How to Deal With Gaslighting at Work

Gaslighting can happen to anyone, anywhere because some people will use manipulative tactics to get what they want in any situation.

If it's a neighbor trying to gaslight you over the condition of the lawnmower you borrowed, you can probably walk away and avoid the situation. But if you are dealing with gaslighting at work, it can be a bit trickier. Not only is the behavior harder to identify and ignore, but the consequences can also be more significant.

So what does gaslighting look like in the workplace, and how do you cope if it’s happening to you?

Signs of gaslighting at work

Before you can deal with a gaslighter, you need to spot them. But especially in the workplace, it isn’t always easy to catch onto what is happening. Gaslighters play subtle mind games to manipulate people, and things can get murky if they appear to only be targeting you. You might find yourself asking questions like, “Did I really forget that new office procedure, or did my manager forget to tell me about it?” or “Am I really too sensitive?”

Other signs of gaslighting at work may include:

  • They give you mixed messages.
  • They put down your emotional reactions or call you “too sensitive.”
  • They make statements that are intended to hurt you but then call them “jokes.”
  • They make you feel unstable in your job performance or expectations.
  • Whenever you try to speak your mind, they dismiss you as though you’re unimportant.
  • When you’re around them, you second-guess yourself. But when they’re absent, you feel fine.
  • They cause you to doubt your version of events.
  • You feel the need to apologize to them frequently, even when you know deep down you’ve done nothing wrong.
  • You begin to question your competency.
  • They try to sabotage you somehow, such as blaming you for an incomplete project. 
  • They intentionally withhold information from you or give you incorrect information to make you seem unprepared or incompetent.
  • You start to feel isolated from coworkers or the target of gossip and rumors.

How to deal with gaslighting at work

Now that you can see the signs, what do you do if you are being gaslighted at work? Here are six strategies.

1. Document it

As with most scenarios, recognizing when someone is gaslighting you is the first step to handling the situation. However, since the behavior is often subtle, you may struggle to make sense of the situation or lose faith in your own version of events. So keep track of what is happening, and take note of any conversations that leave you doubting yourself, ideally as soon as the conversation happens. Include details like the date, time, location and exact words used.

2. Talk to allies in the workplace

Show your evidence to people in the organization you trust. What's their take on these exchanges?  Sharing your experiences can help you gain perspective, and it can be extremely beneficial if you need to escalate the situation. Ask your support network to pay close attention to the person you think is gaslighting you and watch for similar behaviors.

3. Root yourself in reality

A gaslighter will struggle to manipulate someone who has two feet firmly planted in their truth. Once you suspect someone is gaslighting you, you can take steps to remind yourself you’re competent, your reality is correct and your feelings are valid. You aren’t overreacting. You aren’t the “entire reason” a project has failed to meet the boss’s expectations. 

If you can, pull together a folder of hard evidence that refutes the gaslighter's claims. If you can't get your hands on physical proof, like emails, project results or customer feedback, ask coworkers for their firsthand accounts of the events in question. These notes can serve as reminders that you're not imagining things.

4. Don’t be alone with the gaslighter

Whether a co-worker or your toxic boss is gaslighting you, it’s best to avoid spending any time with this person alone. This is a step to protect you against the gaslighter, as well as the chance that other people in your workplace may not believe you if they haven’t been a witness to the gaslighter’s behavior. For example, if you and the gaslighter work on a project alone together, other people might find it easier to believe the gaslighter’s story that you’re to blame for the missed deadline.  

5. When possible, address manipulation head-on

While it may not always be possible to call someone out when they’re being manipulative, if you feel comfortable addressing a gaslighter’s statement in the moment, this may be an effective way to shut them down. For example, you could say something like, “I’m not comfortable with the way you’re speaking to me right now. This conversation is over.” Then remove yourself from the situation as quickly and calmly as possible.

When a gaslighter begins to realize their manipulation isn’t working on you any longer, they may back off. Furthermore, taking action when other people you work with are present may give them more cause to believe you instead of the gaslighter. 

6. Escalate it to HR

When it becomes clear a gaslighter isn’t going to stop their behavior, you might need to address the situation with a boss, manager or HR. This may be an obvious and essential step if a peer is gaslighting you, but it's much tougher to do if it's your boss. For instance, when HR begins an investigation into your claims, your boss might tell them you were the one doing the harassing or that you tried to barter for a promotion — “Promote me or I go to HR.”  

If this is the case, you may need to be more careful in handling the situation. Be like a ninja. Document as much as you can on the sly, and don’t tell your boss you’re going to report them to HR. When you’re ready, approach HR and see if the situation improves. 

If it doesn’t, you might need to consider quitting this toxic workplace and looking for a different job. 

Cianna Garrison
Cianna Garrison holds a B.A. in English from Arizona State University and works as a freelance writer. She fell in love with psychology and personality type theory back in 2011. Since then, she has enjoyed continually learning about the 16 personality types. As an INFJ, she lives for the creative arts, and even when she isn’t working, she’s probably still writing.