3 Tips for Dealing With a Sneaky, Manipulative Co-Worker

Proving yourself to your boss is hard enough. Add those manipulative co-workers to the mix and you have yourself an impossible situation – or do you? We’ll examine how to identify who those wheeler-dealer colleagues are and how to effectively deal with them so that you can shine bright in your career.

how to deal with manipulative co-workers

(Photo Credit: otakuchick/Flickr)

The workplace can be a cut-throat environment, with everyone trying to get ahead in some way, shape, or form. It’s no surprise that there are those downright malicious people who will do anything and everything to get a leg up on the competition and win the spotlight, especially in front of the boss. If you’re just not that into scheming your way to the top, here are a few tips to help you steer clear of the manipulators in the office so that you can continue your climb up the corporate ladder.

1. Identify

The first step is to know how to identify who the connivers are amongst your co-workers, which can be a tricky task. Be careful not to immediately assume that someone’s request for assistance is manipulation. First, take a step back and evaluate the situation for what it is. Are you being asked to contribute your efforts because a co-worker needs your help? Or are you being asked to perform someone else’s work while they reap the benefits of the final product?

Manipulative people are usually very good at disguising themselves as your friend when they need something, but could care less about you otherwise. Pay attention to how consistently you are being asked for help by this person, as well as how apt they are to acknowledge you or your contributions in a group setting.

Another indicator of a schemer is whether they are prone to bad-mouthing or gossiping about others in the office, including the boss. In general, anyone who always has something negative to say about other co-workers is probably not the person you want to surround yourself with, nor lend your assistance to. Like Mom always said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Plus, you don’t want to get caught up in the drama when people find out about this control freak’s gossiping – trust that you will be thrown under the bus when “stuff” hits the fan.

2. Just Say No

After you’re able to differentiate manipulation from simply asking for help, don’t be afraid to say “no” to these cancers of the office, because they’re only out to advance their own careers, and definitely not anyone else’s. If you are asked for help by a manipulative co-worker, the best thing to do is explain that you’re busy trying to meet such-and-such deadline, and then maybe lend some advice to help that person complete the task. This way, you aren’t being rude or abrasive when declining to help, and are still offering free advice in the end.

3. It's Them, Not You.

Don’t take things personally – understand that it’s them, not you. These “wolves in sheep’s clothing” are taking out some personal issue or insecurity on you and it’s usually unwarranted. It’s crucial to maintain professionalism when dealing with such characters in the workplace, which oftentimes means biting your tongue when you want to lash out. The best way to deal with a manipulator’s continuous wickedness is to address the issue, professionally, with the person privately. If the behavior continues, then the next step is to consult your supervisor. Your last resort is to escalate the issue to Human Resources and get your complaint in writing and on record.

The absolute worst thing you can do when you’re being manipulated or taken advantage of in the workplace is to ignore the behavior, because it will only get worse. Take action as soon as you are aware of the cunning behavior before it ends up costing someone their job – and that someone will probably be you.

The next time your corrupt co-workers starts his spiel about how much he needs your assistance (a.k.a. for you to do his work for him), you will have the know-how to effectively divert his requests and let him down easy.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have manipulative co-workers? How do you dodge their requests and still manage to pave a successful career path? Share your pearls of wisdom with our community on Twitter or in the comments section below.


  1. 12 Adaline 03 Nov
    My partner deals with one who works for him. From day one of us arriving in this workplace he has tried to schmooze his way into my partner's good books; he is very charming and polite, complimentary and eager to listen to your opinions and advice on work. This person had already wormed his way "in" with the two other supervisors and was initially working for one of them, with whom he got on very well as not much was expected of him and in that environment of mediocrity he was one of the "stars". He would always appear uninvited whenever the supervisors would socialise together to partake in the conversation and generally worm his way in in a way that other workers did not. We observed this with interest on coming into this work place, unaware initially of the extent of his manipulation and just assuming he was a suck-up. He would subtly steer the conversation to other workers and want to know your opinion of them, or offer his opinion on them. He would never appear overly critical and always stick to the line of "impartial bystander", appearing to offer "facts". In time he transferred to my partners division as there is more glory to be had there than where he was working, and he obviously thought he was "in" good enough to just walk in and sit at the top as he had done in his previous department. My partner doesn't work like that however and this person was not up to scratch and as such did not receive the reception he was after. He was very quick to start a sexual relationship with another person in that department who can be a trouble maker, and to form an alliance with another worker who was also dissatisfied with not being the favourite. We work in a very close (incestuous) workplace where most people socialise together and this manipulator socialises heavily with the other supervisors, and in the last few months he has been working for my partner we have noticed a marked decline in attitudes and relationships with other people in the workplace, including another supervisor and another "inner circle" person coming to my partner about negative comments he had supposedly made about them, none of which he had ever said. Hopefully the truth will come out soon, this person has done an excellent job of making friends with the right people and using that to discredit my partner within the "status quo" circle here. I fear that if these people were smart enough to realise what this person does, they would have realised it a long time ago.
  2. 11 Pod 20 Sep
    My work colleague is a soft spoken but very cunning. She has been piggybacking on everything I do as we both share a role. Its so frustrating that I have to share all credit for my hard work. She even got nominated for best employee award for something I help her to do.
  3. 10 lily 17 Sep
    Ignore them it will drive them crazy hopefully they will get tired and leave you alone.
  4. 9 Tian 15 Aug
    We have a manipulator in our workplace and it has taken us a long time to identify her as she disguised herself as everyone´s best friend. Although I am not her target, I can see how much damage she is doing to our group. The most important thing that has worked so far is to NOT keep your mouth shut. Be has loud as you when if you identify the manipulative behaviours, although at the beginning it is hard for people to believe you but once they are advised, sooner or later it becomes as clear as day. Once I identified her behaviour, I confronted my other co-workers, and each time an ¨incident¨ happened, we compared what the manipulator has told each of us and this way we identified the manipulation behaviour pretty fast. The next step is to tell the supervisors as a group, with each person giving their own example of how it affected their work. It is extremely important to always tell someone.
  5. 8 Tired 29 Jul
    I have a very manipulative coworker. I work in an office of 7 women. Before Miss Manipulator started, we all got along great. Now I feel like she is turning everyone against me. In the beginning we had a great relationship. She's a smart friendly girl who won everyone over with her good looks and perky personality. Standing back and watching from a far, you can see how she goes over and above what is expected or required to put herself in everyone's good graces. Now, that being said she does this with everyone except me. I seem to be excluded from all office banter, event planning or even quick trips to the grocery store to pick up lunch or supplies. I see her gush over some employees (anyone of importance) and then treat the little guy as if they are scum beneath her toes. I use to walk into the office and feel comfortable with everyone there but lately I feel like I walked into a private conversation. I've discussed it with my boss but she doesn't see it. Little Miss M is very good at looking innocent. I don't know what to do. I'm heart broken. I use to love my job, not anymore. I wish people could see her for who she really is.
  6. 7 Ida 28 Jul
    I get a kick out of how the manipulative cunning co worker, tries to turn things around to make it so they are the victim....and the boss usually falls for it because he has himself been manipulated to the grandest way... the manipulator starts her texting, to everyone, changing the situation, getting positive feedback from her groupies, inc the naive boss, and others are made to look like the beasts. All the while, she gets away with things, feels renewed, and continues on, smile in hand. She makes tons of mistakes at work, others rarely, but she lies about this and blames others in front o customers, that she has to "fix things all the time". She lies for the boss, to customers, so that seals it there. She even manipulated her insurance company so many times, they dropped her. Fraud after deer hit, and water leak in house, which she let continue and damage things, per uncle advice. Oh the things we know. The less one says, the better. Gives her no ammo. And makes her more insecure. More restless. She has a need to control. It is her drug. Trapping them in their own lies, and watch them make calls, go frantic, and cry and storm to the boss. All in effort to save face. They have been revealed. It is a cycle , a pattern that you eventually grasp and control, they use it so often to try to control everyone. One day one boss yelled over the tel to me about losing money due to ex employee still sucking free benefits via this manipulator. I said I did not make the tickets for the work on ex employee stuff. Forwarded info to manipulator of boss' concern, she did the tickets I told boss, see her...watched her go nuts making calls to defend herself, lied to other boss, when all the time I knew she set it up to help the ex employee not have to pay anything to us. But she holds the bag on that one. That is the end result you want, control for yourself and see her squirm.
  7. 6 rosie 09 May
    I have just realised the best way to deal with sneaky people is the less communication with them the better,they are very cunning people and can be quite evil,I have had experience with one for quite a few months now and as you said will be your friend only when she needs something and will benefit out of it.An incident happened where she was being very dishonest and made me feel I was going insane even tild me I was being paranoid but my gut feeling was telling me different week later truth came out and I was right and not being paranoid like she was telling me.So now I have very little contact I only speak and be polite when I have to be and stopped all contact,eAnd its the best thing I ever did.Them people will just drag you down as they get a buzz out of it I feel.They can be quite dangerous and I do believe there is a bit of evil in there behaviours.So as little contact as possible its worked for me
  8. 5 olegs evil friend 18 Apr
    Our coeworker is pure sneaky lazy and old super sneaky ao what i do is say. Ohh super sneakyness i detect here you very sneaky and walk away
  9. 4 Victorious 01 Oct
    Tips for Surviving the Manipulative 1. Document conversations and blind copy people that need to be privy of tasks where the manipulator is trying to take credit. If the manipulator asks you for something make sure that people know the manipuator is asking you. 2. Don't trivialize your knowledge base and experience. Consider for a moment why a manipulator asks you the questions instead of the boss or another colleague? You are being asked because you know and are valuable! Don't ever let an insecure person convince you otherwise. 3. Know the value of your skills and role. If manipulators try to minimize you, do your work or take credit for work they have solicited you to complete, set clear boundaries. Say no with your actions because after all "actions speak louder than words". 4. Remember a manipulator is one person. Don't worhip a manipulator or make them a god by allowing the manipulators opinion and actions of you to out weigh the good opinions you have of yourself. 5. Trap a manipulator in their own dishonesty by stating facts via email, in ear shot of those who know the truth and in the manipulators face. This tatic disarms the manipulator. 6. Read the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and find a couple of laws that you can practice in good conscience. 7. Practice assertion. 8. A manipulator is usually a habitual distorter of the truth. Take control of the story that the manipulator is seeking to sabotage you with. 9. The stress from working with a person like this can be paralyzing. Find outlets for the frustration such as exercise, blogging, journaling but most importantly, direct confrontation with your manipulator. 10. Laugh by whatever means necessary.
  10. 3 emi 25 Sep
    I work with two sisters who try to "advise" our bosses at any given chance. They are so competitive that everyone else at work avoids them. I give free tutoring to one of their daughters and STILL they want to say negative things about me and several other teachers. It has gotten to a point where I just want to change jobs since my bosses are just falling for manipulative tactics.
  11. 2 Sibo 16 Sep
    My office assistant is so malicious and vindictive, its actualy spiralled out of control. I have no idea what i have done but she continues to do wierd things that i just cannot understand why shes being like this. I appointed her, I motivated for her to get an increase which she wasnt greatful about . Why me and how do i deal with this because these days i resort to avoiding her by all means. Oh she even went to a website called Tip offs at work and made false accusations about me abusing work vehicles. and accusing my husband and i for having an affair in the work pace?? We married and the board knows this!! If theres anybody out there please help me, this is a dilemma. Regards Sibo
  12. 1 Pojeh 14 Sep
    That picture is creepy.


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