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Eight manipulative phrases your colleagues might use.

According to a study by the American Psychological Association & Harris Interactive, a third of employees suffer from chronic stress at work. One in four say it is the result of toxic behavior by a manager or colleagues. 

How can one protect himself from this? Identify personal boundaries, "catch" every manipulative act and don't let the person you are talking to influence you. 

We have put together 8 phrases your colleagues might use to make you doubt your decisions, do work for them, and even guilt trip you while on vacation. 

1. "I didn't say that."

This phrase allows them to avoid responsibility and shift it to someone else. By saying this, the person you are talking to implies that you are lying or that you have misunderstood them. 

How can one resist manipulation? Emphasize that you know exactly what you have heard. Say you are ready to return to the conversation once the other person admits what they have said.

If you have fallen into the same line of thinking, make it clear that your words may have been misconstrued. However, don't hold the other person responsible. For example: "Maybe I didn't make my point well, let me try again".

2. "We can't do this without you."

This type of manipulation is designed to enhance your feelings of pity or sense of responsibility. "I know that you're on vacation at the moment, but we have a very important project and we can't do it without you. Can you join the Zoom call tonight?" So instead of resting and detoxing from information, they want to drag you back into dealing with work issues and attend a meeting.

According to psychologist Eric Berne's theory, in such a situation, two "adult" colleagues should communicate explicitly. But the nuance of the request mirrors how a child might ask their parent for help. Most people want to be a hero, and they'll rarely pass up the opportunity to save the day. Hence why it's so effective.

This trick targets one’s sense of importance and responsibility. Under pressure, the victim seeks to satisfy the request, even if this goes against his or her own interests.

How can one resist manipulation? If someone claims that it will not work without your involvement, ask for specific arguments. Ask questions and look for objective evidence that your participation is really crucial. This will help shed light on their tricks and narrow down how crucial your participation really is.

If someone just wants to put someone else's work on you, politely thank them for assessing your talents and refuse, noting that there are other competent colleagues.

Don't hesitate to say "no" when the manipulator's requests contradict your values. It is OK to say, "Unfortunately, I can't help" without even explaining the reason.

3. "You're already on vacation while everyone else is working. You could at least join our Zoom call."

Psychological manipulation is very similar to the previous story. However, it gives a different message. In this case, the "parent" asks for help, while the colleague who is on vacation plays the role of the naughty and guilty "child". 

To receive the love and recognition of a "parent", they must become available by giving up their vacation and working for free. 

How can one resist manipulation? Be aware of your limits. Explain that your vacation is important to you and that you have fulfill your responsibilities within your schedule. If the manipulator's common sense seems unreachable, clarify whether you'll be paid, or blame your absence on technical difficulties.

Get rid of the guilt others impose on you. You deserve time to relax and recover. 

4. "You saved the whole department last time, I'm so grateful! Could you please take a look at this report and give your opinion?"

Benjamin Franklin's principle states that those who have helped you before will find it easier to help you again. This is why loyal employees get more urgent work. 

This is how it works: A manipulator who wants something from a colleague does him a small favor or asks for a little help. Later he comes with a more serious request, relying on the victim's sense of duty. 

How can one resist manipulation? Be aware of this mechanism. Knowing how this trick works will make you more aware of situations where someone tries to use it on you. 

Stand up for your boundaries. You do not have to respond to other people's requests, especially if it goes against your principles.

5. "You always/never..."

This trick plays on feelings of guilt/inferiority as it undermines the victim's self-esteem and accustoms them to seeing themselves in a negative light. This way the manipulator creates a dependency on his control and feedback, i.e., after all, only the one who has attached the label can remove it. 

People can also use the manipulation of generalizations to impose additional responsibilities. For example, a person has left the department and another person has temporarily taken over some of their work. Later on, that "temporary" work might be permanently added to their workload. After all, "you've always been doing this".

How can one resist manipulation? Again, be aware of your limits and be able to stand up for them. Explain that such statements do not reflect the full picture of your actions or character. Don't let others attribute things to you that are irrelevant or do not truly define you

Analyze the context of the manipulation. Pay attention to specific situations as generalizations can be taken out of context or distorted.

It is important to remember that people with narcissistic or sociopathic traits deliberately create situations when there will always be grounds to be dissatisfied with you. Even if you fulfill all their requests, they will demand more.  

You will never be good enough for such people. Don't let others make you feel like you don't deserve better.

6. "All is lost!"

Dramatization is a psychological strategy when a person deliberately exacerbates a situation in order to influence the behavior or opinions of others. 

The manipulator creates the atmosphere he wants by causing others to feel fear, anxiety, guilt, sympathy, or surprise. Usually, they do it to control people's perceptions, to become the centre of attention, or to get the right reactions or resources.

The manipulators usually use several methods for dramatization:

  1. Exaggerating the scale of events or consequences.
  2. Posing as a victim to gain empathy from others, to motivate them to cooperate and support them.
  3. Manipulation of emotional states. By using dramatic language, gestures, and facial expressions, the manipulator wants to influence the reactions and behavior of others.
  4. Creating conflicts to cause or increase tension between people.


How can one resist manipulation? If you are the victim of a "dramatizer", the first and most important rule is not to give in to your emotions. It is unlikely that you can outplay the manipulator in their own field. There is no need to make excuses or deny fiercely as they will twist whatever you say to their advantage. 

Do not succumb to provocations. Try to understand what the manipulator is after and don't let them get what they want. Ask for specific facts and arguments, or to quote what was said without being dramatic. If the person cannot control themselves, say that you are ready to return to a constructive dialogue as soon as the person is in control of their emotions. 

Defend your personal boundaries clearly and confidently, without letting manipulation affect your decisions or self-esteem.

7. "Everybody knows that."

People who use such phrases present every advantageous thought as a fact. There is no need to waste time looking for arguments when you can say something like: 

  • smart people understand that…
  • every sane person knows that…
  • worldwide practice shows that…
  • it is obvious that…

However, abstract "people" and "everyone" are actually "nobody". As a rule, such "credible" references are unsubstantiated and rarely reflect the truth.

Such phrases are not aimed at dialogue. The purpose of the false consensus strategy is to convince you that your opinion is wrong and socially inappropriate. This way the manipulator tries to "push" their point of view and control your actions. 

How can one resist manipulation?

A person whose opinion does not coincide with an abstract "majority" may feel passive-aggressive or ineffective. Don't fall for this trick. Analyze the situation and ask for confirmation. 

For example, your colleague suggests not filing tax reports on time, arguing that "everyone does it like that and nothing happens". Ask him to provide real-life examples of such situations. You can also find information on companies that have already received fines for this kind of thing. Then ask whether this person is ready to take responsibility for the consequences of such a decision. 

Don't try to make excuses. Keep your cool and state your position in a calm tone. Use phrases like: "It's just your opinion", "I have a different point of view", and "Yes, I do things differently from others". Your goal is to protect yourself by not reacting to provocation. 

8. "You're being too serious, it's just a joke!"

More often than not, hurtful and unpleasant jokes are not humorous. They are manipulation tactics to humiliate the person twice, i.e., by the insult itself and by deeming the reaction as "wrong".

How can one resist manipulation? It's OK if you don't find it funny or don't like what's been said. Set a limit and make your position clear, without devaluing your feelings.

Simply ask clarifying questions and voice your opinion. This way you will show that you are serious about the topic and would not want it to be downplayed as a joke.

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