Somedays it seems as if being transparent and trustworthy is a long lost art. And on days when you sense some unscrupulous soul is trying to manipulate you for their own selfish reasons, it can cause you to lose faith in humanity.
But how can you be sure that someone is wielding a hidden agenda like a cudgel of coercion? And how to spot it quickly?
Look for these seven signs than put one of your own up: "Stop".
1. The conversation quickly becomes about, and stays about, them.
I'm not talking about people who are just self-centered narcissists. I mean those who keep redirecting conversations back to them, sometimes with skilled segues, sometimes with a blatant flip of a switch. Those with hidden agendas are on a mission, and their impatience often seeps through the cracks.
2. They constantly revisit a certain subject.
This one-track-mindedness is the most telltale sign of a hidden agenda. Again, it's about achieving the mission for these people, so it doesn't benefit them when the conversation strays away from a direct route to getting what they want.
Here's a simple test I run when I'm suspicious of being manipulated and notice that the same topic keeps resurfacing. I ask myself "Was that a natural, or nuanced, redirect?"
3. Their eye contact and body language are "off".
People working a quiet agenda will have a harder time making eye contact, might blink excessively, and might have stiff, unnatural body language.
Researchers from Michigan State University showed that those who avoid eye contact are far likelier to be insincere in what they're communicating than someone who looks you in the eye. I'm betting that your experience confirms this too--when you're connecting with someone in an exchange of open and honest conversation, eye contact is maintained without effort and the body relaxes.
Don't fall for the ol' shifty eyes myth though. Research from City University of New York psychology professors Howard Ehrlichman and Dragana Micic sought to determine why people move their eyes when thinking or communicating. Their work indicates that "eye-movers" aren't necessarily lying or trying to be deceptive--they're merely accessing their long-term memory.
4. They have oversized reactions to certain suggestions.
Those with a secret agenda are taking a risk in operating with one so they might be a bit on edge. You might see them become a bit frantic or overly emotional at anything that derails them from their desired end goal. Their emphatic use of emotions is intended to shut down conversation in opposition of their goal.
If the size of their reaction doesn't match the provocativeness of your comment, be wary.
5. They cycle through different tactics with the same end in mind.
Your exploitative counterpart might swing from highly emotional about a point to nonchalant. They might use one line of thinking that you don't take to and then switch gears to come at the same point from a different angle.
If you're getting the sense that they are working hard to sell you or push you to do something, there's a good chance they are.
6. Their manipulative personality is on display.
This one might seem obvious, but people with a manipulative personality are more likely to be working a hidden agenda. I worked with a woman once who was always working somebody for something. She didn't have a sincere bone in her body so when I encountered her working secret agendas, I wasn't surprised in the least.
So keep your radar up if you're dealing with someone who already has a disingenuous vibe about them.
7. You have a slimy feeling after talking with them.
I mean slimy as opposed to the warm feeling you have after talking to someone who is genuine. Remember that those with hidden agendas are hiding something. As human beings, we're fairly well attuned to elusiveness in a person. Such encounters leave us feeling poorly about the interaction. Trust that gut instinct and beware accordingly.
Now you can put on your agenda to practice spotting agendas that are hidden from view.