The Pros and Cons of Manipulation


Everyone manipulates. It's one of the first things we learn to do. But does it have a downside?

According to a new study, the use of manipulation is one way to test partner's love.

Manipulation as a technique for getting what we want is something we all learn as babies.  Even before we have figured out that the Mommy is another person, we begin experimenting with how to get her to react to us in different ways.  Of course we know how to whine and cry from the very beginning, and this gets a useful response at first.  Soon we begin to try faking emotion in order to see how Mommy will react.  Usually, Mom can tell the difference.  As we get older, we learn other ways of getting what we need or want. But none of us forgets how to manipulate and consciously or unconsciously, we use manipulation to get what we want even after we have learned how to ask directly and effectively.  Manipulation is used in sales and business relationships as well as personal relationships.  Seduction, persuasion, intimidation, and a whole lot of lying are all forms of manipulation.  Anytime we set out to evoke a feeling in another person in order to get what we want without asking for it directly, we are using manipulation.  What are the pros and cons of using manipulation?

It often works.  If I know what I want and I know how to evoke a feeling in the other person so that they will want to do what I want, manipulation is measurably effective.  Millions if not billions of dollars in research on marketing strategies points to this.
We are pretty good at it.  After all, we have been practicing since before we could walk, and we are initially very sensitive to others feelings and highly motivated to work out successful ways of influencing Mommy and Daddy.  So we are pretty good at reading others and guessing how to motivate them.  Some of us are much better at this than others. 

Plausible deniability.  If I come right out and ask you for what I want, it’s there on the table and I can’t deny it.  You can say no, and I may be left feeling disappointed and rejected.  But if I secretly do something to trigger feelings in you to act the way I want, and you choose not to, I can keep my disappointment to myself.

Power Since all relationships have an element of power in them, influencing your feelings through manipulation is one way I can exert power in our relationship.

It can backfire, big time. People often sense when they are being manipulated and it generates resentment.  If I think you are trying to manipulate me, exert power over me in a sneaky way, I won’t trust you in the future.  If I think you have successfully manipulated me, even if I don’t begrudge giving you what you wanted, I may want to withhold something from you to get even.  If I think you have been playing with my feelings, the power struggle between us will escalate and trust goes out the window.
Sometimes we manipulate before we think.  Before we even know exactly what we want, or evaluate the possibility of asking for it directly, we go right to the habit of manipulation.  This can lead to assumptions about one another that corrode the relationship.  Complaining, abusive criticism, guilt tripping, and other indirect versions of manipulation can become habitual in a relationship.  Another layer of the power struggle develops even though we did not intend it.  All because we were too casual about our use of manipulation, emotional blackmail, or intimidation.
It doesn’t always satisfy.  If I got you to say that you love me by manipulation, and I know that's how I did it, even if you don’t, do I really trust that you love me?  If you bought the car because of my sneaky sales pitch, will you ever buy another car from me?  If I got what I wanted, but the price was a sense of mistrust and secrecy, is that really what I wanted?


Testing a partner’s love through manipulation is probably very tempting, especially in the early stages of a relationship, when it may feel very risky to admit what I am feeling and what I want.  But it sets up an indirect and often unconscious power struggle that can have negative repercussions for the future of the relationship.

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Assertive Communication, asking clearly and honestly for what I want, has several advantages over manipulation.  First of all, it requires me to be clear and honest with myself about what I want.  More on assertiveness in future articles or on my website at