How to deal with a manipulative boss

Nobody likes being manipulated, especially in the workplace, so what can be done if the culprit is your boss?

In such an awkward situation, it’s best to try to nip this unpleasant behaviour in the bud, but first you must be sure of what you’re dealing with. Ranging from understated to the more overt, here are some red flags to watch out for.

Do you feel as though your boss is always trying to pack more into your already full schedule? Are these ‘extras’ often not even part of your job description, and accompanied by raised eyebrows if you attempt to refuse? Try practicing the art of the ‘polite no’ – decline respectfully, and then stick to your guns. Your boss will soon get the message and move onto easier prey, taking their guilt trips with them.

Other bosses use intimidation or conflict tactics to keep their staff in line. If yours relies on subtle threats or more obvious reminders of how much you owe them, and attempts to pit colleagues against each other, it might be a good idea to reinforce your position. Try to work on your confidence. The more your boss sees you as able to stand up to their bullying, the less they will try to pick on you. If you carry yourself with self-assurance from the very beginning, your boss will have no chance of scoring points off you later on.

A boss that seems to pick and choose what aspects of your performance to pay attention to can also be difficult, especially if he or she only appears to focus on the negatives. If you feel your boss is trying to manipulate you into competing for their attention, it might be a good idea to speak to higher management.

Making them aware of any issues in advance will stand you in good stead should your boss’ negligence lead to problems in the future. Conversely, a boss that uses favouritism as a weapon should also cause alarm. They may try to draw you in with special treatment, causing you to drop your guard, and then look to use the information they gained to their own advantage. Don’t give too much away – it’s always a good idea to keep your personal and professional lives firmly separate.

Another frustrating sign of a manipulative boss is an apparent reluctance to discuss important issues. Avoiding difficult conversations can be a tactic to make you work harder for their approval. Combat this trick by scheduling a meeting, and then keeping copies of any related communications.

Your boss will find it much more difficult to escape tricky situations in the face of tangible evidence. The same method can be used for the boss that would rather talk around an issue than give a straight answer. Firm insistence on a direct response is a good way to cut through unnecessary chatter.

If you’re able to recognise the hallmarks of a manipulative boss early on, you have a good chance of avoiding the negative effect they might have in the workplace. Whatever tactics you boss uses, remaining calm and professional at all times is the key to making the best of a difficult situation.

Join Over 40,000 Recruiters. Get our latest articles weekly, all FREE – SEND ME ARTICLES

Recruiters love this COMPLETE set of Accredited Recruitment & HR Training – View Training Brochure

Comment on this story

The British Institute of Recruiters is the Professional Body operating The Recruitment Certification Scheme

Send this to a friend