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Mind Games – When game playing is no fun

Game playing definition:

  • to engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation
  • psychological manipulation or strategy used specially to gain advantage or to intimidate

Let’s be clear, in a milder form, manipulation is disrespectful, In its more severe form, it’s mental and emotional abuse.

It’s not my intention in this blog to talk about the why’s that drive the manipulative, gamey behaviour, suffice to say it’s more than surface deep. My intention is to get you, your teams and your businesses to call out these games for what are: Mental and emotional abuse designed to generate power for the player at a psychological weakened expense of the other people involved…regardless of how subtle the methods.

So what do mind games look like?

  • Devaluing: saying things that make others feel weak, insecure and anxious with the player feeling powerful as they do so
  • Confusing: Giving mixed messages, whilst maintaining not doing so, and revelling in the deception and confusion generated in others
  • Distancing: Deliberately delaying responding or answering honestly in order to punish or cause hardship to the other party
  • Blaming and Shaming: Revealing something about others with the intent of making them look bad, often in a passive-aggressive way e.g./It’s not for me to mention that you…
  • Projecting: Attaching to others what is really true for the game player so they appear blemish free and divert the focus, in an unwarranted way, to the other person who is left defending themselves from the accusation

So how to deal with people who play mind games?

  1. Have strong personal boundaries around self-respect: When someone is not respecting you or your emotions, you have to. Personal boundaries teach others how to behave towards you. Respect yourself and your right to be treated honourably in any conversation, even when you have made a mistake.
  2. Seek a perspective from a third party: When in a mind game, it’s difficult to see things objectively because of the aim of the mind game is to weaken your state of mind. Find someone you trust, who has awareness and an ability to be honest with you to give you their level headed, unbiased point of view.
  3. Call out the behaviour: Honestly, respectfully, in private and with concrete examples. Don’t get even by using the game-playing techniques above. Let them know you perceive what they are doing is manipulative and that it devalues them more than it does you.
  4. Don’t expect big changes from them: It’s a pattern that’s cemented in, which take years of therapy to unpick. Communicating you recognise the game-playing exposes it for what it is: Gamey, dishonest, manipulative, unhealthy. Exposing it respectfully and honestly causes its power to be lost…because remember the aim of the above is weaken, devalue and disrespect those on the receiving end. By bringing it respectfully and honestly to the table destroys any notion of you being weakened or devalued. So whilst you can’t change them, you can change how you work with their game which interrupts the feeling of power and control they get from using this strategy.
  5. Be proud and promote honourable working wherever you go: It takes guts and emotional maturity to stand up to a manipulator, without resorting to the gamey tactics above. To do so is testimony to your strength, stamina, skill and courage. These skills are highly valued and have great currency in organisations striving for respectful, efficient, high performance, collaborative work environments.

So when next faced with a game player, silently thank them for providing you with an opportunity to use and develop skills that build powerful, resilient organisations. And then get back to the game playing that is truly fun!

If you need help or support in developing skills to reduce mind games or strengthen respectful working cultures please get in touch.

Helga is our Influencing and Impact Specialist. Helga has over 20 years’ experience supporting leaders and their teams in large multinational organisations to polish their influencing and impact skills to improve overall business performance.


About Aziz Corporate

Aziz was founded over 40 years ago by Khalid Aziz, a media pioneer of his day who at 21 became the youngest ever appointed BBC producer.

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