The psychology of manipulation

Here’s the truth: In business and in life, in general, people are going to try to manipulate you. By and large, people are good, in my opinion. 

However, there are people out there who are ruthless in their approach to life and business, and will try and take advantage of you when you’re vulnerable. 

In my experience as a person who has created several successful businesses, and has been at the center of countless negotiations — some of which, especially early in my career — did not go as I had hoped they would, there are some things you need to be careful about if you want to create a sustainable, 10X-level business.

Here are 8 important things to look out for, so you can protect yourself from being taken advantage of. 


Have you ever been in a situation with someone who will insist to you that an incident didn’t happen, when you absolutely know that it did? Or, just the opposite, this person claims they said something even though you know they didn’t?

This isn’t just a difference of perception or memory, this is intentional, and this behavior is called gaslighting. 

The people who engage in gaslighting in order to take advantage of you are manipulative, can’t be trusted, and have the goal of making you question your own perception of reality. 

Don’t be afraid to call them out on their gaslighting behavior, and more importantly, cut them out of your life as quickly as you can. They won’t stop with you. They’ll attempt to gaslight everyone around you. Sever all ties. 

Silent treatment

I am someone who believes in solving problems. One thing I’ve learned in my career is that a lot of the problems we face are due to poor communication. Poor communication causes misunderstandings, which can then lead to all sorts of other issues. 

Because of that reality, I like to face issues head-on. Communicating, working things out, and moving forward typically makes things better, even if what’s communicated is a parting of ways. 

But you know what’s toxic? Cutting off all communication and giving people the silent treatment. The goal of the silent treatment, whether it’s literal verbal silence or an end of any and all written communication, is to control and to punish. There is nothing positive about the silent treatment. 

Begging for this person’s attention just feeds into their need to control, and further exacerbates the silent treatment you’re already experiencing. Don’t fall for the trap and play the silent treatment game. Take the higher ground, find an alternative, or separate yourself altogether. 

Giving ultimatums

Is there anything more stressful than a “Do what I say, or else?”-style of communication when you’re trying to have a rational conversation?

Do you know what another way to say an ultimatum is? Threat. 

The whole goal of an ultimatum is to force you to make a decision before you’re ready, before you have had the opportunity to think clearly about all of the different variables in a situation. 

If you’re negotiating with someone who throws an ultimatum your way, always say you need more time to think, and if they’re unwilling to budge, then that’s your sign to walk away. 

Negative humor

To be clear, I’m not talking about someone who has a dark sense of humor, or someone who uses wit to make light of a situation. 

No, what I’m describing is the sort of person who is intentionally negging you in order to cause you to lose sight of your self-worth.

They’re demeaning you in order to impose psychological superiority over you. Don’t let them get into your head, and don’t let their words offend you. It’s not even really about you. It’s their own insecurity that leads them to believe that this is an appropriate way to communicate with you. 

By laughing it off and not letting it offend you, they’ve lost all power in the situation. Stay strong. 

Claiming ignorance

A less generous way to describe this is, “playing dumb.” And why would someone in a professional setting use this sort of tactic?

People pretend to not understand what you want them to do or need them to say because it allows them to avoid responsibility. This puts more of the work on your shoulders and less on theirs. 

This is one where you really do need to be careful. If you’re their manager, have you really given them the communication and training they need in order to execute, or are they claiming ignorance to give themselves less to do. 

If it’s the former, then you need to give them the support they deserve (and evaluate how you assign projects to people). If it’s the latter, then a frank conversation is needed. And if that doesn’t work, then transitioning them out of the organization might be in order. 

Giving you too much space to speak

This psychological tactic is especially important to look out for when you’re in the middle of negotiations. 

Are they asking you a number of probing questions, but giving you very little in return? A manipulative personality will ask you a series of general and specific questions in order to establish a baseline with you, so that they can determine what they perceive you to be your strengths and weaknesses. 

Be careful not to overshare. Don’t show your hand. Make certain that you’re answering their questions as succinctly as possible, and using your answer as an opportunity to volley questions back at them.

Intellectual bullying

Did you know that many marketing and advertising experts recommend that when you’re creating content, that you keep things at a sixth or seventh grade level?

This recommendation is given because it allows the writer to create content that is as inclusive as possible. Because it’s not overstuffed with complicated language, it has a greater opportunity to be meaningful with more people. 

More complicated styles of communication — obscure facts, industry-specific jargon, and little known facts are usually delivered by the sort of person who is trying to express their intellectual superiority over you. 

They’re trying to take advantage of you, and if they can make you feel like you’re back on your heels because you’re trying to understand a word you’ve never heard of instead of reading between the lines of what they’re talking about, then they’ve got you in the crosshairs of manipulation. 

If this is a pre-planned meeting, then do your research, spend ample time preparing, and don’t let yourself feel intimidated by someone who insists on showcasing their intellectual prowess instead of having a real conversation. 

Home court advantage

Sometimes, meetings are held in certain spaces because they’re simply more convenient. 

It’s totally normal to meet at a business’s headquarters, in their executive boardroom, an office, etc. 

But we’re not talking about normal people here. We’re talking about manipulators. And a manipulator will purposely use an environment to make you feel small. 

Their goal is to make you feel small, to exercise control, and to take away any leverage you might have thought you had before you walked through the door. 

Whenever it’s possible, I recommend that you find neutral places you can meet so that this sort of environmental manipulation cannot take place. 

Manipulators are all around you: Be careful!

As I said earlier, by and large, I believe that most people are good, but the more successful you become, the more careful you have to be about the people that you find yourself negotiating with. 

Business can be an incredibly rewarding venture, enabling you to achieve your personal, professional, and financial goals. Business can also be ruthless. 

When it comes to psychological manipulation in business, you have to know what to look for and how to respond to it if your plan is to thrive as an entrepreneur.

Take the above tactics and tips to heart, and you’ll be 10 steps ahead of the average business owner, I can promise you. 

If you’re someone who has a growth mindset and wants to surround themselves with like-minded business owners, entrepreneurs, and the incredible people behind Cardone Ventures, then you need to join us for our next incredible event!

Just go to Cardone Ventures to save your space. These events are incredible explorations of how we can take control of our businesses and our lives, by fixing broken systems, broken thinking, and broken communication. These seats go fast, so register now if you truly want to 10X your business and your life. See you there!