You hear it so often – stories of distraught employees who have had enough. Struggling with disempowerment and the emotional stress that goes with manipulating managers, these employees want to throw in the towel and find a “better place in which to work” (synonymous with a better boss for whom to work). They simply can’t face another day of coercion, aggression and abuse – they want out. Tired of the wearying nature of the environment, work has become burdensome and these employees no longer bring their passion and energy to the workplace. On the contrary, they give up, resist taking responsibility and defer decision-making with the phrase “you will have to speak to my boss”. The relational toxicity starts spreading and trust deteriorates. Productivity regresses and feelings of guilt, loss and anger permeate the office. The culture has degenerated.

Manipulation covers two things – firstly, about getting one’s own way and secondly, about power and control. Both of the above characteristics exhibit no concern for the rights, needs, wants and desires of others. Controlling conversations and discussions, manipulative managers win by getting their own way, becoming the focus of attention or by enforcing their own ideas or processes. Employee suggestions are quashed, deemed to be irrelevant or worse, discounted in front of others. Consequently, crushed employees wonder why they exist or what purpose they really have in the organisation.

Manipulation techniques, most of which are considered to be exploitative, abusive, devious and deceptive, could include one or more of the following:

  • Lying (cheating with information supplied) or lying by omission (withholding a significant amount of truth)
  • Seduction (using charm , praise and flattery to gain trust)
  • Guilt trip (keeping staff in a self-doubting, anxious and submissive position)
  • Shaming (sarcasm and put-downs)
  • Covert intimidation (subtle and veiled threats)
  • Overt intimidation (angry shouting and thus shocking the employee into submission)
  • Denial (manager refusing to admit that s/he has done something wrong)
  • Rationalisation (excuses are made or a spin is put on the story)
  • Minimisation (the suggestion that the action or remark was not really harmful and just a joke)
  • Projection (passing blame on to others)
  • Evasion (giving irrelevant or vague responses)
  • Silent treatment (ignoring someone to make them feel guilty)

Leaders in the workplace have a responsibility to do their utmost to create an honouring and respectful work environment, as free of manipulation as possible. Whilst it is perfectly true that managers should know what they need to do and the performance that is required in order to get results, focus should be placed on confident influence rather than manipulation techniques. A leader who exhibits a humble and respectful confidence will exert influence by:

  1. Leading by example – Mahatma Ghandi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. A leader’s behaviour is always under scrutiny – the leader will always be respected if there is integrity demonstrated and consistency applied.
  2. Holding to the organisational values – if employees are treated according to the jointly-held values, happiness will prevail.
  3. Facilitating authentic conversations – discussions, planning meetings, idea forums and performance deliberations should all be conducted respectfully, where the dignity of the employee is upheld.
  4. Building sincere relationships – taking time and giving energy to growing professional relationships with employees are investments that will yield multiple returns in terms of loyalty and the offering of discretionary effort by staff.
  5. Being involved in disagreements – the purpose here is not to take sides or find out who is to blame, but to assist the involved in moving to problem-solving position (i.e. addressing the issue, not finding out who is at fault).
  6. Helping and encouraging – supporting employees by facilitating discussions around better ways of accomplishing goals and tasks.
  7. Communicating frequently – providing adequate information in a timely fashion and drawing people towards the organisational “big picture” gives employees a sense of being part of something bigger than themselves.

Managerial sincerity and integrity are essential ingredients of the influence recipe and create growth and facilitate empowerment. Manipulation, on the other hand, seriously damages the effectiveness and productivity of employees within the organisation. Distrust is the result.

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