Workplace Manipulation

Article by: Sylvia Nkatha

Naivety is described as lack of wisdom, knowledge or experience. I define it as lack of a learning opportunity; which in turn makes you innocent or unsuspecting or trusting where you probably should not be.

I will tell you a short story about a friend that started working at a company that is generally regarded in high esteem. She was excited to get the job and had been excited even when going to the interviews for the position as an intern. I was happy for her when she called me and said she got the position.

The glow in her face disappeared within a few months of her time there. She is the type of person that will tell you about something that she did at work, the type to go to professional events to hone her skills and network, take a short course because she sees the opportunity that would come from it in her career. She was not that person anymore. In her place was this person who literally said that she hates her job. She said it just like that, not once, not twice but several times.

Her story was a common one and unfortunately it was worse because she did not see it clearly, that she was not doing anything wrong, but was suffering under a manipulative coworker. The reason it affected her as much as it did is because this is someone she had respected and deferred to whenever she had any challenges dealing with schedules, work load or deadlines. In a way, she trusted this co-worker who had been so forthcoming and patient with her.

In this context, manipulation can be defined as the use of or exercise of harmful influence over others, without their knowledge. Workplace manipulation shows itself in many ways, a cunning approach, direct conflict or sabotage happens everywhere in corporate environments. Most manipulators follow an almost textbook approach; the targeting stage, relationship/friendship forming stage, then the final stage is where they start to show you who they really are.

Here are some signs of a manipulative colleague to help you out there. However, please note that these are not conclusive as most of these individuals tend to be very good at their tactics, and may also be of positions where they feel threatened by the individual they are manipulating. Please exercise wisdom:

  • Superficial charm and almost always, false sympathy
  • Negotiations that don’t feel fair, with the target being expected to know of information or admitting to false failures and feel inadequate, with no win-win solutions
  • Verbal intimidation or insincere praise- this is done very carefully, they are the same people who stick the proverbial knife in your back
  • Meetings where you unexpectedly leave loaded down with work, or new information is given that you were unaware of
  • Passive-aggressive behaviour such as ignoring emails, speaking to ‘the room’ instead of directly to you
  • People kept in the dark about important decisions, with vital information withheld; such as purposefully leaving you out of group emails, or not getting full details of projects to be done, to set you up to fail
  • A climate of distrust where there is a perceived need to tread on eggshells- this is common especially where the person is of a perceived important position
  • Gossiping, setting people against one another, spreading rumors
  • Less clarity, more growing confusion, but they make it your fault when you do not understand
  • Poor morale increasing at work
  • Refusal to admit wrongdoing, attempts to rationalize, making excuses and acting surprised when confronted- this is not textbook, I will follow up on this shortly as it is a reflex with manipulators, they cannot help themselves.

Manipulators are like poor chess players but they function well most of the time because they are the only ones playing, while everyone else is not. They use information as a weapon, like to influence their targets ‘way of seeing things and are very good at generating trust in their abilities. Even go so far as to tell you that other colleagues like and respect them. They use terms like I will help you out, I will teach you, and I will speak on your behalf, and they are masters at selective attention. They fix themselves strategically where they think they are at an advantage or can gain some information.

They are people who are quite honestly, scared of losing relevance. They are chasing a pay rise, a promotion, or just want their presence to be felt. And the only way they can have these things is by being vicious to their colleagues, especially those that they feel are a threat to them.  Relax though, their vice just hides a deep emotional weakness that they have hidden very well. How to deal with a manipulator? These solutions are for the victims who have identified one such as that or are probably going to in future.

  1. If you have identified their patterns and strategies, confirm it. To yourself and to them.
  2. If you are certain, ask someone in their department of operation if these patterns are familiar to them as well. I can guarantee you it is known and detested by lots more others than yourself.
  3. Drastically minimize your interaction with them. If you have shared some information with them before, stop sharing anything with them going forward.
  4. Do not allow them to give you gossip, make an excuse, or if it is impossible to avoid them at the moment, do not participate in it.
  5. If it comes to it, tell them personally or communicate that you are aware of the tactic, pattern, and strategy they are using and ensure that they understand that you will not tolerate or fall for it anymore.

The last one could be risky because most of them will push back harder or use other ways to intimidate you. However keep in mind that these are people who are fundamentally weak and they will reveal themselves very hastily and you may not have to do much else but ride it out.

Good luck, pray for wisdom, and have a wonderful experience free of these ones!!



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