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How to Spot Manipulative Co-Workers at Your New Job

Find 'em before they find you!

Sniff, sniff.

Do you smell that? It’s you. As a new employee, you are emanating an irresistible scent I like to call “fresh meat.”

The office wolves are salivating over you. You’re in unfamiliar territory, you’re shaking in your boots, you want to blend in, you want to make a good first impression, and you need a bit of guidance – and they all know it.

But how do you know which co-workers to watch out for, and which ones are harmless? Watch out for the following tell-tale signs.

1. Manipulative Co-Workers Love to Pry

“So do you like it here so far?” “How do you feel about your new boss?”

Be careful. Those may seem like innocuous questions from a curious co-worker, but don’t be fooled. They’re not trying to make small talk. If your new co-worker is being oddly inquisitive, he or she might be trying to collect damning information on you to use as leverage.

Pulling answers out of you also helps manipulative co-workers quickly psychoanalyze you, and determine which Machiavellian tactic would be most effective on you. For example, if you spill that you’re the ‘middle’ child among five siblings, chances are high that a manipulative co-worker would theorize that your greatest weakness is your yearning for validation and attention that you didn’t sufficiently receive from your parents, and therefore they should be scant in their praise and approbation toward you because it’ll make you work harder for their approval.

That was a mouthful, but make no mistake, manipulative co-workers can and will go that deep in regards to their psychoanalysis of you.

What you should do:

Keep your answers vague, but pleasant and friendly. When you’re asked, “Do you like it here?”, simply say, “I can’t complain.” And if you’re asked about your personal opinion about a boss or a fellow co-worker, it’s best to reply, “I’m sure we’ll work very well together.” There’s nothing gossip-worthy about any of those answers that’ll rub others the wrong way and land you in hot water.

2. Manipulative Co-Workers Are Suspiciously Too Close to Your Supervisor

If you’re having trouble spotting the Machiavellian among you, I’ve got an idea where they could be hiding – your supervisor’s caboose! Butt-kissing is a “must” in every manipulator’s handbook. They’re well aware flattery gets ’em far – they’ve figured out that it’s not the boss’ most productive, hard-working employee who’ll get the promotion, but the boss’ favorite who will move up the corporate ladder within the company.

If you notice a co-worker laying it on thick with the brown-nosing and bootlicking, trust me, they are the main instigators of vicious office politics and will butter up the “right people” with insincere praise.

What to do about it:

If you want to be one step ahead of your Machiavellian colleague, I’d advise you to take a page out of the sycophant’s handbook and offer up a few appreciatory praises to your supervisor as well, but the difference is that you’ll do it only when it’s truly genuine, and do it sparsely. If you are wholeheartedly impressed by how your boss is managing a project, don’t hold your tongue – say it. Your genuine compliments, which come from the heart, will serve as a foil to your manipulative co-worker’s off-putting groveling. Your higher-up will notice the difference, and the cards will fall in your favor.

3. Manipulative Co-Workers Show a Lack of Initiative

One of the reasons why manipulative co-workers manipulate is because they’re trying to get away with getting more by doing less. Their motto is “Work smarter, not harder,” which, in my opinion, is an excellent cliché to follow, however, you shouldn’t have to use snake-like means to achieve this goal. But unfortunately, manipulative co-workers will, indeed, find guileful ways to expend the least amount of effort at work.

For example, if you spot a colleague trying to wiggle their way out of a teamwork project, but they still want to receive credit for it, you’ve identified a Machiavellian worker.

What to do about it:

An IT engineer I know, let’s call him Dylan, told me about the time that he was paired with a fellow co-worker, let’s call him Bob, to complete a project. Bob, the Machiavellian co-worker, thought he was sneaky by shirking his responsibilities and allowing Dylan, a new recruit, to do all the work. Bob figured Dylan would expend most of the effort, and he would still get the credit despite contributing zilch.

Dylan smartly told his dodgy manipulative co-worker to not worry – he will do the whole project by himself. Dylan followed through with his promise, but when he submitted the project to his boss, he only signed his name on it as the project’s sole overseer, silently telling the higher-ups that Bob contributed absolutely nothing to the assignment.

4. Manipulative Co-Workers Have Two Faces

No matter how much they may try, a manipulative co-worker can’t hide in sheep’s clothing for too long. And because of this, you will see drastically different personalities from a Machiavellian colleague.

One minute they’re friendly, the next minute they’re cruel. For example, if your co-worker is having a chuckle fest with Pam the secretary and having a “best-friend pow wow,” but the next day she’s gossiping up a storm about Pam’s incompetency and how she should be replaced, your colleague is a conniving snake. If your colleague can gossip about someone who’s supposedly her friend, think about what she would do to someone who is her enemy!

What to do about it:

If a co-worker seems to have several personalities, always assume that the sweet side is a cover up for their manipulative predisposition. With this knowledge, treat ’em like you would anyone you wouldn’t trust.

5. Manipulative Co-Workers Emanate an Ominous Energy

Does the environment start to feel a little tense due to a certain co-worker’s presence, but then you feel a sense of calm when they depart?

As this is Thrive Global, I can’t forget about the “mind, body, and soul” aspect about discerning which co-workers are devious little manipulators. Your intuition will be the first to tell you when someone is up to no good.

What to do about it:

Your intuition is like your built-in alarm bell that warns you against people who don’t have your best interests. Listen to it!

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