Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! Sir Walter Scott wrote this famous line in his poem titled Marmion about the Battle of Flodden (1808). (Interestingly enough, it is often misattributed to William Shakespeare.) His poem recounts a love story that survives despite a web of deceptions, manipulations, mischaracterizations, lies, and betrayals by two scheming people. It is tragic how people have not changed very much today.
Life would be easier if every person with evil or selfish intent was quickly identifiable. But, alas they are not. So the innocent get tangled up in a cobweb of deceit, find themselves in places they never thought they would go, feeling vulnerable and violated, and then left cleaning up the sticky mess of the web. The best way to avoid such a trap is to identify it early. When a person can see the cobweb in front of them, they can walk around it and not have to deal with the consequences of being entangled.
What does that look like? Here are some clues:
- Concealed true intentions. Be leery of someone who encourages others to share first all the time. This is a way of learning their preys intentions and then adopting it as their own. In this manner, they successfully conceal their own true intentions of deceit while endearing their prey to come closer.
- Effortless work. This deceptive person takes credit for the work of others. They gather information, projects, and insights from others and place their name at the top of the list. If it seems like someone needs to have their hand in everyones assignments, it is because they are looking for opportunities to take advantage of others.
- Unnecessary drama. The easiest sleight of hand is to create an irresistible proposal or unnecessary drama. This forces the other person to come to the deceiver and address the issue. Then, the issue is tossed aside as the deceiver attacks on an entirely different, unexpected front. By avoiding the confrontation alone and having a companion along to listen, this can be evaded.
- Withholding instruction. One of the ways to keep a person dependent is to teach a small amount of information but withhold valuable knowledge so they will fail without the schemer. This process fosters more independence for the wrong party and more dependence on them for the prey.
- Unsuspecting gifts. A quick way to disarm a person is to give them a surprise gift for no reason. This simple gesture breaks down the guard of the prey while simultaneously making them feel indebted to the deceiver. Remember, a gift is just that a gift. There is no need to return the favor.
- Beneficial alliances. Most disingenuous people form multiple alliances in case they are needed in the future. A common tactic of deception is to discover some advantage to the prey for this allegiance. The more dirty it is, the better. They can kill two birds with one stone by later using this dirty to form a deeper unholy commitment or use it against the prey when needed.
- Sneaky questions. Another tactic used by a dishonest person is to appear friendly while secretly gathering valuable information about a persons weaknesses. Benign questions timed inappropriately are designed to catch a person off guard and encourage an honest response. After revealing their vulnerabilities, the prey often finds that the information is shared to their detriment.
- Timed scarcity. A scheming person will time their disappearing act just in a moment that they are most needed. This is done to highlight the want of them to the point of desperation. Then they will reappear, just in time, to save the day and thus reestablish their value and worth. Sometimes, they even go to the length of creating a crisis just to drive this point home.
- Unpredictable behavior. One of the effective tools of terrorism is the absence of predictability. On a smaller scale, a devious person frequently changes their patterns and habits to keep others guessing. This forces anyone who might be onto them to spend ridiculous amounts of time and energy trying to guess their unpredictable behavior.
- Faked dumbness. To keep their prey from realizing just how smart or clever they are, a deceptive person will fake their dumbness. This allows the deceiver time to better assess their prey and gather information before attacking. It is also an effective method for concealing ulterior motives.
- Courting superiors. It is difficult for a person in a position of power over a deceiver to see the deception. Others may have seen it and even correctly identified it but the person in power will not. This is because the schemer openly yields to their superior, flatters them, and even plays the victim so the influential person has cause to help them. Of course, they do all this indirectly so they can later claim deniability should the person of power lose their position.
- Trail of scapegoats. The last and best method of detecting a devious person is to look at the trail of victims or scapegoats left in their wake. If a person has a long list of such people, it usually because they refuse to accept responsibility for their contribution to whatever damage occurred. Avoid anyone who consistently blames others for their life circumstances.
Learning these twelve tell-tale signs of a deceptive person will help to prevent the some of the trappings. Of course, the best signal is intuition that something is not right. Trust those instincts and it will be easier to avoid a scheming snare.