The Strategist

Pain points and weaknesses: How to resist manipulators at work

05/10/2021 - 03:38

Everyone has weaknesses and pain points, and pushing them tends to throw us off balance.

"Hot buttons" are anything that triggers an involuntary emotional reaction in you, making you mad (negative "hot buttons") or inspiring (positive "hot buttons").

When someone pushes one of our hot buttons, two things happen: our attention is diverted from other, sometimes more important things, and the emotion evoked affects our perception of the world around us.

This stereotypical reaction does not escape the eye of the manipulator, who will play on it without the slightest hesitation to win your favour or turn you against others.

Another insidious trick in his arsenal is to provoke a person into inappropriate behaviour and thereby ruin his reputation. It's difficult to know, except in the most outrageous situations, whether someone has deliberately touched a nerve or unintentionally, with no intention of manipulating or taking advantage of you.

Learning as much as you can about your vulnerabilities is much easier than learning how to control them. 360-degree feedback, including from family, friends or colleagues, is the best source of information about your weaknesses, especially if you are not aware of them. Training with the help of a trusted friend or professional coach will allow you to learn to control, or at least contain, your emotions. Over time, you will develop the ability to recognise painful reactions when they arise, giving you time to pause and master yourself.


People have many weaknesses, and an astute manipulator knows them by heart. For simplicity, let's focus on three broad categories: weaknesses, needs, and fears.

1. Flaws. What's wrong with you - are you too fat, too thin, or too shy? We often see flaws in ourselves that others do not notice. Some flaws we really have, others exist only in our imagination. Manipulators skillfully identify what you do not like about yourself, and use this as a kind of currency in interacting with you. They will try to convince you that they accept you with all your faults - real or imagined.

A realistic view of your own shortcomings is important to protect you from manipulation.

To get this view, you need to reduce the "register" of weaknesses, leaving only the ones that really matter, and then analyse them. You may decide to correct some of your "gaps", and will simply try to accept others. Once you understand the value of your weaknesses, it will be difficult for others to manipulate you with them.

2. Needs. What are you lacking in life - self-esteem, love, understanding, excitement, or maybe chocolate? The belief that we have less than we should have affects our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Sometimes we express resentment towards those who have more than we do, or doubt our ability to provide for ourselves and succeed. Often, we see ourselves as failures, or feel the need to fill an inner void, sometimes at any cost.

A craving for the things we need makes us psychologically, emotionally and sometimes physically vulnerable.

Immersed in thinking and dreaming about satisfying their desires, people become easy prey to manipulators who express a willingness to help - for example, by promising (without the true intention of providing) something you really want. It helps to have a clear idea of your needs and desires.

3. Fears. What are you afraid of - intimacy, loneliness or public speaking? Everyone has fears, questions and doubts from time to time. These are not beyond the norm, unless they are exhausting and interfere with daily life. However, when a manipulator discovers your fears, they serve as cues for how you will react to certain situations and events. This makes our fears a potential tool of manipulation. It is difficult to defend against this because one's fears - a product of both nature and upbringing - are not easy to conquer. 

Based on “Snakes in Suits. When Psychopaths Go to Work” by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare

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