How to Deal With a Manipulative Coworker

This article is about how to deal with a manipulative coworker, and habits to build in dealing with manipulative coworkers as a whole.

It seeks to dissuade you from becoming negative, cunning, or manipulative with those who are cunning and manipulative to you.

The stance taken on this page, is one of simply exposing manipulative individuals for who they really are for the rest to see. After doing so, it seems wise to trust the rest of the public social process to play itself out in your favor, without acting aggressively yourself.

The Manipulative Coworker

The workplace, especially a competitive corporate environment, is no stranger to some people’s manipulative traits.

It seems that corporate environments seem to provide room manipulative people to practice their “skill” of having their way with others with little punishment.

They may even see benefit to acting manipulatively in the workplace. In an effort to meet targets and gain a favorable impression from higher ups, people often resort to devious ways. They set up their colleagues to take blame for mistakes, and squeeze every ounce of effort from their subordinates whilst posing as if they care for their well-being.

Manipulative behavior is difficult to prove, but easy to feel. When we realize that someone at work posed as our friend only to stab us in the back, the finding can hurt us more than it aids.

In an effort to seek revenge, we may begin to act differently around the individual in question. Since we often can’t decisively prove an individual to have operated in a manipulative sense, we resort to implicit acts of vengeance ourselves. We may even get dragged into becoming manipulative ourselves, hypocritically becoming  astute students of this art.

Manipulative individuals are not any different from the many dangers around us. Our lack of a desire to come across the dangers manipulators pose encourages us to keep tabs on where they are and what they do. It is for this reason that simply introducing others to manipulative people is enough of a first step to getting rid of them. 

Witnesses to Every Interaction

In any social structure / hierarchy, word travels fast.  Even faster than words, feelings seem to move at lightning speed. We hear about drama in the workplace quicker than news of someone announcing their pregnancy for instance. “John and Mark went at it at the monthly PM meeting today,” is more effective in capturing our interest than, “Julie’s pregnant.”

In an effort to propel the same feeling you get around a manipulative person, there need to be witnesses who share the same sentiment as you.

Strive to have witnesses to every dealing you have with the manipulative individual in question. For one, manipulative schemes are more difficult to get away with when there are more than just one pair of ears and eyes analyzing their rhetoric. The manipulative individual is less likely to employ their cunning tactics as they’d be more careful in their approach.  More importantly, you’d do well to set up the transmittal of the manipulative feeling they give out. Your best bet in publicizing the manipulative tactics a coworker employs, is by enticing them to be manipulative around others.

It is thereby important that you do not react to your finding of their manipulative ways expressively and outright. Once you figure out just how manipulative someone is at work, begin the process of publicizing their ways by simply adding more people to the conversations you have with them. You should strive to make them feel comfortable with continuing to be cunning.

The steps in exposing a manipulative individual are very subtle and implicit in nature. The key is to not be labelled as a person who is trying to expose a manipulative individual for who they really are. The goal you should keep in mind, is to simply allow their own behavior to publicize itself. Allow their desire to manipulate to run amok. Encourage them to feel like they’re getting away with it as you add more eyes and ears onto their increasingly carefree ploys. 

Strategic Inquiry

When you have the attention of other eyes and ears pointed to conversations you have with manipulative coworkers, it comes time to become a strategic inquirer. Without adding any commentary or opinion to your efforts, simply assume the role of asking questions which point to truths that manipulators aim to keep under wraps. The questions should take steps toward truth, but not arrive at it, as the manipulative individual becomes more defensive the closer you get to truth. Simply aim to get the ball rolling with your inquiries, and carve out a path for others to cognitively ski down.

Though manipulative tactics all differ in their execution, the presence of falsehoods governs many, if not most, manipulative ploys. Be tuned in to the falsehoods present in the interactions that you have with manipulative individuals. When you suspect a person to be operating dishonestly, begin to subtly inquire into areas in which those falsehoods live. Don’t accuse, and don’t state anything outright. With others listening on, simply ask questions which, one by one, tease everyone’s interest into a possible truth that may be kept under wraps.

For example, a manipulative team member may yearn to be seen as above the rest of your team members in the eyes of your mutual manager. In an effort to do so, they always volunteer to stay after business hours and help complete tasks which are not in their job description, or the job description of everyone else. They may assume a kind demeanor toward the rest of their team by saying, “It’s okay, I can stay to finish the name matching in excel. You guys go home.”

In this example, the potentially manipulative coworker puts people in a tough position. The others on your team understand the tasks they do to be completely voluntary, but those voluntary tasks are likely to please your manager. If the others on the team want to compete, they’re either forced to volunteer unpaid time of their own, or put a stop to that behavior.

If you suspect the individual in the example above to be manipulative in their approach to swindle your mutual manager, whilst comforting the rest of the team, you can simply inquire into their efforts during team meetings. “Nora, how was the excel work you volunteered to do two days ago?”

By simply bringing up the events, work, or results of their potentially manipulative ways with others listening on, the chances of others feeling the same way you do about the person in question will increase. Though it is difficult to prove that Nora would be acting in a manipulative manner, the feeling that she is, can still spread.

Others on your team may begin to see that Nora is getting preferential treatment in her role for doing something completely voluntary for your team’s manager. In answering your innocent question, she may divulge a suppressed pleasure in something that most wouldn’t find any pleasure in. She may seem odd in her willingness to volunteer unpaid time, and others may catch on. Feelings of envy will be likelier to be birthed in others, and the effects of those feelings can spread far and wide.

Don’t Yearn for Victory

The role of the strategic inquirer as mentioned above, is one which is casual and implicit. Simply bring up the topics of conversation which are likely to elicit the same feeling you have about a coworker in question. Since you’ll have no proof whether someone’s in fact acting in a manipulative sense, test the waters of public opinion by bringing what you deem to be red flags to light.

Be careful of attempting to “get the truth out” in these conversations. Just inquire, and don’t press forward to win anything of any sort. It is difficult to force feeling on anyone, but is rather simple to entice it. Be focused on enticing the same feeling you have of a coworker in others who listen. In doing so, you’ll do well to limit yourself from being brash, or acting out with your suspicions, whilst also doing your best to expose the individual in question.  

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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.