Never expect a manipulator to say sorry.
In the fraught field of office politics, that viper the arch manipulator seems to pose a particularly virulent threat. And you might not notice the damage until it's too late.
“Usually, the signs that someone is manipulating you are subtle and almost imperceptible,” says business psychologist Christopher Shen.
But it never hurts to rust your instincts, says Shen, who warns to watch out for odd gestures or facial expressions, or clear signs of disrespect.
Another sign of an office viper mentality, according to workplace behaviour expert Leanne Faraday-Brash, is a tendency to form “deep”, “life-long” friendships fast and break them with equal speed. Then there is the “divide and conquer” ploy, Faraday-Brash says, painting manipulators as highly divisive – “funny, witty, charming, attractive, popular” to some, “different” and “dangerous” to others.
Here are 10 tips on managing dangerously manipulative behaviour before it tears your business apart.
1. Take notes
Jot diary notes of interactions with the sneaky character undermining your enterprise, says organisational psychologist Faraday-Brash, the author of a book on toxic tactics called Vulture Cultures.
Keeping a paper trail of conversations clarifies what promises and agreements you make, Faraday-Brash says. That can help you avoid being seen as being “conspiratorial” or fuelling paranoia.
Still, if an employee is highly manipulative, discreet documentation has its place, according to Faraday-Brash. “You don't need to tell anybody,” she says.
2. Minimise involvement
Another way to handle an office manipulator is to flee the moment. Make a snappy tactical withdrawal as a conscious choice if you feel upset, angry or worried, says Faraday-Brash.
Or, if viable, you might want to take an extended break from the shyster's presence. There is nothing wrong with avoidance, according to Faraday-Brash.
“It's a legitimate strategy to just flow and say, I'll have minimum involvement with them, but I'll stay professional,” she says.
3. Gently call it
Another, bolder way to handle an underhand employee is to clarify things through direct dialogue, says Faraday-Brash.
Say: "'I'm getting the impression you are angry - can we talk in a more open and direct manner about your concerns?'" she suggests.
4. Mix it up
If you feel the need to take a harder line, then confront the manipulator without becoming unprofessional and aggressive, suggests Faraday-Brash. There is nothing wrong with confrontation, she says.
“It's saying, 'I refuse to maintain the status quo - I refuse to give this person my power,'” she says.
Such directness is hard, she admits, but it boosts your resilience because you know you have taken charge - stopped someone walking all over you.
5. Draw a line
Generally, speak up and set appropriate boundaries, says business psychologist Christopher Shen.
Be prepared to say no. There are many assertive ways to do so, Shen says, adding that, in the process, you should be respectful, direct, firm, honest and brief.
Try, he suggests, giving the manipulator a “compliment sandwich”, which means tactfully framing criticism with appreciation.
6. Be more mindful
Weigh up whether you are unconsciously contributing to tension between you and the game player.
“Be a fly on the wall,” Shen says. Picture how a third party would view the conflict, he adds. Are you partly at fault?
7. Monitor your emotional response
“Be willing and prepared to walk away momentarily, if you are not in emotional control,” Shen says. If you do get upset in front of the manipulator, still try to stay strategic.
“Only use your emotion to your advantage. Only get angry on purpose, or act with purposeful forthrightness,” Shen says.
8. Stay in Sherlock mode
In all cases, be a “detective”, Shen says. Consider what you might have missed about the manipulator's behaviour, Shen adds and lists devious “derailing” traits ranging from passive aggression to melodrama.
9. Don't go into bleeding heart mode
If you start feeling sympathy for a manipulator, stop, argues clinical psychologist George Simon. Talk-show Freudian psychology fuels the belief that tough childhoods turn people toxic, Simon writes.
In fact, according to Simon - the author of a guide to tackling manipulation titled In Sheep's Clothing - manipulators spread mischief from choice: for kicks, it seems. So, save your tears.
10. Never expect an apology
Finally, never expect a manipulator to say sorry.
According to Simon, manipulators whitewash their wily behaviour, feigning ignorance and innocence among other ploys in a case of: “Who, me?”