A long-term client recently asked for insight on how to address a situation in which she perceived she was being manipulated. No easy task, especially when the manipulators in question were her clients—you know, the ones who pay her bills.
A few times, these clients pulled out the “client is always right” card and insisted that business be done a certain way—THEIR way. Their requests weren’t illegal but they felt immoral to my client, at odds with her personal values of authenticity and integrity. Even though their requests didn’t sit right with her, she was committed to figuring out the best way forward. She attempted to wade through the muck of manipulation without getting stuck.
Then it happened again, same clients. As she recognized their continued attempts to manipulate her, she took a bold step: she fired them. Of course, as an authentic leader, she graciously delivered their pink slip while referring them to other professionals who would probably honor their wishes without reservation.
Do you ever wish you could successfully honor your core values in the face of manipulation, or questionable integrity, like she did?
Oftentimes, we can’t fire people who try to manipulate us, although we may wish we could. However, we can employ a few strategies to manage the relationship while protecting our integrity.
- Recognize your role. You cannot change the other person. Sarcastic comments, withholding information or ignoring others aren’t professional options. There is only one person you can control: you. Keep the focus on your role and act in a reliable, honorable and congruent manner. Own any fault that may be yours; correct it if possible. Surrender the rest.
- Shift your expectations. Manipulators often operate out of fear and use deception as a tool to manage their insecurities or unrealistic expectations. There’s a reason they believe the only way to get what they want is to manipulate people and circumstances. Don’t look at them as “the bad guy”; think about why they’re using manipulation and use that insight to guide your behavior.
- Guard yourself. You wish to work in a manner that’s authentic and congruent with your core values. If you’re in a manipulator’s crosshairs, however, you may need to pay extra attention to protecting your integrity. Keep detailed records, find a mentor whom you respect, and use all available resources to document your contributions.
- Consider a change. If all else fails and working with a manipulator consistently and frequently crushes your spirit and limits your opportunities, decide if staying with that person or the organization is worth it. I’ve worked with clients who have moved on and each has been relieved to make that difficult yet necessary decision.
Manipulation is NOT one of the strategies that authentic leaders use to get results. Authentic leadership requires building win-win relationships and understanding what others need to succeed.
Your turn: What do you do when you feel manipulated? What has worked best for you?