Employees who may seem emotionally intelligent and an asset to the workplace may also be emotionally manipulative, and this may be detrimental to workplaces in the long run, preliminary findings of a survey show. The study surveyed 351 people from different organizations, 81 who were managers.
Employees in the survey admitted to using either malicious techniques such as making a colleague feel guilty or anxious, or they turned on fake charm, for example, giving compliments to get what they want.
Emotional manipulation is defined as the act of influencing another person’s feelings and behaviors for one’s own interest. People who are good at emotional manipulation also show signs of what is called the “dark triad,” which includes psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism.
In the study, people who admitted to manipulating others maliciously scored higher on measurements of Machiavellianism and narcissism. People who admitted to faking things to get what they want scored higher on measurements of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and emotional intelligence.
Lots of people can figure out ways to manipulate others, but whether or not they choose to depends on the kind of person they are. For example, if you are not as sensitive towards others, as is the case for narcissists, you will probably find it quite easy to manipulate others at work.
Some of the traits of those within the “dark triad” can seem desirable in the workplace — at least at first. For example, it can be difficult to spot a narcissist because they can seem agreeable and appear well-adjusted.
These people also tend to desire (and feel entitled to) leadership positions, and come across as good leaders. Employees with these personalities usually are very confident, and their ability to remain cool under pressure tends to make people feel more secure.
However, in the workplace, the performance of people who focus on themselves a lot is generally poor, and they are usually not as committed to the organization. Interestingly, these people are also not likely to recognize that they may be a problem in the workplace.
Being fake may seem less harmful than being malicious. However, the study found that employees are distressed by the thought of being manipulated. In the survey, five to 14% of people report feeling manipulated in a malicious way on a weekly basis, and 13-15% in a fake way.
Employees could be just perceiving that they are being manipulated without actually being manipulated. The study tried to achieve a more objective view by asking participants if they believed their co-workers were being manipulated the same way.
Surveyed employees thought that both they and their co-workers were being manipulated in a similar way. This does suggest that behavior is probably real, and that manipulators may target more than one person at work.
The research presents a challenge for organizations to consider how necessary excellent emotional and social skills are when recruiting or promoting individuals, because it is possible that these people are also manipulative.
Fair Work trade commissioner Anna Lee Crib said that in 2014, of the 701 applications made to the commission, 241 cases were withdrawn, and not one case of bullying was found. In her opinion, some people may be confusing bullying with “personality conflicts.”
Unsurprisingly, targets of workplace bullying can react emotionally. Because of this, it may seem like two people just butting heads. This, coupled with the fact that manipulation is very subtle, means that when people report the behavior, there is a high chance of it being put down to a personality conflict when in fact it could be defined as bullying.
This is something very important for organizations to be aware of because interventions that do not acknowledge or address the behaviors of the instigator will not be effective, and could harm employees even more.