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. 14 Eevee 08 Feb
    I know this is an old article, but while the tactics written about are admirable and work for some types of manipulation, they don't even touch on some of the darker aspects of other forms of manipulation that is nearly impossible to avoid without quitting or losing your job. Such as the ever-popular "punishment through duties" manipulative boss. This type of boss takes pleasure in completely and thoroughly nitpicking and degrading everything you do and who you are at every turn, while flooding you with compliments the minute they want something or want you to avoid doing something. They take up more of their own work days obsessively checking over tasks and things that hold no relevance when gone over anywhere near this frequency, and they also invade YOUR work day several times an hour with their compulsions. Yet, this type will not only take up your valuable time, but they typically are far too greedy/cheap to hire the two or three people very much needed for the position, and instead, work you to the bone doing several peoples' jobs within a limited, impossible timeframe. That's not even the best part. The best part is that they cut the already short time needed for this endless list of tasks in half, sometimes a quarter of its former length. In addition to that, since they refuses to take responsibility for keeping other horrible workers in check, when anything the horrible worker does (or in most cases DOESN'T do) actually reaches the boss' level, they find the most compliant, hardest worker there (likely you) and turn you into the office scapegoat. Whenever someone else miserably fails their job, after having already had tasks dropped notches below others and piling their work onto other coworkers, and this is usually that same terrible coworker in every office, then it now becomes YOUR responsibility when they mess up. Forget about seniority and the power to ensure these terrible employees actually DO their jobs, but no pay raise for the added backbreaking stress further piled on the already ridiculous pile of stress, and you get to look forward to many, many demeaning boss/worker "meetings" where none of this is the other employee's fault and they just need time to learn the ropes, the same ropes they've been climbing around on for several years now while you've just started this job three months ago, but also, there's no possible way this is the boss' fault, because they're God's gift to this business and you damned well better realize this. There is literally almost NO way to get these people found out, short of compiling several complex and time-consuming plans for them to reveal themselves to people who DO have the power to fix this horrible situation, or by keeping extensive records to basically make sure they can't screw you on things like pay, which they will most certainly try their best to. If you decide to grow a backbone, Heaven forbid the victim do so, and want to report them for fair recourse, not only do you run the high risk of the Workforce Commission of the state not fully pushing their power or showing interest in fixing the situation, but you are also very likely to experience tons of retaliation from management, up to and even past termination (as happened in one case for me, where they didn't pay me as legally required in time, and withheld my funds even longer, all after terminating me for simply asking about the mandatory overtime and when I would be paid for it, politely). These cases are EXTREMELY difficult to navigate without spending hours upon hours of your own personal free time thinking about or planning for, but it is difficult to pull any authority deeply enough in the matter to control it, or even have them properly do their investigation and job, as is the unfortunate case with several government entities. Anything you do without any form of legal backup, you do even worse than alone, and it's extremely unlikely that coworkers in the same predicament as you are will team up to fight the system, as THEY are afraid of retaliation and 99% of people don't have jobs growing in their gardens to pick and choose where they want to go next. They'd rather weather the shitstorm than face potential and complete failure for them and/or their families. After jobs upon jobs of various encounters in several states with tons of management members exactly like this, I have still failed to find a cure-all for this problem. The success rate on the victim's end is next to nothing, and it always falls back to enduring the horrible atmosphere, finding a new job, which could also have a similar atmosphere, as my experience suggests employer's are becoming worse and worse to deal with and under, or face unemployment and what that entails. It's tragic. I absolutely HATE employers like this and if I could, I'd build a nonprofit fighting machine to put these people in their places again.
  2. 13 cj 09 Jan
    I have a very manipulative constantly lying boss. who has his head so far up mgmt's butt,its unbelieveable. i have been applying like mad. but this would be my ideal job, if he was even remotely fair, but i am not gay and am female and am smart...so that's 3 counts against me. he forced me to sit in mold rooms, gave me crappy reivews 2 years in a row as he lived off my ideas. he has done everthing he can to break me. and the leadership, they're a joke too. how do you survive without sacrificing yourself.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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..
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.

  14. 1 lupita 12 Jun

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


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