8 phrases manipulative individuals use to skirt accountability for their actions

There are some extremely manipulative people out there.

They’re happy to use and abuse others and have absolutely no qualms about letting other people take the blame for things they’ve done. In fact, they may actively point their fingers at others or throw them under the bus.

How do they get away with this behavior?

Manipulation requires some cunning. 

A clever manipulator needs to know how to play on other people’s emotions, push buttons, and pit people against each other. They also need to know the right things to say at the right time to help them be believed, trusted, followed, and even pitied.

So here are eight phrases manipulative individuals use to skirt accountability for their actions. Keep your ears open for them to help yourself and others avoid being hurt by their unscrupulous schemes.

1) “I had no idea…”

Claiming not to know about rules, regulations, standards, or specific information is one of the clever manipulator’s favorite moves.

After all, how can you prove that someone knows something?

Without scary, invasive thought-reading technology, people can easily deny what they know, and it’s incredibly hard to prove otherwise.

This is something called “weaponized incompetence”.

That’s using what you don’t know or, more frequently, what you pretend you don’t know to get others to do things or take the blame.

Here’s a very easy example from my dog-rearing life.

Imagine I pop into the kitchen to grab a snack, and I see that the dog has done a doo-doo on the floor. I’m hungry and want to just pop something in my mouth and go back to work, so I leave it there.

Later, I hear a shout from the kitchen as my partner discovers the poo. If she asks me why I didn’t deal with it, I just say, “I had no idea the dog pooped in the kitchen.”

And with that, I’ve skirted responsibility and got her to clean up poop while my hands are kept clean.

Of course, it was only a theoretical example. I’d never even try to do that to her as she has eyes in the back of her head and would just throw the poop at me if she knew! 

2) “I never said that.”

Words can cause as much trouble as actions.

They can be directives that get others to do things or information shared that influences what others think and believe.

So if a manipulator’s words ever cause trouble, one of their favorite ways to avoid any culpability is to simply deny ever saying them.

Easy, right? If someone says they did and they deny it, it becomes one person’s word against another, and that’s not a great situation to find yourself in if you want to find out the facts.

I worked as a temp in a downtown office once when I was a student, and it might have been the most toxic workplace I’ve ever seen. Everyone seemed to dislike each other, and most people were openly rude and even hostile to their coworkers.

I overheard one conversation as I walked into an office to deliver copies, with a man telling his boss, “I never said that. I don’t understand why Janice is lying like this!”

But just two days before, I’d heard him saying to Janice the exact sales numbers he was being accused of telling her. 

He was using this sly denial to reframe events and turn the blame onto Janice.

3) “That’s not what I said.”

Manipulating the truth of what they say is another tactic that manipulators use.

And once again, it’s easy to deny having said something specific and to change your words after the fact. Since no one is keeping an actual transcript, it comes down to memory.

Manipulators love to add to this phrase, “I think I would remember my own words.”

In this way, they can deny culpability by claiming that the other person misheard or misremembered what they said.

A clever manipulator will even be able to slip in just a word or two and completely change their meaning. They’ll look outside and tell you, “It’s sunny,” but then claim they said, “It’s not sunny.”

4) “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Aaaagghhh! Just writing this phrase sends shivers down my spine.

This is the ultimate nonapology disguised as an apology, and despite the fact that we’ve heard politicians and skilled manipulators use it for years, it’s still somehow not totally discredited.

How is this skirting accountability for their actions?

When a manipulator does something wrong that harms or upsets others, they don’t need to apologize. That would point the blame squarely at them.

So even while they use the words “I’m sorry,” the rest of this phrase flips the blame onto the other person, usually the victim of their actions.

It makes it seem like the other person’s feelings are the issue and not the manipulator’s actions.

I don’t know about you, but this cringeworthy phrase infuriates me to the core. I think anyone who uses it should be instantly branded as a manipulator and a fake apologizer.

5) “You made me do it.”

People used to try to get out of trouble by claiming the devil made them do bad things. They simply externalized their own negative behavior and, in doing so, reduced the blame coming their way.

While the phrase, “You made me do it,” probably goes back even farther into history. Manipulation is nothing new, after all.

This phrase doesn’t take much explanation. The person who says it is trying to claim that they’re not in control of their own thoughts and actions and to place the blame on your shoulders.

It’s incredibly devious because by claiming the other person caused them to do something, they’re calling that person the manipulator in the situation.

It’s really a stroke of evil genius.

6) “I was just joking.”

This phrase is extremely powerful and sneaky. 

Clever manipulators seem to think that it gives them a license to say anything they want. If their words cause problems or upset anybody, they can just claim that they weren’t serious.

I used to teach at a high school, and already some of the young students were already developing their manipulation skills.

I had one student, Sydney, who came to talk to me, miserable about being fat-shamed by one of her classmates. When I asked Taylor if she’d said the really cruel things Sydney had claimed, she actually said, “Well, yeah, but I was just kidding.”

I was stunned to think she was somehow trying to escape any blame for what she’d done by trying to reframe it as a joke. 

7) “I have no recollection…”

Once again, I have to ask how you can prove someone knew something when they claim they didn’t.

This phrase is one you’ll surely recognize from public inquests and trials.

A questioner will have someone on the stand testifying, and they’ll continue denying having any memory of the events they’re implicated in.

It happens all the time because it’s nearly impossible to prove that someone can remember something or not. This phrase is so crafty because the person doesn’t even have to deny their questioner’s claims. 

They don’t even say they can’t remember, which could be viewed as a “Yes, but I forget.”

Instead, claiming they have no recollection makes it seem like they’re not even actively responsible for their own memories. 

Talk about skirting accountability!

8) “I did it to protect you.”

This phrase is another version of “You made me do it,” but it’s even worse because it both blames the other person and victimizes them at the same time.

It makes it seem like that person needed protecting, though, of course, we know they weren’t asked if they did or not.

When a manipulator is backed into a corner, they can simply throw down this phrase like a smoke bomb. Then, they’ll try to emerge from the smoke as a hero and protector rather than a manipulator who deserves to be blamed for their actions.

What to do if you think you’re being manipulated

If you instantly recognize these eight phrases manipulative individuals use to skirt accountability for their actions, you might be encountering manipulation in your life right now.

So, how can you deal with it?

Usually, the best way to deal with a manipulator is not to try to use their own tools against them. They’re already more skilled and practiced at manipulation than you are.

Instead, you should have concrete evidence to back up the correct version of reality and show that theirs is bogus. Keep emails and chat records when dealing with these people. Even record your conversations if you must.

As an honest person, you might feel like this behavior is sneaky and deceptive, but really, all you are doing is keeping track of the truth.

This way, you can protect yourself from being thrown under the bus when they make mistakes and try to blame you for them.

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