“Everyone is going to have a GREAT time if it is the last thing I do!” she said through gritted teeth. “I have been miserable for months while planning this and I better see a really happy, bonded team!” Other times it comes out in weepy despair. “I just wanted to make everyone happy!”
My eyebrows raise as I hear versions of this from clients, friends … my own mouth. If you also have said such things, then you too are a big, old manipulator. Ouch! Yes, a manipulator. This doesn’t mean you’re malicious, it just means that you want to control others. In this case, they need to get happy ASAP.
The response from my clients to this diagnosis isn’t exactly a warm one, and usually gets a shocked or rather angry reaction that quickly moves into self-righteous explanations about self-sacrifice and being the kind of positive leader who actually cares about people. No one likes to be labeled a manipulator, especially when trying so hard to do something nice for others.
However, the problem isn’t that you’re caring too much for other people. The problem with this is why you’re doing it. You want to control the other person’s experience. Any time we are trying to control outside of ourselves, we are in a state of manipulation. Now, there may not be an intention of malice or ill will, but if there is a desire to control another person, even for good, then manipulation has occurred. This also means that you are not in control. It puts the other person in control of your success and makes you responsible for the result without any actual power to make it happen. You are tasked with making them happy, but can’t actually ensure that it happens. Trying to control outside of ourselves is the perfect recipe for frustration, resentment and anger.
No one likes to be controlled. The moment a person feels that you are pushing them, even into a positive situation, the natural response is to exert a resistance to it. The person isn’t pushing back from the positive intention. The person is pushing back from being forced. This resistance leads the person away from what you are hoping to accomplish, which is a happy response. Another common reaction when a person feels manipulated into happiness is to take the kindness and then demand more. It becomes an endless cycle of giving that never seems to satisfy the other person, or at least not for very long. So either the receiver is never happy and rejects your efforts or endlessly demands more.
It really isn’t a free offering of kindness. The manipulation side of it is that you want something from it too. You’re needing the other person to be happy. That’s your payoff. You are needed. You are wanted. Perhaps you want to be the source of delight or the one who can rescue, but when your expectation isn’t met, resentment and anger rise quickly within you. It feels like the other person didn’t hold up their end of the contract. You gave so much for their happiness and didn’t get the reaction you wanted.
The key is to step back and notice why you are taking the action. If you are freely offering the positive experience with an open heart, then great. If the other person is happy, you’re happy for them. If they are not happy, then you are at peace. You may even be willing to make adjustments to what may work better upon learning more, but you cannot have ownership of the person’s experience. If your expectation is that the other person must like it or feel grateful about it and attribute that to your efforts, then you’re manipulating the person. It is the desperation or the need for others to be happy that becomes the manipulation.
So go ahead and give generously what you truly wish to give. Give from the space of your joy and happiness. If what you have to offer isn’t received, then move forward. You’ll be free to give to those who can receive, and you’ll be free to allow others their experiences. Happiness, indeed!