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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.

5 Comments

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  5. 1 lupita 12 Jun

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

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