24 phrases ‘gaslighters’ use against you at work

These word pairings can do a lot of damage to trust and office morale. Make sure you avoid these tell-tale signs of manipulation and coercion, no matter who is in your audience.

If you’ve ever spent time around a gaslighter, you know what they’re capable of.

Gaslighters engage in the manipulation technique of distorting known facts, memories, events and evidence to invalidate a person’s experience. The idea is to make those who disagree with the gaslighter question their ability, memory or sanity. (See it in action in the 1944 movie “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.)

Gaslighters use lies, false promises and personal attacks to make those around them doubt themselves. For example, at a meeting on Tuesday, your boss says, “You can all leave at noon on Friday.” When Friday comes along, your boss indignantly says, “I would never say you could leave early. You weren’t paying attention.”

When it comes to politics, gaslighting is all around us. Gaslighting also occurs in personal relationships, though it is often subtler, but gaslighting in the workplace can be especially destructive—particularly if your boss is the culprit.

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting typically begins gradually, with a snide comment or critical remark disguised as a joke. The gaslighter may then deny having said or done something, tell blatant lies and eventually project his or her bad behavior or traits on you.

The more aware you are of a gaslighter’s techniques, the better you can protect yourself. The following are phrases to look for if you suspect someone is trying to gaslight you.

1. “If you were paying attention…”

2. “If you were listening…”

3. “If you knew how to listen…”

4. “We talked about this. Don’t you remember?”

5. “I guess I’ll have to repeat myself since you can’t remember.”

6. “You need to learn to communicate better.”

7. “You’re being irrational.”

8. “Don’t you think you’re over-reacting?”

9. “You’re just over-sensitive.”

10. “Stop being so sensitive.”

11. “You’re too emotional.”

12. “You can’t take a joke.”

13. “You’re so thin-skinned.”

14. “You always jump to the wrong conclusion.”

15. “Stop taking everything I say so seriously.”

16. “Can you hear yourself?”

17. “I criticize you because I like you.”

18. “You’re the only person I have these problems with.”

19. “You’re reading too much into this.”

20. “I’m not arguing; I’m discussing.”

21. “I know what you’re thinking.”

22. “You should have known that this was not a good time to talk.”

23. “Why are you upset? I was only kidding.”

24. “Why would you think that? What does that say about you?”

What experiences do you have with gaslighting? Are there phrases you would add to the list for conscientious communicators to avoid?

Laura Hale Brockway is a regular contributor to Ragan and PR Daily. Read more of her posts on writing, editing and corporate life at impertinentremarks.com.

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7 Responses to “24 phrases ‘gaslighters’ use against you at work”

    Anonymous says:

    “I’m just giving you a hard time….” “can’t you get anything straight,” ” why can’t you get this straight”, ” you seem to be the only one who keeps doing this,” ” no I told you NEVER to call there, don’t you listen…” (After I followed direction which I wrote out verbatim as they were spoken and was supplied a phone number to use….w explicit directions on when to use it) “youre too young to have these memory problems”….all after accusations which I had to prove had no merit, my proof was either ignored as she walked away or giggled at as she walked away. It’s like a sick game.

    Annonymous says:

    I’m just a few days free from toxic work environment and gaslighting at work place. I was told “you really are very sensitive”, “ you need to develop thick skin”, “nobody quits xxxx” even though two people had quit and it was even a their last day. Work processes changed constantly and several managers and non managers seemed to have authority to critique my work and tell me it was wrong and to do it their way. Then they wouldn’t back me up if I said who told me to change process. I was made to look crazy and incompetent. It only took 4 months to destroy my confidence, my personal life, relationships then eventually my sanity took a toll. The signs were there from the moment I met the controller and HR but I listened to my head and others who said take the job you haven’t got one now. Always pay attention to your gut. Mine is on point but I need to obey it not rationalize or or be realistic.

    John C says:

    I usually confront gas lighters with anger. They are cowards by nature so you have to wait until they are alone, going to car in parking garage or somewhere else ith no cameras (play their games too). Then just come up on them and say “I want to know what you said to me in there and why you said it”

    Then watch them start walking fast and saying cowardly things like “get away” becaus ethey know they wrnged you and they fear they will get beat for it. So they will run and make excuses. In reality all you did was want to talk. But see in a cowards mind they think a beating was what the really deserved and that you were tehre to give it to them. Watch them run. They are 100% cowardly scum.

    Janleigh says:

    Experienced this with someone I worked with and what I would indicate is a typical narc. Working with a narc is seriously hard work, in particular when they are highly manipulative and make themselves out to be excellent workers. They are devious , manipulative dangerous individuals who sometimes go to great lengthes to try to destroy you. I experienced belittling, negative comments, being verbally run down etc and all the other horrible elements of bullying. The only way to handle these people is to understand their mentality which is usually very insecure and fragile. Try not bite back or jump the bait as this will cause more problems. The only way to play a narc is to always retain your inner confidence and never let them fold you. The best way is to not have anything at all to do with them, the safe bet!

    Sean says:

    I did a Supervisor Training Course run by a Psychologist. She kept talking about people who have voices in their head.

    Other phrases said to me are

    He has a good work ethic.
    Everyone knows him.
    The door jams are dirty.
    Email every word in the head.
    We will see about that.
    I hate men with little man syndrome.
    Voices in the head comments in Supervisor Training.
    Why are you the only one in your family with a professional career?
    We know your intelligent.
    He is academic.

    Dee says:

    We’re all on the same team or we need you to help the team when they are asking you to take on two or three additional job responsibilities without any say in the problems that create the shortage and of course the no extra pay. That is by far the most manipulative, gaslighting BS that corporate America shoves down our throats.

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