Does your boss constantly give you a hard time, watch your every move and criticize you?
Perhaps they pile so much work onto you that it’s affecting your work/life balance and mental health.
Catching onto signs of a boss’ manipulation is not easy. They can be so subtle that you don’t notice them until they’ve already wrapped you around their fingers.
This is why we’ve created this article to guide you. That said, here are 9 subtle signs your boss is manipulating you.
1) They guilt trip you
First up in the manipulation books is guilt-tripping. This is when your boss tries to manipulate you into doing what they want by making you feel guilty.
Let’s say, for example, you call in sick. You’re not one to call in sick for the sake of it. But in this instance, you’re genuinely under the weather.
When you tell your boss over the phone, they don’t give you the standard ‘hope you get better soon’ and ‘keep me updated’.
Instead, your boss makes you feel awful about it.
They tell you they’re already understaffed and that work will suffer without you. They may even beg you to come in despite being ill.
In other cases, your boss may guilt trip you into doing overtime or taking on more work than you can handle.
This brings me to my next point.
2) They overwork you without praise or recognition
Have you ever found yourself doing more work than is feasible? Tasks that are not part of your job description? And even overtime without pay?
Perhaps you come in to work when you’re unwell, sacrifice your holidays and do overtime, day in and day out.
But for a manipulative boss, all that work you put in will never be enough.
If you’re willing to take on responsibilities that are way beyond your pay, they’ll keep piling more work on you.
And chances are, you won’t be praised or recognized for your efforts.
It goes without saying that this behaviour is toxic and a danger to your mental health.
3) They shift the blame onto you
A manipulative boss can do no wrong – at least in their eyes!
So, when something does go wrong, their hands stay clean as they take no part in it.
That means, unfortunately, they’ll let you take the fall.
Your boss will blame you for not reaching your target or hitting a deadline.
It doesn’t matter if your boss played a part in these failures because they won’t acknowledge it.
For instance, you might have reached out to your boss multiple times because you needed help. But you’d either get crickets in response or be fed misinformation.
But like I said, this all won’t matter to a manipulative boss. It will still be all your fault.
4) They gaslight you
Another thing a manipulative boss might do is try to gaslight you.
Let’s say, for example, your boss trains you on how to handle a client interaction.
This interaction goes poorly because of something your boss told you in training. But when you talk to your boss about it, they act like that conversation never happened.
Again, the blame for that poor interaction falls solely on you.
Gaslighting can make you start questioning yourself and even believe their lies.
In this scenario, the best thing to do is to start gathering evidence of what they tell you by getting it in writing. That way, they can’t backtrack on what they said later.
5) They withhold key information from you
Another subtle sign your boss is manipulating you is when they deliberately withhold information from you. This could be their way of keeping you at the bottom of the ladder.
Your boss might feel threatened by you and feel their position is at stake.
So, to combat this fear, they withhold information from you that will allow you to do your job properly.
For example, they may neglect to give you resources and guides that will help you in your role.
Not knowing the full picture can close the door to opportunities and promotions. It also forces you to depend on your boss.
While withholding information is one way for your boss to control you, they might also use the tactic in this next point.
6) They micromanage you
Your boss may also micromanage you.
They’ll keep a close eye on your activities or force you to make frequent changes to your work.
They may also make you check in with them constantly, depriving you of the freedom to do your job.
One reason for this is that your boss doesn’t trust you to do your job. This could also be their way of keeping you under their thumb.
7) They intimidate you
Being in a position of authority, your boss may use intimidation to remind you of their superiority and make you feel small.
They may also do this to, again, get you to do what they want you to.
Your boss might try and intimidate you by raising their voice or even threatening you.
For example, they’ll tell you you’ll be out of a job if you don’t hit your sales targets or commit to working overtime.
8) They make jokes at your expense
If your boss is manipulative, chances are they’re insecure.
So, they might poke fun at you to make themselves feel better (and make you feel small).
They’ll make jokes about your appearance, clothes, character, personal life or perceived flaws.
And even worse is when they do it in front of other people to try and embarrass you.
9) They gossip about your co-workers to you
You might wonder how this point can play into the subtle ways of your boss’ manipulation.
Well, that’s because gossiping behind your co-workers’ backs could be their twisted way of trying to gain your trust.
They may also want to create a barrier between you and your co-workers. After all, their manipulation won’t work as well if you have many positive working relationships with your colleagues.
Just remember, though. When someone gossips about other people, they’ll likely do the same thing to you once your back is turned.
How to deal with a manipulative boss
Dealing with a manipulative boss isn’t an easy situation! Since they’re in a position of power, it can leave you at a disadvantage.
Still, no one should have to put up with their manipulative ways.
A one-on-one with your boss might help clear the air and give you a platform to express your feelings.
It might help to give suggestions to improve your relationship with your boss and working environment.
If this doesn’t help, you may have to take these issues higher up.
Whatever the case, making it clear how your boss’s actions make you feel can provide a first step toward making a positive change (and put a stop to your boss’ manipulation once and for all!).