One of the most effective ways to undermine a relationship is to use double-messages to manipulate other people.
This all-too-common process was perfectly illustrated in a recent edition of Baby Blues, one of my favorite cartoon strips.
Wanda has clearly mastered the art of “control without coercion.” By saying “It’s fine,” she gives the appearance of being reasonable. But she long ago loaded those words with another meaning: “Go if you want to, but later on you’ll pay the price of a cold and irritable wife.”
As the last frame shows, both her husband and his friend know exactly what her words really mean … and they give up their plans to avoid a conflict.
I’m embarrassed to think of how many times I’ve used these kinds of double-messages to manipulate people in my life, especially my wife.
I’m good at saying words that sound right on the surface, but it’s all too easy to add a subtle tone of voice or facial expression that sends a contradictory message … one designed to bend others to my will without overtly exposing my selfishness.
How about you? Is this something you do as well? If you don’t think so, ask the people closest to you for their honest opinion.
If this is a habit in your life, there are three things you can do to overcome it.
First, confess it to God, as well as the people you’ve manipulated, and ask those closest to you to bring it to your attention whenever you do this again.
Second, pray that God would press ahead with his promise to conform you to the likeness of Christ by giving you an active hatred for this sin and by replacing your desire to control others with a genuine joy for serving and encouraging them (Rom. 8:29; 2Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:22-24).
Third, develop the habit of intentionally using all of the means of communication God has built into you (words, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language) to send honest and congruent messages to those around you, especially when they might have some doubts as to your real intentions.
Had Wanda done this when her husband wanted to play ball with his friends, she would have first needed to go through a quick internal examination and adjustment of her own heart:
“I’m feeling disappointed and irritated. Why? I was really hoping Darryl would spend the morning shopping with me. But that’s selfish; it’s all about me. He’s been working really hard lately, and I know he doesn’t enjoy shopping. It would be good for him to get some exercise and have fun with his friends. Since I’ve punished him in the past for not following my plans, I need to make an extra effort to assure him that I really want him to go with Mike.”
Then she would have turned to her husband with a genuine smile, and with a warm and encouraging tone of voice said,
“I always enjoy it when you go shopping with me, but today I think it would be great if you had some time with your buddies. You’ve been working really hard lately, and I’d love to know you’re doing something you enjoy. I’ll have some ice packs and a cold drink waiting for you when you get home and look forward to hearing about all you great shots!”
An affectionate kiss would be a nice reinforcement.
These simple applications of the READ and SERVE principles would have blessed her husband, added a big deposit to their “relational capital account,” and set a positive example for their daughter, who (as you can see in each frame of the cartoon) is carefully listening to … and learning from … every word her parents speak.
May God give both me and you grace to renounce manipulative double-messages and use our words only to bless the people around us–even if it means giving them freedom to shoot hoops instead of going shopping … or vice versa!
– Ken Sande
- Have you ever used double messages to manipulate other people? When do you typically do this?
- How do you think other people feel about it? What effect does it have on your relationships?
- What desires (or “idols of the heart”) fuel this habit?
- Has this happened recently enough or often enough that you need to go and ask forgiveness from some specific people? If so, do it right away, before your sense of conviction evaporates.
- The next time you have the opportunity to send a manipulative double-message, what will you do instead?
Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.
© 2015 Ken Sande
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