Manipulative Behavior (cont.)

The parallel between conversation and dance has been often used. There’s rhythm, spacing, and all sorts of subtle cues, verbal and nonverbal. And as people within a certain culture we get used to a certain set of spacing, etc., and when someone doesn’t follow it, it feels a little weird and unnerving.

Using the analogy of dance, I think manipulative or foreign behavior is like when the other person seems to be following a different beat and or role. Perhaps it’s like the dissonance when the two dancers don’t agree on who the lead is, how much the lead should be leading, how lead should keep the follow on the same page, or whether there is a lead at all.

A bit of a jump here: when I was in elementary school we used to play dodgeball. When the other team, who’s on the outside of the box, has the ball, you have to stay inside the box and either dodge the ball they throw or catch it completely. There was this one kid who, when he sensed he was about to get beaned, would just run outside the box or wherever in order to get someone between himself and the ball. Of course the challenge of dodging in this game is because you have to stay in the box. Playing with this kid was exasperating to say the least, because he’d come back into the box and act like he was playing i.e. looking for the next toss of the ball. I’m sure it’s like dancing with a lead who only leads part of the time, according to inclinations you can’t discern.

What if your partner, or the lead, wasn’t dancing with you because they enjoy dancing or enjoy dancing with you? What if what they were after was your reaction to almost hitting another couple or to feel up your body? In manipulative behavior, I think one of the things the person is after is something that you can’t discern and they’re not conveying to you. Accordingly, the ball is then in your court as to how to clarify their objective. Are you willing to interrupt the current conversation and start another that’s about what they’re getting at? Are you willing to persevere in the face of their possible, “What are you pressuring me about?” reaction? Are you willing to keep a check on your own emotional reaction (eg irritation) in order to get at the resolution you want? Or perhaps you want emotional resolution as well, eg getting the other person to understand how much they’ve been irritating or confusing you.

Why continue the dance at all? Or what kind of dance do you want to be able to do with this person? A “normal” one? In which case they’d have to do more of the changing since, in this case, you’re presumably the more normal person. The dance that the other person is doing or good at? In which case you’d have to completely accept being manipulated. Or maybe a dance that you’d both find acceptable? Which you presumably haven’t arrived at with the natural course of events. Then how would you arrive at it? Sometimes through open discussion, but maybe not. Either way, in order to stop the dance that they’re doing if left to their own inclinations, you’re going to have to be manipulative yourself, whether it’s bringing everything to a crashing halt or transitioning to something you’re more comfortable with. There is no “non-manipulative-ness”.

In my current occupation I’m often in the position of having to end conversations that are going on for too long or are not really my responsibility to handle. Unlike other lines of work, it’s better if I’m on the polite, and even caring, side of things, as opposed to, “You know, that’s not my department. You need to call so-and-so” or “Hey, I have to go. My other line is ringing.” When it comes down to it, the tactic, or manipulation I use is agreeing with the other person that it was nice of them to call, that it’s time to wind down the call, that I don’t want to keep them from what they need to do and thanking them for their time. In other words, I put the impression in their head that I’m not putting an impression in their head, or more precisely putting an unwelcome or disappointing impression into their head forcibly or jarringly.

For most of us it’s a skill, rather than a natural inclination, to be nice to someone who isn’t being nice to us, particularly within the “normal” range of things. Whether to take on the endeavor of becoming nicer is a separate topic.


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