Identifying and Countering Manipulation Recently, I experienced someone who attempted to manipulate me in game, and upon recognizing the tactics used I decided to empower myself by researching what exactly psychological manipulation is and how to respond to it (or not). I wanted to share what I learned because I know I cannot be the only one who has experienced this in one form or another on the server, and many people like me are inexperienced in dealing with manipulative people. It should be stated that I have no training in this area and simply wish to share some of the things I've learned, which help me resolve my own issues without resorting to the very finalized /ignore that is still the most effective way to eliminate the problem. What is a Troll? People who we refer to online, as "Trolls," are those that deliberately spread discontent in others for their own gain. This is often done through the use of manipulation tactics, used in an attempt to bend you, the target, to their will. Types of Manipulation Tactics - Evoking Shame or Fear, Obligation & Guilt One of the first clues that you are being manipulated comes from your own gut reaction. A lady named Susan Forward coined the acronym F.O.G to describe the feelings you experience that are often a good indication that someone is attempting to manipulate you. F.O.G. stands for Fear, Obligation and Guilt. When any of these feelings are present in your initial reaction to someone's statements, then it is quite likely that the speaker has an agenda for which they are attempting to use you to fulfill. Oftentimes that agenda is to make themselves feel better or gain special treatment. - Beware of Statements that should be questions. Another way to spot manipulation is when a person makes statements that contain expectations of you, without actually asking you a direct question. For instance, a manipulator who wants you to call them more often might make the following statement: "You never call me, you're always too busy for me." The breakdown: Obligation: "You never call me" This part implies that you have an obligation to call the speaker and are deliberately putting them off. It implies you are doing this to them on purpose. Guilt: "You're always too busy for me" This second part implies that the speaker is not the most important thing in your life, and attempts to make you feel guilty about putting other things before them. The above statement is in sharp contrast to a normal interaction, where the speaker might ask something like: "Would you please call me on your next day off?" Notice how both parts of the manipulative statement imply action on your part, without ever actually asking you to do something different. It gives plenty of expectations and anyone can tell that the speaker wants you to call them, but they don't specifically ask you to do so. How to respond: The best response to this sort of tactic is to do nothing. Responding to the implied obligation most often only gives the speaker the go ahead to act this way again in the future. By responding to implied statements you open yourself up to being constantly on the defensive. Wait until the speaker actually asks a direct question in a polite manner without riddling it with expectations. -Minimization & Exaggeration If you feel you must respond to the above sort of accusation, try to expose the implied expectations in their statement. This way the manipulator cannot hide behind such expectation and must then deal with you as a real person, not just as their perception of you. When the speaker minimizes how often you call them by saying "You never call me," you might respond with reminding them of the last time you did so: "I didn't realize after I called you last week that you expected me to call again so soon." Use facts to discount their minimization of how often you call them, and speak directly to the expectation they are trying to hide in the statement. This goes the same for people who make exaggerated statements to attempt to blow things out of proportion. -Passive Aggressiveness & Emotional Blackmail "If you were really my friend you would trust me enough to add me to your property region." This statement is passive aggressive because it implies that you are not meeting the speaker's expectations of friendship, without ever actually saying you are not their friend. The other major manipulation tactic used here is emotional blackmail. The speaker in this case wanted permissions to a region that I was unwilling to give them, and attempted to blackmail me with the loss of their friendship if I were unwilling to give them such permissions. This is one of those situations where directly countering the accusation with simple facts can benefit you. In example, I responded to this statement by explaining that I don't base my friendships on who has permissions or not, and that there are plenty of people I respect and consider to be my friends who don't have perms either. When you remove the manipulator as the main subject or reason for your actions and thus make it impersonal, you undermine the very basis for their assumption that they are the only one you are doing this to. So, always make sure to present the speaker with facts to back yourself up against emotional blackmail. -Bringing private problems into the public eye Manipulators will often use public areas such as global chat to try to hash out their perceived problems with you. This is usually a deliberate attempt to "pin you up against a wall," so to speak. The manipulator will often do so when they have their own friends around, but Surprise! none of your friends will happen to be around to back you up when they choose to address their "issues" with you. Keep in mind here that you don't owe anyone anything. You are under no obligation to respond to manipulators or give them an second of your time. Refusing to give a response here might feel as though the manipulator is winning in this instance, but they are not. Manipulators rely on this very public pressure to get a quick and non-thought-out answer from you. Time is on your side, and waiting them out with patience gives you the advantage in the long run. They will often have to resort to actually sending you a private message as they should have done so to begin with. How to protect yourself from manipulators and trolls: "Draw a line in the sand" Make a list of actions that you are not willing to put up with. For example, this server has a rule that swearing is allowed, but name-calling is not. This is a type of boundary that was set, and when crossed there are consequences. Set your own boundaries and stick to them. Also, don't make idle threats - you do not owe anyone a warning before using /ignore on them, and if you say you will do something, follow through with it. -Don't give up control Manipulators often have an agenda to make themselves feel better or get special treatment, and the expectations they set on you are designed to help them gain control over you to meet their own ends. The cost they put on you here is irrelevant to them. Don't let them set the terms. Refuse to answer to them if they choose to be impolite. You are your own person and deserve to be treated respectfully just as much as the next person. If you don't budge on requiring them to use etiquette in speaking with you, then in order for them to get the answers they want, they become the one who must change. -Keep Evidence handy Manipulators often rely on faulty memories to be able to twist the truth to their own advantage. They will even try to put a "spin" on facts to make it work for them even when it clearly doesn't. I personally like to take screenshots when I see an issue arising, and more often than not it blows over on it's own. You can always delete screenshots later, but they make great evidence to back you up and help keep what really happened from being distorted by the manipulator's interpretation of the same incident. This is especially true if it builds over the course of several days/weeks/months. Often it is not easy to spot the manipulator's toxic personality at first glance. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Finally, as mentioned in the first paragraph, if you see the conversation going south and don't have any need to remain friends with the person, then /ignore is really the simplest solution to it all. Sure, the manipulator might rant and try to deface you for a while afterward, even getting their friends to act as middle-men. But guess what? YOU don't have to deal with it when you use /ignore. Furthermore, anyone worth being your friend will see their rant for what it is, a tantrum, and it will only make them look bad, not you. Eventually their flame will die out from under them and they will leave you alone to go find a new target to try and control. So in summary - Don't feed the trolls - they only want a reaction from you, for whatever reason. Don't give them the satisfaction.