Healthy Manipulation

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Manipulation has certainly got a bad wrap, hasn’t it? People often manipulate each other in order to get what they want, without considering the goodwill of others. However, any sense of control is manipulation. If in the process of negotiating an agreement and coming up with a fair compromise, even this is a conversational manipulation – so it’s not always a bad thing. Very often, in fact, manipulation is intended to be beneficial to the receiver – and this is exactly the purpose of morals within stories. They create subtle manipulations in order to help someone lose or gain ideas.

Some examples of unhealthy manipulation….

An emotional manipulation conversation:
“You are so inconsiderate.”
“Are you trying to make me feel guilty?”

A sexual manipulation conversation:
“I’m really not ready to go that far with you yet”
“Come on baby, I thought you loved me….”

An action manipulation conversation:
“Can you take me to the mall?”
“I have homework…”
“Well, I think Theresa will be there…”

All of these types of manipulation are clearly designed to fill the needs of the manipulator, not the manipulatee. But what happens when manipulation is intended to create increased health for the recipient?

Storytelling (whether on TV, within conversation, or around the campfire) is the most common and effective form of manipulation. Next, let’s look at how storytelling can be used for both ‘selfish’ and ‘selfless’ gain, and is effective because it’s much more gentle for an abrasive topic than a direct inquiry might be.

Talking someone off the ledge:

“You have so much going for you!”

Softening the blow of a possibly irritating issue:

“Know that this statement is coming from my heart…”

Acknowledging someone to help them feel special:

“You are so good at….”

The key here, is that the human mind can easily misunderstand scenarios as ‘dangerous’, and can see well intentioned people as threats. Someone with positive and fair intentions can easily be misunderstood, and in fact this is usually the most common cause of conflict in the world. Simply by recognizing the ego’s need for acknowledgement, we are able to make so much more progress than if we were to assume that all of our intentions can be easily understood.


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Joshua Falcon-Grey

Co-Founder/Program Director and Creativity Leadership Trainer at True Participation
Joshua is a filmmaker and artist creating new ways in which story and technology can be combined toward healing experiences for a better world. He enjoys public/comedic speaking as well as providing personal, business branding, and relationship coaching. More info can be found on his personal site.

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  • fixable

    I’m brainstorming healthy versions of…
    “Can you take me to the mall?”
    “I have homework…”

    Any suggestions?

    • Falcon Dearest

      Interesting question!

      It’s definitely always appreciated when people’s needs are acknowledged, and being okay with a ‘no’ answer is often the way to go (unless something is urgent). Something as simple as “I see your needs, and here are my needs, and while I would appreciate your cooperation I totally understand if it’s not a good match for you right now”. This can go a long way in co-creating sustainably 🙂

      • fixable

        LOL I actually wasn’t understanding that these were snippets of conversations. I was seeing them as one-liner manipulations, and so I was wondering how saying, “I have homework,” was manipulative. It makes a lot more sense now! Thanks for the clarification!

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