Workplace manipulation tactics are something no one thinks will ever be used upon them. But when it does, it’s often brushed aside as typical workplace politics. It’s something that has a serious negative impact on employee morale. Additionally, employees are seen to show lesser confidence in the welfare programs run by the company, .viz, employee assistance programs(The EAPs) if such a work environment prevails.
But beforehand, you need to know what manipulation tactics narcissists use and what they look like in the workplace. To avoid finding yourself manipulated and controlled.
12 Narcissistic Workplace Manipulation Tactics
Moving the goalposts.
This is something we came to know from client after client. “Nothing I ever did was good enough”. Does your boss or coworker ask for something or set a goal and when you achieve it, the endpoint has magically moved?
For example, if your boss says that you’re going to get a bonus when you achieve 10 sales and when you achieve that mark then they’ll say,” I didn’t say 10, I said 15”. Things along those lines.
Now of course, when you try to hold them to that original agreement or original metric, even if it’s in writing, they’re going to use the second workplace manipulation tactic
If you haven’t heard of gaslighting, it’s a workplace manipulation tactic when someone causes another person to question their own reality or even their sanity. You understood and completed the assignment, but they’re telling you you’re all wrong. They claim they never said that, that you said you would do this other thing, etc.
This will make the most sense if we consider an example. So in this story, the Boss named “steve” brings his employee Emma to a client meeting. Steve told Emma that the agenda was covered and she was mostly going to be there to make an introduction. So no preparation was needed. But as Steve and Emma arrive at the meeting together, Steve asks Emma what she prepared for the presentation. Emma says she has a few statistics she can share but she didn’t have anything prepared. She was told not to.
Steve then berates Emma for not preparing anything when he specifically told her to. She begins questioning, did she misunderstand the assignment? Did something change that she had missed along the way?
Gaslighting like this often coincides with the next workplace manipulation tactic as well.
Projection is a workplace manipulation tactic that is observed when the narcissist bad boss or bad coworker projects their issues onto their subject. To illustrate, let’s continue talking about Steve and Emma. Steve accuses Emma of being inattentive and says she’s always letting things fall through the cracks. And not just that, her communication skills are atrocious. She’s disorganized and might have just cost them this client. Emma isn’t just distraught with this feedback. She’s confused by it. She’s always been celebrated for her great communication skills in the past, and in her entire career, she has never let a ball drop.
Now because we’re objectively looking at the facts, we can see that Steve is projecting his issues with communication and organization onto Emma. One way you can spot projection is that you receive feedback, especially critical feedback that doesn’t align with anything you’ve been told before or even contradicts feedback that you’ve been given in the past.
Like if Emma had always been praised for how organized she was, but she was telling her she was disorganized, this would be the sign that he is projecting onto Emma.
Now, we know that these seem obvious, but when they’re happening to you in real life, they’re not obvious, especially when they’re combined with a next narcissistic workplace manipulation tactic
Changing Topics and Word Salad
This is where the topics are shifting and the spin is happening faster than you can keep up with it. When a narcissist or a bad boss or a terrible coworker is using this tactic, it can be very hard to follow and quite honestly very disorienting. If you’ve ever walked into a conversation or a meeting that you thought was going to go one way and you walked into the meeting like, “what just happened” You’ve experienced this. For example, if you’re supposed to be talking about sales forecasts with your manager, but all of a sudden convincing you that Chad’s underperformance is all your fault.
Now in this, the words that they use are going to be real words, but they won’t necessarily make intrinsic sense. And this is a manipulation tactic they use in order to divert attention from themselves and avoid any of their own accountability. In addition, the narcissistic boss or coworker may also use the next workplace manipulation tactic.
Especially those of you who have been in a toxic workplace or are in a toxic workplace, you’re probably going to be familiar with this one. This is where the narcissist in our example, Steve uses other coworkers or employees as a part of their manipulation. And this can take a few different shapes. Steve might recruit Chad to take his side. Steve might tell Emma how much more capable Rachel is and how much more potential she has. Or Steve might tell Emma that he heard from Patty how no one likes her.
This can be real, because you’re not going to be the only one that the narcissist is manipulating, or it can be imagined to create insecurity or a lack of confidence in yourself and a lack of trust amongst your coworkers.
And this actually might amp up with the next narcissistic workplace manipulation tactic
This is where the narcissistic manager or coworker disregards your expertise and ability by undermining your knowledge and experience sometimes leading to your perceived lack of experience to make their case. A lot of women working in corporates have experienced this in two regards.
First being infantilized for their age as well as for their perceived lack of maturity as a result of their personal interests, like buying expensive handbags. When no one is questioning Chad and his decision to buy a Rolex
I’ve seen this one happen a lot along with the next workplace manipulation tactic
This workplace manipulation tactic has two behaviors that go into it and I bet that lot of you’ve experienced this one. Have you had one of those bosses that never acknowledges any of your accomplishments or achievements, no matter how major it’s pure crickets? Or when their hand is forced to acknowledge it, they’re gonna play it off like a fluke or it’s not that big of a deal.
However, when you make a mistake, miss a metric, or stumble otherwise, they broadcast it to everyone shaming you in the meetings and making distasteful jokes about it. Those jokes never really joke.
This both centers them, which is what the narcissists really want and it casts you into the shadows and even can make you less likely to step back into the spotlight later, which I think is where you really belong.
Next, we need to talk about one of the tactics that narcissists use in workplace manipulation that obviously a lot of you would be struggling with
Those work-life boundaries that we keep on talking about around here, cannot exist with a narcissist because the narcissist only cares about their needs. And there are so many ways that enmeshment shows up in many workplaces today.
After-hours team events expect you to reply to emails at the weekend when everyone is all up in each other’s personal business.
Another very common workplace manipulation tactic used by narcissists and bad bosses and the like is
Being Set Up To Fail
Around here we talk a lot about win-win situations. It’s honestly one of our core values. Narcissists do not like win-win situations. In fact, they thrive off the failure and stress of others. And seriously how toxic is that? This can be through subtle or overt sabotage at work or it can be through malicious action or inaction like omitting you from the invite to that important meeting. Not telling you about that deadline until the last minute or not passing along important information to you.
Another very common workplace manipulation tactic used especially by narcissistic bosses is
From the use of employee monitoring software to the micromanagement of your everyday tasks, the narcissistic manipulator overly controls your target or their team to ensure that they have no path to happiness, success, or fulfillment. This is why Steve gets mad at Emma when she doesn’t answer his call at 11:30 am on a Sunday morning or demands she cancels her plans to work late. Asks her to submit timesheets when there’s no practical use for them other than seeing how she’s spending her time. Even though he’s already getting key logs or screenshots of everything she does on her work devices.
Of course, they’ll pretend this is totally normal through the use of the next workplace manipulation tactic which is
“Oh, all managers do this” is the epitome of this problem. Whether it’s micromanaging their employees, finding ways to justify their behavior, whether it’s through false claims that they’re making in their word salad or not.” Elon does this and he’s a billionaire”. When whether Elon actually does that is up to question and why is it always Elon they’re talking about?
No matter what, the narcissistic manipulator will always find a way to excuse their behavior toward themselves and others, well finding a way to blame you. If these manipulation tactics don’t work to the narcissist’s liking, They may escalate to the final workplace manipulation tactic we need to talk about today.
There are many threats that are used as workplace manipulation tactics today, such as your boss threatening to fire you, a coworker threatening to tell your boss about that mistake that you made, or any other threat that threatens your job.
When they can’t control you through manipulation, they’ll try to control you through fear. And that’s why if you’re working with a narcissist, you’re probably in a toxic work environment.
If you’ve been hanging with us for a while you know that there’s the only solution to a toxic work environment, leave the toxic work environment. But be cautious and mindful if you decide to go through an exit interview.
Of course, this is something that you need to plan for to fight these vicious workplace manipulation tactics. With a lot of urgencies if they’re threatening your job, always have a plan B and be ready to jump to it as quickly as possible.
As you work on your escape, it’s really important for you to have some survival tactics to help you survive a toxic work environment with as few bruises as possible.