Gaslighting is a term that has become increasingly "popular" in the past couple of years. But the concept of a person manipulating another person so much that they question their own reality is nothing new. While it has been mainly used for personal relationships, gaslighting can also occur in the workplace. I spoke to a few experts to find out what to do if you're being gaslighted at work.
"While toxic workplaces are thankfully not a common occurrence, they can be extremely damaging to those that experience working in them," says Jo Cresswell, careers trend analyst at job and recruiting site Glassdoor. "And they are almost always created by managers either intentionally or unintentionally imposing themselves on their team.
"Gaslighting," she says, is "commonly exhibited through manipulative tactics that make an employee question their ability and competence" and "can lead to an atmosphere of poor employee morale and productivity."
Consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic Dr. Elena Touroni confirms that work-related gaslighting often centres around competence: "Perhaps your boss blames something on you that wasn’t your fault, or someone presents your work as theirs. You might feel criticised unjustly or experience a lack of encouragement or appreciation for the work that you’re doing." This could manifest itself in being overlooked for promotions or bonuses.
But it is about "more than having a 'difficult' boss," adds Dr. Touroni. "It will be a constant exertion of power with the intention of making you increasingly dependent on them [and/or] the job."
Ruth Kudzi, a business mentor, mindset coach, and author, gave me three distinct examples of gaslighting in the workplace. The first? A conversation that you had with a colleague or superior that they then deny ever took place. "For example, you agree a deadline with them to complete some work and they say that you haven't had that conversation and therefore the work isn't completed."
Withholding information is also a form of gaslighting, says Kudzi. This can be meetings that you aren't invited to or emails that fail to copy you in that add up to make your job that little bit harder. Verbal abuse counts too, especially if you feel that a colleague is speaking down to you.
Combatting each and every one of these situations will involve some confrontation, whether with the gaslighter or with your company's HR department. It's important to keep a paper (or digital) trail to help with this, say both Kudzi and Cresswell.
First, take your concerns to someone you trust within the company to "make sure your assumptions of what is happening to you can be verified by" another person, states Dr. Touroni.
Depersonalisation is a good strategy to use when explaining events to others, according to Kudzi. Taking yourself out of the situation may help you discuss how the gaslighting is impacting your performance and allow you to think clearly about a practical way forward.
"In an ideal world, I’d [then] recommend trying to address the problem directly with the person in question," adds Dr. Touroni. "By having an open conversation with them, you’ll be able to get a better understanding of that person’s intentions. Are they willing to listen to your concerns or do they try and make you think it’s all in your head?" If it's the latter, she states, it's time to involve someone more senior.
Hopefully, this will lead to a frank discussion surrounding the person's detrimental behaviour and a positive end result for the individual who feels they are being gaslighted. If not, the company may be a prime example of a toxic workplace that refuses to change; a place in which, sometimes, the only direction to go is the exit.