How to handle manipulative people in the workplace

Lying, manipulative, mean-spirited coworkers might be fun to watch on screen. Learn how to handle manipulative people in the workplace.

Manipulation is defined as the attempt by a person to control a situation or another person by perpetuating a false narrative of care and good intentions to get their own end. In the workplace, manipulation often depends upon hidden agendas.

The most common signs of a manipulator at work are: superficial charm, verbal intimidation couched as advice, offloading of work and responsibilities and seemingly doing it as a favor.

Passive-aggressive behavior. Parting with incomplete information. Spreading rumors and gossiping.

A manipulator may flatter you to gain your trust, and you may treat them as a listening ear or a trusted advisor. Being in control of shaping how you see things will be highly important to them. Skilled manipulators do not fight their own battles but look for vulnerable people to operate on their behalf. They can be great victims, generating lots of attention.

Manipulators in the office do all these things to get ahead, for a promotion, pay rise, for power, or to simply stay ahead in the race.

Such people can be quite toxic for the work environment, and the greatest drawback can be losing talented staff due to their behaviour. Furthermore, they are constantly setting people up for failure, which affects productivity, and can ruin project deadlines, and in the long run, the business attains a bad name for perpetuating a culture of distrust and inefficiency.

So how do you deal with a manipulator?

The first step is to recognize that subtle manipulation is being done. Your best strategy is to consciously recognize what’s going on and not deny it. The next step is to push back. This means gathering evidence that others are feeling the same. Talk to the staff around and gather evidence of their behaviour.

Keep all information sharing with the person at bare minimum. Do not ever share confidences. Always take what they say with a pinch of salt and get verify with people and chain of events.

If you are in charge of a team, take a firm stand and do not give in to their aggravated attempts to undermine your authority.

But all this cannot happen in a vacuum. Therefore, one needs to be cautious.

Maintain a professional outlook always. Do not give the manipulator any ammunition to use against you. Update yourself on the labor laws and any violations. Inform the HR department in advance about any possible conflict to be better prepared.

Document everything. Keep a paper trail or chain mail of all official interactions. Record all events you have witnessed that you feel are not conducive to a healthy work environment.

Keep an open mind and not dismiss the person out-of-hand. Maybe the employee has behavioral issues or challenges outside the work environment. Before taking sides in a dispute, a manager should take cognizance of the seriousness of the situation, the personalities involved and de-escalate the situation accordingly.

Create a clear structure, and communicate rules. The fewer gray areas there are, the less likely staff will be to manipulate boundaries.

Recognize manipulative behavior and try to nip it in the bud. Reward and respond to rational, fair and sensible actions. These actions will minimize manipulative behavior at the workplace and reassure employees that any wrongdoing will be justly addressed.

Anna Verasai
Anna Versai is a Team Writer at The HR Digest; she covers topics related to Recruitment, Workplace Culture, Interview Tips, Employee Benefits, HR News and HR Leadership. She also writes for Technowize, providing her views on the Upcoming Technology, Product Reviews, and the latest apps and softwares.

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