Are you Being Emotionally Manipulated at Work?

You’ve read about it in the news and seen it in movies, but would we recognise emotional manipulation at work, especially if you were the victim?

Emotions at work. 

While once we were encouraged to hide them, now it’s more important than ever that we use them, especially as women in procurement. After all, it’s important to not act like a man! It’s also critically important for all of us to continuously develop our own emotional intelligence and continue to grow.

Yet sometimes your emotions will be used against you. So what should you do if and when this happens? 

Welcome (or perhaps not) to the concept of emotional manipulation: when someone exploits someone else’s emotions to gain an advantage, control, or power. Unlike other healthy forms of persuasion or influence, emotional manipulation is subtle and insidious, invariably leaving victims feeling confused, invalidated, and drained.

But how would you know if this has ever happened to you? Here’s what emotional manipulation might look like and, more importantly, what to do about it. 

Common Forms of Emotional Manipulation

Emotional manipulation can take many, ugly forms:

  1. Gaslighting

    Perhaps the most well publicised form of emotional manipulation in recent years is gaslighting. Gaslighting involves using persuasion and influence to make someone doubt their own perceptions, memories, or even their sanity.

    For example, your manager asks you to do seemingly pointless tasks, but then denies ever asking you to do them when someone asks why you’re doing it. This behavior undermines trust and creates a power imbalance, leaving the individual feeling disoriented and powerless.

  2. Guilt-tripping

    Another form of emotional manipulation is guilt-tripping. This involves inducing feelings of guilt or shame in others to make them comply with certain demands or expectations.

    For example, a narcissistic coworker might guilt-trip you into taking on supplier management within their category by emphasising how overwhelmed they are and implying that you’re not a team player if you refuse.

    This can foster resentment and erode healthy boundaries, leading to emotional exhaustion and burnout.

  3. Passive-aggressive behaviour

    Passive-aggressive behaviour can be particularly nasty, and can include people within a team, or internal or external stakeholders, resorting to subtle forms of hostility. Examples include backhanded compliments, sarcasm, or even ignoring individuals and not including them in important meetings or emails. 

    Ultimately, passive-aggressive behavior is terrible for everyone, creating a toxic atmosphere of tension and mistrust, hindering collaboration and productivity.

How Do You Know if You’re Being Emotionally Manipulated?

Unfortunately, emotional manipulation happens in all workplaces. How do you know if it’s happening to you? 

Firstly, pay attention to patterns of behavior and how they make you feel. Do you often find yourself second-guessing your thoughts and feelings? Do you feel guilty or inadequate even when you’re sure you haven’t done anything wrong? These may be signs that you’re being emotionally manipulated at work.

It’s also important to consider the intentions behind others’ actions. Are your procurement colleagues or stakeholders genuinely concerned about your well-being, or do their actions seem designed to control or undermine you? Trust your instincts and seek feedback from people you trust if you’re unsure about the dynamics at play.

What to Do About Emotional Manipulation at Work

Emotional manipulation will make you feel miserable: period. It will also damage your productivity. If it’s happening to you, here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Seek support and validation

    Emotional manipulation can leave you feeling hurt and confused. Reach out to trusted colleagues, friends, or a therapist for support and validation of what you feel.

    Talking to others who understand your experience can help you gain perspective and navigate challenging situations with greater clarity and resilience.

  2. Set boundaries

    It’s important to clearly communicate your boundaries and expectations. To do this, assert your right to be treated with dignity and respect, including directly discussing your feelings with anyone who you feel might be manipulating you.

    When you do this, ensure that you use “I” statements to express how their behavior impacts you and assert your boundaries firmly but constructively. Be prepared for potential defensiveness or denial, to which you may need to respectfully disagree.

    Establishing boundaries helps safeguard your emotional well-being and reinforces mutual respect in the workplace.

  3. Document incidents

    Sometimes, as much as you might like to be able to solve things yourself, it simply isn’t possible. So, if you’ve tried talking to your emotional manipulator, or if you feel like you can’t, it’s important to keep a record of specific instances of emotional manipulation at work, including dates, times, and relevant details.

    Documentation provides evidence of patterns of behavior and can be invaluable if you need to address the issue formally with HR or management.

  4. Talk to your manager or with HR

    If all other attempts to address the issue prove ineffective, consider escalating the issues to HR or management.

    When you do this, present your documentation and express your concerns about the impact of emotional manipulation on your well-being and the workplace environment. 

Emotional manipulation is common, but by no means inevitable. Remember, you deserve to work in an environment where your emotions are respected, not exploited.

Have you ever been emotionally manipulated at work? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comments below.