Tips For Dealing with Manipulative Co-Workers

It’s not if you run into manipulative co-workers in corporate America, rather it’s a matter of when and how you deal with the situation.

Regardless of industry, profession, experience level or company, they exist and, if given the right opportunity these individuals can prove to be a monumental obstacle to your ability to be successful.

Roughly, 90% of people who read this piece will currently be working with at least one person who, psychologically can be described as a manipulator. Of that 90%, only a handful will effectively know how to identify and efficiently interact with troublesome co-workers.

It’s a crucial skill to have as inability to decipher corporate manipulation and effectively handle it can have truly devastating effects. To begin, it’s best to analyze manipulative behavior and formulate some methods to deal with controlling individuals in the office.

Defining Manipulative Behavior (Manipulation vs. Persuasion) 

Many people confuse manipulation and persuasion. Often, this confusion creates unnecessary resentment amongst honest co-workers.

The rule of thumb is just because someone is trying to get you to do something does not mean they are attempting to manipulate you. It’s important to be able to decipher which is which and act accordingly.

By definition, manipulation is attempting to change the behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive or, sometimes abusive tactics. It’s different from persuasion in the fact that it’s exploitative, abusive and malicious.

On the flip side, persuasion is the art of attempting to win others over to your brand of thinking.It is upfront, comes from a place of sincere interest and intends to be mutually beneficial.

To determine which is which, step back and and analyze the situation as a 3rd party. Taking any preconceived notions and emotions out of the equation will help you determine if taking some action will be beneficial to both parties or whether it can potentially hurt you.

Operating in a Grey Area

For many young professionals, it’s often hard to decipher if a co-worker is attempting to manipulate or persuade. Unfortunately, the more effective and, thus harmful manipulators are, the less assuming they can be.

Frequently, intentions are benign. Nonetheless, when operating in a grey area, blindly trusting a fellow employee you don’t know well can lead to undesirable outcomes.

Yet, coming across as overly suspicious will alienate others and make your tenure at the firm an unhappy, unproductive and uncomfortable one.

When in doubt, it’s best to think logically about the situation, remain somewhat distant and keep your professionalism.

Are You Prone to Being Manipulated?

There are some personalities that are more prone to being exploited by manipulators. Among other traits, manipulators actively look for people who are always attempting to please others, need consistent approval, who lack assertiveness, are naive, overly dependent, impressionable and who are impulsive.

Therefore, one of the best ways to avoid manipulative co-workers is to work on improving yourself as a person. The more sense of self-worth you have, the harder you are to manipulate.  Thus, the less you are of interest to them.

Also, there is safety in numbers. Begin gravitating towards those who are friendly, confident and hard working. While you can’t change your self-esteem overnight, you can alter the groups you associate with starting tomorrow.

4 Ways to Deal with Manipulative Employees

Since you will come across manipulative co-workers, it’s best to know how to effectively maintain a healthy relationship with them.

Here are a few ways how to do so:

1. Try to see things from his / her perspective –

The most effective way to deal with manipulative employees is to determine why they are behaving the way they are. Possibly the individual is used to behavior in this manner and has seen it work in the past. Maybe it’s the only way they can get someone’s attention.

Instead of condemning their behavior, try to understand it. Seeing things from their perspective is the first step to being able to effectively have a working relationship with these people.

2. Remain professional and find the good in him / her –

The most efficient way to handle manipulative behavior is to remain professional, speak no bad of the person and determine some of their finer points.

The worst way to do so is to is to criticize them as they will only go to further lengths to justify their actions.

Often, things are not black and white, thus chances are that this person is not entirely bad. When we forget about their less attractive qualities and focus on some of their more likable attributes this shows in our interaction and will make the person like you more and want to cross you less.

3. Don’t let their behavior dictate how you feel or act –

Although it’s easier said than done, the worst way to deal with manipulative co-workers is to let them dictate your feelings.  If your co-worker is controlling, becoming angry or visibly upset with their behavior is only going to add fuel to the fire.

Rather, it’s most effective when you realize that you can’t control their actions, though you can control how you respond to them. Remain calm and go about work in a friendly, positive and diligent manner regardless of how your co-workers are approaching things.

Never get down to their level and try to manipulate others or pay them back via their own actions. Rise above it.

4. Act only in mutually beneficial situations and don’t be afraid to say “no” –

Just because a manipulative co-worker makes a request, it does not mean that action in of itself is manipulative. Sometimes, their advice will prove useful.

It’s best to keep an open mind and, prior to blindly saying “yes” or “no” to a request, analyze how taking action will help or hurt you and, if it’s the latter don’t be afraid to say “no.” Assertiveness is one key to keeping a controlling co-worker in check.

In the End 

Manipulative behavior in the workforce has the opposite of the desired effect. Almost without exception, manipulative people make less money, lead unhappy lives both in and out of work, deal with heightened stress levels and have less job security.

The people who make it in the long-term are the ones who are honest, hard working and who are able to maintain professionalism. Remain the latter and you’ll do very well in your career.

Ken Sundheim is the CEO of KAS Placement Recruiters a sales and marketing executive search firm based out of New York City.