- Manipulative people use others to try to reach their goals.
- It can be useful to know how to recognize such a person in the workplace.
- Psychologists identified traits of manipulative people and offered ways to deal with them at work.
This is an edited, translated version of an article that originally appeared on November 7, 2022.
A manipulative person tries to achieve their objectives by using others, “without taking into account their emotions or wishes,” said Ángel Largo García, an expert in work behavior, talent development, and experiential learning.
“The vast majority of people have tried to be manipulative to get the results they wanted,” Largo García said. “Some do it consciously and others do it naturally, almost without realizing it.”
Insider spoke with psychologists and behavioral experts on how to spot a manipulative person at work.
The traits of a manipulative person
Jordi Isidro Molina, a psychologist, said certain characteristics can help someone spot a manipulative person.
“The people most likely to manipulate are cold, egocentric, show little empathy, have strong material or emotional interests, and display high levels of narcissism,” he told Insider.
Isidro Molina said manipulative people don’t think about the common good but look out for their own interests without caring about the impact on others, adding that they often want to stand out and be the center of attention.
“In the work environment, they are usually very ambitious people seeking promotions,” Isidro Molina said. “Socially, they want to be liked more or to be more prominent in the group.”
How to deal with one
Alejandro Martínez Rico, a physician specializing in psychiatry, suggested that if you’re feeling burned out by your interactions with manipulative people, the best thing to do is to distance yourself from them and “avoid direct confrontation with them as much as possible.”
Isidro Molina said that where this isn’t possible — if you work directly with the person every day, for instance — it’s important to be assertive.
“You have to set clear limits on how far they can go with you but avoid confrontation, as they are usually people who are very used to living with conflict,” he said. “You should also avoid falling into a submissive role.”
Largo García suggested that if it’s not possible to ignore them, you should confront them. He recommended meeting with other people who’ve been affected by their actions, as manipulative people will often deny their behavior and deflect the conversation.
“Selective listening, where you don’t pay attention to their manipulative comments, usually works,” Largo García added.
“As a last resort, you can go to a manager and make a formal complaint about their behavior, especially if it is impacting your professional work or if you feel you are suffering from mobbing at work,” he went on.
Martínez Rico suggested using the “hamburger technique,” meant to help people deliver constructive criticism, to approach a manipulative person about their behavior. The technique works as follows:
- Show empathy.
- Describe the behavior that has bothered you.
- Say how it made you feel.
- Propose an alternative behavior.
- Thank them for taking it into account.