The Subtle Music of Manipulative People

 Each of us has a particular style of speaking. Not just our language, accent and word choice but our tones, tone emphasis, cadence and dynamic (volume & intensity) range. If we listen for all these factors when trying to understand another’s statements the communication becomes more than simple text, it becomes a music with rhythms, melodies and time signatures (cadence and speed). 

 People who would manipulate us have a particular type of music in their language that if we discern, we can see as a warning flag and possibly avoid a painful consequence. Most manipulators first work to gain their victims trust so they can exert influence over their decisions and choices. To get their potential victim to feel ‘in sync’ with them (and thus liable to trust) they will not only mimic tastes, values and perspectives but also facets of speech such as cadence or dynamic range, etc. If the manipulator sounds like the person they’re working on, they’re more likely to be trusted by the person unaware. 

 For those of us who are aware, we have the opportunity not only to just observe but to throw out ‘false positives’ and see if they reveal a snaky ‘tell’ by being followed. For example if we exhibit a strong interest in animal welfare and our possibly manipulative person also ‘reveals’ a similar interest, a ‘building trust by matching’ dynamic may be afoot. Similarly, if we use hesitations (pausing for a second or two in the middle of a sentence) or make our main points with a staccato (sharp, almost jarring) style and we notice a bit of those unusual traits cropping up in a possible manipulator’s language, a subtle yet potentially destructive person may be showing themselves. Particularly if the effect is predominate. Snakes like to work quickly and will sometimes ‘ham it up’ in an attempt to speed the trust process. Thankfully that just makes them easier to see. 

 I worked ‘in house’ helping drug addicts overcome their addictions for years, and that afforded me the opportunity to see this effect over and over again. During the early part of their stay many patients would desperately argue that they needed this or that medication for a plethora of rationale (drug seeking behavior). Their perspectives and vocal music would shift to match mine (and the other councilors) at an almost unbelievable pace while they were trying to get what they wanted. The psychopathy temporarily caused by their withdrawal / addiction provided a resplendent example of why it’s important to listen to the music. Whether it’s subtle or screaming, it has a lot to say.

2 Responses to “The Subtle Music of Manipulative People”

  1. Do you think chronic manipulators are always so conscious of their manipulations? Is it possible that they are unaware of the damaging behavior? I mean, is it possible that their manipulations are not actually conscious decisions but rather unconscious, ingrained — intuitive even? Sometimes, I think, my two-legged snake does and says things, works me, manipulates etc as a result of not knowing any other way to behave. I suspect he wouldn’t even recognize himself if shown the mirror.

  2. It varies from individual to individual and behavior to behavior but I’d say that most manipulative behavior is unconscious. So many of us grow up with manipulative behavior being modeled for us it comes out without having to think about it at all. That said, chronic manipulators have most likely been confronted on their behavior so they must be at least aware of the possibility their behavior is questionable. Often the denial such individuals protect their behavior with is formidable and it can take pretty epic consequences to get them to see the light.

    If we show our ‘inner snakes’ the consequences that result, for ourselves and others, and alternative behaviors that are better…… & really work at keeping on them, we can drive the snakes out or at least give them another job, like ‘snake watcher’!

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