Workplace Bully as
Master Manipulator

A skilled workplace bully is usually an expert at manipulation. Through artful, indirect and devious methods, he influences and controls others. Like a clever politician, a manipulative workplace bully keeps his desires hidden. Pretending to pursue the greater good, he adopts the mantra of “company first” with a fervency that inspires admiration and respect, and most people accept his claims of selfless pursuit of noble causes.

But underneath his self-righteous image lies the essence of a manipulator: someone who shrewdly and deviously attempts to control how you feel, think and behave.

The master manipulator

  • How does he manipulate?
  • How does he think?
  • Primer on manipulation
  • His disguise makes him dangerous

How does a workplace bully manipulate others?

Methods of manipulation:

  1. Distortion of human relationship
  2. Lack of respect for others
  3. Exploit negative personality traits

1. Distortion of human relationship

Healthy human interactions are not dominated by manipulation. instead, you find genuine concern for others and a sense of cooperation. Even when people have their own self-interest in mind, the principle of fair exchange is followed.

Now compare these honorable behaviors with a manipulator. rather than the simplicity of straightforward, mutually respectful relationships, he finds clever and indirect means to control others. He deceives and seduces, or he creates a chaotic, complex situation within an emotionally supercharged work environment, allowing him to stealthily exploit the naivete and character flaws of others. To a skilled workplace bully, human interaction is all about manipulation.

2. Lack of respect for others

At the root of these manipulative behaviors is a pervasive lack of respect for others. A manipulative bully holds himself in high esteem, but views others as deeply flawed. He is blind to the serious defects in his character, but keenly aware of the slightest weakness or imperfection in others. He is convinced that most people are inferior to him.

Because he doesn’t respect you as an individual, he doesn’t respect your right to make your own choices. From his perspective, “live and let live” has no meaning; either you are with him or against him.

If you are with him, he attempts to thoroughly dominate you. And if you are against him, he feels no pangs of conscience as he undermines you or gets you fired. It never occurs to him that you possess an equal right to pursue success and happiness.

3. Exploit negative personality traits

From a manipulative bully’s perspective, people with negative personality traits are ideal targets. He can more easily manipulate people who are greedy, submissive or anxious. Or people who are blindly sacrificing and naively supportive, or perhaps just trying too hard to please others. His cunning and deceit are powerful weapons against the weaknesses of others.

A manipulative bully’s own nature is a study in negative traits. He is shrewd and dominant, the negative version of leadership and strength. He is judgmental, suspicious, demanding and calculating, all negative personality characteristics. Even his outward charm is cold and calculated (just see how fast his temper flares up when you confront his deceptive behaviors).

At the same time, he lacks positive personality traits, such as genuine concern for others, a generous and understanding nature, a desire to teach and encourage, a desire to have straightforward dealings with others. He dwells in a very dark place lit only by his own hyper-inflated ego and ambition.

If you stay out of his world of negative personality traits, you will be a much more difficult target for his manipulation.

How does a manipulative bully think?

How a manipulator thinks:

  1. Image vs. reality
  2. Center of his own universe
  3. Master of deception
  4. Full of rationalizations

1. Image vs. reality

A manipulative bully is preoccupied with image, particularly his own. He wants to be viewed as highly competent and successful, selfless and noble, a true leader who only wants what is best for the company and the people who work there.

The reality, however, is vastly different. If you see through his mask, a disturbing truth appears: he is scheming and deceitful, driven by an obsessive desire for power, prestige and money.

His outward image is intended to convey virtue and self-sacrifice:

“I care about you. I care about the company. Trust me.”

But what he is actually thinking he would never say to your face:

“You don’t have my savvy, intelligence and strength. You aren’t aggressive and competitive, so you must be weak. I’m going to discover where you are vulnerable, and then use that to control your emotions and behavior.

“I will make you help me become more successful. I may cause you some pain, but that’s okay, because that’s my ‘tough management’ style. And if you don’t cooperate, I’ll make sure you don’t succeed here, or perhaps even get you fired.”

2. Center of his own universe

A manipulative bully never sees things through the eyes of others. That would require empathy, which he lacks. Instead, he creates his own reality, in which he is at the center.

What truly matters to a manipulator?

His own ambitions are most important, particularly financial and career success. He may also seek a vaunted status or even fame (at least within his vocation). He enjoys being the center of attention and wants everything to revolve around him. He derives satisfaction from successfully dominating others.

Why are some manipulators so self-absorbed and aggressive?

Self-absorption and aggressiveness often stem from a lack of control over impulses. When a manipulator lacks internal brakes (which occur naturally for those who are self-aware and care about others), he learns that pleasure comes through impulsiveness and aggression, especially when applied with a keen understanding of human weakness.

Or past successes may have taught him how to control the behaviors of others through exploitation of fear or guilt. Children learn quickly when guilt-ridden parents allow themselves to be manipulated into rewarding bad behavior, or when a weaker peer submits to dominating behavior.

Then as the bully embarked upon his career, he discovered these skills helped him succeed. His success fed his ego and increased his self-absorption, making it easier for him to justify this aberrant behavior as perfectly acceptable, even desirable.

Does a manipulative bully care about other people?

He only cares to the extent others can gratify his ego and help him succeed. Absent are the healthy relationships of mutual respect. He may experience the beginnings of selfless affection for someone else, but sooner or later his ego reasserts it primacy.

But why does a manipulative bully seem so concerned about people close to him?

He may seem concerned for the well-being of others, but usually this reflects a sense of ownership of those he dominates. In reality, he only cares about how they impact his power and reputation within the company. And his affection is conditional upon whether the people he “owns” continue to feed his ego. Disrepect him, even unintentionally, and the positive relationship is instantly destroyed.

Why is a manipulative bully so anxious to control the people he “owns”?

A bully never wants to look ineffective and powerless. In his thinking, if he can’t control the people close to him, upper management won’t view him as a strong leader. So he becomes frustrated when you show any independent thinking or actions that might threaten his control and tarnish his image.

Why is a manipulative bully so hot-and-cold in how he treats the people he “owns”?

He fluctuates wildly in his treatment of people he “owns” because his possessiveness leads to pride of ownership. When one of his possessions does something right, it gratifies his ego. But when he believes someone has made him look bad, he gets angry. And if he feels betrayed, he becomes jealous and retaliates.

But doesn’t a manipulative bully have normal relationships with others?

His relationships are never normal because they are defined by the power and control he has over others. In essence, he treats people like things, never respecting their rights as fellow human beings.

How does a manipulative bully develop such lasting relationships?

He knows how to gain power over others and keep it. He exudes charm and confidence in order to attract those who are naive or emotionally needy, providing them with friendship and camaraderie, or enticing them with promises of future rewards. His followers may stay loyal for many years, or even over their entire careers.

Doesn’t a manipulative bully feel bad about hurting and exploiting others?

He has no respect for people who are emotionally weak and vulnerable, so he doesn’t feel bad about exploiting them. At the same time, he believes that his superior intellect, uncommon wisdom and noble ambition justify his aggressively controlling other people. By forcing them to follow his leadership, he is doing them a favor (in his thinking). As the center of his own universe, he is very good at rationalizing his behaviors so that he feels noble and even heroic.

3. Master of deception

All warfare is based on deception. There is no place where espionage is not used.
 - Sun-Tzu

It is counterproductive for a manipulative bully to be straightforward: no one would support him if he revealed his true character. An effective manipulator must be a master of deception.

His repertoire includes hiding his true intentions and predatory nature, concealing information of potential value to others, misleading people on key issues, effectively using hearsay and innuendo, and otherwise obscuring the truth. He shrewdly uses these deceptions to sway others, always to his personal advantage, often to the detriment of his fellow workers.

4. Controls his conscience through rationalizations

A manipulative bully wants to maintain his focus and effectiveness (and be able to sleep at night), which means he can’t be constantly worrying about his questionable motives and negative impact on others. To keep his conscience in control, he rationalizes his bullying behavior. Here are a few of his favorite attitudes:

“Even though my tactics may be a little harsh, my success will bring great things to the company. I must use whatever means are necessary to gain the compliance of others, and I must retaliate against anyone who threatens my good intentions.”
(Ends justify the means)

“Because I have superior intellect, experience, vision and drive to succeed, my judgment is much better than those around me. That makes it desirable to force my will upon others. They will be better off than if they relied on their own inferior abilities.”
(Superior judgment)

“Tough management is the best way to get things done. I am strong and I manage with a firm hand. I may hurt others now and then, but they are better for it.”
(Tough management)

“In the competitive world of business, you are either a predator or a victim. If I don’t destroy the competition, they will destroy me. That includes others within the company who are competing for limited resources; or for power, income and promotions.”
(Get them before they get me)

“I am displaying the time-honored values of winning, including vision, leadership, competitiveness and gamesmanship. I am building a legacy of success that others will respect and honor.”
(Winning is all that matters)

A workplace bully’s primer on manipulation

If there were a primer on manipulation, written by someone without any ethics when it comes to dealing with others, it would go something like this:

Why is it so easy to manipulate people?

“Most people will give you the benefit of the doubt. They assume your intentions are honorable and that you are being honest with them. Since you work for the same company, they naively think you will be straightforward and cooperative, obeying the time-honored spirit of teamwork. Disguise your true motives and no one will look beyond outward appearances.”

What is the easiest type of manipulation?

“Most people have emotional weaknesses. These provide vulnerabilities that can be used to control them. For example, for people who crave social acceptance, you can play up the camaraderie angle, and then threaten to withdraw your friendship if they don’t submit to your will. Or for people who are afraid of anger, you can demonstrate how upset you become when they ‘betray your trust’ (that is, don’t let you control them).”

Won’t people recognize attempts to control them?

“Not if you use your charm and talk like a visionary. People respect strong leadership and steadfast self-confidence. Subtle behaviors are rarely seen as controlling when the overwhelming evidence is that you are virtuous. Just make sure people primarily see you as virtuous.”

What is the first step in manipulating others?

“Put on a personality mask that will attract others. Seduce them with attention and affection. Praise their performance and promise them future success. Learn their emotional needs, then start meeting those needs. create an emotional bond. Make them emotionally dependent on you. In a typical workplace, you will stand out as a beacon of warmth and friendship. Few will ever discover your unadulterated self-interest.”

What if other people don’t need anything?

“Everyone needs something, though it may take some time to discover needs you can effectively exploit. In the meantime, you can use the darker side of human emotions. Discover their fears and play on them. Use innuendo to make them feel guilty or ashamed. Learn to subtly threaten their well-being.”

What happens after they’re hooked?

“Decide what you want them to do, then formulate a plan. Don’t waver from that plan, even if you become concerned that you are overly harsh or even cruel towards others. Remember that your personal goals always justify the methods necessary to achieve them. From the moment you gain control of others, your every word and action--even your body language--should be focused on causing them to carry out your wishes.”

What if others recognize manipulation?

“Even the best manipulators can be spotted by savvy people. unless you share common goals and methods, these are most likely your enemies. Take quick, strong measures to diminish their power in the company. Isolate them so they don’t influence anyone else. If possible, cause them to get fired or resign, before they get the ear of upper management.”

What if a strong opponent arises?

“You will face strong opponents now and then. But you can still win if they aren’t too powerful in the company and you act quickly to gain the advantage.

there are many strategies you can use. For example, try to win over the main decision-makers: take an interest in their family and hobbies, take them golfing, share in their vices, offer to do their dirty work, promise them big profits. If you’re lucky, they reached their position through bullying others, in which case they will sympathize with your tactics, particularly if they believe you will add to their personal wealth, prestige and power.”

“Alternatively, try to slander your opponent with subtle innuendo, then make sure the rumor reaches the decision-makers. For example, you could tell a top executive that you don’t think your opponent’s ‘past troubles’ should keep him from being promoted, then refuse to answer the executive’s follow-up questions because you ‘don’t want to say anything bad about a friend and fellow worker.’ That way, you look noble as you plant the seeds of doubt.”

“With an extremely powerful opponent, you may need to bargain with him. If you are kindred spirits, you have a good chance at success. Just convince him that by working together, you will both end up ahead. But watch your back when you are in alliance with another manipulator. even better, gain his trust, then destroy his reputation (before he does the same to you).”

His disguise makes him dangerous

Dealing with a master manipulator can be considerably more difficult than dealing with an obvious bully. He is artful in his deceptions, making most people oblivious to his underhanded methods. If you suggest to your co-workers that he is a bully, you will probably be met with blank stares or derisive comments. But the results of his behaviors are just as terrible as any angry, screaming, badgering bully.