10 clever phrases that instantly turn the tables on a manipulator

Have you ever encountered a manipulative person? I know I have!

Sometimes you know someone’s trying to manipulate you as it’s happening. Other times, you figure it out later (when you’ve mulled it over and over in your head…).

And if you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the whole night wondering what you should have said instead!

If you have to continuously deal with this person, or just want to protect yourself in the future, you need to have some tricks up your sleeve.

That way, you can catch a manipulator out early and stop all those sleepless nights for good!

Like using any of these 10 clever phrases that instantly turn the tables on a manipulator:

1) “What do you really mean by that?”

One of the best things you can do to catch out a manipulator is to ask them a very valid, and very pointed, question.

The best one to ask is – essentially – “What are you doing?”.

If they don’t answer this question fully enough, don’t be afraid to keep going with your questioning!

Say to them:

  • “Yes, but what do you really mean?”
  • “OK, but what are you really asking me here?”
  • “I heard what you said, but what’s the real reason?”

Getting a manipulator to explain themselves should reveal their true intentions. Or at least, it should get them pretty flustered!

In my experience, they’ll end up backtracking after you say this – or they’ll tell you the true reason why they’re asking you what they’re asking.

2) “Isn’t that your job?”

This is a great one to use at work. Trust me, I’ve used it many times before!

I’ve found that manipulative people try to get out of work more than they try to find it. They try to palm work onto you while taking all the credit.

Outright calling them out on the fact that the task they’re asking you to do is actually their job should stop them in their tracks. And send them on a backtrack…

Of course, don’t use this one on your boss. They do actually have the authority to assign and delegate work from their plate to yours!

But if it’s a coworker or a manager who shouldn’t be allocating any work to you, ask them this question – and watch them try to worm their way out of it!

3) “Aren’t you supposed to be doing that?”

If you’re not in a work environment, this is another great phrase to use on a manipulator!

When they’re trying to get you to do something they can’t be bothered to do, call them out on it.

Ask them outright whether that’s something they are supposed to be doing instead of you!

In my experience, you have two ways of asking this question.

You can ask it in a jokey way with a smile on your face. This is particularly effective if the person is someone you know quite well. Or if it’s someone you think will admit it and laugh it off.

Or you can ask it naively and very seriously – and watch them backtrack with an, “Oh yeah!” or “Well remembered!”.

4) “I didn’t know you liked [thing]”

This phrase works particularly well when you’re in a group of people and you spot someone trying to manipulate someone else.

Say you’re at a party and a married guy asks for a woman’s number. You say, “I didn’t know you and your wife were in an open relationship”.

It’s passive-aggressive, but trust me, it’ll work!

If the lie they’re telling isn’t as extreme as the above example, you can be more subtle about your comment.

Like if they’re telling someone how much they love skiing. You say you didn’t know they liked skiing or had ever been (knowing they don’t and haven’t).

They might quickly change the subject – or think twice about saying those things again!

5) “I’d prefer to discuss [thing]”

Redirection is another handy trick to throw a manipulator off track. Manipulative people love deflection.

So, they’ll most likely try to bring up other things to make their point. The problem is that these things will either be totally irrelevant or just way off base!

The trick is to ignore their sidetracks and circle back to the main point.

For example, if you’re talking about how they keep liking other girls’ pictures on Instagram, and they keep trying to bring up how you went out last Saturday with your friends and they felt lonely, this is completely off-topic.

If they’re a manipulative person, they’re only bringing up where you went last weekend to distract you from the thing they did (in this case, liking other girls’ pictures).

If you get caught up in this, you could end up explaining yourself, rather than them. Which is why telling them what you prefer to discuss stops that from happening.

6) “We’re not discussing that today”

phrases manipulative people use to make you doubt yourself 10 clever phrases that instantly turn the tables on a manipulator

Of course, a more direct way of saying the above phrase is to tell them you aren’t going to discuss whatever it is they’re trying to bring up.

The use of the word “we” is pretty important here. It sets it in stone that it isn’t just you who isn’t going to discuss it further – they aren’t, either.

7) “I’m not going to argue with you about it”

Manipulative people hate it when you fight back. They want to be the ones making all the good points and taking control of the conversation.

But there’s something they hate more than your backchats: Your silence!

Telling the person you aren’t going to argue with them does two things. Firstly, it highlights the fact that they are arguing with you (which they might try to deny).

And secondly, it shuts down the conversation – either by making them defensive about how they’re raising their voice, or by making them conscious about it and therefore toning it down. 

8) “You’re right about [this], but it doesn’t mean [that]”

Sometimes, the best way to manage an argument (especially with a manipulator) is to find some common ground!

If the person is talking some sense, tell them. Just make sure you caveat it with the fact that you don’t agree with everything they’re saying.

Telling them they’re wrong or way off base will only force them to make their point further.

Whereas if you agree with something you actually agree with, then disagree with the thing they’re trying to manipulate you with, they’ll feel like they’ve won.

And they’ll be much more likely to agree to any “compromise” you put forward afterward.

9) “I understand that’s your view, this is mine”

Another way to stop a manipulator in their tracks is to simply stay firm. If they’re telling you what they think you should do, hold your own.

Tell them that you know/understand that’s what they want, but it isn’t what you want. When you say this, one of two things might happen.

They might drop the subject and say, “Fine! Have it your way then!” …(probably a little bit angrily, since their plot has failed).

Or they might give in respectfully with an, “OK, let’s agree to disagree then”.

After all, some people aren’t always sinister when they’re attempting to manipulate you. They’re just trying their luck!

10) “I can see what you’re trying to do and it isn’t working”

Sometimes, being direct really is the best policy. If you’re absolutely sure this person is manipulating you, call them out on it.

Tell them you know exactly what they’re trying to do – and you aren’t going to fool for it.

Whenever I’ve used this on someone who’s trying to get me to do something they shouldn’t, they respond in one of two ways.

Firstly, they’ll play dumb. They’ll say, “What am I trying to do?” or “I don’t know what you mean, I’m not trying to do anything!”.

…before stopping, changing the subject, and never asking me to do it again.

The other thing they’ll do is get a little bit angrier than they should. They might raise their voice and say, “What are you accusing me of?”.

Or they’ll say, “You have no proof I did anything wrong”…

I must admit, these responses can be a little scary, so watch out for yourself. And hold onto the fact that even though they’re angry with you right now, you’ve probably stopped them from ever messing with you again!

Final thoughts

You might not expect me to say this, but I think some manipulative behavior is somewhat excusable.

Sometimes, people are simply trying their luck and their intentions aren’t malicious. Or they’re trying to make you do something for your own good. Or, of course, they might be totally unaware that they’re being a bit manipulative!

However, some people are just downright conniving – and they know exactly what they’re trying to do. And they’re doing it to put you down or gain something from you.

Whichever way around it is, having some tricks up your sleeve to instantly turn the tables on a manipulator is never a bad thing.

It can save you a ton of sleepless nights. Plus, it can stop you from doing things you really don’t want to do!

So the next time you think someone is manipulating you – stop falling into their trap and try these phrases instead.

Amy Reed

Amy Reed

Amy Reed is a content writer from London working with international brands. As an empath, she loves sharing her life insights to help others. When she’s not writing, she enjoys a simple life of reading, gardening, and making a fuss over her two cats.

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