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Manipulative Co-workers

on February 26, 2012

One of the most dangerous and crazy-making creatures in the office is the manipulative co-worker.  You can read more about this in George Simon’s book, “In Sheep’s Clothing”.  This is the person who has mastered the art of covert aggression.  They disguise their aggression as helpfulness, good intentions and “working for the good of the company.”  While you may first see them as dedicated and focused, you wonder why you are feeling uncomfortable and stressed by being around them.  They are brilliant at hiding their true intentions by making you look incompetent, uncooperative or self-centered.  They can make you lose your job, do their job for them or apologize to them for trying to confront them about their aggressive behavior, according to businessfinishingschool.com.

In order to identify who they are and understand what they want, you have to let go of preconceptions of why they do what they do.  Traditional psychotherapy has long held that people act aggressively because they are “working through their fears and pain.”  That’s great for those of us who are neurotic, but is not the same for the covertly-aggressive person.  A rule of thumb in therapy is that a person who is neurotic is one who ends up hurting themselves.  Those who make others neurotic  are character  disordered.  In our permissive society today, the majority of problems being treated today are involving too little inhibition of urges and desires.  These folks have learned to pursue what they want in life aggressively and with ruthless abandon.  They trample on the rights and needs of others in the race to “win”.

Dr. Simon lists fourteen tactics used by manipulators to get you to do what they want.  These fourteen tactics are offensive moves employed by the covertly aggressive people to maintain a position of power, gain power, or remove an obstacle (you) from getting what she wants.  To be able to deal with this type of person, you need to know this list of tactics and identify them when they occur in your interactions with them.

  • Denial:  playing innocent, refusing to admit they have done something harmful.
  • Selective inattention:  playing dumb, or acting oblivious and refusing to pay any attention to anything that might divert them from their goal.
  • Rationalism:  making excuses or justifying their behavior.
  • Diversion:  changing the subject, dodging the issue, distracting us from the real problem.
  • Lying:  telling untruths, concealing the truth or lying by omission.
  • Covert aggression:  intimidation by veiled threats (i.e., telling you “It’s a tough job market out there.”
  • Guilt tripping:  using your conscientiousness against you to keep you anxious and self-doubting.
  • Shaming:  using subtle sarcasm and put downs to make you feel inadequate, unworthy, and anxious.
  • Playing the victim:  using tears and a sad story to make you feel bad for them and ashamed that you tried to confront her about her behavior.
  • Vilifying the victim:  making you the “bad guy” and accusing you of the very same behavior they have been practicing.  You are told you are “out of line” or you are trying to “split” the office or even accuse you of “carrying tales” against other coworkers.
  • Playing the servant role:  disguising their personal agendas by casting themselves as “Joan of Arc”.  Claiming that their motives are noble.
  • Seduction:  flattering and overly supportive to others to get them to lower their defenses and be trusting of the manipulator.
  • Projecting the blame (blaming others):  shifting the blame to others, scapegoating.
  • Minimization:  a marriage of denial and rationalization.  Telling you that you are making a “mountain out of a molehill.”

Now that you have the tactics used by your emotionally manipulative coworker, you can identify what is going on when the game is afoot.  But, have you ever wondered why it seems you have a target on your back.  Chances are you have run into more than one covertly aggressive person in your life.  Now it is time to take a look at those things you do that signals the aggressive person that you are an appropriate victim.  See below:

  • Naiveté:  it is difficult for you to accept that a person can be as conniving and ruthless as the manipulator in your life is, even though you are presented with mountains of evidence.  This can make you prone to being victimized several times over before accepting the reality of the situation.
  • Over-conscientiousness:  with this personality trait, you are your own worst enemy.  You are often too willing to concede to the manipulator’s attempts to shame you or cause you to feel inadequate.  This trait only makes the manipulator’s job much easier.
  • Low Self Confidence: this prevents you from believing that you have a legitimate complaint and standing up for yourself.
  • Over-intellectualization:  you try too hard to understand things and believe that if you could just understand the manipulator’s behavior, things would be okay.  This can cause you to spend too much time trying to understand the manipulator and you don’t protect yourself and assert yourself when your manipulator is abusing you.
  • Emotional dependency:  you may have initially really liked this person and have gravitated toward him or her because she appeared to be a strong and confident person.  When the manipulator turns on you, you are confused and afraid that they will reject you if you stand up for yourself or protect yourself from their aggressive behaviors.

Recognizing these qualities in yourself and working to change them will make you a harder target for manipulators.  In addition, you can more readily identify when someone is trying to manipulate you.


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