Manipulative CoworkersIn corporate America, it’s not a matter of if you’ll run into manipulative coworker, but a matter of when and how you’ll deal with the situation.

Regardless of your industry, profession, experience level or company, manipulative coworkers exist and, if given the right opportunity, they can prove to be a monumental obstacle to your ability to be successful.

Roughly 90% of people who read this post will currently be working with at least one person who, psychologically, can be described as a manipulator. (Click here to tweet this stat.) Of that 90%, only a handful will effectively know how to locate and efficiently interact with troublesome coworkers.

It’s a crucial skill to have, as the inability to decipher corporate manipulation and effectively handle it can have truly devastating effects. To begin, it’s best to analyze manipulative behavior and formulate some methods to deal with controlling individuals in the office.



The Career Switch Workbook is a free resource that helps you decide whether it's time to quit your job.
Is it time to quit your job? Use our FREE workbook to decide whether to stay or go.


Manipulation vs. Persuasion

Many people confuse manipulation and persuasion. Often, this confusion creates unnecessary resentment among honest coworkers.

The rule of thumb is that just because someone is trying to get you to do something, that doesn’t mean they’re attempting to manipulate you. It’s important to be able to decipher which is which and act accordingly.

By definition, manipulation is attempting to change the behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive or sometimes abusive tactics. It’s different from persuasion in the fact that it’s exploitative, abusive and malicious.

On the flip side, persuasion is the art of attempting to win others over to your brand of thinking. It’s upfront, comes from a place of sincere interest and intends to be mutually beneficial.

To determine which is which, step back and and analyze the situation as a third party. Taking any preconceived notions and emotions out of the equation will help you determine if taking some action will be beneficial to both parties or whether it can potentially hurt you.


Operating in a Gray Area

For many people, especially young professionals, it’s often hard to decipher if a coworker is attempting to manipulate or persuade. Unfortunately, the more effective — and, therefore, harmful — manipulators are, the less assuming they can be.

Often, most people’s intentions are benign. But when you’re operating in a gray area, blindly trusting a fellow employee you don’t know well can lead to undesirable outcomes. Yet coming across as overly suspicious will alienate others and make your tenure at the firm an unhappy, unproductive and uncomfortable one.

When in doubt, it’s best to think logically about the situation, remain somewhat distant and keep your professionalism.


Are You Prone to Being Manipulated?

Some personalities are more prone to being exploited by manipulators. Among other traits, manipulators actively look for people who are always attempting to please others, need consistent approval, lack assertiveness, are naive, overly dependent, impressionable and impulsive.

Which means one of the best ways to avoid manipulative coworkers is to work on improving yourself as a person. The better the sense of self-worth you have, the harder you are to manipulate — and the less you’re of interest to them.

There’s also safety in numbers. Begin gravitating towards coworkers who are friendly, confident and hardworking. While you can’t change your self-esteem overnight, you can change the groups you associate with, starting tomorrow.


How to Deal with Manipulative Coworkers

Since the chances are high you’ll come across manipulative coworkers at some point in your career, it’s best to know how to effectively maintain a healthy relationship with them. Here are a few ways to do so:


1. Try to See Things From Their Perspective

The most effective way to deal with manipulative coworkers is to determine why they’re behaving the way they are.

It’s possible the person is used to behaving in this manner and has seen it work in the past. Maybe it’s the only way they think they can get someone’s attention.

Instead of condemning their behavior, try to understand it. Seeing things from their perspective is the first step to being able to effectively have a working relationship with these people.


2. Remain Professional and Try to Find the Good in Them

The most efficient way to handle manipulative behavior is to remain professional, refrain from speaking poorly of the person and try to determine some of their finer points.

The worst way to handle it to is to criticize the person, as this will only make them go to further lengths to justify their actions.

Things are rarely black and white, so chances are this person isn’t entirely bad. When you forget about their less attractive qualities and focus on some of their more likable attributes, it shows in your interactions with them, and it will make them like you more and want to cross you less.


3. Don’t Let Their Behavior Dictate How You Feel or Act

While it’s easier said than done, the worst way to deal with manipulative coworkers is to let them dictate your feelings. If someone is controlling, becoming angry or visibly upset with their behavior will only add fuel to the fire.

It’s more effective to realize you can’t control their actions, but you can control how you respond to them. Remain calm and go about work in a friendly, positive and diligent manner, regardless of how your coworkers are approaching things.

Never stoop down to their level or try to pay them back with your own actions. Rise above it.


4. Act Only in Mutually Beneficial Situations, and Don’t be Afraid to Say “No”

Just because a manipulative coworker makes a request, it doesn’t mean the request in and of itself is manipulative. Sometimes, their advice may prove useful.

It’s best to keep an open mind and, prior to blindly saying “yes” or “no” to a request, analyze how taking action will help or hurt you — and if it’s the latter, don’t be afraid to say “no.” Assertiveness is one key to keeping a controlling coworker in check.



The Career Switch Workbook is a free resource that helps you decide whether it's time to quit your job.
Is it time to quit your job? Use our FREE workbook to decide whether to stay or go.


In the End

Manipulative behavior in the workforce rarely has the desired effect. Manipulative people usually make less money, lead unhappy lives (both in and out of work), deal with heightened stress levels and have less job security.

The people who make it in the long-term are the ones who are honest, hardworking and able to maintain their professionalism. Remain the latter, and you’ll do very well in your career.

Have you come across a manipulative coworker? How did you deal with them?


Ken Sundheim is the CEO of KAS Placement Sales and Marketing, an executive search firm specializing in staffing business development and marketing professionals throughout the United States. You can learn more about the recruiting firm at their Facebook page.

Image: Flickr