Do you ever feel like your boss is manipulating you? Does it appear like whatever it is you do, it’s just not quite good enough? Does your boss obsess over little details and make you worried about making a mistake? Do you feel like you’re being set up to fail with each passing week? If so, you could be a victim of a manipulative boss.

In short, manipulation is all about power and control. Its central theme is to take advantage of others. A manipulative boss creates a great deal of suffering for those reporting to him or her.

Although working under a manipulative boss can make you feel downhearted, anxious and doubtful, you can also use it to your advantage. When you recognise what your boss is doing, you can learn to stand up for yourself and play them at their own game.


Here are 6 signs to look out for that your boss is manipulating you and how to fight back.


Sign#1 Deflecting Conversations

Have you ever gone into your bosses to have a meeting or chat about one thing and then come about having not spoken about the topic you intended at all? It could be that your boss is purposely steering you away from things they don’t want to focus on. This is especially true if it’s topics such as you looking for a payrise, taking time off, wanting to take on more work or addressing their own behaviour with them. Sometimes you may not even realise they’re doing it until they are winding up the conversation and you realise you’ve got exactly none or your points across. You can counteract this by creating an agenda ahead of time and sending it to them via email, addressing the points you’d like to talk about. If they try to wind up the conversation before then, politely remind them there’s just a couple more items on the list you’d like to go through first.


Sign#2 Focusing on Your Weaknesses

This is a strong tactic to keep you feeling not good enough, to stop you striving for more, because you feel like you just can’t get there. This could look like you turning in an amazing piece of work, only to receive low praise and a comment about a small spelling mistake. I experienced this personally with a boss who would almost act sulky when I turned in a piece of work that I knew was great – as if they saw my potential and didn’t want me to catch up with them. Weird behaviour. How I was able to overcome this was to recognise my own worth and also by bringing other colleagues into projects for their opinion. It’s harder for someone to criticise you when there are so many opinions saying the opposite!


Sign#3 Keeping Tabs on You

Isn’t it the worst feeling thinking that someone is always checking up on you? A form of micro-management, making you give your movements constantly to your boss is a form of control and manipulation. Of course, companies need to know their employees are working, but if them knowing what you’re doing at all times regardless of performance is crossing a line, you may need to look elsewhere. I used to work in a company that would make you account for all of your activity in 15-minute increments! You’d spend more time doing that than any real work. Being free to work in a relaxed environment is much better for your psyche.


Sign#4 Moving the Goalposts

Your boss may give you a project and you get it done to a good standard. Then, once submitted, your boss says that it’s not satisfactory because you didn’t do what they’d asked and they changed the terms of the assignment. This is something manipulative bosses do to keep you off balance, and deem you less than satisfactory. To combat this, make sure that all tasks appear in writing. If you’re verbally agreeing something, just say: “I’m going to round all of this up in an email to make sure I’m understanding exactly what we’re agreeing”, for example. Then, they either have to clarify something different or agree with you!


Sign#5 Being Two-Faced

Have you ever had a two-faced boss? This kind of boss can make you feel like your colleagues are against you by saying one thing to you, and something different to a colleague. It may not just be you – it’s likely they are manipulating everyone and playing people off against one another to creative competitiveness and coldness within the group. In some ways, this can breed more actual work, because everyone is trying to beat everyone else, but it also breeds a toxic, unfair environment unpleasant to work in. Take what they say with a pinch of salt.


Sign#6 Making You Feel Guilty

Your work is not your life. Repeat after me. Your work is NOT. YOUR. LIFE. There are many bosses that will tug your heartstrings and manipulate you into staying late and working long hours. Don’t allow this to happen – your work/life balance is so important. Although it may be necessary sometimes to stay late and finish a project, if you get into the habit of this, they will view you as a go-to person to ask to stay late. Be firm but friendly – you don’t owe anything more than your contracted hours.


Have you ever experienced manipulation from your boss or manager? Let us know about your experiences.

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