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.

The rise in instances of gaslighting is a concerning trend. Gaslighting, as defined by Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, is a series of manipulation tactics designed to keep victims off-kilter and questioning their reality. It’s a subtle yet powerful form of manipulation that goes beyond mere bullying.

Gaslighting makes individuals question themselves, fostering self-doubt and impacting confidence, self-esteem, and self-belief. As a leadership career coach, I’ve encountered numerous women who’ve faced this insidious behaviour in their workplaces.

We often hear about toxic workplaces and I believe the language here is very important.  When we experince this type of behaviour it is toxic

Gaslighting in the workplace can manifest in various subtle and manipulative forms

Here are examples illustrating gaslighting behaviour:
  1. Shifting Moods:
    • Initial support turns into a “love-bombing phase.”
    • Once comfortable, behaviour becomes cold and cruel.
    • Victim questions actions, giving the gaslighter more power.
  2. Undermining Relationships:
    • Colleague asks personal questions, later using information against you.
  3. Minimizing Achievements:
    • Downplaying accomplishments to sow doubt in your capabilities.
  4. Gaslighting in Meetings:
    • Twisting words or ideas to portray you as foolish or incompetent.
  5. Taking Credit for Your Work:
    • Stealing ideas or work, presenting them as their own.
    • Leaves you questioning your value and contribution.
  6. Doubting Qualifications:
    • Questioning your qualifications, making you feel uncertain.
    • Excessive monitoring to undermine your competence.
  7. Withholding Information:
    • Boss withholds work or reduces workload without explanation.
    • Denies issues, claiming you are “imagining it.”
  8. Ignoring Concerns:
    • Ignoring or trivializing raised issues.
    • Dismissing concerns with phrases like “that’s not what happened.”
  9. Changing Expectations:
    • Making you question your memory by denying assigned tasks.
    • Asking for projects never assigned, creating confusion.
  10. Hostile Work Environment:
    • Using aggressive language or humiliation to undermine confidence.
    • Inappropriate comments dismissed as “jokes.”
  11. Blaming for Mistakes:
    • Blaming you for their mistakes, causing self-doubt.

Gaslighters aren’t just tough managers; they actively sabotage efforts. Their tactics include changing deadlines without notice, criticizing acceptable work, undermining in front of others, and even engaging in denial and outright lying. The impact on victims is profound, often leading to burnout and a negative effect on mental health.

So, what can you do if you find yourself in such a situation?

Here are some practical steps:

  1. Document Everything: In challenging workplace situations, detailed documentation is crucial. Record dates, times, modes of communication, and what has been said or done.
  2. Seek Witness in Meetings: Have someone with you in meetings to corroborate discussions. This can serve as crucial support and validation.
  3. Create a Paper Trail: Follow up agreements with an email to establish a documented trail. Limiting contact to written communication can strengthen your case.
  4. Share Experiences: Speak to a trusted friend about your experiences. Gaslighting often isolates individuals, making them feel like the problem. An external perspective is invaluable.
  5. Explore Similar Experiences: Check if others are facing similar behavior, especially colleagues perceived as threats by the gaslighter.
  6. Address the Issue Directly: Have a calm, factual one-on-one meeting with the person. Document the conversation for future reference.
  7. Involve HR or Senior Management: If the issue persists, escalate it to HR or a respected senior. Present your documentation and evidence calmly and push for action.

Remember three key things:

1. You Are Not at Fault: The gaslighter is responsible, not you. Don’t let someone else take away your confidence.

2. Take Action: If no action is taken, consider finding another job quickly. Abuse left unchecked can have lasting impacts.

3. It’s Their Problem, Not Yours: Don’t internalize their inadequacies. Just as you wouldn’t accept a bag of steaming poo, don’t take on someone else’s faults as your own.

If gaslighting has affected you, reach out for coaching and support. You deserve better, and you are worth much more.