Don’t Name the Game: Use the Element of Surprise Against Manipulators

People play games.

Some games are fun. Like soccer. They’re games you can join in on.

Other games are not so fun. They’re games in which *you* are the soccer ball. I’m talking about emotional manipulation, pretense, posturing, and all of that jazz.

People aren’t usually playing these games maliciously. Manipulation is sometimes unconscious and automatic. People follow psychological patterns.

Games like these might include the “use person’s honesty against them” game or the “make person feel inferior by pretending to be smarter and more confident than I am” game, for instance.

There are three ways to respond to people who are playing games:

  1. Be played. This one is always an option, and it’s most likely to happen when you don’t notice that there is a game being played. Example: “Wow. You’re smart. Shut up and take my money.”
  2. Call out the game. When you “name the game,” it becomes a lot more awkward for the other person to try to play you. Example: “You’re just saying all those acronyms in order to look smart!”
  3. Don’t call out the game.

When you first become aware of the games people might be playing on you, it’s very tempting to go to #2. Calling out the game feels satisfying, and it does sometimes set people off balance.

It has the drawback, however, of letting the person who is trying to manipulate you know that they need to change strategies. Assuming they’re malicious, you’ve just given them a clue that they need to try another way to attack you.

Try #3 instead: don’t call out the game. Instead, start subtly countering it.

First, steer clear of manipulated thinking. Once you know the game, you can opt out of it.

Then look for ways to undermine the player’s ability to keep the game going. In the example of an intellectual poseur, you might just pull a Socrates and ask some innocent questions. Or you might start making them uncomfortable by drawing on your own (real) expertise in response.

The poseur will be thrown off balance. In interpersonal games as in combat, secrecy and surprise are an advantage.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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