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The Subtle Flames of Gaslighting in Business: Recognising and Extinguishing Manipulative Communication

Ever found yourself questioning your own reality at work due to a comment or an action from a colleague or superior?

That’s gaslighting – a term you might have heard bandied about in recent years. Originating from the 1938 stage play “Gas Light,” where a husband manipulates his wife into doubting her sanity, gaslighting in the business sphere is equally insidious and often harder to pinpoint. Understanding this phenomenon is crucial for maintaining not just a healthy workplace, but also your own mental well-being.

Written with love by: My Personal English Coach

Gaslighting: A Spotlight on the Word of the Year 2022 by Merriam-Webster

In an illuminating turn of events, ‘Gaslighting’ was declared the Word of the Year 2022 by Merriam-Webster, a testament to its pervasive impact in our collective consciousness.

This choice underscores not just the word’s increased usage, but also the growing awareness and recognition of the subtle, yet harmful, manipulative tactics it represents. In a business context, this recognition is particularly significant.

It reflects a broader societal shift towards acknowledging and addressing psychological manipulation in the workplace. The acknowledgement by such an authoritative linguistic source amplifies the conversation around gaslighting, empowering professionals to identify and challenge these destructive behaviours. It’s a crucial step towards fostering healthier, more transparent, and respectful communication in corporate environments.

Understanding Gaslighting in a Business Context

Gaslighting at work can be subtle—a colleague taking credit for your ideas, or a boss who constantly changes their demands but denies doing so. Unlike simple miscommunication, gaslighting is a deliberate attempt to undermine someone’s perception of reality, creating a sense of doubt and confusion. It’s psychological manipulation that can erode team dynamics and individual confidence over time.

Unmasking the Gaslighter

So, who is the gaslighter among us? It could be the manager who never admits when they’re wrong or the team member who backpedals on their words. Power plays a central role here. Gaslighting thrives in environments where there’s an imbalance, allowing the gaslighter to assert dominance by rewriting the narrative.

Real-World Examples of Gaslighting at Work

Imagine you’re in a meeting and you voice an objection to a new policy. Later, your boss pulls you aside, suggesting you misremembered the previous policy’s terms—despite the facts. Or perhaps you’re blamed for miscommunicating a deadline that was never clearly set. These are the hallmarks of workplace gaslighting: denial, contradiction, and the persistent questioning of your competence and credibility.

Communication Strategies to Identify Gaslighting

The key to recognising gaslighting is to trust your own perceptions and to seek validation from trusted colleagues. Keep records of conversations and agreements. When you feel the ground shifting, these records can be your anchor to reality

Building a Gaslight-Proof Communication Framework

Creating a robust communication framework is paramount.

Encourage transparency and open dialogue. When policies and decisions are documented and shared, it leaves little room for the gaslighter to weave their narrative. Training sessions on communication can also equip team members with the skills to spot and address manipulative tactics.

Responding to Gaslighting: Empowerment and Action

Confronting a gaslighter requires tact. It’s not about retaliation but about standing firm in your truth. Approach HR or use established protocols to express your concerns. It’s about asserting your perspective with confidence and clarity, not about convincing the gaslighter to admit fault.

Healing and Moving Forward

Post-gaslighting, it’s all about rebuilding trust. This may require mediation or even changes in team structure. Support from HR and coaching professionals can facilitate this healing process, helping individuals and teams to move forward with renewed strength and mutual respect.

Gaslighting is a serious issue that can undermine the very fabric of our professional lives. But with awareness, robust communication policies, and a supportive environment, we can extinguish these harmful flames. Let’s foster a culture where such psychological games are rendered powerless.

Have you ever experienced gaslighting? How did you handle it? Share your stories and let’s discuss strategies that can empower us all. And remember, the most effective teams are those where every member feels heard, valued, and believed.

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