How to Avoid Being Manipulated by an Employee or Coworker

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How to deal with manipulative employees in the work place. How to spot a manipulative person. How to be professional at work.

We all know people in our lives that can be manipulative. Perhaps we have seen people who have the uncanny power to manipulate others without them even knowing. Here are some tips on how to spot a manipulative employee or co-worker and how to avoid being manipulated by them.

You have heard about people who read and study up on “winning friends” and “influencing people”. This is all well and good, however if you are an employer, or senior employee, the last thing you need is a subordinate who manipulates the workplace. This can be the case where they try to manipulate you (the employer) or their co-workers.

A lot of manipulation takes place in the workplace, as such this is the main focus of the article, however manipulation also takes place in other settings. It often involves making a person do something without realizing they were “told” to do it, thus leaving the manipulator free of being disliked, or thought of as bossy. Sometimes manipulative people use their “powers” to get co-workers do to their job. If you are a senior employee, or an employer, the person may try to use your seniority to gain advancements at work, or favorable conditions.

Spotting a Manipulative Person

A manipulative person is often somebody who wants to be popular and be surrounded by friends. They will occasionally belittle themselves in a subtle way to make the other person feel good. An example would be lesser employee saying to a senior one “That's why your the boss... and I'm not.”, or “You are just so much better at that than I am.” To compare, most people just might say “Wow, you're good at that.” In the example we see that the manipulative person tries to play a non threatening role while stroking the other's ego.

The manipulator spends time building a friendship, gaining trust and loyalty, before they start being too manipulative. They work by making a person feel good, so that the person does not want to let them down, in that they might think they are betraying a friendship or trust. 

Manipulative people are usually control freaks, wanting things to be a certain way, and often will come into a work place and slowly rearrange it to their desires.  That is not to say that all control freaks are manipulative.

The manipulative person will usually have a way of talking that makes them sound like they are a bit of an authority, yet they do not talk down to people. They often use phrases such as “I was thinking we should...”, "Did you want to...", or “I noticed...” or similar rather than just saying to do something. They make the person whom they are talking to have some control over making a decision to act, but that person has been so manipulated in their desire to please the manipulator that they do not even see what is happening.

It is easier for a person to manipulate somebody who is younger than themselves. By gaining the younger persons respect, and loyalty, the younger person is easily swayed to follow the actions suggested by the manipulator.

Often times the person who is being manipulated is completely blinded and unaware that they are a puppet.

Example of Manipulated Situations

Person A is an employer, person B is an manipulator who has made a point of gaining Person A's trust and favor, by complimenting Person A, and coming in on their day off just to “visit”, bringing them coffee, and so forth. At one point Person B says to Person A, “I was just noticing how dirty the bathroom is, I wonder do we want somebody to clean it?” Person A then assigns a different employee to clean the bathroom, or may even do it themselves.

An example of co-worker to co-worker would be if Person A is an equal worker, and Person B is the manipulator who has constantly flattered Person A about being the better employee. Person B might say “The front door area sure is getting dirty.” At that point Person A, out of a manipulated loyalty, might go forth and clean the front door area.

Although it may seem like manipulation is harmless, it destroys professionalism in the work place.

How to Avoid Being Manipulated

The first step is to be on your toes and alert when a person, often a subordinate, tries to befriend you. While it is normal for people to be friendly, when a subordinate takes the roll of pumping their senior's ego, it's a bit of a red flag. In most situations it is the leaders roll to buy coffee (for example) for the employees, but if the employee starts a pattern of buying coffee for their superior they are often up to something.

Be aware of unnatural friendships, friendships that seem to happen too quickly or that are not “normal”, such as when an employee clings to you.

Do not allow an employee to continue in an unnatural role of forming a tight friendship with you while at the work place.  Insist on keeping friendships separate from working relationships.

When a person talks listen to their way of speaking. Are they trying to get you to do something in a roundabout way?

Your course of action should be consistent so the manipulative person realizes you will not fall into their trap.  If you feel a person is trying to manipulate others to do their work, you must put a stop to it.  These people are one type of poisonous employee, and cause problems in the work place, and are acting more in their best interest, than that of the work center as a whole.


Another Form of Employer Manipulation

Bosses can attempt to manipulate their employees by talking down to them in front of other employers and even in front of customers. This can form a miserable experience for any employee. And at the same time, the boss, supervisor or employer can show their power by saying, “see you cannot out do me.”

One example is for a boss is to blame the employee for some mistake in an order or product, in front of the customer and other employees, when all along, it was the bosses fault for the wrong order or product. This is called throwing the employee under the boss, when it was the bosses fault all along.


Roberta Baxter
Posted on Aug 2, 2011
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Ron Siojo
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Roberta Baxter
Posted on Jul 17, 2011