They push you in one direction, and then pull you in the other, so that you never know which way to turn next. A manipulative person on the job can make you feel depressed, anxious -- even sick from not knowing how to please them or what type of mood they're going to be in on any given day. If you're dealing with a manipulator at your workplace, the road toward a solution is not going to be easy, but you can take some steps to protect yourself and stay sane.
Recognize that the source of the problem is not you. As many as 9 to 10 percent of all adults in the United States are estimated to have personality disorders that can include controlling behavior, narcissism, paranoia, and other antisocial behaviors, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Joseph M. Carver. If your co-worker is displaying manipulative behaviors, there's at least some chance she could have a disorder that leads her to treat others badly, no matter what they do. Knowing that you're not "crazy" for feeling manipulated could help you cope.
Don't go it alone. Find a counselor, friend or loved one with whom you can share this experience. That can help you sort out your feelings of anxiety, depression, confusion, or anger.
Avoid feeding into the co-workers' manipulations when you see them happening. You may be tempted to fight back or erupt in anger when you see your co-worker manipulating you or others -- but resist the urge to stoop to her level. It will only degrade the situation even further, or encourage her since you're giving her the attention she wants. When possible, try to ignore the co-worker's bad behavior all together.
Document your work, when it involves the co-worker. While you won't be able to prevent all the back-stabbing and personal interactions the co-worker may have with other people, you can try to protect your own job. Save emails or paper documents that leave a paper trail about the work you've done and your contribution to the work. If your co-worker is the type to take credit for your work, this can help you prove that it was in fact you that handled it.
Call her out when she's making obvious false claims or manipulating others. Don't try this in the middle of a staff meeting, but if you see her manipulating you or others during the workday, respectfully and calmly let her know you see through her game. Then be prepared to show evidence that backs up your claim. Setting your boundaries with your co-worker and letting her know what you will and won't accept is one of the most effective ways of fighting back against this type of person, says conflict resolution expert Dr. Mary Casey.
Present your evidence to your supervisor, if needed. When your manipulative co-worker starts to take steps against you, it's time to get someone higher-up involved. Ask for a private meeting with your direct supervisor, and then explain your perception of the situation. Stick to the facts and your observations, instead of making judgements or placing labels on your co-worker's actions. Ask to move desks or departments or do a different job -- anything to remove yourself from that toxic person. In most cases, the person is not going to change, so you'll need to change the situation.
- If your manipulative co-worker is your boss, it may be tough to talk to her or call her out on the situation; in that case, the only long-term solution may be to leave the job.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.