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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2 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.

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