7 clever ways to catch a manipulator off guard

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Manipulators think they’ve got it all figured out.

Practice makes perfect, after all, and if someone’s got years of manipulation under their belt, they might believe nothing can throw them off anymore.

Get ready to prove them wrong.

Here are the 7 clever ways to catch a manipulator off guard and show them that you’re not one to be pushed around.

1) Remain stubbornly detached

A coworker – let’s call her Samantha – once approached me in a quiet hallway and said, “What do you think about Leslie?”

She and Leslie had been bickering for a few weeks, both of them bidding for the position of housekeeping supervisor. By asking me about Leslie, Samantha obviously wanted to dig up some dirt or win me over to her “side” as it were.

I shrugged. “She’s nice.” Then I went about my business.

Samantha just stared at me, obviously disappointed.

If there’s one foolproof way to catch a manipulator off guard and not let yourself get involved in their drama, it’s to remain as detached as possible. I was never one to gossip about other coworkers or pick sides, which meant that people didn’t get much juicy information out of me and eventually gave up trying.

Remember – manipulators can only manipulate you if you’re willing to engage. If you assume a stoic attitude and simply refuse to give a damn, though… they’re powerless.

And that lack of power throws them off like nothing else.

2) Offer as little explanation as possible

So, how does detachment translate into your communication?

Say very little. People who manipulate love to latch onto every piece of information you give them so that they can store it for future use.

And if there’s one thing manipulators hate, it’s having nothing to work with.

Imagine that someone asks you for a favor. “Hey, seeing as I did X for you once, can you do Z, K, and R today?”

“No, thank you.”

“Oh. Why?”

“I’m not available, sorry.”

“But why not? What’s so important?”

“Personal stuff.”

“What stuff? Is it something to do with your family? Your love life? I can help you if you’d like…”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”


If they keep going, just keep providing the driest possible answers.

Don’t be afraid to assert yourself and state your boundaries very clearly – most manipulators are used to polite people who don’t wish to offend, and so telling them that you don’t want to talk about your life with them is often more than enough to shake them up a bit.

Understandably, you might think that talking in such a way is quite rude. However, you don’t have to have a cold or mean attitude to say very little – you can smile and politely refuse to answer questions, and it will have the same effect.

3) Answer questions with questions

People who manipulate tend to use questions as weapons – they either ask you about your personal life to get some useful information or they ask you to do things for them.

You can counteract both questions by simply firing them right back.

“How’s your love life?”

“How’s *your* love life?”

“Can you do me a favor?”

“Can *you* do me a favor first?”

If the manipulator goes with it and does divulge something about themselves, thinking you’ll reciprocate, turn to strategy number 2. Once they’re done talking about their love life and ask you again, say something along the lines of, “Oh, not much going on. Yours is much more interesting.”

Manipulators hate boring people because there’s nothing to unpack and dissect. If you pretend you’re boring and dull and keep directing the focus of the conversation to their own lives, they’ll feel uncertain, and eventually get discouraged and leave you be.

4) Bluntly cut to the point

If you don’t want to pretend you’re dry and boring, another clever way to catch a manipulator off guard is to simply show them you’re much smarter than they think.

They may come up with an elaborate story and a thousand different excuses for why they need you to do them a favor, but if you just stop them and say, “Look, I know you want me to do Y and X, but I can’t do it,” they’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ve reached the conclusion and at your assertive attitude.

Show that you’re a busy person who always cuts to the point. Bluntness may be sometimes seen as rude, but where manipulators are concerned, it’s a very effective way to stop them in their tracks.

What’s more, realizing that you’ve seen through them so clearly might make them feel a bit embarrassed, which may prevent them from trying to manipulate you again.

5) Immediately ask about their intentions

Let’s say that Greg asks Kelly what she thinks about a certain political issue. From previous conversations, it’s very clear that they are both on different sides of the political spectrum and so it’s quite obvious that Greg expects Kelly to disagree.

What’s more, Greg has been known to start controversial conversations in the past – not to broaden his own mind and open himself up to new perspectives but rather to argue for the sake of arguing.

A great way for Kelly to catch him off guard is to say, “Are you actually interested in looking at the issue from a different point of view or are you just asking me to have an argument?”

Alternatively, she may also say, “Are you ready to respect my opinion? Or will you spend the whole conversation trying to convert me to yours again?”

Showing that Kelly knows what his intentions are will make Greg lose some of his boisterous attitude and make him think about his behavior in more depth. It might even give rise to a more peaceful discussion.

And if not, well then… at least he won’t attempt to fight with her again.

6) Call them out on their behavior

If Greg and Kelly do decide to proceed with the political discussion, Greg might try to pull off some of his manipulation techniques again, such as dismissing Kelly’s argument and attacking her personal behavior instead (this is called the Ad Hominem fallacy, and it’s considered to be faulty logic that doesn’t contribute to one’s argument) or generalizing.

A great way to throw him off is for Kelly to say things like:

  • “I would like us to focus on the argument at hand. You’re shifting the focus of the conversation elsewhere. Answer the question I asked you”
  • “You’re generalizing, which doesn’t help argue your point. Let’s stay on track, okay?”
  • “I don’t know if you’re aware, but you’ve just used the Ad Hominem fallacy. It means X and Y. It doesn’t strengthen your argument, it just weakens your standing in this discussion. Let’s return to the specific issue we were discussing”

By telling them you know what they’re doing, you’re signaling that A) you’re smarter than they give you credit for and B) you won’t let the conversation shift in a direction that’s not fair to you, such as assuming a position where you’d have to defend your personal choices even though they have nothing to do with the main argument.

7) Say something that makes no sense

Finally, this one’s for the brave ones who don’t care about their reputation.

If you’re in a setting where you can afford to not give a damn about losing face, feel free to simply troll the person who’s trying to manipulate you.

They’ll think you’re silly and strange, but they’ll also feel thrown off balance and won’t attempt to manipulate you in the future because they’ll just be too weirded out by your behavior.

I mean, if someone tries to manipulate you and your answer is, “Beep-beep bye” or “It’s tickety-boo, see ya”, what the hell are they supposed to reply to that? How can they work with something that makes no sense whatsoever?

Alternatively, you can also just stare at them and say nothing. That’ll catch them off guard for sure.

Of course, it’s important to choose your time and place for this. You probably don’t want to act like a crazy person at work, but if there’s a really annoying friend or classmate who keeps trying to manipulate you, why not just troll them?

And if you’re not feeling up to the task, you still have six different strategies – all outlined above – to fall back on.

You shall not let yourself get manipulated any longer. So get out there and show all manipulators what’s what.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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