You've felt their presence at work, even if you never heard them say anything in a public forum. You know they are there, behind the scenes, stirring the pot, getting others to do their dirty work or play their games — pulling the strings of unsuspecting co-workers. They don't want to be seen as the ones publicly criticizing progress or new initiatives, so instead, they make sure others carry the torch for them.
Are they manipulators? Bullies? Possibly both.
Psychological or emotional manipulation involves using underhanded, deceptive and abusive techniques. The manipulative co-worker has mastered the art of aggression disguised as helpfulness, good intentions or working for the good of the firm. They are great at hiding their own motives, while making others look uncooperative, incompetent or self-centered.
Some use positive reinforcement such as superficial sympathy or charm to control others; others may use verbal abuse, explosive anger or other intimidating actions to train their victims not to confront them. Often, they refuse to admit that they did anything wrong or they use rationalization or some spin to make excuses for inappropriate behaviors. They might play dumb and pretend that they don't know what the person is talking about or act surprised or indignant.
The dangers they can cause to a workplace are numerous. Not only can they push talented employees out the door, but they can also pit employees against each other, set employees up for failure and make strained relationships even worse. They can have a tremendous impact on the emotional climate of those around them. When they are upset, everyone is upset, until someone gives in to them and makes them feel better.
Manipulators have a number of motivations for their behavior. Generally, they want to advance their own agendas and individual gains (i.e., gain a powerful position with a fancy title or higher pay.) They want power and they have a deep need to feel superior over others. They also want to always be right and to win, even if it means turning off or alienating others.