7 ways manipulative people undermine their colleagues at work

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Is someone at work making you feel angry, demoralized, or frustrated when you try to get things done?

Perhaps there’s something about a particular colleague that you can’t quite put your finger on that makes you feel uneasy or insignificant in their presence.

You could be dealing with a manipulative person who uses subtle ways to undermine you in the workplace that aren’t easy to pinpoint.

Workplace manipulation is all about trying to derail your success, and the underhanded behaviors that a colleague will use to get their way can leave you questioning your abilities and sanity.

Don’t give someone that kind of power and satisfaction.

When you know how to spot these behaviors, you can take steps to end the sabotage and humiliation that can severely impact your career and your mental health.

If you want to know whether you’re being manipulated, I’ll shed some light with a breakdown of 7 ways manipulative people undermine their colleagues at work.

1) they make you question your perceptions and sanity

Have you ever walked out of a work meeting and second-guessed yourself?

Perhaps a colleague constantly invalidates what you say or does things to embarrass you, but you aren’t sure if it’s intentional or all in your head.

Red flag alert.

When you start questioning your understanding of conversations and situations, your colleague could be gaslighting you.

A gaslighter will psychologically manipulate you into doubting yourself.

They adamantly deny something they’ve said about you, and they’re so convincing that you question whether you got the wrong end of the story, eventually believing what they say.

If someone is gaslighting, they could be doing the following:

  • Criticism: Constant and unwarranted criticism to hurt your self-esteem. 
  • Ignore your concerns. They want you to think you’re the problem.
  • Rude comments. They talk behind your back but act friendly and even supportive in front of you.

Their goal is to confuse you so that you question whether you’ve done something wrong, even if you’re sure you haven’t. A sure way to undermine you.

2) They damage your professional reputation

Coworkers who are out to undermine you will say and do things that could potentially damage your reputation in the workplace.

They will engage in “office gossip” by spreading false rumors about your work ethic or personal life that leave others questioning your abilities and professionalism.

Let’s say that you make a mistake at work, and a colleague with a hidden agenda happens to find out.

They will most likely spread the news of your mistake or exaggerate it, leaving others to question your position or your ability to do your job.

Not only can hurtful rumors affect professional relationships with other colleagues, but they can also sabotage your career goals if this information reaches your boss.

3) they will twist what you say to make you look bad

I remember years ago, when I started at a call center, becoming close friends with a colleague. We’d share jokes about the manager, and everyone in the office seemed to like her.

To cut a long story short, I noticed the manager’s attitude towards me changed. When I asked other coworkers if they experienced the same thing, I found out that the colleague I had confided in went back to the manager and twisted what we had discussed.

I was manipulated so she could make me look bad.

I don’t know if she just didn’t like me or thought that I was competition, but a manipulative colleague can pretend to please people and almost trick you into trusting them. Meanwhile, they repeat or twist what you tell them to other coworkers to put you in a negative light. Their goal is to make themselves look admirable.

These narcissistic tendencies are all about control. They lack empathy and want to achieve their agenda at your expense.

4) They exclude you from conversations or meetings

Doesn’t this take you back to high school?

Or maybe it’s just me!

It might seem immature and obvious, but a workplace manipulator makes you feel unimportant and confused by using underhanded tactics to exclude you.

Let’s take a look at an example.

A colleague “forgets” to notify you about an upcoming meeting. Of course, you miss the meeting and receive a warning.

They convince you that they sent a memo about the meeting and make comments like, “How did you miss my memo?” or “Maybe it landed in your spam folder, and you missed it?” “I’ve noticed that you’ve been pretty stressed out lately.”

You find yourself going back to your emails, but you just can’t find their memo. Perhaps you are stressed out and getting a bit forgetful?

The subtle nature of such manipulation causes you to question yourself, and it’s not a once-off event. They constantly do things to ostracize you.

When you confront them about being excluded on multiple occasions, they’ll try to convince you that the meeting or conversation wasn’t that important, that it was a mistake, or that you’re probably overreacting.

5) They constantly point out errors despite your competence

Another way of manipulating you is to make you think that you are constantly making mistakes in your job.

So, if you know that you’re good at what you do and confident in your position, then why are you being called out for ongoing errors?

The answer? They’re green with envy.

Your colleague could be jealous of you, and they’re trying to find ways of undermining you by finding faults where there are none.

Let’s say that a new supervisor is intimidated by you because of your strong work ethic and performance. They start nitpicking and become fussy or overly critical of your work.

Eventually, they convince you that you are making multiple mistakes, even though you’ve been sure that your work has been up to par.

This is a sure way of undermining your competence and diminishing your confidence.

6) They’re insincere and frequently give “suggestions” or “advice”

Making “helpful suggestions” or giving “advice” is a tactic that a sneaky colleague will use to undermine your confidence in your job.

Think about it this way: manipulation is a covert way of getting someone to do what you want them to by creating self-doubt.

A manipulative coworker will come across as friendly and interested in your work, but it’s insincere. Their ulterior motive is to weaken your position and promote their own success.

On the surface, they appear to be nice by giving “helpful criticism,” but they’re actually sending you a subtle message that they are superior to and smarter than you.

They want you to doubt yourself so that you’re not a threat and won’t get in the way of their goals.

I’d say they’re quite like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.

A trickster.

They will do this constantly, eventually making you feel small in their presence. You might even find yourself becoming dependent on them for approval.

7) They try to take credit for your work

I would be absolutely infuriated if I’d worked on a project or pitched an idea only to have someone else take all the glory.

There’s no other word for it but sabotage.

But how do you know if it’s an honest mistake or deliberate?

Well, if you’ve partnered with a colleague on a project and it’s a once-off occurrence, then it probably was a miscommunication. But if you notice that they’re taking more opportunities to claim your ideas as their own or outshine you in a meeting, then it’s intentional.

Has this happened to you?

A big group meeting comes up, and you feel confident about the presentation that you’ve discussed with your colleague. Your boss proceeds to ask you a question, but suddenly your colleague responds, and you sit there surprised with a mouth full of teeth.

After the meeting, they joke about it or brush it off like it isn’t a big deal.

Let’s face it; a highly successful person doesn’t need to steal your shine to feel reassured or accomplished. So when you have a colleague who feels the need to take credit for something you did, they feel threatened, insecure, or jealous of you.

Final thoughts and confronting the situation

It’s not easy working with a bully; believe me, I know.

It can reach the destructive point of affecting your job, mental health, and life.

Don’t give up.

Confront the situation and pay attention to the frequency of a colleague’s questionable treatment of you. Document it if you have to, and look for patterns in their behavior.

When you are aware of what manipulators in the workplace do to undermine you, you can take steps to protect yourself from career sabotage.

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