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How to Deal With a Manipulator in the Office

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A manipulative employee in the office is a master of deception. He's an expert in getting what he wants through underhanded tactics. In a 2009 article published in the Modesto Bee, the syndicated columnist Mildred L. Culp wrote that a manipulative co-worker can pose an instant threat to your work and emotional health. You must know what drives this individual to be able to deal with him.


A manipulative co-worker is a workplace bully in disguise. He wants something from you, but he keeps his desires hidden. He sees things in black and white: either you're with him or against him. If you're with him, his goal is to control your thoughts, feelings and behavior. If you're against him, his goal is to destroy you -- for example, by getting you fired. People who really care for others feel genuine concern for them; however, a manipulator only cares about what he wants. Through covert aggression, such as denial, guilt tripping, subtle intimidation, rationalization, playing the victim and blaming, he creates a hostile, emotionally charged work environment.

Knowing Your Weaknesses

A manipulator has a keen understanding of human weaknesses. He knows that everyone has them, and his job is to find yours and exploit them. By understanding your own weaknesses, you can overcome them and protect yourself against manipulation. For example, someone who's naive, is emotionally needy, has low self-esteem or is overly compromising might be a magnet for the manipulator.

Keeping Your Power

Because manipulation's subtle, you may not see it, but you can feel it. For example, every time you ask your co-worker to explain a task to you, he says he'll help you but never does. Instead, he comes up with a seemingly genuine excuse about being too busy. This could be the manipulator’s hidden way of shaming you for an imagined slight or simply putting you in your place. Maybe it’s not his job to explain anything to you, so technically he’s not doing anything wrong. But he knows that ignoring others can incite feelings of doubt and hopelessness in them. He thrives on power, so the best way to deal with him is to not give him any control over you. Ignore his attempts to shatter your self-esteem and don't speak to him unless your job requires it.

Protecting Yourself

A manipulator’s successes are usually short-lived, because his behavior tends to catch up with him. Ultimately, he may move on to another job or pick another victim and start his negative behavior all over again. You might be able to outlast him on the job by protecting your own interests. Write down the date, time and communication of all interactions you have with him. If you work on joint projects together, make copies of your work and keep them in a safe place. If he asks you to do something that's not in your job description, don't be afraid to say no, and document the incident. If you become too difficult for him to influence, he's likely to move on to an easier target.


Bullies, whether overt or covert, usually end up poisoning the work atmosphere with their negativity. If you must report your co-worker, wait until you've established a pattern in his behavior. Then present the facts to your human resources department or manager. Meanwhile, always be on guard around him, limit your contact with him and avoid getting pulled into his schemes. If his behavior becomes too stressful for you to deal with, and your manager or HR isn't supportive enough, consider seeking employment elsewhere.


Grace Ferguson has been writing professionally since 2009. With 10 years of experience in employee benefits and payroll administration, Ferguson has written extensively on topics relating to employment and finance. A research writer as well, she has been published in The Sage Encyclopedia and Mission Bell Media.

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