13 Tactical Steps for Dealing with a Gaslighting Boss

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Putting up with a gaslighting manager not only threatens your mental health, but also your career and livelihood. You may feel stuck in a dilemma not knowing how to deal with a gaslighting boss.

You shouldn’t have to endure their toxic behavior or quit your job. Neither option is fair to you. I think it’s time to address the situation using tactical steps.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t involve anything harmful, unlawful, or unethical. I’m referring to a well-thought-out and detailed plan–one that works to protect you from the harmful psychological effects of dealing with a gaslighting boss.

Get ready to take control of the situation and take back your power! Let’s begin by taking a look at what it means to get gaslighted and how to know you’re a target.

What Is Gaslighting?

‘Gaslighting’ is a subtle manipulation technique and form of psychological abuse used to make others doubt their perceptions, experiences, or understanding of events.

The term comes from a 1938 play called “Gaslight.” The protagonist’s husband persistently denied his wife’s experience to make her think she’s going crazy. He kept telling her that the gas light in the home did not dim when that was what actually happened. Watch the best gaslighting movies.

Gaslighting is often practiced by manipulative people to get their way. These individuals include those with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.

Gaslighters use various gaslighting tactics to influence how the target (gaslightee) thinks, feels, and makes decisions. If done persistently, it can make you question your own recollection of events, abilities, self-worth, and mental stability. Some gaslighters will even outrightly call you “crazy”.

How Common Is Gaslighting at Work?

Although gaslighting commonly occurs in close and intimate relationships, it does happen in the workplace. Far more frequently than you may think. More than half of 3,033 Twitter users who answered a poll by the U.K.-based software company, MHR, confirmed they experienced workplace gaslighting.

Chris Kerridge, an employee engagement expert at MHR, reports that “The workplace provides a fertile ground for gaslighting due to the natural hierarchical structures that exist…”

Unfortunately, many victims are caught unaware. Due to the position of trust bosses hold, employees don’t usually suspect they will manipulate them. Naturally, they feel betrayed and can have a tough time feeling safe in the workplace. This can lead to worry, anxiety, depression, staying away from work, and thoughts of quitting.

Because of the effects gaslighting has on a person’s performance and career, employment law stakeholders are beginning to accept it as a form of covert workplace harassment.

Why Would a Boss Gaslight an Employee?

Gaslighting is a sneaky mind manipulation tactic that allows someone, in this case, a boss, to control and dominate their employees. If successful, an imbalance of power is created, thereby enabling the gaslighter to achieve their goal.

Usually, it is to get an employee to do something they will benefit from. The benefit could be as simple as boosting their ego and feeling powerful over their subordinate.

In your case, your boss may invest a lot of time attacking your character or criticizing you in an effort to frustrate or mentally destabilize you. Once you get to a point where you start doubting yourself and second-guessing your decisions, they’ll start exploiting those weak points.

gaslighting | gaslighting definition | gaslighting meaning
Gaslighting is a sneaky mind manipulation tactic that allows someone, in this case, a boss, to control and dominate their employees.

People who rely on psychological manipulation tactics typically have difficulty asking for what they want. Consequently, they attempt to get their needs met through underhanded methods. More reasons why bosses manipulate include:

  • Feeling insecure or inferior to an employee
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Having an exploitative, manipulative, or controlling personality, e.g., a narcissist

How to Know You Have a Gaslighting Boss

The subtle nature of gaslighting can cause it to go unnoticed for a long time. Spotting it at work may be even more difficult given the nuances of the environment.

Bosses tend to get away with saying a lot of things to employees depending on the workplace culture. Some are charismatic and may more easily manipulate employees without them realizing what’s happening.

The first step is to start paying attention to any pattern of behavior by your supervisor that leaves you feeling mentally confused about your duties or performance. Are they constantly criticizing your work and ability to think and make decisions? Do they persistently say things to make you question your competence at work or as an individual?

Those are red flag signs and examples you are a target of gaslighting at work.

Familiarizing yourself with the following signs is key to confronting the practice and protecting your mental health in the workplace.

  • Setting unrealistic deadlines only to criticize your competence to finish on time
  • Saying or implying you aren’t doing your job right even though you know you followed the procedures to a ‘T’.
  • Misleading you in an effort to undermine your performance and get you penalized or fired
  • Downplaying their poor behavior, e.g., taking credit for your work and then saying it’s not a big deal
  • Minimizing/trivializing, or dismissing your concerns and feelings when you try to address the issue
  • Denying what they said to make you appear like a liar
  • Disguising criticisms as compliments, e.g., saying “Great job!” when you actually screwed up an assignment
  • Getting defensive and calling you “too sensitive” when you call out their behavior
  • Pretending to forget past events even when you present them with evidence

Here’s a quick example:

Misleading you and then denying it. Your boss may say one thing and do something opposite or completely different. For example, your boss may write you up for clocking in late although they gave you permission to keep your 8:00 AM doctor’s appointment that morning. If you remind them of the arrangement, they may say something like:

  • “You misunderstood what I said.” or
  • “I said go to your appointment. I never say you should come late,” or
  • Are you having memory problems, now?”

How to Deal with a Gaslighting Boss Using a Step-by-Step Plan 

You’re a victim of gaslighting at work if your boss’ action causes you to continuously doubt your perception of reality, says BetterUp. However, gaslighting can be intentional or unintentional. Therefore, it’s possible that your superior isn’t aware of what they’re doing.

Either way, the issue has to be addressed in an effort to stop it from continuing. Take care to approach it responsibly and respectfully to avoid jeopardizing your credibility and career. 

Here’s a plan that may work.

Step 1. Keep Records of What Transpired

Engaging your boss on this matter can feel intimidating. However, saving records can help make hashing things out less frightening. Use a journal or diary to log what they say and how they behave towards you. Write down how you feel.

Documenting events over the course of weeks or months can be helpful in exposing a gaslighter. Let’s say your supervisor denies your experience or gives you a different version of events. This lets you confirm they are in fact gaslighting you.

Human resources (HR) can also use your records to deal with your superior should it become necessary.

Step 2. Get Feedback from a Third Party

You may feel you’re overthinking things. After all, the gaslighter may have already put that in your head with their abusive language. If you’re not sure, ask a colleague or another supervisor to assess your work, ethics, and performance.

Be careful to choose someone with integrity who will give you an unbiased report. If they’re not finding flaws in your work as your boss does, take that as a sign something is off. Your boss may be finding flaws to make you feel bad about yourself.

Step 3. Speak to Your Fellow Employees

A gaslighting boss will more than likely use emotional manipulation on other employees. Asking your fellow employees questions is one way to determine if they, too, have had similar experiences.

Ask questions in a way that does not make your colleagues suspect there’s a problem between you and your boss. They may be unwilling to say anything that could potentially jeopardize their job.

Step 4. Prepare to Confront the Situation

Keeping your job may mean bringing the issue to light with your superior. I agree, it may be challenging and intimidating. But you need to feel safe in your work environment to perform at your best.

warning signs gaslighting boss| signs of a gaslighting boss | what is gaslighting
Use a journal or diary to log what they say and how they behave towards you.

Start thinking about how you’ll broach the conversation and what you’ll say. Preparing mentally is key to effectively explaining what’s bothering you. Who knows, your boss may see things from your point of view and adjust their behavior.

Step 5. Write Down What to Say

How you approach your superior can make all the difference, especially if they are unaware that they’re gaslighting you. Choosing the right words and tone can disarm them and encourage them to actively listen to you. Here’s a suggested opening statement:

“I’ve observed that your feedback often leaves me feeling incompetent and not valued. I feel this way even though I’ve been following all the rules and procedures as expected. This has happened on numerous occasions over the past weeks/months. I’m hoping there’s a way to improve my experience at work with your help.”

If you’re concerned about forgetting what to say, you could read it to your boss.

Step 6. Decide the Method of Communicating Your Concerns

Determine if you’re going to initiate the problem-solving face-to-face or by email. A face-to-face conversation may be more effective unless you risk facing hostility from your manager. Otherwise, email may be the way to go. Emailing is also an alternative if you’re socially shy or believe you express yourself better in writing.

Getting the information across to your boss is what matters. Keep the email professional and to the point. Address your boss respectfully and use kind and appropriate language. With email, you’ll also have a paper trail showing you brought the matter to their attention.

Step 7. Request a Meeting with Your Boss

If you choose to speak in person, the professional thing to do is to ask your boss if they’re open to meeting with you. They’re still in authority, and you should respect their time and schedule.

A supportive boss will be willing to set a date and time in the near future to hear you out. In the meantime, mentally prepare yourself and make note of what you want to say.

Your boss may be curious as to why you wish to meet. You could say it relates to some things you’ve been experiencing at work. 

Let them know you’re planning to discuss it in more detail at the meeting. Hopefully, they won’t press you for more information and turn it into a spontaneous meeting.

Step 8. Tell Your Boss What You’ve Observed

Gaslighting is an abusive behavior that has an impact on your emotional well-being. Thankfully, your boss is willing to give you an ear. This gives you a chance to express your concerns and feelings about the situation.

Be mindful and respectful throughout the meeting. Present your observations in a clear and concise way. The same applies if you’re sending an email about the issue.

Step 9. Stay Calm and Use “I” statements to Convey Your Message

Staying calm and respectful during the conversation won’t give your boss a reason to write you up for insubordination.

Use “I” statements to express how you feel about something that happened. For example, “I feel confused whenever I’m told to follow a certain procedure and then told I used the wrong one.”

“I” statements prevent the other person from feeling attacked or blamed. Remember your boss may not be aware their behavior amounts to gaslighting. Taking this emotionally intelligent way to communicate can also inspire your boss to be more receptive to your concerns.

Step 10. Stick to the Facts

Recount your version of events. The ball is now in their court to give their version of what transpired or acknowledge your concerns. Changing the narrative to cast doubt or make you question your memory is a sign they’re continuing to gaslight you.

Also, avoid labeling their conduct as “inappropriate” or “unprofessional.” As much as you have a right to discuss workplace matters that impact your work or well-being, you are expected to do so respectfully.

Step 11. Ask for a Third-Party Intervention

This is a tenuous situation and can be taken the wrong way if your manager is arrogant, controlling, or narcissistic. Arrogant people think they’re never wrong. On that note, your boss may try to shut you down or gaslight you even more.

For example, saying, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” It’s a classic statement gaslighters use to insult your intelligence.

If you’re confronted by stonewalling or more gaslighting tactics, respectfully ask to conclude the meeting.

Next, ask if they’re open to having the matter discussed in the presence of an impartial third party. Someone from human resources may fit the bid as HR personnel are expected to protect employee rights.

Step 12. Alert HR or Higher Management

Some experts advise against directly bringing the issue to your boss. I’d say it’s a judgment call depending on the individual’s overall personality. They may be a genuinely good person but somehow end up unintentionally gaslighting you.

If you don’t feel comfortable approaching your supervisor directly after giving it some thought, then notify their superior or human resources. Going to HR is also the next step if you try to meet one-on-one with your boss and they refuse or the meeting was unproductive.

what is gaslighting | gaslighter | gaslight definition
Asking your fellow employees questions is one way to determine if they, too, have had similar experiences.

Explain to HR what you’ve experienced and allow the department to take the proper steps to address the situation.

Note: Legal experts say getting HR involved can work in your favor in case there’s a need to file a workplace harassment case for ongoing abusive behavior by your supervisor. Hopefully, things won’t go that far.

Step 13. Apply for Transfer to Another Department

All bosses aren’t created equal. Some are understanding and supportive, while others will make your life a living hell. In fear of victimization for calling out your boss, you have the option of permanently transferring to another department.

You could pursue this route as a first option and skip confronting your boss. Otherwise, talk to HR about opportunities elsewhere within the company if your manager continues with their gaslighting tactics.

Final Thoughts on How to Deal with a Gaslighting Boss

Not all gaslighting is intentional. Regardless, it’s still necessary to address the problem so you can feel safe and perform at your best.

The most important tip to remember is the need to stick to the facts. Do not accuse your superior and be respectful in conveying how you feel. Keep your composure.

In a perfect world, the situation goes exactly as you hope it will and works out to your advantage so that you’re not forced to quit. But whatever happens, be careful not to blame yourself as it’s not your fault!

You’re not responsible for your boss’ abusive behavior. What you are in control of is protecting your own mental and emotional well-being, even if that means getting out of that toxic environment. Want more? Be sure to check out Gaslighting at Work: 5 Signs, Examples, and Phrases.

And if you're looking for more articles about gaslighting, be sure to check out these blog posts:

how to deal with a gaslighting boss | warning signs gaslighting boss| signs of a gaslighting boss
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