certain brand of whatever will make us the best parents.  Understanding that guilt is a tactic, and only a tactic, and not falling for a guilt trip will enable you to make the decisions that are best for you and no one else. You may not feel good about it at first, but eventually you’ll come to realize you’re doing the right thing.

3. Bribery

If you do a good job in school, you’ll get a gold star. If you land an important campaign you’ll get a bonus. If you go to Aunt Martha’s house Mom will buy ice cream on the way home. Sometimes bribery is disguised as incentive, but it’s all in the same family. Incentives aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They get us discounts or put money in the bank. However, when someone offers you a perk to do the wrong thing, that’s when bribery goes beyond incentive into something that’s unethical and illegal. The problem with bribery, such as the aforementioned Aunt Martha scenario, is that when folks won’t do something unless they have incentive, it gets harder to get them to do things out of the goodness of their heart. They develop a “what’s in it for me” approach to life, and come to expect bribes or incentive for everything they do.

puppet 1

4. Blackmail

Blackmail is worse than bribery because it’s rarely ever positive. It’s when other make us follow the behaviors they want to follow or they will do something to embarrass us, ruin our lives or harm our careers. Threatening to expose someone to elevate your own career, is blackmail. Threatening to do damage if certain (undeserved) funds aren’t received is blackmail. The reason most people don’t report blackmail is because they don’t want their dirty laundry, the reason behind the blackmail, exposed to the public. Sometimes it’s worth it, though, in order to show the other party you won’t be bullied.

5. Anger

I used to work for a woman who was the worst kind of boss. Her way of getting things done to her satisfaction was to belittle, tease, insult and yell at the people who worked for her. Or, rather, the people who allowed for it to happen.  In the early days of my publishing career I allowed myself to be pushed around quite a bit. Eventually, though, I found my backbone and quit. People are afraid of anger. They don’t want to be the victim of someone else’s wrath. They don’t want to be embarrassed or humiliated in front of others, and they don’t deserve this type of treatment. No job or relationship is worth abuse and it’s best to nip it in the bud, and leave the toxic relationship before it truly gets out of hand.

6. Persuasion

Persuasion doesn’t have to be a negative form of manipulation. It can be the conveniently placed kiosk at the mall, the loss leaders in the supermarket flyer, a sale, the pretty accessories that are displayed with an outfit at the department store, or a television commercial. Persuasion can also be someone trying to talk you into something that doesn’t interest you by offering the finer points, or it can be the marketing newsletter sent out by your favorite social media guru, which is really a vehicle to get you to buy his course or ebook.

7. Enticement

The free appetizers and half priced drinks at happy hour entice patrons of a bar to stay and pay full price. Half priced kids tickets at a movie theater entice parents to come paying full price. A headlining star entices us into attending charity events and a fresh snowfall invites us to go sledding. Sales entice us into entering a store. Like persuasion, enticement isn’t a negative form of manipulation, unless used in a negative manner. It’s an incentive, an action to get a more lucrative reaction.

puppet 2

8. Shame

When a child doesn’t produce good grades, a parent might shame him into doing better work. When a salesperson doesn’t produce, the head of his department might shame him by rewarding all the other sales people but him. When a third world country experiences a catastrophe, charitable organizations might shame us into giving by making us feel bad for what we have. When an office worker or school mate doesn’t dress in the latest fashion or act in a hip manner, those around him might shame him with gossip and ridicule. No one likes to be teased, bullied or made fun of. No one likes to be made an example of.

9. Encouragement

We encourage our children to get good grades with praise and the promise of a successful life. We encourage folks to buy our products with the promise of a positive result. We encourage our favorite sporting teams with with cheers and colors. Most people don’t need physical rewards, they need to hear that they’re doing the right thing or that they’re on the right track. A few positive words go a long way.

10. Blame

It’s easier to put off a bad result on someone else than to look within ourselves. An argument is always the other party’s fault. People aren’t buying because they don’t have money, not because it’s the wrong product at the wrong time. We didn’t get good grades or a raise or promotion because our teacher or boss just doesn’t like us. We use blame into manipulating others to take up our side. We also use blame to avoid our own responsibility.

11. Criticism

Criticism can be a bad grade or status report. It can be hearing that your blog design is ugly or that you need more singing lessons. Most criticism is polite and constructive though there are plenty of people who are purposely negative and mean when they criticize. There’s no such thing as bad feedback, however. As much as we don’t like to hear it, use constructive criticism as an opportunity for improvement.

12. Playing the Victim

Poor me. No one likes me. No one understands me. Sigh. Will I ever get it right? Why do bad things only happen to me? He doesn’t like me. He’s out to get me. I’m so sick. I’m so tired.

The problem with playing the victim all the time is that eventually people stop coming to your rescue. Eventually, people will write you off as a whiner, even when you truly do have an emergency.

What are some of the manipulation tactics you notice – and how do you get around them?

Images via stock xchnge

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  • http://www.social-media-design.com/ Lori Randall Stradtman

    We must be related. LOL Your description of some these manipulations is too spot on! People pleasing is the soft spot that I’m working on firming up right now. As a freelancer, it’s tempting to give into manipulations for all the highest intentions, but at the heart of it there might just must be some fear of what others might think that needs to be laid to rest.