Re: Manipulation/Victimization LO1097

John R. Snyder (
Sun, 7 May 1995 20:54:37 -0600

Replying to LO1079 --

DrAlthouse wrote (LO1079):
>Lots of talk about manipulation; when, how, what...As therapist, deal with
>manipulation all the time...we just call it therapy. Manipulation is
>everywhere. Only a problem when intention is to victimize rather than
>facilitate. [snip]

Through a lot of soul-searching about the self-imposed limits to my own
learning and effectiveness as a professional, I have come to the opposite
conclusion. My learning is not over, so I am open to hearing other points
of view. It is also possible that Dr. Althouse and I have different
definitions of "manipulate," but I'll assume for now that we are both using
the word in its usual sense.

As best I can tell, I cannot be materially helped or harmed by your
intentions. I can only be helped or harmed by your actions. Your
intentions are irrelevant to the question of whether I am harmed by your
manipulation of me. If you decide to rape me for my own good, convert me
to the True Faith at the point of a sword out of concern for my eternal
soul, or put me in a Skinner box to teach me positive social skills, I am
harmed nonetheless.

Because you are not omniscient, if you manipulate me, even with the best of
intentions, you may materially harm me. I believe this is, in fact, quite
likely because by choosing to covertly manipulate me you are necessarily
choosing to act out of your own partial, flawed understanding of my
situation and the ramifications of your manipulation.

I think it likely that you have harmed me even if your manipulation appears
to me to work out for my good. By concealing your reasoning and acting
covertly you have at the very least kept me in a "one down" position,
reinforced my dependence on you, and unilaterally denied me an important
opportunity to learn something important about myself.

Manipulation also harms the manipulator. It keeps the manipulator locked
into his/her private reasoning about the world and makes him/her ultimately
less effective (because less informed). It severs the feedback loop that
is absolutely necessary for learning. (I can't help but mention that I
directly attribute to manipulative practices much of the unfortunate
backlash we're now seeing against psychotherapy as a profession.)

If manipulation appears to be everywhere, that is because manipulation
breeds counter-manipulation in an infinite regress of covert conflict.
Most people know when they are being manipulated. The natural, rational
response is to (a) conceal from the manipulator one's knowledge of being
manipulated, and (b) defend oneself by some counter-manipulation (e.g.,
role-playing). I believe the manipulated patient's rational response to
defend himself from harm is what therapists call "resistance." (Actually,
I don't mean to pick on therapists -- the very same thing is true of
clients and consultants, employees and managers, teenagers and parents,
etc.) This is how defensive routines get started and perpetuated in
organizations (families, relationships in general). This pattern of tacit
mutual manipulation is one of the primary "undiscussables" found by Chris
Argyris in a lifetime of research in organizations.

The only way I have found to step out of the vicious cycle of manipulation
is to (a) realize that the expert is not the one who can most cleverly
manipulate but the one who can most effectively collaborate; (b) do my
utmost to give my collaborators *informed choice* about the issue or course
of action in question; (c) share my (whole) reasoning and invite them to
share theirs; (d) let them decide for themselves, without further pressure
or judgment from me; (e) invite them to test and reflect with me over time
what the actual outcomes were, so that we can both learn and improve the
quality of our future action; and (f) collaboratively design and test fixes
to any problems we found with our initial solution.

Working with this framework (there's more, but this is the core) has
revolutionized my consulting practice, my marriage, my parenting, and even
my relationship with myself. I no longer try to coerce and manipulate
myself into doing things; I give myself informed choice, invite myself to
act, refrain from judgment, etc.

I know two therapists (one in Boston, one in Chicago) who are working on
reinventing their practice along similar lines. I would be glad to
correspond privately with anyone who wants more information, names of the
therapists, etc.

If anyone has discovered a more effective way to reduce manipulation and to
collaborate, I would be most grateful to hear of it.

One final comment on Dr. Althouse's Facilitation-Victimization continuum:
it won't surprise you by now that I think "team processes" and "dialogue"
can be, and often are, as damaging to people as rape, fraud, and robbery --
if they're done within a framework of undiscussable mutual manipulation.

John Snyder
Innovation On Demand
Round Rock, TX