How to Tell If Someone Is Manipulating You Based on Their Body Language

We have all been manipulated. But chances are, our manipulators were giving off these five signs of manipulation.

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By Don Weber • Oct 26, 2022

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Manipulators come in many shapes, sizes and forms. Furthermore, not all of those who manipulate are inherently evil. Many people are unaware they are manipulating others. At one time or another, both you and I have used our influence to achieve a personal desire — it is basic human nature.

However, some intentionally manipulate others. They seek to lower another individual's self-esteem and cause harm. They may say and do kind things when the "right" people are watching, but they ultimately seek their own success and gratification. It is these types of manipulators I have spent a great deal of my career identifying.

Throughout my time working for top governmental agencies, I learned a great deal about recognizing manipulators. My job was to befriend people to gather human intelligence. I participated in those activities for over a decade and learned a tremendous amount in those years. The skills I acquired during this time helped me to, quite literally, survive.

Eventually, I wanted to use those skills and make a positive difference in the world. Today, I have accomplished this by teaching others about communication. One of the common topics I have educated others on involves identifying manipulation through body language.

Related: This Body-Language Expert's 'Triangle' Method Will Help You Catch a Liar in the Act

Manipulation and body language

Regarding this topic, I have heard all kinds of myths. Plenty of books claim to have identified the exact movement of all manipulators. Some people claim that someone is always lying if they look to the left. Or, another individual may claim that manipulators rub their noses a certain way. This is not entirely true.

The hard, and simple, truth is that using body language to identify manipulation takes time and study. To truly recognize someone's deceit, you must have complete knowledge of a person's baseline — or standard — body language. Any deviations from the norm indicate that something is awry.

For these reasons, you will always have an easier time spotting manipulation when it comes from someone close to you. You are accustomed to the natural body language of your loved one and will have an easier time recognizing any deviations, whether conscious or subconscious.

Remember, it can be true that a person looking to the left, or rubbing their nose, could be indicative of manipulation. However, this only applies if these gestures are not ordinary for that person.

Related: 9 Signs You're Dealing With an Emotional Manipulator

Signs of a manipulator

Once you thoroughly understand a person's typical body language and gestures, you can start detecting deviations in their behavior. These departures from the norm may occasionally reflect signs of manipulation. Below are examples of some standard deviations I have witnessed in manipulators:

1. Foot tapping

When somebody is tapping their feet, it is often a sign of annoyance or impatience. A manipulator may tap their feet, or start clicking a pen, to deliberately convey those emotions and cause their victim to feel guilt. Tapping the feet may also cause you to rush your decision which could play into a manipulator's best interest.

2. Chin scratching

When a manipulator scratches their chin, they are trying to show uncertainty or low confidence. This is often a tactic used to force people to give in and say, "It's okay. I can just do it."

I'm sure you can think of many times you've told someone you wanted to do something you didn't because they appeared uncertain in their abilities. However, if you are certain a person is capable of doing what they are requesting from you, and they are still scratching their chin, chances are they are trying to manipulate you into doing it for them.

3. Hand and neck rubbing

Picture your favorite Disney villain. You can easily imagine them rubbing their hands together while they maniacally laugh.

Even Disney can recognize that this behavior is a sign of self-serving plotting. While real-life manipulators may not have an evil laugh, rubbing hands together may be their way to communicate dominance, annoyance or hurriedness.

Many people who feel stress will also rub their necks. It is possible for a manipulator to give signs of stress or guilt when exploiting another individual. Only skilled sociopaths find complete delight in hoodwinking their target. If you find that a neck rub is an unordinary action from a particular individual, it could be worthy of concern.

4. Eye contact and movement

It's commonly believed that if someone is looking you straight in the eye, they are telling you the truth. However, manipulators can hold eye contact for a long time. In fact, a manipulator or liar intently watches their victim and looks continuously in their eyes to determine if the victim is falling for their ploy. If someone looks you straight in the eye and does not usually do so, they could be lying.

Another important secret about a manipulator's eyes is the blink rate. Blinking can reveal what is going on in a person's neurology. An increased blink rate may indicate rising adrenaline, stress or fear. Reduced blinking conveys more focus or relaxation, depending on the context of the situation.

5. Shifting body positions

If you sense that someone is trying to control you, begin to pay attention to how often they shift their body position. Shifting positions can be a manipulator's way of making you believe they are experiencing discomfort. Our minds are innately trained to recognize when a person is uncomfortable and provide consolation. As a result, you may be caving if someone is constantly moving their position.

Related: One Negotiation Expert Shares the 4 Body Language Cues Every Entrepreneur Should Recognize

Don Weber

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Soft Skills and Communication Expert and Coach

Dr. Weber is an expert business communication trainer and uses his extensive background in human behavior, psychology and meditation to help his clients more effectively communicate with their teams, enhance their public speaking skills and improve relationships with prospective clients.

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