How to Tell When Someone’s Attempting to Mask an Ulterior Motive

The motives which people operate by are difficult to grasp and understand. It’s safe to say that many of the behaviors you see played out by those around you are driven by ulterior motives. True motives for our behavior may be embarrassing, sensitive, malicious, or described by a myriad of other traits. We often find ourselves in situations within which we don’t have a desire to unveil our true motives. For example, the host whose gathering we’re at may not want us to leave, and expressing that we’ve had enough of their presence outright may not be the proper action to take. Our unmentioned motives often serve to protect the people who we mask them from.

You’ll meet people who attempt to hide their genuine motives around you. They will tend to repeat certain patterns of behavior once they notice that others are getting a hunch that ulterior motives are at play. This article aims to highlight one method that people who attempt to hide their true motives utilize. This is by no means intended to be a full encompassing guide on how to best deal with manipulative individuals. However, you may notice that once you tune into noticing the actions mentioned below, they’re rather common in those who attempt to mask ulterior motives.


Exposing Another, False, Motive to Serve as a Distraction


People who suspect others to be catching onto the ulterior motives which drive the things they do and say, will attempt to divert attention. Those who realize that their audience is searching for, and attempting to discover an ulterior motive of theirs will try their hand at distracting the ones who search. The best way to distract someone who’s attempting to figure out why we’re committing certain actions and saying certain words, is to make them believe that they’ve discovered our ulterior motive without actually revealing it.

Those who hide their motives will attempt to seemingly reveal false motives in order for you to stop looking for the authentic ones. They will begin mentioning unfavorable traits of theirs, will mention things they may find embarrassing about themselves, and will present an image of being brutally honest with you. Their goal will be one of attempting to distract people in their search for authentic motives. They’d essentially be making a trade of seemingly embarrassing, selfish, or malicious information for the ability to keep their even more embarrassing, more selfish, and more malicious motives hidden.


For Example:


“Throwing” someone “under the bus” is a popular term used in the corporate work-space. To throw someone under the bus means to reveal information about their lack of adequate completion of work to superiors or colleagues which results in getting them in trouble. People throw their colleagues under the bus for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they have no other option, other times, there are political motives at play.
A political motive for throwing someone under the bus is expected to remain hidden by the individual doing the deed. Let’s assume there’s an instance of someone throwing a colleague of theirs under the bus with a motive for increasing their chances of being promoted to team lead.

While attempting to expose the other’s inadequate work output, they’ll begin to realize that their motives for doing so may become public. Publication of the knowledge that they’re making a political ploy against their colleague would not be beneficial to their cause. With that realization, the reason they give during their act of sabotage may be:

“…because Julie did not complete her task on time, I had to feel the brunt of our end users’ complaints. Covering for Julie made me look bad in our customers’ eyes, and I’m now perceived as an unreliable service agent in their view.”

The motive that was publicized above is one of losing a credible personal reputation in the eyes of stakeholders. That motive for bringing Julie’s lacking work ethic to the forefront is sensitive, private, and perhaps selfish enough to be believable. It seems like an authentic motive for voicing this concern. It does a good job satisfying those who listen in their attempts to figure out why the person they’re listening to is throwing Julie under the bus. It puts a halt on others’ attempts to dig for motives which are perhaps more malicious.


The successful identification of someone attempting to mask their motives depends on evidence and actions which they take. This article proposes an action which those who aim to mask an ulterior motive take, but it does not deal with the evidence you must collect before making an assumption. You’re not advised to always assume someone to be attempting to divert attention from their authentic motives. When the evidence points to other motives being at play however, their drastic attempts to distract you from those motives can be evidence for their authenticity in itself.

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