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Are You a Victim of Gaslighting in the Workplace?

How to Deal With Gaslighting Through Your Own Actions

I have previously blogged about gaslighting in personal relationships. A good resource for you to look at if you believe you are a victim of it has been posted by psycom.net.

Today, I address the issue of gaslighting in the workplace, a problem that can have negative effects on workplace performance, productivity, and the mental health of employees.

What is gaslighting in the Workplace?

Wikipedia defines gaslighting as “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment.”

Workplace gaslighting can occur through actions of a prejudiced workgroup, a disgruntled customer/client, or a smearing business competitor. Workplace gaslighting can also be the result of systemic, institutional bias, or negative media and social media coverage. A gaslighter may target and victimize groups as well as individuals.

Attributes of Gaslighting in the Workplace

Writing about “The Seven Signs of Gaslighting at the Workplace”, Preston Ni identifies four attributes that often distinguish workplace gaslighting from other types of challenges on the job including.

  • The difficult work situation is based on persistent individual, group, or institutional bias and negativity, rather than solid proof, strong facts, established cases, and/or proven data.
  • The difficult work environment creates a negative/unfavorable narrative about the gaslightee (contrary to evidence) and damages the gaslightee’s personal or professional reputation.
  • The mistreatment persists over a period of time, despite a clear track record of the gaslightee’s positive collaboration, contributions, and accomplishments.
  • When approached on the matter, the gaslighter typically denies mistreatment, and can become defensive, contentious, dismissive, and/or evasive. Instead of using verification and facts to problem-solve, the gaslighter may escalate and become more aggressive, or stonewall and become more passive-aggressive.

In short, the gaslighter (the person doing the gaslighting) manipulates the gaslightee (the person being gaslighted) in a way that forces them to question their own version of events and even their own sanity.

Signs to Look For

Preston Ni points out some signs to look for with respect to being the victim of gaslighting at work.

  1. Persistent Negative Narrative about the gaslightee’s performance, credibility, product or service. Typically, the negativity is based on personal judgment and biased accusations, rather than facts and validity.
  2. Persistent Negative Gossip about the gaslightee’s professional and/or personal characteristics. On-going negative gossip is also a form of passive-aggressiveness.
  3. Persistent Negative Public Comment or Publicity in face-to-face, online, individual, group, meetings, memorandums, reports, performance evaluations, customer and client reviews, or other scenarios/settings. The negative branding/smearing is largely based on falsehoods or exaggerations rather than concrete evidence and facts, which damages the gaslightee’s professional credibility and personal reputation.
  4. Persistent Negative Humor and Sarcasm. Expressing hostility or condescension disguised as humor/sarcasm to tease, mock, belittle, and marginalize the gaslightee, often followed by “just kidding”.
  5. Persistent Professional Exclusion (i.e. “Invisible Professional Segregation”, “The Good Ol’ Boys System”, “In-Group Bias”, “The Glass Ceiling”, “The Bamboo Ceiling”, “The Tortilla Ceiling”, etc.) from networking, professional development, promotion, advancement, leadership,  and other opportunities when the gaslightee is clearly capable and qualified to participate, without reasonable justification.
  6. Persistent and Verifiable Bullying and Intimidation at the workplace.
  7. Persistent and Verifiable Inequitable Treatment compared with other employees of similar or less experience and accomplishment, despite a strong record of positive collaboration and noteworthy contributions. Significantly, when questioned about the matter, the gaslighter may misdirect and blame the gaslightee for being the cause of their own victimization. Gaslighting at work

Overall Effects of Gaslighting at Work

The result of chronic gaslighting is that it can make the gaslightee feel “lesser” as a team member, contributor, or provider of product or service. One may even begin to question one’s own professional credibility and personal self-worth, wondering if the gaslighter is justified in their judgments and accusations (despite evidence to the contrary). In this regard, gaslighting is a form of psychological brainwashing.

It’s clear that gaslighter’s are looking to embarrass the gaslightee and make that person look as bad as possible in the eyes of those in the workplace. The motivation for doing so may be personal or professional, especially if the two parties are vying for a promotion in the company.

Examples of Gaslighting at Work

In an article “When gaslighting at work has you doubting, how to reclaim your calm," Shonna Waters provides seven examples of gaslighting at work. In the interests of brevity, I am only highlighting these examples. To learn more and see if it conforms to your workplace please click on this link.

Example 1: misremembering 

The gaslighter tells you they never got the report you delivered last Friday.

Example 2: getting defensive

When you bring up an important issue, the gaslighter gets defensive or aggressive.

Example 3: giving encouragement at strange times

The gaslighter gives you some nice positive reinforcement just when you’re reaching the breaking point. The encouraging behavior makes you feel better despite your confusion.

The goal of the gaslighter is generally to keep you under their control, not to destroy you altogether.

As such, they’ll notice when you’re getting close to a breaking point or to identifying their role as a gaslighter and switch up their approach with some positive feedback.

Example 4: lying about small things

A gaslighter may take your stuff without asking and then deny it.

Coworkers borrow stuff from each other's desks from time to time, and sometimes you aren’t around for them to ask you.

Example 5: pretending to be helpful

The gaslighter tells you they are working on something for you even though, they haven’t even started.

Example 6: downplaying

They tell you it’s fine to miss the morning meeting tomorrow.

But then, when you do, they grill you for not attending. A gaslighter will deny altogether that they afforded you this benefit.

Example 7: saying one thing and doing another 

The gaslighter says one thing and does another.

For example, your gaslighter might advocate for lunch breaks that are strictly 30 minutes long, but then you catch them taking a 45-minute break the very next day. 

What should you do if you are a victim of gaslighting at work? Here is some food for thought.

  1. Make sure it’s really gaslighting and not another form of bullying.
  2. Start documenting gaslighter behavior to protect your position.
  3. Regroup and take time for self-care to counteract the effects of being gaslighted.
  4. As to meet with your gaslighter to discuss the matter.
  5. Report the matter to HR if your meeting is unsuccessful. This is similar to what you would do if you were a victim of sexual harassment.

The bottom line is gaslighting at work can create mental health problems and compromise the wellness of the gaslightee. In fact, it can have a negative effect in the workplace. Employees who think they may be a victim of gaslighting should access the resources provided by links in this blog.

Always remember, you can contact me for confidential advice and your inquiry is treated anonymously. To contact me fill out the email me on my workplaceethicsadvice.com website form or write directly to me at: steve@ethicssage.com.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on November 4, 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.

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