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Manipulative Bosses

on February 23, 2012

For several years, I have been interested in topic of emotional manipulation.  In this article, I write about manipulative bosses.

Do you hate Mondays?  Do you find yourself trying to come up with excuses why you can’t come to work on Mondays?  Does your boss’s “finger in the wind” management style make your head numb?  Do you hide at your desk hoping that the office drama will just fly over your head?  Does your boss ever share things about a coworker that makes you feel uncomfortable?  Several people in the field state that this is because you have a work environment that is manipulated by a character-disordered person.

Dr. Mary Casey, from the Casey Center in Australia states:  “Manipulation can be either aggressive or passive aggressive.  Openly aggressive behavior such as bullying is easy to identify, but covert attacks are very difficult to spot.  As a guideline, you know that you are being manipulated when the problem is ongoing and you are left feeling unsure of where you stand, anxious, stressed out and even physically sick.”    She goes on to explain why these manipulative behaviors are so prevalent in the workplace.  Dr. Casey explains that manipulation is prevalent in the workplace because their top-down structures are the perfect breeding ground for control and power tactics.  Manipulators aim to covertly or overtly control and overpower the behaviors of others, even if it robs another person of their freedom of choice, reason and rationality.  Manipulative bosses may abuse their positions or responsibilities and overstep accepted boundaries in the workplace.

Manipulators use the following tactics to dominate their employees:

  • Threats:  The Manipulator uses concealed or open threats to keep their targets anxious.
  • Ask “harmless” questions:  Gather information to use against you.
  • Use “dividing” techniques:  Attempt to draw you into conversations  about the failings of coworkers.
  • Refutation:  Deny that they have done wrong.
  • Discrediting:  Take credit for things you have done, while discrediting you in return.
  • Distraction:  Change the subject to evade the issue or gain time.
  • Accusations:  Shift the blame to others or to you and detract in subtle, hard-to-detect ways.
  • Deception:  Withhold large amounts of the truth, distort the truth or are deliberately vague.

 

So how do you deal with a manipulative boss?  Confrontation is not a great idea.  The Manipulator is very skilled at this game and because he/she holds a position of authority over you, they feel that they must “win the game” and your self-esteem and feelings of self worth will be the only casualties.  According to Dr. Casey, you have two options.

  1. Disengage emotionally:  Set boundaries and use assertiveness.  You can expect your salary and others benefits of the job, but you have to relinquish your need for positive feedback or recognition.  Don’t be surprised if your boss comes back at you being overly flattering or act supportive to get you to fall under their spell again so the cycle will continue.
  2. Disengage physically:  If you are emotionally unable to do the above, or if the situation becomes unbearable, you will need to consider leaving your job.  This is particularly true if your boss tells you to leave if you don’t like it.  It is a good idea to leave.   Your health and your family will thank you for it.

To learn more on this topic, you can read George K Simon’s book, “In Sheep’s Clothing:  Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People” (1996) or you can read an excerpt of his book at:  www.rickross.com/reference/brainwashing/brainwashing11.html.  Whatever your choice, this is information you need to have.

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5 responses to “Manipulative Bosses

  1. Jamie says:

    Thank you for this article. I am going crazy at my office and I haven’t known what to do. It is a scary time to look for another job, but I can’t stay at this one. It is making me sick!

  2. Jamie says:

    Dear Jamie,

    Thank you for your kind comment. I very well understand your frustration. It is scary to go back on the job market, particularly now, but it is better than waiting until your health and well-being goes south which will bring a bigger problem for you. At times, you think that the office environment is getting better, then your boss will do something else to knock you back down. Consider your bosses behavior as abusive and then ask yourself, “Would I allow a stranger to treat me this way?” That will help you clarify your thoughts about the situation.

    I found myself in much the same situation – starting with a manipulative boss and ending up with a manipulative co-worker in cahoots with the boss. Talk about being unable to win for losing! After a anxiety attack and a mild stroke, I realized that getting out of there was the very best thing for me. It was a position that I really wanted, but it wasn’t worth the toil it was taking on me.

    Whatever you do, be sure that you are taking care of your needs and protect yourself from this abusive situation.

    Anita Fletcher MS, LMHC

  3. A very interesting Read. How about a manipulative boss who manipulates his bosses too. Despite many an attempt from my end the next level in the hierarchy would not believe. In fact I was reprimanded and had my wings clipped.

    • Dear Ramkrishna,
      Manipulation in the workplace is becoming the norm instead of the exception. A new book authored by Dr. Phil McGraw entitled “Life Code” addresses what he calls “Baiters” and gives some pretty good instruction on how to manage these type of people. It is well worth the read.

  4. Julie says:

    Just came across your article. I was recently in a situation where I realized I could no longer work for my fiance’s mother and father. I let them know I was quitting, and when asked why, I was bluntly honest. I didn’t know how manipulative my future mother in law was until she told her son that I was no longer invited to Father’s Day brunch. We are in premarital counseling and were advised on how to handle the situation. Ephesians 5…a man must cleave from his parents and cling to his wife….well my fiance told his parents this. Needless to say they were hurt. The next morning they text his phone and tell him he and I have to meet them. I stated I was not ready to talk to them since they had made work things personal things. Well, they ambushed my fiance and claimed I was illegally signing their names to paperwork. This was part of my job! The mother now claims she has no recollection of ever having certain conversations with me about this work stuff and stated they were going to pursue criminal charges against me. My fiance came home, obviously upset, and began questioning me. I had to defend myself and had no idea manipulative his mother was until that moment. It stung! Needless to say she was trying to break her son and I up by telling him I was a shady person, that they thought he should know who I was…they didn’t even contact me to let me know the interaction was about work related items. When I tried to call them, text, and email, they did not respond to any attempt. I don’t know how the manipulation game works and they are making me crazy. I’ve called lawyers and they have advised me to retain counsel but that it sounded like they didn’t have a case. How do I handle this situation???? I’m so confused by this behavior, but your article was enlightening. Is there any other material you could direct me too? Thanks for any more insight.

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