You may have heard about gaslighting in relationships or in politics – but what about in the workplace?
In conflict management, do you ever have employees who give completely different stories about what happened? Ever have employees complain that a manager or leader gaslit them into believing something else occurred when it really didn’t? These situations can oftentimes be headaches for HR managers and are often swept under the rug of “he-said-she-said” arguments.
In reality, this is evidence of gaslighting at work which is commonly becoming one of the largest mental struggles employees face in the workplace. Today we’ll look at how you can identify workplace gaslighting and what you can do to prevent it.
If you’re also worried about how to inform your employees about how to spot signs of gaslighting in your company but don’t know how to communicate it – consider using AirMason’s employee handbook building service! Our amazing team of copywriters can help you with creating anti-gaslighting policies to include or a how-to spot gaslighting in the workplace section in your employee handbook. Help your employees be informed – it’ll avoid a lot of unwanted conflict in the workplace.
What exactly is gaslighting in the workplace?
You may be wondering what exactly gaslighting in the workplace even looks like or how to spot it. Vicki Salemi, a career expert and coach for Monster.com, has a great explanation for what this is:
“Gaslighting at work is when a person—typically a colleague or manager—invalidates what you know to be true, forcing you to question the facts and, ultimately, yourself and your ability to do your job. In other words, they’re twisting (either accidentally or intentionally) information, words and behaviour to make you feel confused, trivialize feelings and block you from success.”
For example, you hand in a project at work that took weeks to complete – just to be told by your boss that the original expectations set out had changed and you did it completely wrong. Gaslighting isn’t always done in a directly malicious manner. Oftentimes it’s when someone in the workplace is trying to cover for their own mistakes. Just like in the example with the project you finished – the boss forgot to update you on altered expectations halfway through the project and then made you believe you did it wrong all along.
Just because gaslighting in the workplace isn’t always done inherently maliciously doesn’t mean you aren’t being affected by it. There are subtle but greatly impactful ways of gaslighting to look out for if it’s happening to you in the workplace.
On the other hand, just as there are non-malicious ways of gaslighting – there are bound to be those on the opposite end. Malicious forms of gaslighting in the workplace or those that are purposefully and preemptively thought out can be just as harmful – if not more.
Another example – a co-worker who just keeps forgetting to invite you to important meetings for projects and then makes you believe you forgot they told you repeatedly. The blame gets completely shifted onto you – potentially even making you question if they did tell you and it slipped your mind to add it into your calendar. Yeah, right. It seems unbelievable – but this type of gaslighting can quickly slip its way through the cracks of your workplace. This form of gaslighting is dangerous as it can completely exhaust you and mentally drain you from working in a company. Especially if there are consequences you have to face due to their gaslighting – like missing important information from meetings.
5 Key Examples of Gaslighting by a Boss or Colleague at Work:
Although there are never two scenarios that are the same with gaslighting in the workplace, Psychology Today shares some common gaslighting red flags that may stand out to you in the workplace.
- They Tell Obvious Lies. Your boss may tell you one thing on Monday – whether it’s a certain expectation or a new due date – and a totally different thing on Tuesday. This may seem obvious, however, if it’s done multiple times you may also feel too insecure to double-check with them every time which is which – especially if they make you feel incompetent for doing so.
- They Deny Making a Promise, Even When You Have Proof. Your boss may have promised you a raise after this quarter and you even documented it. However, when you bring it up to them they act like you never mentioned anything about it and that they’re not in any position to suddenly hand out raises. You may feel too worried to report this considering it’s your boss and they make you believe that their word always trumps yours.
- They Throw in Just Enough Positive Reinforcement to Confuse You. Have a co-worker or a manager who just won’t stop criticizing your every move? It could be something as direct as just insulting your work every chance they get, yet every so often throwing in a compliment just to make it seem as though it’s not so malicious. Or even more subtle by always saying things like, “It’s pretty good, but it could definitely be better” or even “You really worked hard on this for a while, you know this took me barely any time at all to complete?” These may seem blatant, but after a while, these types of lines can really get in your head and start affecting your mental well-being.
- If You Challenge Them, They Lash Out at You. Even questioning a co-worker’s decision on a project or something they’ve completed leads to them reacting in a way that makes you feel as though you’re crazy or inferior. Saying things like, “Do you even know what you’re talking about? I’ve been working in this position much longer than you have – you barely have any experience” or something like “No one would ever like that idea, are you crazy?” These are ways in which they dismiss your emotions and shift responsibility away from themselves – pushing you not to ever speak up again.
- They Use Confusion to Their Advantage. A colleague may want to shake your sense of stability and normalcy in the workplace by making you question your own work. This is used in a way to shake your confidence and break you down over time – feeling as though you aren’t a valued member of the team or the work you do isn’t good enough. They may constantly question if you think your work is the best it can be or even make you doubt how valuable the work you do is in the company.
These are only some of the many examples of gaslighting that can be used in the workplace. It’s important to identify them to be able to pinpoint if you are a target of harassment in the company. But now that you’ve identified some of the key indicators of what gaslighting in the workplace looks like – it’s time to find out what you can do about it.
How to Put an End to Gaslighting in the Workplace
Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., author of Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People—and Break Free says:
“A gaslighter doesn’t really want you to succeed at all and will sabotage your efforts. They might undermine your efforts with comments about how you don’t know what you’re doing…making you doubt your own expertise.”
There are several ways you can approach how to deal with gaslighting in the workplace and putting a stop to it. Here a just a few crucial steps to keep in mind when dealing with this behaviour:
➜ Document everything
Once you begin to realize you are being gaslighted in the workplace, it’s crucial to act quickly and document every interaction that you have with the gaslighter. Start documenting every email or message, or even things they say to you in a diary or a word document. Just keep in mind not to keep this information on work-related devices as your company will have access to that information. This helps with reaffirming that the gaslighting is in fact happening to you – as well as having documented proof when it comes down to it once reporting the issue to HR. Otherwise, verbal recollections of these instances won’t do much for you.
➜ Talk to a colleague you can trust
This may be difficult to bring up, but if you were to speak with a trusted colleague and maybe even ask if they’ve ever had a similar interaction with the gaslighter – not only do you have support, but potentially a stronger case if you were to report it. It will ease the weight off of your shoulders and can help you build a united front against the gaslighter. Never forget – there’s strength in numbers.
➜ Go to HR or other higher-ups
After you’ve accomplished the task of documenting proof over time and speaking with others about the issue – there’s no time to waste. Gaslighting in the workplace should be taken as a serious offence and should be brought up as soon as possible to avoid the lengthy time of stress you’re experiencing within your workplace. Don’t be afraid – stand strong and remember you were chosen to work in this company for a reason.
There is absolutely no room for gaslighting in the workplace
If you’re an employee that needs help in looking for ways in which to address the gaslighting you’re experiencing in the workplace – look to those around you for support. Look to the policies of your workplace to have your back in moments of gaslighting in the workplace and to trust those you report this issue to deal with it immediately and correctly.
As a company, you should be doing your all to ensure that cases of gaslighting in the workplace do not happen. Beyond that – as it can be difficult to prevent every instance of harassment in the workplace – you should make the consequences clear in a well-documented, easily accessible place for all of your employees. Here at AirMason, we have a team of trusted and talented members to work with you to ensure you lay out all of the policies on anti-harassment and anti-gaslighting in your workplace. Make it clear that there is absolutely no place for gaslighting in your company. Also, make it known to your employees so that they can feel like their company has their back in instances of potential workplace conflict.