5 Tips to Handle Manipulative Bosses

It's easier if you can just avoid dealing with manipulative people, but when the person in question is your boss, that's not really possible. If you don't recognize his pathology and learn to appropriately assert your own boundaries, you'll lose yourself while attempting to please him. These five tips will help you maintain your sanity and survive your difficult boss.

(Photo Credit: oliva732000/Flickr)

As Preston Ni explains in Psychology Today, manipulative people tend to behave in four consistent ways:

  •  They detect your weaknesses. 
  • They use your weaknesses against you. 
  • They convince you to give up something of yourself, in order to serve their own interests. 
  • They will likely repeat the violation, until you put a stop to the exploitation.

You can't change other people, but you can develop skills to protect yourself from being manipulated by others.

1. Know Your Basic, Human Rights

You have the right to be treated with respect. This includes the right to protect yourself from being harmed, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. Some manipulative people may use the threat of harm to get you to do what they want. While every situation is different, in general you should be able to go to work without being regularly threatened with, for example, demotion or job loss.

As long as you are not hurting anybody else, you have the right to set your boundaries so you can enjoy a happy, healthy life.

2. Keep Your Distance

This may be a difficult tip to achieve if you are dealing with a manipulative direct supervisor. However, Preston Ni has some advice on the matter.

Watch this person interact with a variety of other people, at least as much as possible. If they seem to have one personality for a specific person, and another for a different person, keep your distance as much as possible. This is a symptom of deep-seated, psychological manipulation. Instead of having a consistent personality, your boss is acting however he deems necessary to get his way.

3. Have a Backbone

Your manipulative boss may also be your bully. Bullies tend to pick on those who are compliant and polite; many of us are compliant when taking direction from our bosses. You get the behavior to stop by, within reason, asserting appropriate boundaries and not being a pushover.

For example, your manipulative boss tries to get you to stay late every Friday night. Maybe he uses a guilt trip, "It really needs to get done. My boss is going to come down hard on me if you don't do this." Maybe he appeals to your ego, "Come on, you are the only one who can do this right." Or, maybe he bullies, "You know, if this doesn't get done tonight, corporate might start cutting people."

If this happens once, you may wish to stay late and help out. If it happens routinely, you are likely dealing with a manipulative boss. In the latter case, having firm boundaries may help you. "I'm sorry, but I am unable to stay after my regular working hours this evening." You don't owe him an explanation, just keep it firm but polite.

4. Ask Probing Questions

Turn it around. "Does this seem fair to you?" "Do you think this a reasonable request?" "Are you asking me or telling me?" "Do I not have a say in this?" Manipulative managers with a degree of self-awareness may recognize that they are being inappropriate and back down.

If your manager does not back down, you may have to simply remain firm and polite when you say, "No."

5. Do Not Blame Yourself

Never blame yourself for other people's actions. Manipulative people often make us feel bad about ourselves; it is how they get us to do want they want. Remember, the problem is not about you.

Tell Us What You Think

How do your respond to manipulation? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


  1. 12 Nicole 24 Apr
    i know this is an old post but i felt like if i wrote about my boss i would feel better. i really need to vent. i have a very manipulative boss. one that can be the nicest person in the world one day and the next day threatening to fire you if you dont babysit her children. one that makes you feel bad for not getting work done when she has piled one thing after another on your work load knowing its something that cant possibly get finished in time. one that will threaten your job or pay if you cant work a day that she wants you to. shes a person that makes me scared to quit because i dont know what she would do. she would probably do everything in her power to make my life a living hell. im scared that she would make sure i would never get a job again. as much as i hate working for her i am to scared to leave because i honestly terrified about how she would react. i dont know what to do. i love my job and the people i work with but she makes it hell.
  2. 11 Jennifer 27 Mar
    I have a "boss" who is suppose to be training me to take on my own store but she has failed to do so. She is a pathological liar and a complete bully. I am a very strong person but I have remained humble because she is the one who will let corporate know if I am ready and I am afraid that she will misrepresent me. I have basically ran the business for her as she is never there and when she is she is yelling and threatening everyone's job. But she is very unorganized but corporate doesn't know this because she is slick. I have documented everything she has said and done so if she plays with me we will go to war.
  3. 10 jojo 17 Feb
    A manipulative boss will always have faults that only his group of spies know about, avoid them all as much as possible. be smart about finding out why they might enter the office for unreal reasons.. simply to try and listen to reactions, ideas, opinions of employees and to run and tell that boss about it .. they nurture him/her because they could simply be sharing the same goals. or they maybe manipulated to do this or even blackmailed. And if you ever find out something, keep it for the time when you might have to use it to protect your self. and the best advice for your mental and physical health. start searching for another job..
  4. 9 Jay Bird 11 Feb
    I am currently dealing with a manipulative boss, a very high level executive who routinely lies about everything. He lies so often, he forgets his own lies and then tells a different story later. I have resorted to keeping a log so that I can keep track of conversations. I have been covertly told that I could lose my job (after 21 years) because of changes in our organization that he "might" not have control over. He keeps me dangling all of the time and is basically a bully. I think that because I stand up to him, it has made it worse. Thank you for this opportunity to post. Just writing about it makes me feel better.
  5. 8 Jane 04 Feb
    Thank you for useful information. I spent 8 years already with such Boss manipulator-owner of company. He destroyed my family. I lost everything what I loved and my health. And my mistake? I am old, not attractive anymore, without value, with 2 small children. I cry every day. My hard work 10 hours per day incl. Sat and Sunday is nothing.My salary? I do not need good salary because his company (as he is an owner) pays my flight tickets and hotel during few the business trips. I must shut up or I am fired...It is England, UK - no Asia!
  6. 7 missy 22 Jan
    Being strong and holding yourself well helps initially - have an air of confidence about you. Be nice, but not too nice - professional. Have an air of confidence about you and protect yourself is right. As a female, you have to be strong, which can be difficult if you have the wrong personality. If you don't have a firm/strong personality I would suggest looking for another job or you will be used and abused - and you won't know what that does to you and your health until after you are out of the situation - depresssion, anxiety, being angry and unhappy during the day - then bringing it home to your family, etc.
  7. 6 Matt 25 Sep
    Concur with you on the Mormons? Mormons are evil people in the workplace. They Manipulate management and prey on co-workers and see themselves as better then other people in the workplace. Extremely sick individuals who should be run off the planet.
  8. 5 Sydney 29 Jun
    Sometimes it is hard to know when you are being manipulated until you realize that you're losing yourself and uniqueness/individuality. I've never worked in this type of setting before but I have been around manipulative people in general. It's great that people want what they want but they don't have to control other people to do so. These tips are awesome and shows how I/someone can keep their job or relationship without being used and controlled. Thanks!
  9. 4 NetScanr 19 Jun
    I forgot to mention in my earlier posts; Mormons are the ULTIMATE manipulators.  Those that are good in their church are good at Manipulative Management.  They use what the Mormon Church teaches to their advantage at work to manipulate their employees.  Keep your wits about you and tell them where they can shove their angel Moron-I.
  10. 3 NetScanr 19 Jun
    I worked in this type of environment for 1 year and 9 months.  The words weren't there, but the job-threat of 'This is expected.  Do this or you're fired' was there.  A talk with the CIO, the former CIO of Jet Blue, didn't go any better.  His idea is over-time is free-work-time of salaried employees.  A few months after that chat, I told them off & quit.
  11. 2 George Townsend 13 Jun

    For the most of it,i am compliant due to the fact of fear of losing my job. But i have found in the last few years that i have grown to not put up with a tyrant by letting them know up front,that i will not put up with the abuse or ignorance from a boss. Unfortunately,i have lost a few jobs because of that,but i feel i done the right thing for myself.

  12. 1 lupita 12 Jun

    Really manipulative people are very negative and we must no allow that they influence our decisiones.


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