7 smart ways to confront a manipulator and expose their tactics

Manipulators are the worst, right? Their whole game is to trick you and take advantage of you for their personal gain. It’s all about getting the upper hand on you so they can control you.

The best thing to do when it comes to a manipulator is to get as far away from them as you possibly can. But unfortunately, that’s not always possible.

Sometimes you have to face them head-on because they’re people you work with, they’re part of your friend group or even part of your family.

In this case, the best thing you can do is be armed and ready to shut down their attempts to manipulate you and expose their tactics to everyone else.

But how? It’s not always easy, manipulators are clever people so you have to be too.

Today we’re talking about 7 smart ways to confront a manipulator and expose their tactics for all to see.

Let’s jump in.

1) Set clear boundaries and maintain them

Setting clear boundaries is important for all of your relationships. They let people know your limits, the things you’re willing to accept, and the things you’re not.

Most people will accept these limits and abide by them. But, manipulative people have no respect for boundaries, they’re only interested in gaining influence over you to get what they want.

“A manipulator might ignore you when you say “no,” totally ignoring your boundaries” as outlined by Business Insider.

Even though you know the manipulator will try to overstep your boundaries, it’s important to set them anyway. Their multiple attempts to overstep confirm they’re trying to manipulate you and you can call them out.

Think about it: if you’ve set a boundary that you can’t attend meetings after work hours due to family commitments and you’ve got a colleague who constantly adds late meetings to your calendar, they’re violating that boundary.

Now, you can easily call them out for disrespecting your boundary in front of the whole team and start exposing their tactics. Boundary setting sets you up for success and the manipulator up for failure so it’s a smart and subtle way to confront them.

2) Keep records of everything

When dealing with a manipulator you need to document and keep records of everything. You’re going to need this information later to confront them.

I know this sounds like overkill but let me explain.

One of the classic manipulation tactics is gaslighting. This is where they try to distort the truth to make you feel as though you’re losing your grip on reality. They might say something like “I told you in the meeting last week that the report was due today, and you said you’d handle it.”

You’ve got a thousand things on your mind and too many meetings every week to remember every detail, how can you know for sure if that really happened?

By documenting and keeping records of all interactions with the manipulator, you won’t need to second guess yourself. You’ll know what you did and did not commit to in previous meetings and you’ll be well-positioned to confront them on their lies when they try to gaslight you.

Keeping records of everything is a foolproof way to expose a manipulator’s tactics.

3) Be assertive and firm in your communication

Do you think you’re an assertive person? If you answered no, don’t worry.

According to a 2022 poll 19% of people claim to be naturally assertive with 69% of people developing assertiveness. This shows that even if you’re not born with it, you can develop it throughout your life.

Assertive communication is all about stating your needs clearly and directly while still being respectful of others. Being assertive is key when it comes to communicating with manipulative people.

I had to learn to be more assertive in the face of manipulation with one of my colleagues. She could see that I was younger and eager to please and she tried to get me to do some of her work and let her take the credit. 

She’d tell me to create certain reports and send them to her with tight deadlines as it was a ‘great learning experience’ for me. At first, I did it but when I realized what was happening I learned to say a firm but respectful no to her requests that weren’t my job. She left me alone. 

Being assertive and firm in your communication is a great way to confront a manipulator and expose their tactics because they start to realize, they can’t control or influence you to do things anymore. And without influence over you, they’ve got no power.

4) Publicly question their intentions

Publicly question their intentions 7 smart ways to confront a manipulator and expose their tactics

Manipulation is inherently sneaky and dishonest behavior. Manipulators like to lurk in the shadows and do underhanded things to gain control and influence over you. But to everybody else, they paint themselves as the perfect teammate.

The best way to confront them is to publicly question their intentions to show them that you’re not afraid to expose them and you’re not willing to tolerate their manipulative behavior.

“Calling a manipulator’s behavior out in public will do two things — one, it will diminish opportunities for the manipulator to lie or play dumb about the situation, and two… it shows everyone what’s really going on,” notes Caroline Forsey, Growth Marketer and Thought Leader.

If they do something that seems manipulative openly in front of everyone, don’t be afraid to call it out for what it is. Of course, they’ll deny it but it puts it on other people’s radars and it sends a message to the manipulator that you’re not someone to mess with.

5) Limit the information you share with them

It’s not always possible to cut contact with a manipulator, right?

But is there anything stopping you from limiting the information you share with them? When it comes to manipulators everything should be on a need-to-know basis only.

This might seem extreme but you can never forget that manipulators will pretend to be your friend to gain your trust, learn your secrets, and figure out your weaknesses so that they can use them against you later.

“Manipulators don’t usually show their true colors at the beginning of a relationship. In fact, they often present themselves as allies or confidantes, because they need to draw you close to size up where your soft spots are and how much they can get from you.” notes consultant Liz Kislik.

By limiting the amount of information they have about you, you’re making it difficult for them to manipulate you.

It’s also a smart way to confront them and expose their tactics. As they push for personal information you can use humor to call it out by saying “John, why are you so interested in my personal life? I’m not that interesting I promise.” This subtly exposes their tactics to others.

6) Practice self-care

Self-care is valuable and important for everyone, but especially if you’re dealing with a manipulator. It’s not easy and it’ll take its toll if you don’t look after yourself.

Manipulators prey on people that they perceive to be easy to influence and control. Unfortunately, they often target people with low self-esteem, people who don’t set and uphold strong boundaries, and people who tend to be caring and a little too trusting.

These traits aren’t necessarily bad but they make you more vulnerable to manipulation. To fight against this, make a habit of working on yourself regularly, for example:

  • Work on your self-esteem to create a more confident you that won’t be so easy for a manipulator to control.
  • Focus on improving your emotional intelligence to help you to see what a manipulator is up to sooner.

As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’ and by prioritizing yourself and your well-being, you’re much less likely to fall victim to manipulation from anyone.

7) Focus on facts

One of the smartest and simplest ways to expose a manipulator is to focus on facts and detach emotionally.

Consider this: manipulation relies heavily on exploiting emotions. Your colleague might want to manipulate you to make themselves look good and in doing so they’ll play on your emotions.

“I know how much you want this big promotion at the end of the quarter, but I don’t get the feeling the manager is happy with your work. I’ll look after your biggest account so you can focus on the promotion.”

It’s human nature to play into the emotional piece here and ask why they think the manager isn’t happy or be grateful they’re offering to help when really they’re stealing your top account. When it comes to manipulation, the best thing to do is leave emotions to one side, focus on facts. 

Ask for evidence or share data that proves you’re still on track for promotion and you’re handling the large account quite well based on recent numbers.

This is a clever way to expose a manipulator’s tactics because you highlight there’s no substance to their claims and show them you won’t be easily fooled or drawn in by their emotional manipulation.

The bottom line

Manipulators are very clever, that’s for sure.

But if you learn how to handle them, you can outsmart them and expose their tactics in the process.

When they finally realize they can’t manipulate you, they’ll move on and leave you alone. 

Picture of Cat Harper

Cat Harper

Cat is an experienced Sales and Enablement professional turned writer whose passions span from psychology and relationships to continuous self-improvement, lifelong learning and pushing back on societal expectations to forge a life she loves. An avid traveler and adventure sports enthusiast, in her downtime you'll find Cat snowboarding, motorcycling or working on her latest self-development project.

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