The Games They Play: How to Handle Manipulators in the Workplace

The Games They Play: How to Handle Manipulators in the Workplace

As a supervisor, you strive to develop transparent communication, a supportive work environment, and a highly effective team. All those efforts are undermined, however, by the subversive game tactics of office manipulators. Below are just a few roles that office manipulators take on, and how you can manage them and stop their games.

The Information Broker 

Fearing change, the information broker needs to control the communication flow. They can make it difficult for new employees to go through the onboarding process simply by blocking information — such as training procedures, project updates, or last-minute meeting room changes. And if they decide that a seasoned employee has become a threat, they may start a covert campaign using the same tactics.

Whenever a conflict arises regarding communication flow, document the situation and find the short circuit. Look for the same names that pop up in each case, and determine who is holding back information.

The Offloader

This article by Sarah Michael states that the offloader has learned how to keep as little on their plate as possible. They have a knack of getting other workers to do even a part of their work, Michael tells us. That way, others can take the blame if something goes wrong.

To manage the offloader, document the assignments you give them. Make instructions and deadlines clear. And let them know that they and they alone will be responsible for outcomes.

The Invalidator

This manipulator is an expert at finding subtle (or not so subtle) ways to devalue others. An invalidator may dismiss your comments with a silent roll of the eyes, or with a brief comment like “I’ll just deal with the other manager instead.”

This Biz News article offers the following strategy to manage invalidation: First, neutrally reflect back what the person is saying: “It sounds like you have some misgivings working with me.” Second, refrain from showing any negative emotion. Simply state what the facts are: “Unfortunately, I’m the shift manager on duty, and Katie’s meeting with a client. How can we make this work?” 

The Bully 

These aggressors make demands on other employees in an intimidating manner so that they’re less likely to stand up for themselves. They may shout to coerce somebody into doing their work, or intimidate a supervisor when confronted with an issue about their attendance or work until the matter is dropped.

Organizational consultant and executive coach Peter DeMarco’s Forbes article tells us that when you face bullying behavior, stand firm, but safely and neutrally call the bluff. Don’t be stunned by their explosive reaction. Rather, respond only with the facts at hand. 

These are just a few of the roles a manipulator in the workplace can take on. However, manipulators can wear many hats to feel in control of their work environment. You’ll need to look out for patterns of behavior, and eventually confront the manipulator. Here are some ways to prepare:

  • Review your company’s policies on insubordination.
  • Put a professional to work behind the scenes to observe your team, gather information, and analyze the group dynamics.
  • Hire a consultant to perform a 360-degree personality evaluation on your team members and present a comprehensive report.
  • When you have all the facts, call a meeting and talk with the manipulative employee directly. Let them know you are listening. And when they ask questions, state the facts.

In conclusion, DeMarco finds that all manipulators have one thing in common: They distort the realities of the workplace with their own fictions. The answer is to document what’s really going on, pull the curtain back, and replace the distorted narrative with the truth so that everyone can move on.