Gaslighting at work occurs when a co-worker or manager intentionally or unintentionally invalidates your lived experiences or what you have witnessed to be true. This can lead you to question the facts, your beliefs, and your abilities in the workplace. Gaslighting isn’t always intentional or malicious. However, it is mentally damaging.
In a recent Twitter poll of more than 3,000 workers, 58% of people indicated that they had experienced gaslighting. Another 12% were unsure of what they were experiencing.
If you are in this cohort too, this post provides some guidance on the common signs of gaslighting with tips for fighting back.
Examples of Gaslighting at Work
- A supervisor tells you something in private, then denies making the statement when you bring it up later.
- You tell a subordinate that a task is urgent, they later claim that they weren’t given that information.
- You ask a coworker to share credit on a project you helped them with. They deny your ever having contributed.
Is Gaslighting Illegal at Work?
Gaslighting is not generally illegal. However, that depends on the circumstance. For example, if a manager uses gaslighting to prevent someone from making a report to the labor board over dubious workplace practices or unsafe working conditions, that could be illegal.
6 Signs of Gaslighting at Work
Many people don’t recognize gaslighting, even when it’s happening to them. Instead, they believe their perceptions are wrong. When gaslighting happens to other people, it’s even more difficult to see. People often dismiss gaslighting as ‘two sides to every story’ or ‘someone being a bit dramatic’.
Here are several tell-tale signs of gaslighting at work:
- A manager or co-worker makes subtle digs at you in public
- Someone comes to you with frequent news of your being gossiped about or badmouthed.
- You keep second-guessing your own experiences and insights
- You are excluded from work-related opportunities and projects
- Someone continually downplays or criticizes your contributions
- You get negative feedback on your performance, but always in the third person
How to Respond to Gaslighting at Work
Fortunately, there are effective ways for you to assert yourself and stop gaslighting in its tracks. Remember that you deserve to work in an environment that is free from toxicity.
Be Sure it’s Gaslighting
Sometimes things may seem like gaslighting when they are really genuine disagreements, remembering things incorrectly, or rudeness. Step back and analyze the situation. Are you dealing with ongoing behavior or an extremely egregious incident that truly impacts your career or ability to work?
If you aren’t sure, consider waiting before you take action. You don’t want to level a serious accusation until you know exactly what you are dealing with. If it appears to a be a minor or one-off issue, consider the issue temporarily resolved, but remain vigilant.
Start Documenting Everything
Gaslighters often thrive on vagueness. For example, they might tell you that they “heard a complaint about your performance”, but won’t give any details. They’ll claim to have told you about a deadline, but never have any sort of paper trail about that.
Save emails and text messages. Note where exchanges left you feeling doubtful of your perception of reality. Don’t take verbal exchanges as meaningful. Always follow up via email so things are documented. Ask for confirmation of receipt of things, and clarification on any agreements or instructions.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s emotionally draining to deal with a gaslighter. Their entire objective is to get you to doubt what is going on and question your own professionalism. At times they may succeed, leaving you feeling absolutely defeated. In order to deal with this, you have to keep as mentally and emotionally healthy as you can.
Don’t ignore self-care. Consider finding a third party to speak with about this. It will help give you perspective and assurance that you aren’t just making things up. Likewise, don’t rush to rage quit your job, especially when you don’t have a backup lined up.
Confront the Gaslighter
This is a necessary, but difficult process. The truth is that if you ever need to escalate things to the management or HR, the first question you’ll be asked is if you tried to resolve the issue with the other party. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make this process easier.
First, be specific. Address precise incidents or communications that were problematic. Don’t speak in generalities. Don’t allow the conversation to shift towards your performance, but do mention incidents where their performance issues seem to influence their gaslighting behavior.
Finally, be gracious where you can. Some people gaslight for reasons that aren’t necessarily malicious or they do so unconsciously. Conflict avoiders are frequently gaslighters. Some gaslighters truly are forgetful. In that case, you can use the conversation to direct them to ways to be better organized and accountable. Ultimately keep in mind that their behavior is their responsibility, not yours.
Clear the Air with Management and HR
If you can’t fix things with the person who is gaslighting you, it’s time to escalate. Also, if the gaslighting has impacted your ability to work successfully or damaged your reputation, you need to seek help from your managers as well as HR. They should know how to handle the situation and give you helpful guidance.
Nobody deserves to be gaslighted at work. Such behaviors create a toxic environment and work difficult for everyone. Use these insights to determine whether you are being subjected to gaslighting behavior and confront the issue.