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IS YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW REALLY SMART ENOUGH TO BE MANIPULATIVE?Posted Tuesday, September 1, 2009, at 12:25 PM
"She's just trying to push your buttons."
"He's such a manipulator."
We often accuse people of being manipulative, but do you know how hard it actually is
to manipulate others?
It may seem like when, say for example, your mother (or your mother-in-law) repeats the same subtle jabs over and over that she's doing it with the sole intent of making you nuts. Caustic comments can feel like they are aimed directly at your heart.
But in reality, it actually takes quite a bit of skill and strategy to be manipulative. I've spent years as a sales and leadership coach and another decade as a sales person myself, so trust me when I tell you, it's really hard to manipulate people.
You have to get inside their head, think about their hot buttons and how they respond to certain things, and then choose the exact words and phrases that will elicit the response you're going for. You have to be three emotional steps ahead of them if you really want to be good at it.
I've worked with super-smart CEOs and six-figure sales reps, and even they found it challenging.
Frankly, I think we give people too much credit. I don't think most of us are smart enough or disciplined enough to manipulate others.
Your mother-in-law or boss may be Machiavellian genius. But it's more likely their annoying commentary is their own unconscious brain chatter, not a well-crafted strategy to mess with your mind.
I know that some politicians do try to manipulate our thoughts, and many of them do it quite well. But they have speech writers, elaborate polling data and sometimes even behavior specialists and focus groups testing their messages before they start spinning them.
However, when your mother-in-law starts rearranging your throw pillows or your boss criticizes your font choice, they're probably very unaware of how their behavior is affecting you.
We've all been in situations where we felt like someone was purposefully trying to push our buttons, and who hasn't come back from a family gathering thinking, "I can't believe it, he or she did it to me again!"
We swore we wouldn't let them get to us, but it seemed like they knew exactly what to say to send us over the edge.
However, try to imagine it from their end. Do you honestly think they sat down beforehand with a piece of paper and said, "Let's make a list of all Betty's or Bob's hot buttons and then see if we can inflame them"?
I can envision it now, as the in-laws map out their strategy on a white board. They post a picture of the target at the top, then using an elaborate diagram of X's and O's, they plan their attack. "OK, Herb, you take criticizing her cooking, and I'll make snide remarks about his weight. Bill, don't forget to cover our flank with sarcastic comments about how they're raising the kids. Now on three, let's go manipulate these people. Ready, break!"
Next time you think someone is trying to manipulate you, you might want to pause and ask yourself: Do you really think they're that clever?
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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.
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