10 psychological tricks to one-up a manipulative person, according to psychology

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We’ve all encountered them. Maybe we’ve even been one at times. Manipulative people are always among us, from the biggest cities to the tiniest hamlets.

And they’re usually up to something.

By definition, a manipulator strives to control people or events to their own advantage, usually unfairly or by deceit. 

Sometimes, the control they exert is subtle, making you wonder if all of your suspicions are in your head. Still other manipulators are more aggressive and cause fear and emotional damage.

It’s never fun to be the target of a manipulator. So let’s give them a taste of their own medicine  

This is self-preservation, not spite. 

So, how can you successfully manipulate a person who’s a master manipulator themselves? 

Here are ten tips to one-up a manipulator.

1) Establish emotional distance

And stick to it. 

Manipulators operate by evoking emotional reactions to gain control over you. By becoming emotionally detached, you drastically reduce a manipulative person’s impact.  

By practicing a little emotional self-regulation and responding calmly, you can thwart their efforts to manipulate your feelings.

You may have to bite your tongue a bit before responding, which can be challenging when someone is running their mouth in high gear. 

Regulating your emotions doesn’t imply you don’t respond to the manipulator. It just means that you’re in charge of when and how you respond.

2) Don’t get defensive

Manipulators often go out of their way to provoke defensive reactions. So, instead of obliging them by becoming defensive, attempt to engage them in a constructive discussion. 

This unexpected pushback will usually put the manipulator on the defensive and even potentially expose their motive and tactics.

But be prepared. When you decide to stand up for yourself, manipulators will employ diversionary tactics to distract and confuse you. The goal is to weaken your resolve and make you lose your way.

Don’t let a manipulator sidetrack you. Stay laser-focused on the issue at hand, and nothing more.

3) Stick to the facts

It’s hard to focus on facts over feelings when you’re dealing with a manipulative person, especially if they’ve intimidated and disrespected you. 

It’s natural to respond emotionally but if you stay in control of the discussion and don’t allow yourself to get sucked in by the manipulator’s games, they lose.

So keep the conversation focused strictly on facts and avoid losing your cool. 

According to psychological experts, you can also use “I” statements to ensure you’re heard without accusing the other person of wrongdoing. Utilizing this technique helps you be diplomatic while standing up for yourself against a manipulator.

4) Fortify your boundaries

When you’re dealing with a manipulator, establish your boundaries clearly. Manipulative people thrive on exploiting your weaknesses.

Defining and declaring your limits helps deter manipulative behavior while protecting your mental health.

Setting boundaries also gives you the power to offer your help when needed while not allowing them to take advantage of you.

5) Do not be beholden to a manipulator 

Because you’ll probably live to regret it.

Manipulative people are users.

They’ll do something nice for you, like help you find a good dentist or buy you a random present. Then they’ll ask you to do something that you really don’t want to do, but feel you can’t refuse.

You just got played.

Now, what have we learned? Don’t give a manipulative person a motive. Find your own dentist and return the present. You don’t want to owe anything to a manipulator.

6) Have a quick comeback handy 

It’s a good idea to have a few phrases handy that you can fall back on to deflect manipulative tactics

Try this. If a manipulative person talks down to you, say, “I hear what you’re saying. But I see it completely differently and I’d appreciate you respecting that.”

Then watch their jaw hit the floor.

The thing a manipulative person least expects is a snappy comeback from their target. It rocks their world. 

Have some fun with asking them simple questions to knock them off balance. 

Try these on for size:

“Do you honestly care how I feel about this? I get the impression you’re asking me just for the sake of asking.”

“Are you willing to stand behind my decision, even if it’s not what you would choose to do?”

“Do you actually think I’d ever agree to this? You certainly understand that it’s not in my best interest to do so.”

Even if these questions don’t convince them how ridiculous they are, they’ll probably at least back off. Manipulators don’t like to be challenged. 

7) Look them straight in the eye

As with many of the suggestions listed here, the idea of this trick is to make the manipulator lose focus

Your first step is always saying no to a request you’re not comfortable with. But this probably isn’t going to be enough to stop a long-time manipulator

So look them dead in the eye while you say no. The fact that you’re clearly not intimidated throws them.

Manipulative people like to stare intensely at their targets, so beat them at their own game by utilizing uber-eye contact so they’ll feel too awkward to ever ask you again.

8) Call their bluff

The standard strategy of a manipulative person is to take an isolated incident out of context and use it as an example of your regular behavior. 

The goal, of course, is to make you feel bad.

This is when the phrase, “you always” comes into play. Maybe you forgot to shut off the lights and your manipulative parent starts accusing you of always leaving the lights on, even though you don’t. 

Don’t let manipulative people overgeneralize like this. Ask them to shed some light on other instances of this behavior:

“Maybe you’re onto something here. Can you  recall some other times when I left the lights on?”

And enjoy the show as the manipulator’s head explodes. You’ve earned it. 

9) Refuse to cede the home court advantage

Manipulative people prefer to meet on their home turf. They feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings that make it easier to intimidate and dominate you. 

People in the business world often utilize the home court advantage to make negotiations go their way.

So, if at all possible, push for a meeting on neutral ground to level the playing field. Insist, if you must.  

But if you absolutely have to meet in their territory, get there on time and give yourself a chance to acclimate and focus. 

10) Broken record method

Manipulative people really hate listening to the same thing repeatedly, particularly if it’s not something they want to hear.

So, behold The Broken Record Technique, a type of assertive behavior that works quite well on manipulators. The technique is simply a clear and firm verbal response that implies you say what you mean, and mean what you say. 

It works best when the manipulator is trying to pick a fight.

Make sure your voice is even and void of emotion as you recite the phrase until the cows come home or they decide to finally hear you.

Some appropriate replies include:

 “I’m not going to do that”

“Let’s stop talking about this” 

“I know you are but what am I”

OK, maybe not that last one, but no one says you can’t be thinking it.

Anyway, the most crucial thing to remember is regulating your tone and not showing any emotion. Keep everything neutral and bland.

Final thoughts

The key to successfully dealing with a manipulative person is knowing their tactics and having a plan in place for your response. 

Being conscious of your emotional reactions and using the strategies listed above increases your chances of remaining in control of the discussion.

These techniques can give you the tools and the confidence to stand up for yourself

so you can take your power back from the manipulative people in your life.

Kathy Copeland Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden lives in a New England forest paradise with her cats, kid, and trusty laptop. She has been writing since age 8 and is such a pack rat she can back that up with physical evidence. Music is her solace and words are her drug, so her house is strewn with records and books. Watch your step.

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