7 signs of gas lighting in the workplace


“Some people try to be tall by cutting off other people’s heads.”
—Paramahansa Yogananda

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Wikipedia defines gaslighting as “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or group secretly sows doubt in a targeted individual or group, causing them to question their own memory, perception or judgment.”

In the workplace, a gaslighter can be a negative manager, an intriguing colleague, a prejudiced work group, a disgruntled customer / customer, or a defamatory business competitor. Gas lighting in the workplace can also be the result of systemic, institutional bias or negative media and social coverage. A gaslighter can target and victimize groups as well as individuals.

The following four attributes often distinguish gas lighting in the workplace from other types of challenges at work:

  • The difficult work situation is based on persistent individual, group or institutional biases and negativity, rather than hard evidence, hard facts, established cases and / or proven data.
  • The difficult work environment creates a negative / unfavorable narrative about gaslightee (contrary to the evidence) and damages the personal or professional reputation of the gaslightee.
  • The abuse persists for some time, despite a clear record of the gaslightee’s collaboration, contributions and positive achievements.
  • When approached about this, the gaslighter typically denies the abuse and can become defensive, contentious, dismissive and / or evasive. Instead of using verification and facts to solve problems, the lighter can escalate and become more aggressive, or become more passive-aggressive.

What are some of the characteristics of a workplace gas lighter? Here are seven possible signs, with references from my books How to successfully deal with gaslighters and stop psychological bullying and How to communicate effectively and deal with difficult people. While normal workplace dynamics can sometimes include some of the following traits, a chronic gas igniter may persistently engage in one or more of the machinations below, while remaining largely oblivious to (or uninterested in) the negative impact of gas lighting on people.

1. Persistent negative narration on the performance, credibility, product or service of the gaslightee. Typically, negativity is based on personal judgment and biased accusations, rather than facts and validity.

2. Persistent negative gossip on the professional and / or personal characteristics of the gaslightee. Continuous negative gossip is also a form of passive aggression.

“I saw before my eyes how this clique ignores and avoids those who are not in its group, while constantly chatting behind their backs.” – Anonymous administrator

3. Persistent negative public comment or publicity face-to-face, online, individual, group, meetings, memoranda, reports, performance reviews, client and client reviews, or other scenarios / settings. Again, negative branding / defamation is largely based on lies or exaggerations rather than hard evidence and facts, which damages the professional credibility and personal reputation of the gaslightee.

“The work of your department is a waste of time and resources. How do you even justify your job? ” – Anonymous manager

4. Persistent negative humor and sarcasm. Expressing hostility or condescension disguised as humor / sarcasm to tease, mock, demean and marginalize gaslightee, often followed by “just kidding”.

“Your office is SO clean – they told me you have an easy job! ” – Anonymous employee

5. Persistent professional exclusion (ie “invisible occupational segregation”, “The good old boys system”, “group prejudices”, “The glass ceiling”, “The bamboo ceiling”, “The ceiling of the tortilla ”, etc.) networking, professional development, promotion, advancement, leadership and other opportunities where the gaslightee is clearly able and qualified to participate, without reasonable justification.

“Someone who works in a grocery store wrote that her supervisor was assigned to clean the bathrooms and mop the floors, while her male colleagues rolled around in shopping carts. This team member is in fact the most experienced employee. He was told that male associates bring carts because the task is more physical. Is driving in shopping carts really too “labor-intensive” for a competent employee? Isn’t cleaning the bathroom and mopping the floors very labor-intensive as well? “ – Anonymous

“I saw my father (a person of color) bypassed several times for promotions, while always being asked to train new employees (Caucasians) who became his bosses. If he’s good enough to coach future managers, why couldn’t he be a manager too? – Anonymous

6. Persistent and verifiable harassment and bullying in the workplace.

Essential readings of gas lighting

“Don’t you like the way I talk?” Well, who else is going to hire you? – Interim foreman

7. Persistent and verifiable inequitable treatment compared to other employees with similar or inferior experience and accomplishments, despite a strong record of positive collaboration and outstanding contributions. Significantly, when asked about it, the gaslighter can mislead and blame the gaslightee for being the cause of their own victimization.

The result of chronic gaslighting is that it can make the gaslightee feel “inferior” as a team member, contributor, or provider of a product or service. One can even begin to question one’s own professional credibility and personal worth, questioning whether the gaslighter is justified in his judgments and accusations (despite the evidence to the contrary). Gas lighting is a form of psychological brainwashing.

For advice on how to handle gas lighters, see the references below.

© 2020 by Preston C. Ni. All international rights reserved. Copyright infringement may expose the infringer to legal action.

Disclaimer: This article is for general educational purposes only. It may or may not be relevant to an individual’s specific situation.

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