People constantly discuss good communication and «using your words», many can explain it far better than me. So, I decided to go in the opposite direction, and give you a manual on how to be unethical.

Although, we should start with one important point: manipulation is not the silver bullet. It has attracted a lot of myths, some of which put it on a pedestal of the most lucrative type of communication. This, to put it mildly, is not exactly true. The end result of frank and skilful negotiations usually far outweighs that of a manipulative approach.

Manipulation can and does yield results that no honest straightforward interaction can achieve, but such cases are few and far between. In actuality, people might use manipulation to gain certain — and considerable — satisfaction from the process. And that requires some skill.

In the case of manipulation, as well as many others, you need to know its basic principles, otherwise the methods might fail you.

Here I give you some of them, partly based on my experience, partly on the experience of others. The order is random. I don't expect them to be news to anyone — it's more about collecting them in one place. It is always better to learn from someone else's mistakes. Well, almost.

1. Find a way in

When you meet someone, the first step is finding their weak spot. Everyone has at least one, some have a lot (that's what we like to see).

These are usually simple and are about family, first love experience, or one's insecurities about their appearance/intellect (often produced by the first two).

Human weakness is the lever that you can repeatedly pull, so you would benefit from figuring them out from the get go. The list can go on and on, but the main pressure points should come up from the start. What do they fear? What do they dream about? What do they want and what stops them from achieving it? These should go on their chart, and you would have to analyze the whole lot of information and form a number of complex inductions (going from specific instances to general conclusions) — and you would have to do it fast. Primary information intake shouldn't take more than 10 minutes, the rest is details. People like being heard — so listen carefully.

2. Screencapture the DMs
All of them. And never delete the pics. It is best to put them in separate folders, one per person. Especially focus on stuff that they tell in a feat of open heartedness, obviously: when they say «off the record», it means they are about to share something crucial. First, it will ensure your own safety; secondly, people tend to treat better those who have some damaging material on them; and finally, see p. 1

Sidenote: if you are a reporter, this does not apply. This is important: you-person and you-professional are two different people. If you are a journalist, it does not exist if it's «off the record».

3. Never let anyone buy you train/plane tickets
You do not want anyone but your mother to have any sensitive data on you, like your passport ID, do you? Believe me, you don't.

This is how I've been falsely reported to Israeli police once. Nobody should ever have this sort of data about you. Repeat after me: nobody. fucking. ever.

4. Do not open up
It seems hard to do: after all, the best way to help someone to open up is to tell something personal about yourself first. Yet it is better to make something up, or tell something insignificant, framing it as if it were a big deal for you. This is kid's stuff, really.

Telling something truly crucial, your real plans and thoughts is, however, not a good idea — that would give ammunition to this person to use against you, and you do not want that. Do you? People trust those who trust them. Whether you tell them the truth does not matter.

The main thing is to not get caught. We'll discuss it in the next section.

5. Lie to the judge!
One crucial thing here you need to remember is that there is no difference between telling the truth and telling a lie: they are both just words. There is an equal chance that what you tell people will either be one or the other, and the recipient will never find out, which — so long as you do not get overwhelmed with details and figure out the proper structure.

To be a good liar, you need to believe what you're saying, skip unimportant details, and never forget to fact check.

6. Be nice!
When you want to ruin someone else's life, you shouldn't inform them. Never tell people what your real intentions are — remember what happened to Ned Stark? Don't be a Ned!

Be nice, friendly and understanding. Be polite. Be polite even when it seems impossible. Do not let your emotions influence what you do. When you want to do something nasty, it is best to have the trust of the person you're scheming against — then they would be more relaxed around you.

7. Help people
Make them feel indebted to you. Forget the words «No problem», «Happy to do it» and start using «You are welcome», «We'll figure something out». Your favour should always appear like it costs more than it actually does. Everything that requires your resources is worth something, even if you are just sharing some information: people should appreciate how generous you are.

8. Ask for help
People like to feel strong, successful, and generally amazing. We like those who laugh at our jokes the same way we like those who'd be lost without us: they make us look bigger.

Ask for help and/or patronage of those who might not like you much; or better yet, look for their expertise.

This is almost as effective as a proper use of flattery, since it, in fact, is a form of flattery.

Your pleas for help should not become a burden, though: if people feel you are using them, that will push them away.

Try to strike the balance.

9. Find what is lacking
Figure out what the person lacks, and give it to them.

That makes them more likely to cling to your emotional support — so long as you are consistent and build on it.

Everyone has a secret, internal pain, and by alleviating it, you can get enough power to get your interactions on the right track.

10. Do not over-complicate things
In most cases, there is no need for some kind of genius strategy.

In «Gossip Girl», a TV series that in big part is focused on the subject of manipulation, was this one scene: a character comes to school where she is bullied by the classmates of hers. One of them snatches the bag out of her hands, and spills the contents on the floor. The character asks ironically: «Is that it? I expected something more.» They answer: «Simple, but effective.» This is true: if you keep doing something as simple and mundane as that every day, that can drive anyone to the edge. This can be anything, really: see p. 1.

11. Use the fear
Find out what the person fears, and show to them that you can either protect them, or help them overcome that fear.

And again: see p. 1

12. Be unpredictable
Figure out what the person expects from you, and do the opposite. The next time, do exactly what they are expecting of you. Then do something different. Whenever people can't understand what actions might influence your behaviour, and in what way, it makes them confused and afraid — this time, of you.

13. Never complain, never explain
This is the golden rule of any communication. You are never at fault, someone else is. As soon as people realise you are human and can err, they are no longer in awe — which means you can never make mistakes, apart from the instances discussed in p. 4, i.e. when you need to demonstrate how vulnerable you are to gain their trust.

In other instances, guilt is extremely useful in controlling people, so find out what makes your opponents feel guilty, and never wallow in guilt yourself.

These are the principles of manipulation that give life to other, more concrete approaches and methods. The main point is, if you feel the need for this kind of interaction, you'd better let it out in the right way with the right people, instead of eating yourself up for this kind of intention. Otherwise, these intentions will get out anyway, only not at the right time, in the right situation, with the right people. Skillfully manipulating those you don't care about much, you can preserve good relationships with those you respect and are close enough to share your real self with them.

So, divide and conquer, and may every lil racoon find a home.

Translated by Marina Bazarnaya

«Manipulation: Symptoms to Look for», «The Ethics of Manipulation», «How to Tell If Someone is Manipulating You — And What to Do» — these are just some of the top results that come up when you Google «manipulation». These headlines evoke an image of an opportunist who skilfully uses anyone they meet to achieve their selfish goals. This sounds as though manipulation is not the best strategy, and we should always be against it. The alternative is usually cooperation, wherein the other person in the exchange is not a means to an end, but the whole point of the communication. And yet, why do we see manipulation as a bad, unacceptable strategy, while cooperation as a good, more desirable one? What is the advantage cooperation grants that manipulation cannot?

Let's say you are talking to a manipulative genius, and you managed to figure this out. This person manipulates intentionally. People who intentionally manipulate others usually score higher on the Machiavellianism scale. Machiavellianism, as well as psychopathy and narcissism, make up the «dark triad» of personality traits. Evolutionary psychologist McHoskey was one of the first people to suggest a connection between the three (McHoskey et al, 1998). Machiavellianism is defined as a worldview that allows you to use others for your own gain without regard for the consequences it may have on others. (Znakov, 2002). High Machs are pragmatic, can easily make decisions, are emotionally distant from people and situations alike, and always have a particular selfish goal in mind when they communicate with someone. For a while, Machiavellianism was viewed as an important leadership trait, whereas now it is seen in a more neutral light.

It seems logical that a master manipulator should be able to read the emotional state of others — otherwise, how would they be able to control them? The jury is still out on that one. Most of our research shows that those who score high in Machiavellianism are also worse at understanding the emotions of others. Not only that — they often are not aware of their own emotions and feelings (Al Aïn S. et al, Walker S. A. et al). There is also a correlation between people who recognize and understand the emotions of others, and avoiding intentional manipulation in communication.

Intentional manipulation is one of the subjects of research in evolutionary psychology, which gave us the so-called «Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis». According to this proposition, as humans evolved, they also refined their cognitive skills, in particular the ability to understand others. The hypothesis states that the more the person adapts, the easier it would be to obtain necessary information from others to lie and manipulate them. Critics of the hypothesis put forward the assumption that these adaptations help humans cooperate and learn more efficiently, and they are not used for manipulation or deceit. A study on a group of children from the ages of 3 to 7 (when the social skills are developing) shows that children use the information to imitate and learn, not to deceive or achieve a self-centered goal (Baimel A. et al). What does that tell us? First, manipulation does not appear to be the best strategy to achieve a goal. Second, if you decide to intentionally manipulate people, you would need to score high in Machiavellianism. So, the question «Why should I try to cooperate with someone I don't like instead of manipulating them?» should sound more like: «Why do I turn to manipulation in this particular situation?»

Now that we understand where intentional manipulation comes from, we can consider unintentional manipulation. Our parents' behavioral strategies are to blame. It can come about via immature defense mechanisms. They are called immature (or primitive) because they appear in childhood, when the child does not see themself as separate from the world around them. One of them is projective identification, and it lies in the center of unintentional manipulation. The mechanism was first described by Melanie Klein. To understand what it is, we should analyze both of its parts, first of which is projection. A person projects the source of their internal feelings into the world outside. Projecting your experience outside is important in order to understand others — it is the basis for empathy. But it can also distort how we see others, give them the traits we deny or dislike in ourselves (for example, a secretive and suspicious person can see the other as hostile or unfriendly). The second part is introjection. In this case, the external reality is seen as internal. Introjection helps a small child to identify with their parents and learn their behavior and emotions. Put these two together, and the person does not only have a distorted vision of others, but also influences them to act according to their unconscious fantasies. In other words, our internal state is projected onto reality, and we manipulate the other person so they will behave according to our introjected experience. This mechanism is set in motion when the person has issues expressing their emotions, dreams, and the psychological defense helps them to make those acceptable. Projective identification can also kick in when we cannot control our feelings and feel helpless. In this case, the unconscious manipulator basically gives themselves over to the other, someone who could «return» those feelings in a safer form.This gives the manipulator the feeling of security.

How do you recognize you are unintentionally manipulating someone? Usually, manipulative behavior puts stress on the relationship. We might feel we are not honest about our emotions, that we show only the emotions that fit the situation, and not what we actually feel.

One of the glaring examples of unintentional manipulation is when we start manipulating our personal boundaries, by either making them too narrow or too wide. For example, we act indifferent and cold, or show more enthusiasm and interest than we really have. Or maybe our non-verbal emotional cues do not align with what we say (imagine an indifferent face of a parent staring into his phone when he tells his child «Well done!»). So, in communication, the other person might get contradictory or hidden cues that realize the needs not openly expressed (the need for safety or acceptance).

In speech, unintentional manipulation can be gleaned from certain types of phrases:

● Overgeneralization: «You only think about yourself», «You never do anything»
● Devaluation: «Others have problems, too»
● Open contempt or condescension: «It's your problem, not mine», «You are just the kind of person who can't do that», «You wouldn't understand»
● Denial: «This is not a real problem, stop complaining». (In this case, the feelings of the other might be ignored, by neglecting that the person wants to discuss it or changing the subject.)

When someone manipulates intentionally, it's usually about some kind of tangible goal — for instance, money or social status. Unintentional manipulation has more intangible goals, like acceptance, communication, integration. Any type of manipulation, however, works to satisfy our needs without openly expressing them by controlling other people. This control is the unifying (or maybe even main) indicator. The manipulator doesn't care about the values or needs of others. So, the person becomes an object to manipulate. Some researchers view manipulation as destructive in nature: it withholds information from another, dehumanizes them, creates uncertainty, and deprives the object of manipulation of their agency.

Language is a tool we use to reach others, and it employs very contrived channels. It's like a game of telephone. That's why it is important to reflect on whether you got it right, whether they got what you sent them. It is important to be specific instead of giving the person just hints and clues, hoping they can read between the lines. We should communicate our thoughts, feelings and needs clearly, if we can. Instead of pointing fingers at others, claiming their behaviour to be manipulative — look inside yourself and ask whether you might be unconsciously manipulating others. Regularly answer the questions, «What do I want?» and «What do I really feel?» It is as simple as that. It might take a lot of attention and energy at first. The gentlest way is starting with yourself and working your way out to those that know and understand you, and becoming more conscious in our communication in general.

Author Polina Boichenkova
Translated by Marina Bazarnaya

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