Tips For Dealing with Manipulative Co-Workers

Have you ever felt like your office could double for one of those quirky, weekly sitcoms?  You know the type. There’s the bumbling manager who likes to flirt with the oblivious receptionist and the lovable good guy who never seems to get the break they deserve.  Don’t forget that one infuriating character. The one who seems to con their way out of work and still gets ahead.

While many of the above stereotypes are thankfully relegated to your television screens, it’s the unfortunate truth that most of us will run into one or more of last of the co-worker tropes listed above.  Working with a manipulative employee can be frustrating for honest types who have to interact with the individual. Before you throw in the towel or devolve into television inspired office pranks, we’ve put together a handy list of alternative tips for dealing with manipulative coworkers to help make your work life just a tad bit easier.

Is Your Coworker Really all that Manipulative?

Before you start going against your mother’s sage advice about name calling, it’s important to identify whether your coworker is engaging in the manipulative behavior.  On the one hand, someone with a poor attitude who likes to shirk work and get others to do what they want is a pretty horrible coworker and can be destructive to morale and overall department or company performance.  If, on the other hand, the employee is simply skilled in the art of convincing others to go with their way of thinking (and that happens to rub you wrong) you may need to completely rethink your approach.

For starters, assess whether your coworker is engaging in underhanded behavior to attempt to get you to do something you would rather not do.  Are they being destructive in their ultimate goals and do they lie or misstate facts? If the answer to these questions is yes then you have a manipulative co-worker scenario, worthy of addressing.

If, on the other hand, the individual is simply skilled at convincing others they have the correct way of thinking, they might just be very good at persuasion.  If you combine this with solid ideas that lead actionable results, the outcome is starting to look at someone with strong leadership skills that may just not quite line up with your own.  A solid and unbiased look at actions and outcome will help you decide this one. If needed, don’t be afraid to bring in a trusted friend, advisor or mentor to help discuss the situation for an outsider’s honest third opinion.

Four Ways to Address Manipulative Behavior

Now that we’ve set some broad parameters for just what we mean by manipulation, it’s time to get to some action items.  Below are guidelines and solutions for both addressing and coping with manipulative behaviors that we hope you find helpful in your day to day work life.

Take an Outcome-Based Approach

There are multiple ways to phrase our first piece of advice for dealing with manipulative personalities in the workplace.  When interacting with these types, take some time to look at their preferred outcome. While they may be using less than ideal methods to get to the goal, is the destination still the best place for your project, group or company to end up?  If so, it may be best to live to fight another day and let an individual scenario pass without too much commentary or action on your part. This will allow you to seem reasonable in your actions and will more thoroughly highlight the manipulative characteristics when they cause a problem in the future.  

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

If the end results of your manipulative coworker would be harmful, don’t be afraid to voice your objections.  Saying no is often difficult to do in the workplace. Employees are hesitant to rock the boat or come off as less than a team player to management or members of your department or group.  It’s important to remember that your objection now to giving in to a manipulator is exponentially beneficial to yourself and your employer. Not only do you stand up to a workplace bully, but you also draw attention to their negative behavior and stop a perpetual cycle that ultimately can reduce productivity or the company’s bottom line.  If need be, bring in more senior members to help you decline with necessary force.

Avoid Taking Their Behavior Personally

As an overarching theme to manipulative coworkers, avoid taking their behavior personally to reduce the impact on your professional and overall health.  While it may be easy to think the coworker is out to get you, often times this is a learned and ongoing behavior that has been acquired over a period of years and used broadly against anyone and everyone.  Thinking that you’ve been singled out can keep your focus from the overall issue of correcting bad behavior and can de-escalate the situation to a workplace spat which can make it more difficult for management to get involved if needed.

No Matter What, Be Professional

Our last and most important tip for dealing with manipulative coworkers is to maintain your professionalism in your work dealings with the individual.  This can be hard given the frustration and even anger you may feel to the person attempting to pull your strings. Taking the high road, however, will help you appear cool, calm, collected and reasonable in the event management needs to get involved.  In addition, its possible the manipulator isn’t fully aware of their poor tactics. Staying professional in your interactions and communications allows you to potentially salvage the working relationship with the individual and keep things healthy and happy in the workplace.

Final Thoughts on Manipulative Coworkers

As a final thought, often time the best medicine is a bit of prevention.  Strong and confident personalities are the most difficult to manipulate in the workplace.  Stay informed and engaged in your daily duties and overall career to avoid giving someone an opening to use manipulator tactics.  As an added boost, you’ll also appear productive and capable to your coworkers and reports, making it easier to clean up a truly toxic manipulative professional situation.

Article Updated from the Original on May 16, 2018