5 Basic Body Language Signals of Manipulators

Are You Being Manipulated? How to Spot the Signs of Manipulation

Do you feel like you are being pressured or controlled at work? Or are questioning yourself more than normal? Maybe something just seems off about a person who is supposed to be on your side but may not actually have your best interest in mind. It’s possible these bad vibes are due to manipulation. Luckily, you can learn to identify manipulators by their body language and other nonverbal cues.

5 Basic Body Language Signals of Manipulators

Manipulators use different tactics to get their way, including deceptive body language. As we learned in our article on pacifiers, people might make these gestures as an emotional response to stressors. However, if the person is not in a stressful situation or showing any other signs of anxiety, this physical behavior can suggest manipulation. In fact, manipulators may be using this typical pacifying, consciously or subconsciously, to garner sympathy from you to sway your actions. 

Hand Rubbing & Neck Rubbing

Manipulators tend to rub their hands together when trying to get their way. You can even think of a stereotypical cartoon villain rubbing their hands together while they maniacally laugh. Even Disney realizes this behavior as a sign of self-serving plotting. Neck Rubbing can signify the same thing as the manipulator essentially fakes being anxious or stressed to guilt you into complying. Or, they are feeling some guilt for manipulating you and are pacifying their guilt by rubbing their neck. Either way, though, they are manipulating you. 

Arm Stroking/Scratching

When a person rubs or scratches their arms, they may be trying to manipulate you. But, of course, there are numerous reasons a person may be scratching their arms; they may just have a bug bite! But if you suspect a person is trying to manipulate you and you find them rubbing or scratching their arms while talking to you, you can take it as a sign of manipulation.  

Chin Scratching

When a manipulator scratches their chin, they are trying to portray uncertainty or low confidence. It is often a tactic to get people to give in and say, “It’s okay. I can do it.” If you know a person is perfectly capable of doing the thing you are talking about yet they are scratching their chin, you can bet they are trying to manipulate you into doing it for them. 

Shifting Body Position

Manipulative people often shift their body position when trying to control others. This can be a sign of discomfort or uncertainty, which the manipulator can be consciously using against you. Our minds are naturally trained to recognize when a person is stressed or uncomfortable, so manipulators use these behaviors to influence your decisions and actions.

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Foot Tapping

In the same way manipulators shift their body, they often tap their feet or do something similar, like clicking their pen. This can be a sign of impatience or annoyance, which they might be using to guilt you into giving in or doing what they want. When people tap their feet, you are also more likely to make a rushed decision which may not actually be in your best interest. 

How To Identify Manipulators and Emotional Manipulation

First and foremost, you must understand that the context of the situation must be considered when observing these body language signals. These nonverbal cues are not clear-cut identifiers for manipulation, but they are commonly used by manipulators. So, they cannot tell you outright that you are being manipulated, but they can help you confirm your suspicions of being manipulated. 

Are You Being Manipulated at Work?

The ability to read body behavior and other nonverbal cues can give you an advantage in the business world. By being able to identify true emotions behind controlled actions, you can steer clear of dishonest and self-serving people. If you realize your boss is manipulating you, you can learn how to handle the situation so you still come out ahead. 

To learn more about how to identify manipulators and liars, sign up for our Nonverbal Communication webinar


Key Takeaways

Rubbing Hands & Neck:

Manipulators often rub hands together, indicating scheming or self-serving intentions.

Neck rubbing signifies faked anxiety or guilt, a tactic to manipulate compliance.

Arm Stroking/Scratching:

Arm rubbing or scratching may indicate manipulation, especially if observed during a conversation

Chin Scratching:

Manipulators scratch their chin to feign uncertainty, aiming to shift responsibilities to others.

Shifting Body Position:

These cues exploit our natural instinct to respond to stress, affecting decision-making.

Foot Tapping:

Manipulators tap feet or engage in restless actions to convey impatience or annoyance.

Body Language:

Understanding body language requires contextual analysis.

Manipulation at Work:

Identifying true emotions behind controlled actions helps navigate situations involving manipulation, ensuring a favorable outcome.


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