Deal with Manipulative Staff and Colleagues

Dread the company culture? Here’s how to deal with manipulative staff and colleagues

If this sounds familiar, there could very likely be a manipulator in your team, says Dr Mary Casey (Doctorate of Psychology), conflict-resolution specialist and CEO of health and education company Casey Centre.

“Conflict at work will occur from time to time,” says Dr Casey. “But you can identify manipulation when there is an ongoing conflict with one person, when staff turnover is high, and when you or others are left feeling anxious, stressed, disempowered or even physically sick when in contact with that person.”

Dr Casey encourages businesses to deal with manipulation directly using simple strategies in her new DVD and workbook, How to Deal with Master Manipulators. It provides proven strategies to identify manipulators, reveal their tactics, explore why victims become victims, and provide behavioural tools to deal with it.

Dr Casey says, “Manipulation is prevalent in workplaces, because their top-down structures are the perfect breeding ground for control and power tactics. Manipulators aim to covertly or overtly control and overpower the behaviours of others, even if it robs another person of their freedom of choice, reason and rationality. This is why they generally attach themselves to leaders while discrediting other workers. The behaviour can be aggressive but also passive aggressive, making it hard to identify if it’s happening.”

Dr Casey researched manipulation for four years after becoming the target of a manipulative senior employee in her business. “I learned why I was a perfect target and what I needed to change in order to not be a victim,” she says. “I lacked personal boundaries.”

Offensive tactics used by manipulators

  • Threats: Use concealed or open threats to keep their targets anxious.
  • Charm: Praise and flatter openly to gain the trust and confidence of others.
  • Ask “harmless” questions: Gather information to use against their targets.
  • Refutation: Deny they have done wrong.
  • Distraction: Change the subject to evade the issue or gain time.
  • Accusations or discrediting: Shift the blame to others and detract in subtle, hard-to-detect ways.
  • Deception: Withhold large amounts of the truth, distort the truth, or are vague.

How leaders & HR can deal with manipulation
“Dealing effectively with manipulation is, at its core, about thinking differently, which is very easy on a rational level, but can be daunting on an emotional level,” says Dr Casey.

  • Create the right culture: Set values and create policies and procedures for difficult behaviour such as “Conflict Management”, “Access, Abuse, Sexual Harassment & Bullying”, “Attitude and Behaviour”, “Employee Grievances” and “Disciplinary Actions”. When enforced consistently, they create a culture.
  • Middle-management policies: If you are a large company, consider developing procedures for dealing with frustrating and sensitive situations, and poor attitudes that are consistent at all levels.
  • Monitor trial periods closely: It’s hard to spot a manipulator in an interview so trust your gut, monitor them closely in the first few weeks and get feedback from other staff.
  • Communication training: Make conflict resolution, dealing with manipulation, and constructive feedback training mandatory in staff development programs.

For more information, visit

Dr Mary Casey (Doctorate of Psychology) is a conflict resolution specialist. She founder and CEO of Casey Centre, a leading integrated health and education service. Comprising nursing services, nursing colleges and counselling services, Casey Centre has 200-plus employees, trains 500-plus students every year, and develops programs and products in health and education. Visit