In the 1944 film Gaslight, Ingrid Bergman plays a woman who is manipulated by her husband to the point where she questions her own memory and even sanity. FYI, Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for that film.
This phenomenon is not limited to fiction, nor is it confined to relationships. Gaslighting can happen in workplaces as well. Someone could be casting a manipulative web around you without your knowledge.
You need to act wise and fast. Before things get out of hand and you start questioning yourself, like Bergman in Gaslight. Extinguish the flame before it burns you.
What is gaslighting at work?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation. One person questions the claims of another person. It is done so convincingly that the other person begins to question their own memory.
According to a poll by LinkedIn, about 58% of employees experienced gaslighting at work in one form or another.
Here the person refuting the claims is the “Gaslighter” and the person whose claims are refuted is the victim, also known as the “Gaslightee”. A gaslighter would change or deny events or conversations from the past to their benefit. Their purpose is to alter the truth and make the victim doubt their memory.
For example, a colleague questions you on the submission of a document even though you personally handed it to them. The gaslighter denies receiving it and blames you for misplacing the papers.
Gaslighting is not limited to denial. It also includes the manipulation of events or conversations.
For example, you are told by the gaslighter that Project A is due for submission on Friday, while Project B is a priority and needs to be submitted by Wednesday. But, when Wednesday arrives, Gaslighter demands the submission of Project A. You remind them of the conversation, but the gaslighter manipulates the facts to convince you that your memory is deceptive.
Some of the events can be coincidental, but if such things happen to you repeatedly and at crucial moments, you might have a gaslighter in the office.
6 Tips to overcome gaslighting at work
Healthy work culture is necessary for productivity. Unfortunately, some people choose to focus more on manipulation than performance to climb the corporate ladder. If you are a victim of gaslighting at work, there are a few ways you can deal with it.
The end goal for each of these tips is to bring peace of mind to you with as little confrontation as possible.
1. Identify the gaslighter
To identify the gaslighter you first need to understand behavior patterns and manipulation techniques used by them. Some of the common traits exhibited by gaslighters include:
- Gaslighters keep conversations away from the public eye
- They insist on verbal communication for important information
- Gaslighters will keep pointing out mistakes that aren’t there
- They will often misremember conversations or deny them altogether
- They will try to keep you occupied with menial tasks
- They will praise you in private and shame you in public
- Gaslighters belittle your performance, efforts, intelligence, and emotions
If you see someone using such tactics against you, that’s your gaslighter. The simplest way out is to avoid them and focus on your work. But, if your work depends on collaborating with the gaslighter, you must take action.
2. Keep records of all communications
Gaslighters often exploit communication gaps to their advantage. They insist on verbal communication so that it is easy for them to manipulate information or deny it.
If you are being gaslighted by a client or customer, as many people in customer relationship management often are, you should also record phone calls and keep screenshots of text messages.
If they tell you to get something done, ask again for confirmation in writing. This will make it impossible for them to refute claims of communication or manipulate conversations.
Hence, you need to create traceable records of all communications with the gaslighter.
Keep track of all information coming your way through emails, messages, team collaboration tools, etc.
You can use communication tools like Chanty with unlimited searchable messaging history to your advantage.
3. Outsmart them in conversations
You can do this only if you keep records of conversations. Gaslighters manipulate information, so you need the information intact before you can counter the manipulation.
When you confront a Gaslighter, there are a few phrases you will often hear:
- “What are you talking about?”
- “I never said that”
- “You remember it wrong”
- “That’s not what happened”
- “You have made a mistake”
Here you bring out your secret weapon: the record of conversations. They might continue to deny the information since the records were kept by you. But, if they realize that you have become aware of their tactics, they most likely will back off.
Without saying so in words, you can communicate that you know what the gaslighter is trying to pull off. Every time they come to you with information or a task ask them to send it over in an email. You can also claim innocence and say that you might forget what they said, so you will need all the information in the email.
If they don’t send the request by email or message, you can send one yourself. Chances are that they will leave the email unopened so that they can deny it. You can send repeated reminders asking for confirmation. Sooner or later, they will have to acknowledge it.
4. Enlist help from others
Gaslighters exhibit different behavior in public and private communication. So you can outsmart them by making all communication with them in public. Enlist help from your colleagues so that you have a witness for all conversations.
If they come to you with some information, you can immediately involve another colleague in the conversation. Feign innocence and say that you need help from others. For conversations that were done in private, you can CC or BCC relevant colleagues when you send the email. This is applicable to all submissions and reminder emails as well.
If you are submitting a physical copy to the gaslighter have it sent over or keep a colleague alongside to witness the submission.
Once again, if the gaslighter is smart, they will recede. But if they are arrogant, they will continue their manipulation regardless of the witnesses. They might even try to break down the people who support you. In such a case, there is only one thing left to do.
5. Escalate the issue to management
Your team manager is the best person to report the manipulative ways of the gaslighter. All events you report should be backed by records. If you were not able to record some of the events, let them slide. You don’t want to come off as petty and inconsistent when making serious allegations.
You should focus on how gaslighting is damaging your productivity and the overall performance of the department. You can also present your colleagues as witnesses to confirm your report.
If the manager is the Gaslighter, you should report the events to HR or higher management. Regardless of the authority, you should appeal for resolution instead of confrontation.
6. Focus on your self-confidence
Intentionally or unintentionally, Gaslighters directly attack your self-confidence. Their manipulation only works if you are not confident about things you heard, said, or did. Even the solutions only work if you are confident about your claims.
Even as you are fighting to resolve the issue, you will need to keep yourself motivated to continue the battle and maintain your performance.
Last few words about gaslighting at work
To sum up the context, constantly strengthen your defense mechanism to sustain the uncertainties of outside situations that might affect your work in the office.
Going out during the weekend or having a coffee with a close one will help you ease your work stress and re-energize.
Pursuing a hobby also helps in shifting focus from working for a brief time and doing something creative.
Let me know what you think about the ideas discussed here. Also, if you think someone should know about them, then please share this article with your colleague who needs to read this.