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09 Nov '12

Controlling conversations

Whenever a conversation starts to feel uncomfortable and one that seems to be deliberately putting you in a corner rather than allowing for freedom of dialogue, pay attention! Conversations that don't feel good or safe probably are not. 

This is not about conversations where two parties might disagree with one another. That is normal. This is about conversations that feel designed to control you, force you to a specific conclusion or force you to agree to something that you don't feel comfortable agreeing to.

Feeling uncomfortable in a conversation is often a sign that you are in an unhealthy conversation that will not end well if it continues. More about that in a moment.

Some people are masters at manipulating others. Most of us are not but the warning signal to us is a feeling of discomfort. That manipulation can come in the form of vigorous debate designed to get you to agree. It may come in the form of veiled or not so veiled threats if they are in a position of authority. It can come in the form of anger which one wants to dissuade, often by agreement. It may come in the form of "facts" that are not facts at all but broad generalizations that sound true but leave a question in your mind. I recently spoke with an individual regarding some issues of disagreement and he kept saying, "T.J. you know...." He was using gratuitous language to flatter me into agreeing with him.

Manipulation is just that. And its sign is discomfort or a feeling that this is not a two sided conversation but a one sided conversation. Manipulation is trying to force other to agree with us. It reflects dis-health in the one using it and we should be aware when it happens.

How can I respond if I am feeling manipulated or controlled in a conversation. Here are some suggestions:

  • "It feels to me that you want me to agree with you and frankly I don't."
  • "I think it would be helpful to have a third party in on this conversation because I am feeling pushed to agree with you."
  • "Is this a two way dialogue or must I agree with your point of view?"
  • "While I respect your opinion, you need to know that I don't agree with you but it feels that I must if we are going to keep a relationship."
  • "I am feeling uncomfortable with where this conversation is going and I would like to put it off for another time."
With any of these comments you are gently but honestly calling the other party on their behavior and your discomfort. They are not used to people confronting them and will usually back off. Whatever you do, don't be manipulated by manipulators.