How to Deal With a Manipulative Colleague

In one of my first “real” jobs, I worked on a project with a group of workers who were known to be manipulative. However, I was friends with someone who seemed agreeable.

During the meeting, our boss asked her why one of her tasks had not been completed. My good-natured friend completely blamed me for this. This was my first experience with a manipulative colleague, and it wasn’t fun.

If you are faced with a situation like this, you are not alone.A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology called it ” social disruption ” and “bottom line mentality.” This happens when a coworker is doing whatever it takes to succeed or survive, even if they have to throw you under a bus to do so.

Another study from DePaul University found that colleagues or even leaders can be hostile when they feel powerless, which forces them to do things they would never have done otherwise.

However, you probably don’t need research to say that this is common. You’ve probably experienced it yourself.

A coworker makes you look bad in order to look good, or they just forget to tell you something important. Or, as in my situation, they get in trouble and use you as a scapegoat. Ideally, you just ignore the behavior and it goes away. However, it is not always that easy. When it starts to affect your life and career, you have to solve this problem.

Don’t ignore your intuition

I should have foreseen this with my good-natured nemesis. She gossiped constantly and seemed too eager to make friends. Another colleague even warned me not to trust anyone (what a great job). Little clues like this gradually accumulated until my instinct said, “Run! It is not normal “.

I chalked it up to being paranoid and judgmental. But at Fast Company, psychotherapist Joan Kingsley said it’s important to listen to your intuition.

“You may wonder if you are imagining different things and if you are paranoid,” she says. “Well, maybe yes, but under no circumstances should you ignore your feelings. They are often the first sign of trouble. “

You may not want to believe that the people you work with are dishonest and manipulative. Like me, you may feel guilty for even thinking about it. It helps to look at the facts.

Your “gut feeling” is a series of small pieces that you put together to form a pattern. If you are unsure of this pattern, look at the facts objectively.

What makes you distrust this person? They often wear red, and you hate red? Okay, then you’re paranoid and judgmental. Do they constantly gossip about a co-worker and then ask him if they would like to have lunch? This is a little different.

If you are still unsure, you can control their behavior with the help of objective people you trust, such as your friends or family. Use them as a deck and see what they think.

Cover your ass and surrender

When a coworker begins to manipulate you into ignoring this behavior, the next step is to distance yourself from the situation , if possible.

For me, this meant that I would no longer have lunch with a colleague. You no longer need to listen to her gossip or “express your opinion.” I wanted to distance myself from this kind of negative behavior, but I also wanted to cover my ass. The more she knew about me, the more she could use against me if she ever decided to throw me under the bus again. Bolde’s career site says it’s important to keep records of your interactions as well :

First of all, cover your ass with everyone. Save all correspondence. If your coworkers ask you to do something, write an email. When coworkers try to sabotage you, they may lie to make you make mistakes. If you have any questions, email your boss and copy to a colleague. Tell your boss what was said and ask if this is really what you should be doing. The more you cover your ass, the less you need to worry.

In a similar situation, I was working with someone who had no idea what we were doing on a project because she rarely did real work. When it came time to meet with the boss, she asked me to tell her, which I did so that she could contribute to the meeting. However, one day our boss asked her why part of the project was not working. She said, “Ask Christine. This is her area. ” I’ve learned my lesson. I came to future meetings early, so she had no opportunity to ask me for help. After a while, her ignorance showed that she really didn’t work. In other words, I distanced myself and let her sabotage me.

Be straight

My solution worked, but unfortunately I started to manipulate too. Of course, I defended myself, but getting up from the table to come to the meeting early, I displayed the same indirect, passive-aggressive behavior. In retrospect, I should have been more direct .

Straightforwardness allows the other person to know that you know about their manipulative behavior, and in some cases, that may be enough to nip them in the bud. It might work, but it could also be a sign of weakness.

Of course, being straightforward doesn’t always work. Your coworker may just be acting stupid or, even worse, manipulate so much that they don’t even realize it.

Beware of their tactics

This helps to understand what might motivate the manipulator. Once you are confident that they are manipulating you, it is helpful to know how they operate. This way, you can avoid situations that give them a chance to do their best.

For example, at another job, a colleague pushed me out of a project in which I knew his supervisor wanted me to participate. Whenever his supervisor did not receive a copy by email, he told me that my work was unnecessary. Solution? Make sure the supervisor is always backed up. Thus, he had no way to manipulate at all.

It also helps to find out what motivates that person. In my case, this coworker seemed to be doing a certain type of work that he strongly cared about, and, oddly enough, I didn’t even want to do that kind of work. When he fell on my lap, I asked if he wanted to do it. After a while, he curbed his sketchy behavior because he realized that I was not a threat.

Find support in others

For me, the worst thing about dealing with manipulative people was the lack of support. I worked hard, so all of our leaders knew better and my job was fine. But it’s exhausting to be around people who prefer you to fail.

To save energy and opportunity, I surrounded myself with as much outside support as possible – from friends and family members to interns who have worked on other projects at the same company.

A study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine showed that these tactics can make a difference even when there is “problem support”:

Getting positive or helpful support from close friends and family was associated with a decrease in depression; receiving problem support was associated with increased depression. A positive x problematic support interaction suggests that the cost of problem support does not negate the benefits of positive support.

When you feel like someone is trying to sabotage you at work, you want to remain professional and avoid the same behavior that might be tempting. To avoid this, it is beneficial to spend time with people who want you to be successful.

Manipulative behavior is common, but fortunately it does not exist everywhere. It’s wise to keep an eye on job advertisements in your industry, even if you have no intention of quitting.

Obviously, you don’t want one bad apple to lead to your retirement, but if nothing else, knowing that you have options can help you feel stronger and in control.

This post was originally published in 2016 and was updated 6/9/2020 by Lisa Rowan. Updates include the following: verified references for accuracy, updated formatting to reflect the current style, and consolidated some of the tips from the last three sections.

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