Ever been labeled as “too sensitive” or deemed a bit “crazy”? Ever had your version of events doubted, even when you know you’re spot-on?

Well, you might just be caught up in the world of gaslighting. We often hear about it in the context of romantic relationships, but guess what? It can sneak its way into the workplace too!

Ever felt that workplace gaslighting vibe?

According to Speak Out Revolution, a non-profit dedicated to breaking the culture of silence surrounding workplace harassment and bullying, a staggering 70% of female survey respondents endured gaslighting at work. This form of manipulation emerged as the most prevalent type of harassment and bullying reported in their study.

That may be shocking to you, but not to me.

More and more I’m being approached for coaching by women experiencing this, and other types of abusive relationships in the workplace.

“Gaslighting is a series of manipulation tactics used to keep victims off-kilter and questioning their reality.”

Stephanie Moulton Sarkis

Gaslighting is much more subtle than bullying

It’s a type of manipulation that makes the person question themselves, start wondering ‘is there something wrong with me?’. And unsurprisingly has a massive impact on confidence, self esteem, self belief, and make you question your competence.

It’s something we all need to be more aware of. A gaslighter isn’t just a tough manager, they will actively sabotage your efforts. Examples of gaslighting behaviour include (but are certainly not limited to); changing deadlines (and not necessarily telling you), criticising acceptable work, changing requirements (and pretending they’ve told you), undermining you in front of others, saying they’ve said one thing when they’ve said another, denying and outright lying, having ‘plausible’ excuses when caught out for their inconsistent behaviour, and may also step into physical and sexual harassment.

They twist things, lie, and make you feel like you’re not enough

And they get away with it because they are likely witty, charming, and put up a great act of being a lovely person. Underneath it all they are incredibly insecure and mask their own inadequacies by making others feel bad.

I’ve had clients experience this treatment, and their manager (the gaslighter) suggest they seek help with their ‘resilience’ from the mental health services made available by the company. They have caused the problem, then hide behind company support and are perceived as responsible and supportive managers.

What do you do if it’s happening to you?

It’s really important to recognise the signs (for yourself and others) and take action:

  1. In any challenging workplace situation it is crucial to document everything. Dates, times, mode of communication, and what has been said/ done, by whom, and record who else (if anyone) witnessed.
  2. Try to always have someone with you in meetings with the person, they can corroborate what was said. And can maybe confirm your suspicions. Take care at the end of a meeting to recap and verify agreements.
  3. Follow-up all agreements on deadlines and requirements with an email so you have a paper trail. if possible limit contact to written as the paper trail is hard to argue with.
  4. Speak to a respected friend and share what your experience. Do they agree that there’s an issue? This type of behaviour works on making you think you’re the problem. Having an objective sounding board is really helpful.
  5. Check are others experiencing similar behaviour? Especially colleagues that the gaslighter may feel threatened by – more intelligent, more experienced etc., although this behaviour can be indiscriminate. The likelihood is this person has form. Is there a history of people being moved away from this person? Often companies move the people rather than deal with the root cause of the problem.
  6. Consider having a meeting with the person 1 to 1 to outline factually what’s happening. Keep calm. Don’t be critical. This could be a misunderstanding and we are very adept at distorting reality. Give them a chance to answer. Outline action and impact. Do note that a gaslighter will likely not hear your concerns or be defensive. In addition, document the conversation so you can demonstrate you’ve tried to resolve it yourself.
  7. Take it higher – to HR or a respected senior. This is an issue of harassment and should be treated as such. Present your documentation and evidence calmly and clearly and push for action to be taken. Be prepared with what you want as an outcome. Agree actions and follow up.

Three big things for you to remember

Firstly, this person is at fault, not you. Don’t give someone else the power to take away your confidence. Document what you know you’ve done well. Actively seek feedback from other people you trust to balance out this person. Give the gaslighter’s feedback the respect it deserves, which to be clear is none!! You need to keep talking to others because it’s when we get stuck in our own heads that damage can really be done.

Secondly, if no action is taken, take it yourself and get another job. Quickly! This is abuse and if left unchecked will cause damage that can have a lasting impact.

You deserve better. You are worth much more.

Thirdly, this is their problem not yours. Please don’t own their inadequacies. I cannot emphasise this enough. I have a vivid (and disgusting) analogy for you. If someone wanted to hand you a bag of steaming poo, you wouldn’t take it would you? Don’t be so quick to take on other peoples faults as your own either.

If you feel gaslighting has affected you, please get in contact about coaching and how I can help you!