Today in the workplace I was yet again exposed to the not-so-gentle art of manipulation.
It has taken me a long time to realise that people who manipulate should be pitied, not criticised or judged. It was very easy, when I first realised what manipulation was about and how it was used, to be very angry at it and those who employed it as a tactic. If offended my sense of fair play. But manipulators are mostly (not always, but mostly) simply people with a inadequate set of choices about how to deal with situations.
There are those for whom manipulation is a deliberate choice, and they are to be pitied and avoided, and if possible exposed. But, mostly, manipulation is just a way of interacting, of getting things done, and we all have our own ways of doing that.
Why should manipulators be pitied? Well, quite simply, they are missing out on the most beautiful part of being alive! There is a particular joy, and excitement in every day interactions that you cannot share, if your default setting is to manipulate. Our interactions should be for mutual benefit and mutual gain. That mutuality is key to the most amazing opportunities to discover and enjoy people and the world around us! Manipulators, by definition are lonely people. They have lost out on the most incredible source of joy – the privilege of another person’s time, support, and willing engagement.
If we manipulate, yes we might get what we want, but we won’t get what we NEED. And what we need is the gift of each other. People who DON”T manipulate run the constant risk that they might not get what they want. But, actually, that’s OK. People who don’t manipulate learn to trust; to sow in order to reap; to protect goodwill as a valuable interpersonal asset, and – most importantly – to co-exist comfortably in a world that they do not dominate. This requires compromise and collaboration, and instantly makes us into nicer people.
What is manipulation? Well the dictionary says it is “skilful or artful management” Quite frankly that definition disgusts me. I get the feeling it was written by a manipulator! Another more preferable definition is “Shrewd or devious management, especially for one’s own advantage”.
Over time, I have come to realise that the deep seated desire of a manipulator is to remove the other person’s ability to say “no”. Pure and simple, the idea is to make sure that when decision time comes, no-one can successfully object to the way YOU want things done. It happens everywhere, at work, in friendships and in marriage.
The moment one person seeks to gain something without an equal quid pro quo, its manipulation.
Often there is an element of withholding, of hiding or massaging the truth, permitting half truths and allowing incorrect or incomplete assumptions to be made. That is why the word “devious” was used above. Lawyers are skilled manipulators when cross-examining a witness – it is a recognised and acceptable legal tool for digging out truth that is being deliberately hidden.
Politicians are very shrewd manipulators, and this is probably not so good. The almost religious worship of and quest for power in politics often undermines the foundation on which they are given power – the well being of society and the people.
Manipulators also get other people to be in the line of fire. They make sure the benefits come to them, but the risk is carried by other people.
Manipulation is often a symptom of a dry and desolate spirit, an inability to engage as an equal. It is a joyless practice, where the only reward is getting what we want. And when we only get what we want, we miss out on so, so much of what we actually need.