During a meeting, your manager asks your team if a particular task has been accomplished. Everybody says no, so the manager asks who was assigned to it.
Your co-worker points to you, but you don’t remember being assigned to do the task, nor is there any evidence to prove him. Your co-worker insists. “No, it really was assigned to you. You just don’t remember it.” It makes you feel embarrassed and humiliated in front of your team.
Chances are, you’ve been gaslighted by your co-worker. The term “gaslight” has been associated with personal and intimate relationships, but it can also occur in the workplace. Victims of gaslighting often do not know it is happening to them.
Wait, Did This Really Happen?
Gaslighting occurs when someone causes you to question your own version of events. For instance, when you talk about something from memory and someone says, “You are wrong. You never remember things correctly.” That’s gaslighting.
Victims of gaslighting usually do not catch onto the deception that is being forced upon them. The act of gaslighting makes victims feel powerless because gaslighters are excellent at twisting the facts and using real information against others.
Gaslighting in the workplace, according to Preston Ni of Psychology Today, can be the result of “institutional bias or negative media coverage”.
Gaslighting in the workplace can come from a toxic boss, a negative manager, a scheming co-worker, a prejudiced workgroup, a disgruntled client, or a mudslinging business competitor. Gaslighters in the workplace may target individuals and groups.
Read more: How to handle a toxic boss
How does gaslighting happen at work?
Gaslighting occurs when a co-worker or a manager invalidates what you know to be true, which forces you to question the facts and, ultimately yourself. Whether it’s intentional or accidental, gaslighters in the workplace are out to sabotage your success.
Here are common signs of gaslighting and how you can prevent the toxic behaviour from happening:
Signs of gaslighting in the workplace
The gaslighter talks about you behind your back, engaging in gossip about your personal life. Gaslighting is not aggressive most of the time, and it can come in the form of passive aggressiveness such as gossiping.
The gaslighter comments negatively about your performance in face-to-face, online, or group meetings, reports, performance evaluations, customer and client reviews, and other settings. The negative smearing is based on falsehoods or exaggerations.
The gaslighter mocks you and uses sarcasm when talking to you. The gaslighter expresses condescension by making a remark that is meant to tease or marginalize you and then follows it up with the phrase, “just kidding!”
The gaslighter gets defensive and challenges your perspective, lashing out when you bring up an issue that matters to you. When the gaslighter left you feeling uncomfortable after bringing up an uncomfortable topic in a meeting, then you decide you’ll never bring it up again.
The gaslighter sabotages your career by excluding you from networking, promotion, advancement, leadership, and other opportunities. You are clearly capable of doing more than what you currently do, but the gaslighter excludes you because of your race or gender.
The gaslighter changes a company policy to suit their own objectives. Dress code? Limited vacation days? Sick day policy? All of these will depend on the gaslighter’s mood, which makes it difficult for you and your co-workers to know what the rules are and how not to break them.
Read more: Red flags of a toxic hybrid workplace
How to combat gaslighting
Keep meticulous record. Store every verbal conversation with that person in an email that you can return to later. This way, you can say: “Just a recap, here’s what we spoke about.”
Try to speak with the gaslighter. Invite the person to have an open and honest conversation about how you feel and show proof of when you’ve felt like you were gaslighted. However, be sure to include someone from HR as a mediator and remember to document or have proof of the conversation.
Look out for other peers who understand you. If someone is gaslighting you, then that person might also be doing it to someone else. Confide in people you trust, reach out and check up on them too.
Report the gaslighter. Follow your company procedure on how to report harassment. Bring all your documentation or other people who can testify as well.
It’s not easy to deal with a gaslighter who constantly makes you question your reality. By recognising the problem, however, you can take concrete steps to combat gaslighting.