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 Mourning


Truly, I have little in the way of humour to offer you on the subject of mourning – it’s a shitty feeling, and doesn’t really have much going for it if I’m honest. I appreciate it sounds bizarre, but in so many ways I consider myself deeply fortunate to have reached my mid-50’s without experiencing the wretched feelings of loss, grief, and deep, overwhelming sadness. The sense of longing, of utter helplessness, and just desperate heartbreak is something I would happily avoid for the rest of my days.

However, the scars that remain are a testament to the love felt. And if the scar is deep, then so was the love. Eventually scars heal, and what remains is evidence that you were able to love, that you can heal, and that you can continue to live.

This is what I’ve discovered –

  • I’ve discovered how isolating the feelings of sorrow are
  • I’ve discovered the world doesn’t stop spinning just because your heart has been smashed and there’s a hole in your soul a mile wide
  • I’ve discovered feelings of absolute rage towards the injustice of lives that continue around you, while yours has crashed spectacularly and wiped you out
  • I’ve discovered the intense pain you experience through yearning for the impossible
  • I’ve discovered how differently we each experience grief
  • I’ve discovered it has to be got through, it CAN NOT be got around
  • I’ve discovered the snot-filled, tear-stained look is not one I can pull off with any great success
  • I’ve discovered how deeply insensitive people can be, particularly when they don’t know what to say
  • I’ve discovered the British are complete fuckwits when it comes to death
  • I’ve discovered many distant friends and colleagues have no idea of the difference between rest in peace and rest in piece
  • I’ve discovered I can laugh once more ……

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 Multi-tasking

I’ve made a realisation, and it’s epic! I’ve become a multi-tasker. I know, it’s worthy of the front page isn’t it? Although, before I continue I feel compelled to declare I’ve actually been training for this moment for years, quite unwittingly, but perfecting my craft nevertheless. More on this in a minute.

You see, I believed my memory and inability to focus had been high-jacked by the ever lovely Mother Nature (the menopause. Does wicked things with your memory. Renders you incapable of finishing one thing before starting something else, entirely unconnected to the first thing, only to discover 2 hours later what it was you were doing originally). I digress……my belief it was Mother Nature being a shit again was mistaken. I apologise. Turns out I was multi-tasking!

Looks like it’s nothing more than being able to switch my attention from speaking on the phone, while reading email, replying to a text message, dodging an interruption from him-in-doors, cooking dinner and sticking a broom up my arse to clean the floor at the same time…….and I’ve been doing that for years.

Increasingly I’ve felt like the 21st century has been bullying me in a direction I don’t want to go. I was too slow-witted to embrace the change of this new world order, namely, being able to switch and alter tasks in the blink of an eye. I’m old-school. I prefer focusing on a single task through to completion, something which has become ridiculously old-fashioned.

I much prefer to appreciate things one at a time. Well, mostly I do. The exception is when I’m out in public spaces, especially anywhere I can people-watch, and then my ability to multi-task becomes akin to a super-power. I can effortlessly have a conversation over dinner, while listening to an ‘animated discussion’ between the couple three tables away, observing the body language of another couple and deciding it’s their first date, and noticing how happy the serving staff appear. You’re impressed, I can tell.

Multi-tasking was definitely conceived of by woman. Apart from the ability to switch attention from cooking, cleaning and helping with homework it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. Ergo, it’s a female invention!

The M-word Memory

It is said if you’re concerned you’ve lost your mind then you haven’t – when you truly have, you won’t give a monkey’s!

For several years my memory has taken on a life of its own, appearing to delight in creating mayhem and mischief without ever having to take responsibility for its actions. This began with conversations I’d be having, where halfway through describing something (with wit and animation, naturally), I would have no idea what I’d been talking about. I figured I was either getting bored with myself, what I was talking about, or perhaps the person I’d been having the conversation with? Who knows? All I do know is that it was deeply embarrassing…….because at the time I was making a very nice living as a professional speaker.

As this happened on successive occasions I decided to ‘embrace the moment and go with the flow’, just as stress management gurus instruct, so turned it into a comedy moment “sorry folks, temporary break in transmission, normal service will resume shortly” (I always wanted to say “I’m receiving a message from God” but decided it sounded funnier in my head).

Anyway, I have a theory on this phenomena, (of course I do), and it’s to do with my brain being full. Full from education, experience, trivia, stuff, recipes, song lyrics, old car registrations (??WTF?), where I put something in a safe place, other people’s name, my name … I decided it was time to ‘defrag’ my hard drive, get rid of stuff I haven’t used in years, de-clutter, and embrace minimal thinking (a bit like minimal living but for your head).

And do you know what? It made not a jot of difference! I continue to get to the top of the stairs and forget what I went up for, open cupboards and forget why, or, as happened recently, forget who it was I was talking to on the phone!!

So, here are some of my failsafe suggestions for getting a grip when your memory behaves like a recalcitrant child –

  • avoid putting things (coffee, mobile, important documents, files, cake, books, babies), on the roof of the car. You will forget. You will drive off with it on the roof. So instead, put them on the bonnet of the car
  • write it down or make a list – remember to take the list with you – ha! Take huge amounts of smug satisfaction on forgetting said list but recalling over 70% of it anyway
  • slow down a little – when I’m rushing I forget shit. Normally the important shit. Never the pointless, incidental shit that doesn’t affect outcomes
  • dodge interruptions – the phone ringing, child calling for your attention (includes the grown-up child), birds singing, butterflies, shiny things ……

Ultimately, getting stressed, frustrated or upset solves nothing. Laugh a little, breathe deeply, and do something else – I’ve found memory to be similar to a naughty child; ignore it long enough and it’ll come to you in the end.