Protect Your Team Members from Being Manipulated

Are you being manipulated by co-workers to doubt your abilities and performance? Gaslighting is a contemporary term but underhanded manipulation in the workplace is an old trick that persists in modern Australian offices.

Most of us have experienced being ‘gaslit’ by a jealous or resentful colleague. In this article, we explain what gaslighting really is, how it can manifest in the workplace and what you can do to stop it.

Are Your Employees Victims of Malicious Manipulation?

Has a colleague suggested your boss doesn’t like your work? Or implied you should not be given supervisory responsibility? Perhaps you have been told that your work has a deadline of next week but then you are reprimanded for not completing it days earlier. Frequent breakdowns in direct communication that impact on your feelings of competence and self-worth are a strong indicator of gaslighting at work.

Gaslighting refers to a deliberate misrepresentation and confusing of reality that is designed to leave you feeling doubtful about yourself. Gaslighting is invariably intended to maliciously rob colleagues of credibility and self-respect. Figuratively, throwing them under the bus. It describes a specific pattern of behaviour whereby an individual manipulates another person’s perception of reality.

The problem can occur in any workplace regardless of power dynamics. When a supervisor or boss indulges in gaslighting, they could be trying to keep you insecure so you don’t question their flawed leadership.

If a victim of such treatment has existing critical thoughts about themselves, they will not only be easier to gaslight but will experience greater distress. Whether it’s your boss, colleague or subordinate, gaslighting is a serious form of workplace harassment and needs to be identified and resolved as early as possible.

How to Identify Potential Gaslighters

Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. Team members who indulge in gaslighting will claim that their colleagues are in the wrong and are often able to create confusion with ease.

Gaslighting is done in an underhanded manner and so is very difficult to identify. It usually consists of a series of devious tactics designed to keep their victims off kilter. In the absence of timely intervention, gaslighters are often successful in forcing their victim to wrongly question themselves.

They are notorious for blaming their victim for something that they have done. Motivated by insecurity, jealousy or resentment this shifting of blame is the office bully’s way of getting what they want. The target will be someone they are threatened by professionally or that they dislike personally. More often than not, they are trying to undermine someone’s competence but the end goal can be as extreme as scheming for their dismissal.

Contrary to popular belief, although gaslighting is done by a bully, such people are not often obvious manipulators. They tend to be subtle, discreet and can be charming on the surface. For example, a gaslighter is unlikely to humiliate you in public or indulge in a vocal argument. This would leave their tactics vulnerable to exposure. They can be witty people with great communication skills and they often use humour that may sound innocent on the surface. Qualities such as these are a convincingly friendly veneer over passive aggressive skills used to make you and your colleagues doubt your abilities.

Their focus is likely to be on only appearing attentive while calculating how to use what you are saying against you. They also frequently gossip about people, another sign of insecurity, and offer back-handed compliments. If you suspect that a colleague or team member is a gaslighter, observe their behaviour closely. You may notice that they display a lack of confidence and are not fully engaged in listening to you.

Gaslighting is officially recognised as emotional abuse and causes eroded self-confidence, confusion about one’s own abilities and extreme stress. It’s important for managers to be able to pick up on warning signs and to keep a close watch on subtle power dynamics that play out in the workplace. If you’re a target of then the goal is to be able to recognise honestly your own abilities and work on reinforcing your self-worth. Any stressful situations arising from this behaviour should be investigated impartially in a detailed, professional manner and you may find your orgainisation’s Employee Assistance Program a helpful support.

Our skilled team at ESN help identify potential problems and negative power dynamics in your workplace. Working toward improving productivity, staff wellbeing and turnover, we use our extensive human resource and psychology skills to offer innovative and empowered solutions to our corporate clients.