Manipulative co-workers focus of University of Calgary research

New research from the University of Calgary says we're not very good at recognizing the people who suck up to us and stroke our egos.

Who is taking advantage of you and how to spot them

Workplace manipulators are driven by power and the prospect of climbing the corporate ladder, says the authour of a new U of C study. (Shutterstock/Andresr)

The world is full of manipulative people, but according to a new study from the University of Calgary — we're not very good at spotting them.

At least not in the workplace. 

"You might only think about the person who takes credit for other people's work or name drops all the time. Or maybe sucks up to the boss. But it can also be those unsuspecting behaviours," said Joshua Bourdage, lead author of the study published this week in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

U of C psychologists, Joshua Bourdage, Kibeom Lee and Jocelyn Wiltshire published their study in the Journal of Applied Psychology. (Riley Brandt)

"George Costanza from Seinfeld is a classic example of this. He is constantly showing up early, staying late. Always trying to look like he's working hard, even though he's not," said Bourdage.

The U of C industrial organizational psychologist says workplace manipulators are also power hungry, willing to take advantage of other people and pretend to be weak or needy in order to get someone else to do their work.

"They'll do these behaviours not all the time, but when they think someone is watching or when it's going to be useful to them," Bourdage told The Calgary Eyeopener.

'The most diligent, hardworking, best performers they tend to be targeted by these types of tactics."- Joshua Bourdage, University of Calgary

Sampling about 600 managers and employees under anonymous conditions across North America, Bourdage and his coauthors asked them to be honest about their dishonesty.

They discovered that while we may think we're good at spotting manipulators around the water cooler, we're not.

Joshua Bourdage is the lead authour of the study "Workplace manipulation: Who does it and can we spot it?" (Sam Chow)

"It means that we're mistaking dishonest people as being honest. But we're also mistaking some actually pretty decent people who may not be as socially skilled," said Bourdage. 

We're all guilty of it

Laughing at your boss' bad joke to avoid awkwardness? That's a mild version of workplace manipulation, says Bourdage. But, extreme offenders go one step further by preying on their co-workers for personal gain, he says.

"People who are the most diligent, hardworking, best performers, they tend to be targeted by these types of tactics," said Bourdage.

He adds that you can spot manipulative co-workers if the person is consistent in their behaviour.


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