Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Here’s what to do when working with a manipulative member of your team.
Don’t enable their behavior
You don’t have to sweep their actions under the rug.
Liz Kislik, author and president of Liz Kislik Associates, writes in the Harvard Business Review that you should “refuse to keep secrets or to act as interpreter in ways that normalize underhanded behavior. Instead, be direct and straightforward, and hold your ground. These schemers may treat you like a trusted insider, feeding you tidbits about other people’s inadequacies and failures, as if only you have the perspective and discretion to understand what’s important. Don’t be taken in by the implied flattery. Ask for details and specifics to flush out their intent: ‘I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Why are you telling me this? What is it you’re asking me to do?’”
Make sure you can hold your own
You can choose how you react to their statements.
Joyce E. A. Russell, organizational psychologist and vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, writes in The Washington Post that you shouldn’t “let them guilt trip you.”
She provides this script:
“If they try this (‘You don’t care about all the work I am doing for you.’), you could turn it back on them (‘I do care, and now it seems like you don’t appreciate how much I care’),” Russell writes.
Don’t just let their actions pass you by.
“Observe patterns in the manipulative behavior. Look for triggers and influencers and consider how they might be diminished. For example, if you find that the manipulator is targeting one individual in particular, reassign roles or place a third party on the team,” she writes.
Monaghan goes on to recommend things like “mentoring and mediation,” if the person frequently is manipulative, or escalating it to someone higher on the corporate ladder if you don’t know how to approach the circumstances.
Become ‘buddy buddy’ with those who know them best
Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D., author, founder & CEO of Cheeky Scientist, writes on LinkedIn that if you have to “deal with” a manipulator who succeeds in working against you despite your efforts not to pay attention to them, that you should “find their center of gravity.”
“This center might be the manipulative person’s friend, manager, or subordinate. It might be a high level skill or an advanced understanding of a particular field. It might be a particular resource that they control,” he writes.
Once you find out what their center of gravity is…
Make it yours.
Create allies with people close to them, recruit people with their skill sets and knowledge base to replace them, or siphon away their prized resource,” Hankel writes.
He goes on to state that this will confuse them and that they will have no choice but to spend more time on managing their life and work.