In business, deals are made often by people who hold out for more. But most people in their personal lives are willing to negotiate so everyone’s happy or less frequently perhaps, say no and mean it or

So, why is it that with some people, negotiation can turn into manipulation, or worse, retaliation?

First Things First

Before we can explore that question we have to take a good, hard and very honest look in the mirror.

Ask: Do I manipulate to get my way? Do I retaliate when I don’t?

Manipulation and retaliation can overlap. These are two maladaptive coping mechanisms which people fall into, in many cases because they didn’t having healthier communication and negotiation techniques modeled for them. If you weren’t taught that it’s okay to not get your way, and that learning how to handle disappointment with both intellectual and emotional maturity was part of your interpersonal education, you’ll have a harder time with this, but it can be done. You can do this on your own. Or, effective therapy can give you the tools you need to gain the insight into yourself to change this.

In all likelihood, most of us have used these maladaptive techniques once or twice when we were teenagers, or even beyond, but with mature reflection, you’ll be able to identify if you’re being manipulative or retaliative and you’ll work to change this.

Other People and You

Assuming you have done the work it takes to get rid of these behaviors in yourself, you still will run across people who rely on these techniques.  We want to give a shout out about giving the benefit of the doubt, though: We believe most people who manipulate (or even retaliate)  aren’t completely aware that they have fallen into this pattern. They want to control a situation (or a person) and have real panic, fear, or anger when they can’t, but they don’t go into these situations wishing to hurt someone.

In longer-term relationships which imply some kind of emotional investment, we suggest you don’t react hastily. Again, people often don’t realize that they are manipulating a person or situation rather than engaging in healthful negotiation. If you realize this manipulation is going on, gently explain to the person why you feel they are being manipulative (or worse) without accusing them. In other words, jump in quickly and start a gentle conversation such as: In the past, sometimes I’ve said yes when I didn’t really want to. Now, I’d like to  feel that my needs are met, too, as we discuss this plan. Do you think you are ready to meet me halfway? 

Most people cannot refuse a rational, softly-spoken request for negotiation (at least before a disagreement has broken out.)

What if this doesn’t work? If it happens again in the same conversation, up the ante and say: I feel like you are not really listening to what I want or taking my perspective into consideration. If you’d like to continue discussing this now, and agree to meet me half way, I’m game. If not, we’ll have to continue this another time when we both are ready to compromise.

If it happens again and again, and you’ve given the person three or four chances,  you might want to limit these kinds of interactions or get some outside help.

There is also some room for leniency with people you don’t know. It’s important (whether you know someone well or not) to give the benefit of the doubt and it’s also important to recognize that some people might have cognitive or other disabilities that prevent them from understanding the situation you both find yourselves in.

What happens though if the situation has already deteriorated? How do you stop having your needs trampled on and otherwise being taken advantage of?

Simply say “no.”

The power of a soft-spoken or emailed “This isn’t working for me” separates out those who want to meet you half-way and those who simply can’t interact without controlling or manipulating.

If they respond with threats or retaliation (either to your face or behind your back) or they don’t respond at all (silent treatment) you have some choices.

In The Silent Treatment And What You Can Do To Stop It Cold we wrote:

One of the more frustrating passive-aggressive tactics to those on the receiving end is “the silent treatment”.

The silent treatment is an abusive method of control, punishment, avoidance, or disempowerment (sometimes these four types overlap, sometimes not) that is a favorite tactic of narcissists, and especially those who have a hard time with impulse control, that is, those with more infantile tendencies.

The silent treatment can be used as an abusive tactic that is the adult narcissist’s version of a child’s “holding my breath until you give in and give me what I want.”

Read more of that post if you’re dealing with the silent treatment.

If you are being retaliated against with verbal attacks either to your face or behind your back, your instinct might be to take the higher ground and ignore those attacks. We find this is our preferred method and sometimes it actually works. When it doesn’t, though, don’t be shy about standing up for your rights. Don’t allow yourself to be abused to your face–end the confrontation. Hang up the phone, saying: I’m not going to listen to abuse. When you feel like speaking to me with the same respect I speak to you, then call me.

Behind your back is a bit trickier and requires more space than a blog post. Talking about it with a good friend or mentor, clergy member or counselor, can be the first step towards resolution.

Next post, we’ll talk about assertive communication techniques and how to deal with manipulation, retaliation.