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Paradoxical Therapy to handle emotional manipulation: real-life example

Paradoxical Therapy consists of:

Taking your guilt, emotional pain, or feelings of obligation to to such extreme that they become ridiculous.

That's paraphrasing Susan Forward (review coming soon).

Let's see now a real-life example:

Example: Combating The Guilt-Tripping Seller

What happened, in short:

  1. Lucio, me, wants to migrate from MailChimp to Sendinblue
  2. Seller works on the migration (good job, up until the last 1%)
  3. Lucio's account (this website's account, actually) wasn't approved by Sendinblue
  4. The seller couldn't complete the last piece of a successful migration, meaning:
  5. Seller did most of her manual work, but Lucio got nothing out of it

So her work was for nothing.

Not her fault, not mine.
Maybe, since that's theoretically her expertise, she might have warned me about the risk, or she might have checked my website first.
So I thought that proposing to split the loss 50/50 was a fair proposal (such as: I'd pay 50% of the original quote).

For completeness of information, we're talking about $80, and less than a day of work for her.

Let's see how it went:

1. Seller background assessment

I could see this lady liked to play some social scalping before there was even an issue.

See here:

This is all great intel you'll be able to acquire once you improve your social intelligence.

Still, since this just a quick business transaction, I let it slip and will forget about it if all goes well.

But as we know by now, it doesn't go well.

2. One-sided framing+ Guilt-Tripping

In Fiverr, you need to say that you are "satisfied with the delivery" to finish a gig and release the funds.

I couldn't be satisfied with a delivery of no value, and asks her what she thinks is fair.

That's where the exchange starts getting interesting:

Compare with my style of communication:

3. Kicking guilt-tripping to a higher gear

This is my reply after she says that she wasted time on the gig, and that "time is money for her":

P.S.: I didn't "promise" a good review, that was another manipulative frame of her, I said that "if all goes well", I'd write about it on this forum as I sometimes update on the changes I'm doing on the business side, and also link her as the one who took care of the migration 

My guess is that she is emotionally volatile, very easy to get aroused, and throw tantrums.

4. Power move: marks her work as complete

Instead of finding a solution or postponing the delivery of the gig, she marks it as "complete".

And then applies emotional blackmail to make me accept it:

In truth, she forced me into a position where it was either I lied about being happy with the delivery, or I had to ask for further revisions.

From here on, she keeps marking the delivery as completed, and I keep asking for revisions.

5. Karma covert revenge: God will take care of him

We both described the events to Fiverr.

I said she did a good job, but the migration wasn't completed.

Her approach was quite different:

Paradoxical Therapy in Action

Her guilt-tripping was actually having an effect on me.

I was feeling bad.
And I was also feeling angry and resentful.

Resentment is a strong indicator of emotional manipulation.

So I tried paradoxical therapy with this story:

1. Poor seller asks rich and wealthy corporation (=the frame of "just a small seller" is laughable, because so am I)
2. to pay her in full and leave a raving review (= her demands make no sense, it's not up to her to single-handedly decide the quality and value of her work)
3. since the fact that her work delivered exactly ZERO value has no bearing on the transaction. (= this also makes obviously no sense, business exchanges are measured on delivered value, so the fact that her work delivered no value does, in at least some way or form, enter into the picture)
4. So the rich and wealthy corporation deserves to be punished by God for raising the issue of not having received nothing of value (= this higlights the unwarranted meanness of calling out for retribution)

This made me feel better and put things in perspective by exaggerating the unfairness of her position.

Why is paradoxical therapy useful?
Paradoxical therapy is useful because when you're a victim of emotional manipulation you forget your own valid claims and over-focus on the claims of the manipulator (the manipulators' claims are highlighted by the emotions he/she stirs in you).
Paradoxical therapy rebalances the exchanges by shifting the focus on the ridiculousness of some of the manipulators' claims, and re-focusing on your own fair claims.

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J_JKellvoSa’adZheterBelsecretkeyJohannes DosenbergLuke
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Any anyone has any feedback this exchange, I will be very glad to read them.

It's always a good idea to get external opinions when you are emotionally-involved in something.

And especially so when manipulation might be involved: manipulation distorts the sense of fair and unfair, and that's where external feedback can help a lot.

So please also let me know if you think I was asking for too much when I proposed 50/50.

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You handled it admirably, Lucio. I'd have told her to fuck off myself! Or just brush her off, but it really sounded like you were going for win/win there. It's okay for everyone to look out for their own best interests, but its clear she wanted to profit at your expense, as well as lowering your self-esteem so that you wouldn't try to escape her game. How petty, if she had quality, she'd bring that to the table, not try to compromise yours.

Your paradoxical therapy sounds great, it shows the ridiculousness of it all. Makes her look like a toddler throwing a tantrum, lol. Anger is still attachment, and they can use that, but it sounds like this helps take a higher perspective of it and laugh it off. And why spend time letting others drag you through mud and negative emotions when there's a life to live? Let them crawl in their own filth, we aspire for greater heights.

She chose to make it negative. Not you. Win/Lose people like her can't be treated from a Win/Win perspective, they only see it as weakness. I think you did the right thing, but people like her aren't interested in doing the right thing, they just want to take. I'd make it clear that she gets nothing. Force (in whatever form) is the only language people like her understand.

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Lucio Buffalmanosecretkey

Thank you, Kellvo!
Very helpful feedback.

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Man, this is some great content, Lucio! Love the analysis and breakdown.

I have to note, your profile picture for your Fiverr profile does make you come across as a successful businessman. Your "classy for high-power" clothing style and dominant body language made me begin to feel bad for the "small Fiverr seller" as she played her game.

Negotiation expert Barry Nalebuff taught me that there are people who just don't care about fairness. He told me that when he had just set up an LLC for a company he was starting, someone noticed. That "someone" bought the website domain (for less than a hundred bucks) and tried to resell it to him for around two thousand dollars. The negotiation that ensued was built on logic. Nalebuff argued that there was another domain that was better than the one the seller had purchased that he could use. He also argued that the seller had made it obvious the game that he had played and that he could involve the domain service provider (not unlike your approach to involving Fiverr).

The thing is, when emotional manipulation is involved, the line gets blurred as far as what's actually fair. You said:

Lucio: Unluckily, I'm also not going to move to Sendinblue though, so I think that we should find an agreement to reduce the price.

This sentence is lacking the persuasive power of "because". It doesn't say why you're not moving to Sendinblue which would have called into the open the seller's responsibility. At the same time, your main goal here was to save face for the seller which is why the communication here lacks that "because" on purpose. So, since that was the goal, I may have worded it this way:

Lucio: Unluckily, now that we're unable to move to Sendinblue, to make this more fair for both of us, I think we should find an agreement to reduce the price.

With the inclusion of "we" it sounds less like "this is a project you're doing for me and failed to do" and more like "this is our project that we're working on together. Since we've come across this obstacle, it's our responsibility to find a way forward that works for both of us".

Unluckily, the seller is detached from the project because she sees it as "your problem" which leads her to focus more on her incentive (the money and a positive review) and not the actual service provided. So, this wording helps change it from your problem to our problem. And, even if wording it this way didn't help with the negotiation with the seller, it would have helped Fiverr better see your POV when they got involved.

Also, the frame control from your side is brilliant. The one thing I would do differently is using Fiverr as a way of communicating with the seller. The problem here is that the seller really doesn't seem to be listening. She doesn't see the problem as being the situation, she sees the problem as being you. So, when she notices your unwillingness to give her what she wants, she takes it personally. This is reflected in how she searches for ways to figure out "what your problem is with her" by asking "Where's my fault?"(i.e. how am I responsible for this? And, if I'm not responsible, why are you picking a fight with me trying to lower my gig rating, not pay me for my time, etc., etc.).

So, to get the seller to listen, I would remove myself a bit so she begins to see the situation as the problem and not me. Something along these lines:

You: "You said you're a small seller (a label to communicate understanding so she knows you understand her position) and I think that Fiverr is a great place for your services (an added note so the label doesn't seem out of place). This isn't about the service you provided, it's about the way the marketplace works on Fiverr (control the scope to change the conversation away from it being her fault or your fault). All sellers on Fiverr (slight frame widening, this isn't about only you lady) only receive money in exchange for the value provided to the consumer. And, since I didn't receive any value, it's more fair as a Fiverr seller if we find a price point that better represents the exchange that happened here.

The real problem I'm seeing here is a missed opportunity for a huge argument flip. She is a (small) Fiverr seller. And, if she were a freelancer with her own business, she could put legal binding in place that forces the buyer to pay up regardless of what happens by the end of the service since its her business and, therefore, her choice how she runs it. But, she's not offering her services through her own business, she's offering them through Fiverr. Which means, she has to play by Fiverr's rules. She seems to think you're trying to dominate her into playing by your rules. By changing the conversation this way, you can go from:

Me & My (win-win) beliefs on what's fair VS You (a small-time individual trying to make a living)


Me & Fiverr's marketplace rules VS you (a Fiverr seller)

@Stef, what do you think about this?

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And Ali dropped a ton of gold.

  • The "high-power" picture: yes

I hadn't even thought about the picture as it was automatically pulled from Facebook, but you make a great point.
It's probably one of the elements that lead her to think "this is a high-power guy, and he's fighting over a few tens of dollars against poor me, how unfair".

  • The "we frames": yes

Yep, great note.

  • Reframing from "you VS me" to "how the marketplace operates": yes

Great one.

And if she kept reframing to "mean you VS poor me", I could have stuck to the frame of "it's not about who you are, it's about the marketplace dynamics of value exchanges (and there was no value delivered here)".

I usually prefer to keep the human element on as "the marketplace dynamics" feels cold and in-human. But, alas, we go back to one of the basics: enlightened collaboration also means knowing when someone is not a good candidate for a respectful exchange/relationship.
And if the other party sticks to emotional manipulation, then you're probably better off remaining distant and "professional".

It can hurt to be at the receiving end of their guilt-trips, but that's what mental empowerment is supposed to protect you from.

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Her replies do sound ridiculous and time-wasting with all these games.
It's her responsibility to work out the areas of the project with the least chances of success.
It's like telling a sales manager that 99% of the deal is through.
The customer signature is just not on the contract.
But I would like to get the full commission.
50% of the full commission would be crazy as well.

I don't think I have much to add to Ali's brilliant analysis on how to resolve the dispute.

Calls Over Texts For Disputes

I personally find it hard to manage freelancer conversations with disputes over text.
Arranging a call early into the dispute may help to cut through the games and manipulation into more straight talking.
Very hard to soothe a toddler over text.

The Fiverr platform's user interface does seem to discourage calls to encourage quick transactions for their own benefit of commission.

Screening on Freelancer Platforms

I use Fiverr quite a lot to handle various things because sometimes it is quite price-efficient.
But it does come at a price. I have encountered many bad freelancers as well.
Made quite a few mistakes and lost some money.

I message at least 5 freelancers to get a feeling of inconsistencies, lies and reliability.
I copy & paste the same message to all the freelancers and check for replies the next day.
I do come across freelancers whose first message is quite manipulative.

Fiverr Pro freelancers are more reliable but far more expensive.
If you do lots of transactions on Fiverr, Fiverr may give you access to their "Very Important Doer" direct hotline to help with screening as well.

UpWork could be a better platform for more niche tasks.
Not sure if migration from Mailchimp to Sendinblue is a common skillset.
You can post a job description, add screen questions and request for a cover letter.

I am thinking about shifting from Mailchimp to Klaviyo.
Keen to check out Sendinblue as another alternative.

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Lucio Buffalmano

Thank you for the feedback, Matthew!

Great call on... Calling rather than texting.
I agree with you: any time you're wasting too much time over text, call.

OFF-TOPIC - Sendinblue

About Sendinblue, just a quick note here, and can talk more on another thread: the downsides I saw about them is that they're based in EU (France), so they're bigger on privacy / GDPR.
That might create some more issues for you down the line -or it might not, but it's something to think about-.
And they got some strangely stricter rules: my account was rejected for the "sexual content" of the website, and this website doesn't have really have much explicitly sexual content, if any.

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I learnt about calling rather than texting from your feedback on my conversation which escalated emotionally in another thread.

Thank you for sharing more about Sendinblue.
Maybe I could open a discussion under the Entrepreneurship section on tools in general.

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