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There's always one. Every office or place of business has him: the master manipulator, the one who works harder at ...
There's always one. Every office or place of business has him: the master manipulator, the one who works harder at making himself look good and getting things done his way than actually just doing his job. Some of them are outright aggressive—bullies, even—which makes them easier to spot and deal with. It's the sneaky, underhanded brand of manipulator that we're concerning ourselves with here: the one you're not entirely sure is as bad as you think. But how can you tell? Is it possible you're the office paranoiac (because there's always one of them, too)?
Assuming you don't have a predisposition to thinking other people are taking advantage of you, then it's often OK to trust your instincts. If the boss is on this person's side, sings his praises to the puzzlement of you and your colleagues, that's a warning sign. The manipulator tends to ally himself with the boss, compensating for a lack of effectiveness with an abundance of loyalty. Does he drop subtle hints as to his closeness with your boss? Telling you that he's personally conversed with your supervisor about an issue is less about the surface topic, and more about him leveraging his close relationship with her. Does he make a lot of unnecessary small talk and ask a lot of questions? If you're talking with someone you're not very close to, or even suspect of being up to no good, be wary of conversations that veer away from business. Anything you say can and will be held against you. Does he simultaneously portray himself as busy and under a lot of pressure, and offload tasks onto you or your colleagues? If this very busy person is also finding time for all the silly small talk we just mentioned, that's another red flag.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot that can be proactively done. You can't discuss your suspicions with your boss, who's already on this guy's side. Any concerns you express may just look like proof of whatever he's been saying about you behind your back. The best that can be done is to get a handle on your interactions with him, and to set clear boundaries. Avoid personal conversations, and keep business ones polite and professional. Be as helpful as you can without sacrificing yourself, and, most importantly, don't be afraid to say "No." Often the manipulator only has a perceived position of power, and this is a result of his machinations. On the other hand, if this person is your direct supervisor, it might be time to pack up and go. Some battles aren't winnable, or even worth having.