Gaslighting at Work: How to Deal
Gaslighting is a phenomenon we’ve known about for some time but the concept has recently gained a lot of attention and traction in the workplace. The term comes from an old play and the more popular 1944 film adaptation called Gaslight, in which an ill-intentioned husband manipulates his wife into thinking she’s losing her mind in order to steal from her.
Gaslighting refers to a method of manipulation that distorts the target’s sense of reality and self-worth, causing them to doubt themselves, their performance, and their perception.
Today, let’s talk about how to recognize gaslighting at work, and more importantly, how to stop it.
Impact of gaslighting:
Both the short and long-term effects of gaslighting can be very harmful for the victim.
A recent study shows that a whopping 50% of workers aged 18-54 have experienced some form of gaslighting at work.
This and other research reveal that victims of gaslighting suffer decreased confidence and productivity, are more likely to second-guess themselves and hesitate before making decisions, and experience feelings of loss of control and burnout in their workplace. The gaslighter does this for a variety of reasons: to avoid having to make good on what they said, to shift blame onto others, to gain and maintain control over subordinates or colleagues, and more. The reasons are numerous and the threat is real. Clearly, it’s important to be on the lookout for gaslighting to help protect your job and your mental health. So, how do you know when someone is gaslighting you?
There are a number of telltale signs that indicate you are being gaslit.
The most classic sign of gaslighting is denial.
The gaslighter will contradict reality: they might deny having said something you know they in fact said, accuse you of mistakes or errors that you didn’t make, leave you out of important meetings or decisions, or sabotage a work project to make it look like you’re inept. They might also act very differently in private versus in front of your peers. Another major sign is claiming that you’re overreacting, or minimizing and belittling your work, feedback, and experiences. Watch out when someone is attempting to call your credibility into question. Fingerprint for Success warns that “Gaslighters use vocabulary that invalidates your feelings and concerns to make you feel small and ineffective.” You deserve to be respected at work so be on the lookout for red flags of these behaviors and start implementing strategies before it’s too late.
Gaslighting is difficult to deal with because it frequently becomes a “he said, she said” issue. Additionally, the gaslighter is often a person in a position of authority, making it very difficult to contradict them.
One of the most effective measures to take to combat gaslighting is to document everything.
If the gaslighter assigns you something to do, make sure it’s in writing and copy others on your summary of the meeting and responses. When possible, ensure you aren’t meeting with them alone and maintain boundaries with them, physically and emotionally. It’s critical to surround yourself with others who know your worth, value your performance, and care about you. Try to develop relationships with other leaders and mentors at work while actively growing your network of people who can advocate for you and support your accomplishments. Gathering evidence in this way also lets you approach HR and leadership who can hopefully provide resources and options to assist you in managing the situation and inevitably the perpetrator.
Other options to consider:
But what if nothing is working? The gaslighter might have too much authority, do just enough to fly under the radar, or thrive on the toxicity and chaos they create. HR or leadership may not be willing to advocate on your behalf or want to take on the gaslighter for fear they might be next.
The longer you’re in this position, the harder it will be to recover so it might be time to explore other internal opportunities where you would not have to work directly with the gaslighter or maybe it’s time to start looking for a new job.
Ask yourself, what length of time will it take for you to trust your instincts, job performance, and accomplishments again if you stay in the current situation. How important is your self-worth, confidence, and mental health? When is enough, enough? It’s time to take back the power, your passion for work, and add joy back into your life. You’re worth it!