Everybody does it at some point: We manipulate others regarding all aspects of the world around us.
We attempt to skew the perception others have of us by showing them what we want them to see.
We influence others to agree with us, to see acquiesce to our ideas, views, and beliefs.
We change moods, provoke action, and inspire thoughts that we’ve given birth to.
We spread the contents of our mind around us like the plague, all the while, never claiming them aloud as our own.
How often do I sit quietly (and patiently), listening to a student attempt to manipulate me by telling me a story in hopes I will change a grade, accept late work, or allow a special circumstance?
How often is a person overly pleasant to another’s face, only to turn around and disparage them?
It happens a lot, and reveals itself in many different forms.
According to the Google dictionary, the meaning of manipulate is as follows:
1: handle or control (a tool, mechanism, etc.), typically in a skillful manner.
2: control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.
Most people only have a vague realization of how manipulation plays into their everyday lives. Because it has a negative connotation associated with it, most people distance themselves from the world. They define it with specific instances or experiences: being cheated, being lied to, being tricked. While these are all very obvious examples of how one may be manipulated, most fail to see it on a smaller, less visible scale.
When I was younger, I had a friend who would often get irritated or moody (for seemingly no reason from my stand point). These moods would often be taken out on the inner circle surrounding her, and because we were close friends, I experienced the snarky, agitated behavior directed my way quite often. Being young, naive, and insecure, I did what I could to rid her of those negative feelings directed towards me. I would try sucking up, in hopes she’d find favor with me again. I’d stay away from her, hoping the next time I ran into her the mood would have shifted. On occasion those worked, but often, they only fueled her power.
But one day, I took a different approach. I wouldn’t necessarily say flattering was the road I traveled down, but it was definitely a parallel twin. This girl pretended to those around her that she hated a specific part of herself (I’m avoiding getting too detailed); however, it was obvious in an underlying way that she actually loved it, mainly I think for the attention it brought her. People would joke with her about it often or “make fun” of it in a non-offensive way, and she soaked up the attention and comments. So one day during one of her moods, I nicely made my first comment about it, too.
It was like someone hit a light switch. The darkness transformed, and she was illuminated. Suddenly, I was no longer the scapegoat for her misery, but a confident to share it with.
How interesting. All because I was able to read her reactions, understand her thought process, and build off of it.
This approach never failed, and I would have been a fool to stop using my newfound ability. Instead of realizing that maybe she just wasn’t as good of a friend as I thought, I unknowingly manipulated her so that she would treat me in the manner I wanted her to. Like most of the world, I didn’t see that as manipulation. I wasn’t hurting anyone. I wasn’t lying or being mean. I was just changing her behavior so that it fit my needs.
How often do we make bad news out to be a smaller deal than it is?
How often do we exaggerate something to make credit seem more deserving?
How often do we purposefully highlight things about ourselves on social media, ignoring the bad, so that others view us the way we’d like them to?
It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized the true power manipulation has over each of us, and how much knowing the art of it can sway those around us. When looking back, the classes I did the worst in were the classes in which I sat in the back and blended in with the class. During my sophomore year I made the jump from back row sitter to front row sitter. I also made sure to raise my hand at least one time during the first class. My grades rose. While I am still unable to prove this, I found there was some sort of relationship between my seat location and participation in class and my grades on papers, essays, etc. Naturally, I did become more intelligent as I progressed through college, but ultimately, I think I remained fairly consistent. These changes were the slightest of accidental manipulations, and it wasn’t until I was able to see the result did I realize their effect. By sitting in the front and making an initial attempt to participate, I created a perception of myself as a “smart person” (even if the answers I provided were not always correct), and more often than not, my professor willingly embraced it.
While most manipulations that happen on a small scale are hardly noticeable but often negative, there are manipulative techniques that serve as an aid for humanity. With an abundance of English classes, I developed an intimate relationship with language. I became an expert communicator. With every paper, I became more eloquent; with every sentence, more precise; every word, meaningful. My eyes opened to the fact that language, word choice in itself, was an invisible, yet fiercely influential manipulator.
Manipulation in this context shouldn’t hold that same negative implication; albeit, it should be viewed as a tool to help each individual become more accurately expressive. For example, when a thought is in our minds, it is specific and exact. When we go to translate our thought, we often lose precision, either because we are lacking to vocabulary or communication skills needed to pass the information along exactly. The person receiving our idea ends up getting something less, as some essence of our initial idea is lost due to our less-than-accurate description.
Strong idea > vague description/word > less accurate understanding > result
Because there is no person able to see into the inner workings of our minds, it is almost impossible to completely convey a thought in its entirety. And yet, one word, one single word, could change that. Having the vocabulary and knowing the influence certain words have on people could completely alter the outcome of a conversation in the communicator’s favor.
Strong idea > precise description/word > closer to accurate understanding > new result
Communication is holistic. While we can manipulate our wording to get certain points and emotions across, it is also important to have an idea of how the listener will interpret the message. Knowing a person’s background, mindset, or personality acts as a large factor when determining word choice and communication techniques.
Strong idea > description with accuracy > best result
+knowledge of listener +in a language the listener understands
While certain points throughout this may seem as though I have a strong opinion regarding the subject, I really have no one stance on manipulation. Just like all things in life, it is something to be explored, to be questioned and examined. I enjoy understanding the people around me and figuring out the ways their brains work. This topic/skill is worth reflection so that we may improve our own individual living situations, despite whether we are using our manipulative powers for good or evil.