The Personal, Professional, and Entrepreneurial Costs of Manipulation
Updated: Jan 25
This interview is a transcript from Inter:views, Cracking The Entrepreneurship Code, with Noah Revoy, a personal and business relationship strategist. It has been edited for length and clarity.
The root problem of every personal and professional relationship is manipulation. It is also a vice that is deeply rooted in the business world. Most entrepreneurs manipulate their customers to push sales, which is why most fail within the first three years. It is, therefore, essential to learning how to make rational decisions that are not manipulative if you want to stay long in the game because your business is only as good as its name in the market.
Manipulation is the easiest way to destroy your reputation.
Join this conversation with Noah Revoy as he shares the effects of manipulation and how to
know when we have crossed the line. Know the tips for approaching a manipulator as an
entrepreneur. It is both an art and a skill that you must master. Noah Revoy is a personal
and business relationship strategist who teaches individuals and organizations how to
identify and resist manipulation. Noah mentors couples, professionals, founders, executives,
and investors to build a sustainable, win-win relationship
Tell us about your journey.
Well, I started out when I was a child. I was encouraged to be a minister. I was taught all kinds of techniques for listening to people and helping them with their problems. It was focused on helping them with spiritual problems. But very often, all of the issues in our life come back to some sort of problem of the human spirit. I had this tremendous foundation in teaching and working with people in what is essentially a coach.
Minister is essentially a coach for your spiritual needs, but they often touch into everything relationships, marriage, people's problems in their businesses, and everything you end up working with people doing, accompanying them along that journey as they grow. And because many members of my family were ministers, and these types of people surrounded us, I had this experience that other kids didn't get.
By the time I was 15, I was assigned to minister to people who were at the bottom of society's rungs, street people, prostitutes, drug addicts, criminals, and these types. So I was spending a lot of time dealing with people who had made every mistake possible and had had every bad thing happen to them possible. I really had a deep interest and a deep care and concern for them to find out what it was that got them to where they were and how, if possible, they could turn their lives around. I put a lot of effort into these 100s of hours, 1000s of hours of reading, and practical experience, in the trenches, so to speak, with these people. I learned a lot of what later became my coaching skills in dealing with these people and helping them succeed.
It's kind of funny because, on the one hand, I'm helping the people at the bottom of society, and on another day, I'll be helping someone who's a multimillionaire who has business questions and has run huge, colossal IT companies. So the dichotomy of that gave me a different perspective.
I could see that the problems were mostly the same, just at different scales. The deeper issues of the society of communication, relationships, and manipulation exist everywhere. What we're trying to do is to help people to become immune to the root causes. Whether at the bottom of society or the top, they're still going to benefit from what they're learning.
You mentioned that the problems are the same regardless of where you are in this society. Can you give us some examples of typical problems you have encountered?
For example, you will have a person who is really down and out. They believe that not only are they a wrong person at their core root, and this is not necessarily true. There are horrible people, but they're a tiny minority. Mostly these people will believe that they're not worthy, and therefore they don't invest in themselves to improve their lives. They have this constant feeling of imposter syndrome, even though they're at the very bottom of society.
And then I'll talk to someone who is a CEO of a big major corporation, has excellent decision-making skills, and knows who everyone looks up to and everyone loves. But he still thinks that no one wants to spend time with him. He's an intrusion into everyone else's life. It's the same feeling scaled differently.
Yes, the imposter syndrome. It's always there, isn't it?
There's the way the brain is constructed; this is a very rough description. But it's enough for most people's use. There's the part of the back of the brain that is instinct. It's like survival instinct, a lizard brain. And there's a part in the middle that has emotions. And there's a part
in the front, the neocortex, which regulates the other functions. It's where the
higher thinking processes happen, and for many of us, if we have a problem, for example, with weight gain, the little lizard brain in the back is saying we could be starving tomorrow, that or eat all the food we can find. Then the part in the middle says, I get a lot of emotional joy from eating. I love that chocolate cake. I should eat the whole thing. And then the neocortex in the front says, I know we love eating. But the reality is, we have plenty of food, we're not starving, and everything is good; you need to interrupt that signal and say we'll eat some cake; we're not gonna eat all the cake because there will be long-term consequences.
What happens when we get tired is the part of the front is the part that stops working first, and it just works its way back through the brain because we need the lizard brain to survive. So that can work when we're almost dead, we can be half in a coma, and the lizard brain will still work to keep us alive. This is because our body chooses to die slowly rather than die quickly if it has to make that choice.
Many of these things that are difficult now in an environment with plenty were necessary survival strategies when we had a challenging environment where it was physically difficult to survive. We're working against 1000s and 1000s of years of evolution and human nature. We have to learn how to control that.
It's the same reason why we shouldn't be making long-term decisions when we're exhausted because we're making them not with the neocortex but with something more profound in the brain.
That doesn't mean the decision will be wrong. What it means is the decision is not logical. And so if it's right, it’s more by chance than anything.
Let's talk about manipulation; you wrote a book about it. What is it exactly?
Manipulation is emotional and social warfare. It's a tool by which people create false debt. So they make it as if you owe them something.
That's not necessarily financial; that could be: do you owe them obedience? Do you owe them loyalty? As I said, it's a false debt. Because if you have an absolute obligation, you don't need manipulation to let the person know about that. You can be completely honest with them and open. But if you want to manufacture a debt, you can get something for nothing.
The exciting thing is this is not always malicious. I mean, that sounds terrible, waging warfare against someone. But it's not always malicious. Many people are manipulative because they have needs they don't know how to meet. They're afraid that if they don't do something, no one's going to meet their needs, no one's going to love them, no one's going to support them, and no one's going to agree with their ideas in a meeting. They're gonna get fired because they're gonna get replaced, their job will be outsourced whatever it is, and they're afraid. They're acting from a position of fear.
People who are afraid are much more dangerous often than people who are actually malicious because you can reason with a rational, malicious person. You can set boundaries, and you can prevent them from harming you very hard vs. with a person who's afraid because they're not acting from a rational place; they're acting from this strong survival emotion. They're acting from their lizard brain. What they'll do is they'll try to manipulate you, and they're looking for something to get out of it.
Now, if you were to end every relationship that had some element of manipulation in it because this is what most people say - they manipulate me, I just never going to talk to them again - you would be all alone, you would lose all your employees, you'd have to quit every job you start. Because everywhere there's an element of manipulation, because everywhere people are, to a certain extent, afraid. Some more than others, but to a certain extent, there will be someone in that environment who's afraid.
So what's better is to learn how to condition people around you that manipulation is not how to deal with me. If you want to deal with each other with manipulation, okay, but not with me.
What ends up happening is because you've now helped them to see there's a better way, they will tend to deal with others in the way that you teach them, which is persuasion. Instead of manipulation, you teach them to persuade, and persuading requires offering something for something, so instead of false debt, it's a trade. It's a win-win situation.
What about sales interactions? Are they manipulative?
If you want to maintain your client so you can sell in the short term, you can stack your sales if you use high-pressure manipulative tactics in the short term. Although the bigger the project, the less that those work. Those don't work on hardened buying managers from big companies. The big, prominent decision-makers that don't work on them, those high-pressure stuff doesn't work because they're thinking highly logically and rationally about their business. But you can stack your sales in the short term, and you will create animosity with your clients because, at a certain point, they find out that you tricked them, you manipulated them. And not only do they don't want to do business with you, but they also want to see your business burn. You've created enemies, precisely the opposite of what you want to do.
If you're in a smaller country, I'm in Portugal; you're in Finland, and reputation is crucial for continual business. So if you have the reputation to do business with Noah, and you'll make money, even if he takes a loss, you'll make money. He's going to find a way to ensure that you're happy if you work with him. That reputation helped me because I didn't have to convince people that I was trustworthy. After all, they'd already heard that from some third party.
It works exactly the opposite when you manipulate. You'll get told, watch out for that guy; maybe you need his product because he's the only one that provides it but watch out, he's tricky. And so people come in with this lack of trust resulting from manipulation.
We have a very distrusting society today. Because everyone knows that there's this undercurrent of manipulation, we won't talk about it. If we talk about it, we have to face it. But it's right there. And it erodes trust in society, from trusting governments to trusting big businesses to trust within families.
You said the thing about manipulation is that it has to come from you voicing that you don't want to be manipulated. But to be able to be in that position, you need to realize that you are manipulated. How do you know when you are?
Well, it's interesting because children are very perceptive that something is wrong. Now, they can't identify precisely what's wrong, but they'll see it. My son was watching something. And he said, “Dad, I think this is propaganda. It doesn't make sense”. He didn't know the words, but they didn't have internal consistency. They were saying things that contradicted each other and claiming both were true, and he says, that's wrong.
The thing is, we're trained out of that natural instinct. We have a desire for truth as humans for things to make sense. Because when things make sense, we survive. When things don't
make sense, there's something that we're not noticing, and that's when we end up with trouble. We end up running into survival situations over history when we didn't understand. New kinds of berries, should I eat them or not? This guy says this is poison, but that guy says it isn't; what will I do?
We're trained out of it by a society that says you must go along with this manipulation, or there will be punishment. This starts in childhood with parents. Parents say, brush your teeth. It's a perfectly normal thing; the parent wants you to brush your teeth. It has a legitimate need; they're afraid your teeth will fall out if you don't. But instead of teaching the child why tooth brushing is important and explaining how it works and say, “If you miss a tooth brushing, your teeth aren't going to fall out. But the more you miss, it accumulates," and explaining this to them, which takes time and effort, they say, "brush your teeth, or I’m going to be really upset at you"; that's emotional manipulation. You're emotionally manipulating the child, "I don't want to upset dad, mom. I need them to survive. Like they're where food comes from and love. So I better do what they say."
We get cultivated into this mindset that if an authority figure says something, even if it doesn't make sense, even if it's clearly manipulative, it's in our own interest to go along with it. Otherwise, there'll be some sort of punishment.
That's a coping strategy we develop as children, then we become adults, and we realize that we can stand up against this manipulation, but we're so programmed not to do it that now we need to relearn how to identify it.
The identifying signs of manipulation are what we call GSRRM. It's an acronym, and it stands for gossiping, shaming, rallying, etc. There're 15 of them.
What you do is you learn those, and these are all things psychologizing, for example, all things that happened to me last week or last month as soon as you read that you go. As soon as you hear it, it's like a light went on that can never go off again. And suddenly, you have this awareness that if someone is psychologizing, you become immune to it because as soon as someone uses that technique, there's some manipulation going on.
Now a step beyond that is to learn how to do the confrontation. When someone's manipulating you, what do you do about it? Isn't recognizing it the first step? We usually acknowledge that manipulation within us. The imposter syndrome that you're talking about is internal manipulation. We're undermining our own sense of self-worth.
Sometimes, we're even psychologizing. I'm like crazy to think that I could be good at this. And this thing that we're doing makes it easier for other people to undermine us. We've been telling ourselves we're no good all day. And someone else comes along and says you're no good. But look, if you follow what I'm telling you, you will be fine. Then we're going to be really susceptible to that. That's how people get into cults. People don't get into a cult who are well-adjusted and don't undermine themselves. It's people who already have told themselves they have no value; the cult comes along and says, this is how you gain value “Join our cult.” When I say cult, I don't even mean a religious cult. Some political organizations are basically cults; some businesses are run like a cult. We get sucked into that, and that becomes our own essential.
I know someone who had some emotional disturbances, and working out for her was her only way to keep herself healthy. But because she had one single coping mechanism, she was working out for five hours a day, her joints were starting to wear out, and she was not gonna be able to continue. What happens when she can't work out anymore?
Developing a whole suite of coping mechanisms where we divide that managing between 10 and 15 things will be much better for us. But once you self-manipulate, other people will see and push those buttons.
I've seen a lot of cases, as you call it, high value. So, a very successful man in business and money is famous, but he has difficulty constructing lasting relationships with women. And the reason is that his mother often manipulated him in specific ways that women saw in him. They can immediately see where those buttons are that the mother pushed, and they start pushing those buttons too, not necessarily because they're malicious, sometimes it's there's a button, they're gonna push it, it's curiosity. That sets him off, making it impossible for him to have a relationship. So learning to remove those triggers within him so that he's not manipulatable anymore allows him to have a healthy, trusting relationship with a woman.
The same happens in business. My perennial favorite is the guy that comes to me and says, I got this great idea for a new business. Tell me what it is. Maybe I can give you some help. I can't tell anybody about it. It's a secret. When you're launching it? He says, “Soon, soon.” How long have you been working on it? 10 years. Have you told anybody about it? No. It's gonna be tough for people to find your products if you don't tell anybody. I can't; someone will steal the idea. They are so deep in the manipulation that it's impossible for them to pick a person they can trust because their judgment is off. They're not going to trust anyone. Because of that, those types of people can't be successful, and that's all a self-manipulation.
You can escape that by developing an instinct against manipulation. When you're manipulated, it should trigger a disgusted response as in, that's terrible; why would you do that to me? It's like they come up and slap you in the face. What kind of response can you have? It's a mix of anger and shock, and disgust. How dare you?
What can people do against manipulators?
There are a couple of things you want to do. The first thing you want to do is you want to get all the manipulation that's inside you out. You want to stop self-manipulation. You can't confront a manipulator when you have a bunch of buttons inside of you that he can push to get his way. You will often come out of that confrontation worse than you went into it. So you avoid that until you remove your own internal manipulation.
This is not for dealing with a specific manipulator. You need to know who you are because manipulators very often attempt to manipulate your understanding of yourself, which is your ego, your perception of who you are, to use that against you. They create this false debt by saying that you are this kind of a person and that kind of a person needs to pay this
debt to me. You're an oppressor; you need to pay a debt to me, whatever it happens to be.
That's why you need to know precisely who you are. And you need to be comfortable with that and confident in it so that people can't come and levy a debt against you.
The next thing you need to know is who actually matters to you. Whose opinion matters? So when someone who's outside your circle, will you care what they think because you can't care what the entire world thinks of you? My example, I care what my wife thinks, I care what my children think, and I care what my friends think and my family. I care only a little bit about what my acquaintances believe. Then beyond that, I can't care what they think; it's too far from me to care about it. So when they don't like me, or they say, “You're crazy,” I say, “I'm crazy; I don't care about your opinion.”
Now, if you have set yourself up so that you are well-defended against manipulation, when a manipulator attempts to manipulate you, what you want to do is always approach it in good faith. Even if they're not, you want to approach it in good faith. Because it's not just about this one moment in time with this person, it's about how you will be perceived for the rest of your life by the people who see what you do.
So you try to discover their real needs and what they're afraid of. What is it that they actually need? What you say to them is, I see what you've done here. You've said this, and you said that you've been trying to undermine me here, and I don't appreciate that. That's not how you do business with me; I want to come to a win-win situation. I want to make sure we both walk out of this happy. Then you restate their needs back to them. You need this, this, and this, and you're very concerned that these things don't happen. Let's create a plan where I'm happy, and you're happy, where all of your needs are fulfilled, where the things you're afraid of happening don't happen, and where I can still walk out of this with a winner as well. So you're changing their tactics from manipulation to persuasion because you're opening it up. You're shining a light on the things they're not going to tell you.
Most people's deceptions come from their fear that if they talk about their fears, they will be used against them.
So you make them talk about their fear through intelligent questioning; you have to ask the right questions. Once you do that, you can uncover it. Now that we're talking about it openly, the need for manipulation dissipates, and you explain to them the more open and honest you are with me, the faster we can deal with this. Most people respond very positively and don't want to be dishonest. As I said, it's a fear response. They really would love to have open communication.
When you create a kind of relationship with a client or a business partner that is solid, that kind of relationship has trust. If, down the line, you have problems, they're going to get resolved at a low cost and quickly versus if a business relationship devolves into an elite lawsuit. It's almost always because of manipulation, and it's half the fault of the person who's technically innocent because they didn't try and they didn't go and resolve it early on using the techniques that I described.
Can you give us more examples of manipulation with entrepreneurs?
We've seen some manipulative raising of funds for companies such as; I can't remember her name. She had some biotechnology company, and I can't remember her name off the top of my head. She got some brilliant minds to invest in her company. People later said I usually checked the fundamentals of the company I invested in, but I don't know what she did; she got into my head. And I invested without thinking.
Bernie Madoff took money from his own community. He was a conservative Jew, and he took
money from the conservative Jewish community and ripped his own people off; how evil you gotta be to rip your own people off?
Because these people exist, if we invest and do partnerships with others, we have to have a metric for measuring that relationship and saying, is this a manipulative relationship? If so, how do I fix it? And if you can't fix it, then you're probably dealing with a Bernie Madoff type. You're dealing with a true malicious manipulator versus someone that's just afraid. The more you practice fixing these relationships and turning them into high-trust, persuasion-based relationships, the easier it gets. In fact, you'll develop a reputation where people will start coming to you without the manipulation because they'll hear that doesn't work on you. It's easier as you get older, and you get to a certain point where you're just like, nobody's tried to manipulate me for a while.
I want to talk a little bit about you, the entrepreneur; what does it mean for you to be an entrepreneur?
It means for me that I have control of my time. I'm an entrepreneur because of two reasons.
One, I want control of the ethics of my business; I don't want to have to fight with anyone in my own business about doing things the ethical way. And two, I want to be able to control my time.
As I mentioned, I now have small children and want to spend time with them, especially in the first 9 or 10 years of their life when they're tiny and need a lot of attention. I can't do that if I'm working 60 hours a week like I was before I had children; that really changed things.
The other thing is that I'm not really cut out for a regular job. I am an entrepreneur; my dad was an entrepreneur, my wife was raised as an entrepreneur, her parents are entrepreneurs, and my grandparents were entrepreneurs. In fact, it goes so far back in the