Author Profile Picture

Thom Dennis

Serenity in Leadership Ltd


Read more from Thom Dennis

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Workplace gaslighting: Equip managers to address psychological manipulation

Are your leaders and managers equipped to spot and address gaslighting quickly?

Gaslighting is not just deployed by perpetrators in the realms of personal relationships and among families. This intentional psychological manipulation can also be seen within the workplace as a technique to influence and exert control over an individual. Gaslighting can be hard to pinpoint, but has an insidious impact on people and culture. Managers therefore need to be equipped to spot any red flags and confront the issue head on. Learning and development professionals have a role to play in ensuring managerial employees can effectively spot the signs of gaslighting and deal with it effectively.

How to recognise the strategies of a gaslighter through their behaviour and patterns

A gaslighter downplays, denies truths or inaccurately retells events, playing on any insecurities and vulnerabilities to exert control over their target. They may tell you that you are “too sensitive” when making an inappropriate remark, or they may exclude you from something that you should be involved in, including meetings. Key signs that you are being gaslit include a persistent negative appraisal of your performance, looks, emotions, and the way you do things – both publicly (but subtly) and to you directly. You may be the target of gossip, and be made to feel belittled, excluded or inferior.
Leaders and managers must be equipped to spot and address gaslighting quickly, to ensure this toxic behaviour doesn’t permeate.
When someone pretends to be helpful but sets you up for failure, or says one thing and then does another, or tells you that you are misremembering, you are being gaslit. Comments or ‘jokes’ about a person’s gender, culture, age or any other protected trait are always inappropriate and often a way to gaslight. They may say you are on target for a promotion but then ensure that you don’t get it by bad-mouthing you. They might block you from swapping to an alternative role in a different department internally. They may try to discipline you but not follow proper company processes or conduct any formal investigation. They may interrupt you when you are speaking or leave the room when you are talking.

Gaslighting is all about control

A gaslighter will always want to have control over their target and won't like to be challenged or proved wrong. They tend to be insecure themselves but deflect this by controlling and undermining others. They need to have power, can often be narcissistic and can be toxic leaders, but they aren’t often easy to spot.

The impact of being gaslit

Gaslighting is insidious and potentially very damaging. When you are being gas-lit you may feel uneasy coming to work. It can result in you wanting to move jobs, and it can affect your personal life, relationships and wellbeing. Because it can be so subtle it can be difficult to ask for help or support.
Dysfunctional behaviour affects everyone and can grossly affect the culture of the company.
When repeated over time this behaviour can push someone off balance, making them feel their workplace is psychologically unsafe. It can leave them feeling isolated, questioning themselves and doubting the quality of their work, and who their friends are, causing them to lose confidence and self-esteem.

Why dysfunctional behaviour such as gaslighting must stop

Dysfunctional behaviour affects everyone and can grossly affect the culture of the company as psychological safety is lost, as with any sort of bullying. When people feel stressed and anxious, the environment won't be a happy, creative or productive one. An organisation will lose talent and absenteeism will increase as the target may dread going to work or feel they have to hide parts of themselves. Organisations won't get the best out of their people because both the perpetrator and the target’s attention is elsewhere. Suppose others notice the gaslighting and see the perpetrator is getting away with it. In that case, it will affect them either as ‘hopeless’ bystanders or by encouraging them to join in, especially if the aggressor is a role model.
When someone comes to you to report gaslighting behaviour, don’t downplay it or undermine them.

How leaders can manage suspected gaslighting at work

Leaders and managers must be equipped to spot and address gaslighting quickly, to ensure this toxic behaviour doesn’t permeate.

1. Look for the classic but subtle signs of a gaslighter

Be sensitive to colleagues who have newly lowered levels of self-esteem. For example, if you are in a meeting and someone who should be there hasn’t been invited then question it.

2. Don’t downplay or dismiss what the target is telling you

When someone comes to you to report gaslighting behaviour, don’t downplay it or undermine them. Actively listen and give assurance that action will be taken. They are likely to have already gone through several stages of self-doubt. Discounting feedback is damaging and re-traumatising. Great care is needed.

3. Don’t look the other way

If you don’t call out poor behaviour you are condoning it.  Ask the perpetrator – “what is your intention?” Take a stand for the sake of the target but also everyone around them. The more we don’t call bullies out, the more powerful they become. It can be hard for whistleblowers to stand alone but there is power in numbers.

4. Let the gaslighter know you are on to them

Ask for evidence of what they are saying about the target.  Follow antibullying protocol and if needs be, put them on a probationary period.

5. Ensure leaders are trained and equipped to deal with bullying of any sort

Leadership training on how to maintain standards of behaviour, how to deal with difficult situations when people are being traumatised and how to be a support are crucial. Furthermore, teams need specific training on what gaslighting is and what the signs are to look out for and to understand the power of language.

Interested in this topic? Read Why toxic people can never be high performers

Author Profile Picture

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe to TrainingZone's newsletter