Manipulative people in the workplace really do exist. This blog will help you to understand who, why and what they mean to us in HR.
Rose tinted spectacles. I pride myself in wearing them. I'm definitely a glass-half-full type of bloke, especially when it comes to dealing with people. I personally believe it is one of those qualities HR people must possess; the ability to see the best qualities in people.
But regardless of how rosy I like my world to be, it's also important to keep my feet firmly on the ground of reality. Much as I hate to say it, this reality tells me that there are some people in the world that just aren't nice. Turn on the news channel on any day where you’ll find firm evidence of this. Stories where someone, somewhere in the world, has conducted themselves with nothing but ill-intent for those around them.
I'm always amazed, shocked, surprised and in some counts devastated to hear that a version of this ill-intended behaviour also exists within the business world. People, who fortunately are in a minority, that are so self-centred that they have no interest in anything other than their own needs. They’re often scrabbling for promotion, status or some other worth for themselves. I'm not talking here about those with career ambition and drive to succeed. That's healthy. Nor am I talking about those conflicts and disagreements that occur in the workplace. Conflict is also a healthy part of everyday living. Think back to the last time you saw two children arguing over a toy and learning how to share. Think back to that interesting debate that you had on a business issue where different parties had different points of view. Conflict is part of our society and must continue to be present to aid our development.
What I am talking about though is those that don’t work with others, with a team-spirited approach. I’m talking about those that are so focussed on what they want they will quite happily, without regret or remorse, tread over anything and everything that stands in their way. They are an especially disturbed bunch of people that George Simon describes as covert aggressive in his book “In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People”. These are people who are sneaky, deceitful and will stop at nothing to get what they want. They often lie, hold back important information, try and frame others to look incompetent and a whole host of other manipulative tactics. The consequences are disastrous. Stress and confusion are a bare minimum effect of dealing with these people. Being dismissed or feeling that there is no option but to hand in notice and leave the job that used to be enjoyable are others. These people stop at nothing to get what they want. It could be a boss, a co-worker or even a member of someone's team. It could even be someone outside of the working world in a personal relationship. Whoever they are, wherever you bump in to them, let me make it clear that these people have no care and absolutely no respect for those around them. I’m not saying these people are in themselves bad, but their behaviour certainly is. The likely cause according to the book is deep routed issues within their internal values and beliefs. If there is any chance of these being corrected, it can only really be done by professional psychotherapy treatment.
Before I come on to the good news, let me give you one more hard hitting fact. These people do not conduct themselves in an obvious overtly aggressive way. Society has taught us that there is no place for aggression. If they use these blatant ways of getting what they want, they know they’ll soon be found out and removed. So what they do instead is conduct themselves with a persona of charm and charisma. They are on the face of it, the most personable, friendly people you may come across – just like the wolf in sheep’s clothing and probably the inspiration for the title.
So what does this mean in the world of HR? Well sadly, according to the book, this type of behaviour is becoming more and more common place. As our society and culture continues to strive to be a harmonious place where there is no place for aggression, it would make sense to these people to find discreet, covert, manipulative ways of getting what they want. They do so, in order to go under the radar. What this means is bullying in the workplace; victimisation or whatever you choose to call it by these people isn’t really that easy to detect. Very often, even the victims themselves don’t realise what’s happening to them before it’s all too late.
So the good news. These people, once you’ve spotted them, are really easy to deal with. They don’t look so great without their fluffy coat! The book leaves no stone unturned in terms of recognising and dealing with these types of people. Whether you’re a victim yourself or you’re helping someone to deal with their own situation, this book will leave no doubt in your mind in terms of what action you should take. The techniques involved in dealing with these people are far from being complex. They are the best practice things that we all do every day. They are skills that you as a HR professional or the victim themselves are likely to already possess. But one word of warning. If something I’ve said strikes a chord with you, please read the book and do it soon. The book concludes with much advise in terms of dealing with these people because be aware, when you challenge this type of person, they have a whole armoury of smoke-screen tactics to help them disappear back under your radar and remove the spotlight. They really don’t have a place in their agenda for losing so the book is really helpful in terms of helping you or whoever you’re helping to take the right action. Action that isn’t going to make a situation worse. It really is important to have the skills to recognise and challenge this behaviour either for yourself, or those you may support through these situations in your HR career.
The link for the book once more, is here. There’s an audio version too.
Please comment below, or contact me privately if you prefer, if you have a personal view you would like to share.