The M-word Manipulation

Definition – 1 handle skilfully 2 control or influence in a clever or underhand way

Manipulation – it’s so loaded with negative associations, most of which is entirely justified. However, manipulation can also be employed for good as well as evil. Perhaps it’s quicker to start with the ‘good manipulation’, then we can really get our teeth into the evil ……

Effective leadership requires the ability to ‘handle skilfully’ to ‘influence others’ and to have a degree of ‘cleverness’ in order to achieve results and secure futures. I’ve been guilty of manipulation on several occasions during my career, something I feel entirely comfortable with. I felt a responsibility to those around me to encourage them to become the best they could be, and if this meant manipulating them into achieving their full potential (way before they could see it) then this surely has to be a good thing? Positive manipulation is where there is an equal balance of power, a constructive give-and-take as part of the relationship, and the central intent of the manipulator are the interests of the manipulated, with growth, fulfilment and triumph as the primary objective.

Time now for the negative aspect of manipulation, using my own experience of life with a negative manipulator….or, as I prefer to call them, evil, bull-shitting, guilt mongers.

Having survived this relationship, I’ve developed a pretty strong sense of how to spot them, and how to neutralise the insidious effects of these sad bastards. These people aren’t gender specific but they are awfully clever and highly practiced. They’ve possibly spent a lifetime refining their behaviour, and you will have been targeted because of the behaviours you have –

  • they’re great victims – often disclosing deeply personal information to establish intimacy early on. You (and others) often see them as sensitive, emotionally open, and slightly vulnerable. They’re not. In fact, they’re about as vulnerable as a mosquito on meth
  • they’re expert at saying one thing, denying it in the next breath, and explaining everything away while turning it around so you begin to doubt your own sanity – do not fall for their bullshit!
  • they’ll take your insecurities and use them to undermine your self-worth – seek and listen to the opinion of others. The mental distortion they set out to create means you’ll trust their judgement more than your own – resist, trust yourself, and give them a silent f*** you
  • their most potent weapon is guilt – they exploit your goodwill, generosity, conscience, sense of duty, obligation, or protective and nurturing instincts in order to extract unreasonable advantages or concessions – take back your power, be in control, and stop them from exploiting your kind nature
  • their constant focus is on what you’re doing wrong, and what your weaknesses are, concluding with how they can do things better – all part of the devious and abusive coercion they use to gain power over you. Trust your senses and see them for the inferior creature they are
  • they hold you responsible for their happiness, failures, weaknesses – which is deeply ironic when you consider they see themselves as superior to you. We have a responsibility to others, we are not responsible for others (or how they feel)
  • they sulk, or give you the silent treatment to leverage control. Ignore them
  • they play the martyr or victim to wield undue influence. Ignore them
  • they react with sarcasm or humour when their behaviour is called-out, (with the implicit suggestion that you’re a humorous dim-wit for not ‘getting it’). Ignore them

Shutting them down, starving them of attention, disregarding them, and denying them the power they crave, is the most potent and valuable deterrent to manipulative behaviour. Once you’re able to see them for the weak, inferior, and sad individuals they are, the stronger and more resilient you will become. Knowledge is power. You now have the power. Use it.…

The M-word Mistakes

Mistakes are something I’m particularly accomplished at. In fact, I could quite legitimately include ‘making mistakes’ on my CV as one of my accomplishments in life. World-class standard doesn’t even come close. Mistakes in school. Mistakes with fashion (I grew up in the 70’s what d’ya expect?!?) Mistakes with men. Mistakes with jobs. Mistakes with hairstyles (think 80’s perm). Mistakes with friendships. Mistakes with trust. You name it, if there was a way to learn something from making a mistake I would find it.

Throughout this time, I’d been equally accomplished at beating myself up about the mistake. In fact, it’s only with age that the wisdom of making mistakes has dawned upon me. They may not be the simplest way to learn something, they do however, make for a valuable and lifelong lesson. I tend not to repeat mistakes, largely because I have a pathological loathing of getting stuff wrong, but mostly because I hate how it left me feeling; the overwhelming sadness and shame was almost suffocating. All of which was self-imposed.

I was never afraid of saying I didn’t understand something, even at primary school, but I was genuinely frightened of getting ‘it’ wrong. However, I now embrace mistakes and being wrong as part of my thinking and originality (it’s all about perspective after all). I like to think of myself as a work in progress rather than a perfect (and frankly boring) individual.

Sadly, we now live in a culture where the majority of schools, companies, politics, media, and institutions view mistakes as a sign of weakness. As something to be pounced on. A blot on your copy book. A thing to be suspicious of. Which has led to the inevitable risk averse culture, or even more pernicious, the blame culture prevalent today. Many of the conversations I have with young people centre around their fear of making a mistake, to which I ask them the same question I began to ask myself – ‘what is the worst that can happen?’ – rarely are the consequences life threatening, or even life changing. Mostly they concern what people might think of us.

As a wise friend once said to me “what others think of you is none of your business”. Think about it. There is so much truth in this. Add to this the fact that others are going to think what they’re going to think and there is very little to be done about it. If I had one wish (apart from to have thin thighs), it would be to have had this wisdom in my 20’s. The energy and time I would have saved!!

I believe Helen Mirren said it best when asked what one piece of advice would she give to her younger self by replying “use the words fuck off far more frequently”. Bravo! So the next time you find yourself silently obsessing about a mistake you’ve made turn it around and ask yourself only 2 questions –

  • What have I learnt?
  • What will I do differently?

All else is madness.

The M-word Millennials

It is popularly accepted those born between 1980–2000 are the millennials. Also referred to as Generation Y …..or should that be Generation You’re Totally F***ed? The way I see it, it’s thanks to the efforts of Gen X (my generation) that life has dealt a double-whammy to these lovely folk.

Having worked alongside several millennials I found myself increasingly falling into the use of phrases and expressions my Dad was inclined to use, principally about having to get off your arse because life will gift you bugger all. In the style of Monty Python, “trying telling the youth of today that and they won’t believe you!” …….

……they just didn’t appear to believe in ‘working your way up’ or ‘earning your stripes’. Oh no, none of that shit for them thank you. These guys and gals are f***ing awesome. So lucky, lucky me …they chose to come to work in my company. Although, not for them a starters salary/menial work/subordinate position/junior status. No siree. They expect, nay demand, a minimum 30k starter salary, a new car (preferably BMW), exciting and diverse projects, and managerial title, Why? Because they’re special. Because that’s what they want.

In the beginning I just laughed, (generally right into their shiny, wrinkle free, fresh faces), but as time went on there was a dawning – this was now the way of the world. Jumped-up princes and princesses who behaved like the world owed them something. In an act of utter incredulity, I once asked a young woman, who was behaving like a first-class prima donna “are you like, a real, actual princess?” Suffice to say she giggled, sighed, shrugged her shoulders and declared ‘it wasn’t fair’. That’s right princess, it really isn’t.

So, how did Gen X screw things up for these guys so spectacularly? Because we were the parents, teachers, guardians, TV producers, magazine editors, and significant others who fed them the line that they were special, and that they could be, do, and have whatever their little hearts wanted. They simply had to want it badly enough.

But we all know the sad reality is that most people truly don’t give a crap what they want, especially in the horrible, roughtee-toughtee world of work. They discovered they’re not special. Stuff will not simply fall into their laps by sheer will of wanting of it. That flash car, the designer lifestyle, the big house they covet, will have to be earned. They are going to have to work their arses off for several years, they’re going to have to save, and embrace the notion of delayed gratification, and generally do everything previous generations have had to do to get where they are.

So my profound and sincere apologies to the millennials, who were so comprehensively duped ……karma will prevail, have no doubt. All I shall say is geriatric care, old-people’s homes, ageing population …….revenge will be sweet.