How to Deal With Manipulative Coworkers (18 Ways)

Have you ever felt like a puppet in a coworker’s hands, feeling controlled or manipulated? If so, you’re not alone. Dealing with manipulative coworkers can be challenging, but understanding their tricks and learning how to respond can make all the difference. 

Let’s dive in and equip ourselves with the knowledge to navigate these challenging waters!

Understanding Manipulation In The Workplace 

Manipulation in the workplace is a form of psychological abuse that can lead to toxic work environments and negatively impact individual well-being. 

It involves deceptive and underhanded tactics to gain power, control, or achieve a personal agenda. Often, it’s characterized by dishonesty, coercion, and exploitation.

Signs Of Manipulation 

Spotting manipulation can be challenging, as manipulators are skilled at hiding their intentions. However, certain psychological, behavioral, and emotional signs can hint towards manipulation.

Psychological Signs

Manipulative coworkers often manipulate psychologically in these ways:

  • Fear: You’re continuously worried about job security. For example, a coworker might suggest that your boss isn’t happy with your performance, even when it’s not the case.
  • Doubt: Your confidence and abilities are constantly undermined. A coworker, for instance, might make you doubt your presentation skills by highlighting every small mistake.
  • Obligation: You feel compelled to carry out tasks that aren’t part of your job role. For instance, a coworker could make you feel obligated to complete their reports because they helped you once.

Behavioral Signs

The actions of manipulative coworkers often form a consistent pattern. This might include:

  • Shifting blame: They frequently deflect responsibility. They might blame you for a missed deadline when they didn’t provide you with the needed information.
  • Taking credit: They usurp the credit for others’ work. For example, a coworker may present your ideas as their own during a meeting.
  • Spreading rumors: They disseminate false information to harm others’ reputations. This could be a coworker spreading rumors about another team member’s supposed incompetency.

Emotional Signs

Experiencing negative emotions in your workplace could indicate manipulation. You might feel:

  • Guilt: You feel guilty for not satisfying a coworker’s excessive expectations. An example might be feeling guilty for refusing to do a coworker’s task on your day off.
  • Shame: You feel shame when your work is unduly criticized. For example, a coworker unnecessarily belittles your proposal in front of the team.
  • Anxiety: You’re constantly nervous about the manipulator’s next steps. This could mean worrying about a coworker’s possible reactions if you don’t comply with their requests.

Potential Reasons For Manipulative Behaviors

Manipulative behaviors often originate from various personal motivations or circumstances. Some potential reasons for manipulative behaviors are:

Power and controlSome individuals resort to manipulation to gain power and control over others. This could be to secure their job position, to advance in their career, or to sabotage the success of others.
Low self-esteem or insecurityPeople with low self-esteem or insecurities might resort to manipulation as a defense mechanism. By bringing others down, they seek to elevate their own status and feel better about themselves.
Desire for validationManipulation can also be used by individuals who crave validation. They may spread false rumors or twist facts to make themselves appear more valuable or important than others.
Lack of empathy or understandingSome people may not understand or care about the impact of their behavior on others. Their lack of empathy might lead them to manipulate others without considering the emotional harm they might cause.
Resisting changeIndividuals resistant to change may employ manipulative tactics to maintain the status quo or to create barriers to progress that they find threatening.
Influence from toxic environmentsIf an individual has been part of a toxic environment before, they may have learned and adopted manipulative behaviors as a survival tactic and continue to use these tactics in other environments.

These motivations often result in behaviors that negatively impact the workplace environment and dynamics. 

Knowing that you’re dealing with a manipulative coworker is one thing, but figuring out what to do about it is another. Once you know what’s going on, knowing how to handle these tricky situations is vital.

Here are 18 helpful ways you can take to manage and stand up against manipulative colleagues:

1. Recognize Manipulative Behavior And Tactics

Understanding the signs of manipulation can arm you with the knowledge to address such behavior effectively. Manipulative coworkers might resort to various tactics, such as:

  • Guilt-tripping
  • Gaslighting
  • Playing the victim
  • Spreading misinformation

They often prey on your emotions and weaknesses to influence your decisions and actions.

For example: If you notice a coworker constantly guilt trips you into taking on extra work, consider it as a sign of manipulation and act accordingly.

2. Maintain A Positive Attitude

Maintaining a positive mindset can act as a shield against manipulative tactics. It helps you focus on your work and goals instead of getting entangled in petty office politics. Your positivity might also discourage manipulators from targeting you.

You can maintain a positive attitude by focusing on your accomplishments and on constructive feedback. 

Remember the wise words of Marcus Aurelius:

You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

3. Establish Boundaries

Defining your personal and professional boundaries to discourage manipulative behavior is important.

These boundaries might include: 

  • The times when coworkers can contact you.
  • The kind of tasks you’re willing to take on.
  • The way you prefer to be treated.

For instance, you might tell a coworker who often contacts you after work hours: “I value my personal time after 6 PM, so I would appreciate it if we could discuss work matters during office hours.” 

4. Document Everything

It’s essential to document all interactions as a protective measure. This could include emails, messages, or other forms of communication where manipulative behavior is evident. It serves as evidence and can come in handy if the situation escalates.

Tip: Always keep a record of your interactions with a manipulative coworker, especially if they involve work-related decisions or disputes. This will serve as a factual record of events. 

5. Be Assertive 

Clear, concise, and firm communication can prevent manipulation by expressing your thoughts and feelings openly while respecting the rights and beliefs of others.

To practice assertive communication, get comfortable with saying “no” when necessary and express your needs directly and honestly. 

As George Bernard Shaw noted, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” So, ensure your message is received as intended.

6. Seek Guidance

If you’re dealing with manipulation at work, don’t hesitate to seek guidance. Consult mentors, your HR department, or professional counselors as needed. They can provide advice, emotional support and can intervene if necessary.

For example: If a coworker's manipulation is causing you significant stress, you may want to discuss the situation with your supervisor or HR representative. 

7. Focus On Facts

Staying factual in discussions is a crucial strategy for avoiding emotional manipulation. When disagreements arise or decisions need to be made, rely on objective evidence rather than getting swept up in emotions or personal biases.

Tip: Stick to facts and data in your discussions, especially when dealing with manipulative coworkers. 

8. Avoid Office Gossip

Staying clear of office politics and gossip can prevent you from becoming a target of manipulation. Gossip and rumors can fuel manipulation and create a toxic work environment. If a coworker starts to gossip, politely excuse yourself or steer the conversation to a more professional topic. 

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

9. Manage Stress

Working with manipulative coworkers can cause significant stress, which can impact your health and productivity. Techniques like exercise, mindfulness, and meditation can help mitigate the stress caused by handling manipulation.

For instance, consider taking short breaks during work to do deep-breathing exercises or go for a short walk.

10. Build a Support Network

Sustaining a network of trustworthy colleagues can provide emotional support and advice, especially in tough times. 

Having allies in the workplace can help you feel safer and more supported. It can also help you to get different perspectives and advice on dealing with manipulative coworkers.

Consider organizing regular lunch gatherings or after-work activities to foster relationships with supportive colleagues.

Related: Building Strong Work Relationships

11. Question Intentions

Questioning the intentions behind manipulative actions can often deter such behavior. Doing so lets you maintain control of the situation rather than letting the manipulator set the terms.

If a coworker is trying to guilt you into working late, you might ask: 

  • “Why is it that this task always falls on me?”
  • “Can we find a fairer solution?” 

12. Engage in Self-Care

Healthy physical, mental, and emotional habits can buffer against the negative impacts of dealing with manipulative situations. 

This includes: 

  1. Maintaining a balanced diet.
  2. Getting regular exercise.
  3. Ensuring you get enough sleep.
  4. Having time to relax and recharge.

Take time for activities you enjoy, such as reading, painting, or gardening. 

13. Avoid Personal Conversations

Avoid discussing personal matters with manipulative coworkers. Sharing personal details can give them ammunition to manipulate you. If a manipulative coworker asks about your personal life, politely steer the conversation back to work-related topics. 

Fact: According to the Harvard Business Review, personal boundaries in workplace conversations can reduce opportunities for manipulation.

14. Foster a Respectful Workplace

Fostering a cooperative and respectful workplace environment can significantly minimize manipulative behaviors. When everyone is treated with respect and dignity, it discourages harmful behaviors such as manipulation.

Promote respect in your team by showing appreciation for your colleagues’ efforts and addressing disagreements professionally

As entrepreneur Richard Branson said: 

Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress.

15. Promote Win-Win Outcomes

Promoting win-win outcomes can prevent any one person from gaining an unfair advantage. It can also discourage manipulative behaviors as it aims to satisfy the needs and interests of all parties involved.

For example: In a team meeting, aim for solutions that benefit everyone, not just a particular individual. Suggest brainstorming for solutions that help the entire team.

16. Strengthen Your Negotiation Skills

Effective negotiation skills can guard you against manipulative tactics in decision-making. Being a good negotiator allows you to advocate for your needs and interests and to ensure fair outcomes.

Improve your negotiation skills by practicing: 

  • Active listening
  • Assertive communication
  • Creative problem-solving

17. Respect Your Values and Beliefs

Upholding your personal values can keep you grounded in the face of manipulation. Even when faced with manipulative tactics, staying true to your principles is crucial.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said:

Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.

You maintain your integrity and stand firm against manipulation by adhering to your values.

18. Stay Devoted to Your Work

Staying focused on your work and contributing positively to your team is crucial. This dedication not only promotes productivity but also helps to maintain your professional reputation, regardless of the manipulator’s actions.

Don’t let a manipulator distract you from your responsibilities or your goals.

Instead, focus on delivering high-quality work and meeting your deadlines. This can help you maintain your peace of mind, despite any negative energy a manipulator may try to introduce into the workplace.

Tip: Stay focused by setting daily goals, limiting distractions, and taking breaks to recharge and refocus. You can also use positive affirmations to remind yourself of your worth and abilities, such as "I am a valuable member of this team" or "My work speaks for itself."

Impact of Manipulation on the Workplace Environment

Manipulation at work doesn’t only disrupt interpersonal relationships, but it also poses a serious threat to the overall work environment.

On Team Morale And Cooperation

The presence of manipulation in the workplace is corrosive to team morale and cooperation. When a coworker consistently undermines others or holds back crucial information, it fosters a climate of mistrust and apprehension. This hostility inhibits collaboration and diminishes team morale. 

For instance, if one team member is always spreading rumors about others, the team’s unity will inevitably suffer.

Related: How to Deal With a Coworker Who Undermines You

On Job Satisfaction And Productivity

The effects of a manipulative workplace also spill over to job satisfaction and productivity. An environment plagued by manipulation can cause employees to feel unhappy and undervalued, affecting their enthusiasm and engagement with their work. 

Consider an employee constantly feeling that their ideas are stolen by a manipulative coworker; they may start to lose interest in their job, resulting in decreased productivity.

On Individual Mental Health

Constant manipulation can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and even depression. The feeling of being continuously manipulated may breed a sense of powerlessness and diminished self-esteem, which can severely impact an individual’s mental health. 

For example, someone may develop anxiety from constantly worrying about a manipulative coworker’s unpredictable behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I promote a healthy work environment to prevent manipulation?

Promoting a positive, transparent work culture can help discourage manipulation:

Clear communication: Encourage open and honest dialogue among team members.

Regular feedback sessions: These can help address issues before they escalate.

Building team spirit: Foster a sense of camaraderie through team-building activities and celebrations.

Zero tolerance policy: Establish and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for manipulation and other negative workplace behaviors.

Is it possible for a manipulative coworker to change?

Yes, it’s possible for a manipulative coworker to change, but it’s important to understand that significant behavioral change requires an intrinsic motivation to alter one’s actions and often involves professional assistance, like counseling or therapy.

Although people can change, it’s not a quick process and isn’t guaranteed. As a coworker, while you can encourage positive behavior, remember it’s not your responsibility to fix or change them.

How should I approach confrontation with a manipulative coworker?

It’s essential to address the issue in a tactful and professional manner:

– Collect evidence of their manipulation and prepare what you want to say.
– Choose a neutral location for the conversation to avoid any power dynamics.
– Be clear about how their actions affect you, using “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory.
– Don’t just complain about the problem. Instead, offer potential solutions that can help improve your working relationship.

When should I consider leaving the job due to a manipulative coworker?

Deciding to leave a job because of a manipulative coworker is a personal decision that should be based on several factors. 

If you’ve tried various strategies to handle the situation—such as direct confrontation, seeking assistance from supervisors or HR, and the toxic behavior continues to affect your work, well-being, and productivity—it might be time to consider leaving. 

Always remember your mental health and personal satisfaction should not be compromised in a hostile work environment.

What should I avoid doing when dealing with a manipulative coworker?

When dealing with a manipulative colleague, you should avoid:

Engaging in their games: Do not participate in manipulative behavior or strategies. Maintain your integrity.

Ignoring the problem: Avoidance may provide temporary relief, but the issue will likely persist or worsen.

Retaliating: Responding with negative behaviors can exacerbate the situation and potentially harm your reputation.

What is gaslighting, and how does it relate to manipulation?

Gaslighting is a specific form of manipulation where a person attempts to make another individual doubt their own perception, memory, or sanity, often by denying reality or trivializing the other person’s experiences. This psychological manipulation aims to gain control over the target by making them question their own judgment. 

Examples of gaslighting might include a coworker consistently denying their negative behaviors or claiming that you’re misremembering events, despite your certainty.

How can I support a coworker who’s dealing with a manipulative colleague?

If you notice a coworker struggling with manipulation, you can:

Offer empathy and understanding: Simply acknowledging their struggle can provide comfort.

Encourage them to seek help: They might benefit from speaking with HR, a supervisor, or a counselor.

Provide evidence: If you’ve observed the manipulation, your testimony could support your coworker’s claims, particularly if the issue escalates to HR or management.


Remember, the presence of manipulative coworkers doesn’t mean you’re stuck in a toxic environment forever. By identifying signs of manipulation and understanding its impact, you can start to build effective responses. 

With patience, resilience, and the right strategies, you can reclaim your workplace peace, boosting your productivity and job satisfaction. Here’s to happier, healthier workplaces for us all!

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Robby is a multimedia editor at UpJourney with a journalism and communications background.

When she's not working, Robby transforms into an introverted art lover who indulges in her love for sports, learning new things, and sipping her favorite soda. She also enjoys unwinding with feel-good movies, books, and video games. She's also a proud pet parent to her beloved dog, Dustin.