I’ve been thinking about this for a while, of course, but I’m thinking about it tonight because of this advice column. And this is a really… bare-bones idea, not rigorously tested, and coerciveness vs okayness is sort of a spectrum, there are gray areas, but I think it boils down to two main factors:

  1. How much are you asking of the other person, what would it cost them to do what you’re asking them to do?
  2. How much power do you have to impose negative consequences on them if they say no?

and then, what you could call the actions of coercion or manipulation– as separate from whether someone effectively feels pressured or not, which can happen without any extra effort or fail to happen even when someone is trying to manipulate them– those actions would be defined as things that (from #1) twist a serious cost to seem like a minor cost, or (from #2) create or threaten extra negative consequences.


2 thoughts on “Manipulation

  1. Some more thoughts on this:

    *a lot of confusion can come of differing opinions on #1. lots of people don’t understand that not everyone is exactly like them, and have trouble believing that what they assume is easy could actually be quite hard. this seems like a common human tendency, actually, to apply wishful thinking to cost-benefit analysis when the costs don’t fall on them (it’ll be fine, what could possibly go wrong?) :P

    * I find it incredibly hard to ask people for things. with some people it’s because of #2: I fear that they’ll agree whether they want to or not, because of their own fear of conflict. Other times it’s… more related to #1 – what if they think it’s too much to ask, and blow up at me? I don’t trust my own judgement on this. I’m enough of an outlier that my own experience usually has no relation to NT experience, so I have to build models from what other people say (and how that relates to what people actually *do*), and there are just too damn many variables for my brain to keep track of. Occasionally something clicks, and I get a new set of fast, subconscious human-prediction nets, but there’s still a huge mass of uncertainty and at this rate I won’t live long enough to understand half of it.

    otoh, when people ask things of *me*, anxiety jumps on #2 instantly and I rarely even realise that “no” exists, let alone how to use it. if I do, anxiety usually insists the consequences will be horrible. And of course anxiety loves to talk up #1 and how impossibly hard everything is. :P

    man, anxiety really fucks with my ability to evaluate reasonable-ness in either direction. and that’s recursive, because then I start thinking “is this really unreasonable or is it anxiety fucking with me?” or “well that sounds reasonable, but how would I know?” … I don’t seem to have any settings between paranoid and gullible, and gullibility can be really fucking scary after the fact. (thank god there’s been an “after” so far.)

    thinking about those two questions might help me a lot, though… :)

    1. I agree, different frames of reference for what’s “easy” vs “too much to ask” causes a lot of trouble, and I think wishful thinking probably does play into that a lot of the time. Especially when someone is focused on what *they* have to do– like, “If only [person] would just do this one thing, then I could do all the things I have to do…” It’s easy to get focused on what you have to do yourself, and overlook how much work other people are doing.

      I have the same thing re: reflexively saying yes. And most of the time it’s about random unimportant things, things that I didn’t really care that much about either way, but that feeling that saying no was never a possibility is still pretty awful.

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