6 Telling Signs Your Colleague is a Master Manipulator & How to Deal

Posted February 07, 2014

ALTOne of the biggest predicaments with manipulative colleagues is that it’s hard to prove that they’re taking advantage of others. “The worst coworkers to have are those that are narcissistic, sociopathic—or both—they lack empathy, are entitled, paranoid, envious and have minimal remorse,” says Ramani Durvasula, PhD licensed clinical psychology and author. “So they will throw you under the bus and won't break a sweat.” And the really cunningly smart ones take advantage without a trace.

If this sounds all too familiar, you’ve come to the right place!

Whether you’re excessively nice or your colleague is a little on the evil side, there are behavioral signs that can signal negative manipulation.

The good new—it’s a lot easier to avoid falling into manipulators’ emotional trap if you’re aware of the warning signs. These are seven revealing signs that your colleague is trying to manipulate you. Avert these roadblocks to happiness!

1. Your Colleague Stresses You Out and then Abruptly Relieves that Stress

If you’ve ever felt incredibly anxious or stressed out at work and then relieved shortly thereafter, you may have fallen victim to the Fear-Then-Relief manipulation technique.

Here’s the thing: After that sweet relief, you’re naturally more malleable and receptive to requests. And if it’s someone who has a little more authority than you, then it’s pure power abuse. There’s all the more reason for you to feel stressed out.

For instance, if your boss makes a federal case out of a relatively inconsequential error, and then tells you that it's okay this time as long as you finish the reports faster next time....you're emotionally set up to work harder. It’s reminiscent of the good-cop, bad-cop concept officers use to persuade criminals to confess info. This psychological tactic really does not belong in the workplace, involving innocent professionals like you!

How to Deal: The next time you notice someone (most likely your boss) give you bad news and then good, keep the "good-cop, bad-cop" concept in mind. Don't let your emotions fog your ability to see objectively.

2. You Often Feel Guilty for No Good Reason

For instance, “a coworker could remind you about that time they bailed you out big time in the past, then use that as leverage every time he or she needs something,” according to LifeHacker.

Or if someone handed you a great opportunity, you shouldn’t feel indebted to him forever just because you seized that opportunity.

How to Deal: Thank them again, generously. However, it's okay to say no even if they did you a favor. Prepare by reading 5 Signs You are Too Nice at Work and How to Deal.

3. He Left You Out of the Loop

“Not being put on key emails, invited to meetings or even off the clock get-togethers where important decisions are being made can be bad for your career,” Durvasula says. “Keep your ears to the ground and pay attention if others mention such meetings, etc.”

If a colleague is deliberately leaving you out for important things, he’s clearly threatened by you.

How to Deal: Step up and be proactive about staying involved! He’s not the only person who controls that gateway. As Durvasula mentioned, keeping your ear to the ground and inquiring others about meetings is a great way to get around the perpetrator. 

4. It's His World, You are Just Living In It

If you only hear from someone when they need something or want something, chances are he’s a manipulator.

ALT “They focus on what they need and do not express genuine interest in what you need,” according to Dr. Dennis and Michelle Reina of Reina, a trust building consultancy.

“They tend to talk a lot about themselves: what they do, what they have accomplished, where they are going. It's all about me, me, me,” says Dr. Dennis and Michelle Reina of Reina Trust Building Institute consultancy.

How to Deal: Try not to get too involved in his world. Remember to focus on your own achievements rather than comparing yourself to others.

5. He's Irksomely Self-Serving

“A manipulator asks for information yet doesn't share information—they are more inclined to hoard it for themselves,” Reina says. “They may ask you your perception or point of view, yet they are not honest with theirs; they tell you what they think you want to hear. They are using you to their advantage.”

Basically—as long as it makes them look good, they’ll do it.

How to Deal: Don't indulge him too much. Only share what you need to share with him. It's okay to say..."It's been nice chatting, but I need to get back to work."

6. It's Ineffable...You Just Get a Bad Vibe from Him

Most of the time, our gut feeling is right. “We all have an internal guidance system that gives us feelings all day long. Though there may be cases of certain individuals being hyper-paranoid and/or neurotic, generally we can all get a vibe for people and how seemingly open or trustworthy they are,” says Darrell Gurney, executive career coach.

There’s really no excuse for being toxically manipulative to others. “The ends don’t justify the means. If you abuse your influence, don’t treat people well, or confuse manipulation with leadership, you may win a few battles, but you’ll lose the war,” says Mike Myatt of Forbes.

How to Deal:  Keep your relationship extremely professional, and avoid talking about gossip or divulging too many opinions. You never know when he'll use it against you!

For More Help on How to Cut the Puppeteer's Strings:

The CareerBliss Guide to Bosses and Coworkers 

5 Ways to Deal With Cutthroat Coworkers 

photo of The CareerBliss Team

The CareerBliss Team

CareerBliss cares about your career happiness. That's why we offer a variety of great tools and resources to help you make better-informed career decisions. We believe that if you're happier at work, you'll be happier in life! Check out company reviews, salary information, career advice and, of course, millions of jobs on CareerBliss and choose happy today!

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