The Subtle Art of Boardroom Bullying and Manipulation

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The issue of bullying and manipulation was on my radar this week.  And not the kind of obvious bullying and ganging up that might happen in a school playground as children try to establish themselves and their sense of authority and status, but the more kind of insidious, manipulative, underhand bullying that happens in the Boardroom.

The type of bullying where your aggressor will look you straight in the eye whilst wearing a false smile and convince you that their actions are innocent and done in the name of being helpful or providing constructive feedback.

Behind the 'smiling' eyes of a bully

Behind the ‘smiling’ eyes of a bully

The type of bullying with their every move is designed to undermine your confidence or gain subtle control over you and your actions and what you believe you can or cannot do.

The type of bullying where they seem like nice rational people so surely it must all be in your head.

I was discussing this with a friend and business colleague and looking at why and how these people are able to get away with it, particularly when stories start to surface about where they have pulled the same tactics on others in the past.

“That initial sense of relief is almost palpable”

When you have been on the receiving end of such behaviour and find out that you are not the only one there is the initial rush and sense of relief; “Phew, it’s not all in my head.  They are really are doing the things that I imagined or thought I hallucinated them doing.”

And then there is the sense of disbelief, particularly when you personally know some of their other ‘victims.’

"Why didn't they tell me or warn me . . . . ?"

“Why didn’t they tell me or warn me . . . . ?”

Why didn’t they tell me?

How come if they have been doing this for such a long time, had no one else ever said anything?

Why didn’t they warn me when they saw that I was going to be working in so-called collaboration with this person?

And then you stop.  And you look back at your experience over whatever the period of time has been, and you question yourself:

Did you tell anyone?  No, of course not, because you didn’t want to wrongly tarnish someone else’s character with your wild accusations or crazy hallucinations.

And that is partly how they get away with it.

I personally don’t like to gossip about people or put things into the public domain which might damage their reputation or cause others to think less of them just because I what I have said, and I think that is one of the very things that the corporate and Boardroom bullies rely upon.

“They use their positions of power”

They are also often in a position of authority so there is the underlying sense that even if you did speak up and share your experiences, their position of authority or power might carry more clout and weight than yours; If it was a ‘title fight’ you would come off worse for wear and probably have to be carried damaged and broken out of the corporate or political arena.

So you stand up for yourself and show that you will not be messed with in that way and make it clear that, as my mum used to say: “You didn’t just step off the banana boat yesterday.”

That is sometimes enough to stop them, and free you from their insidious clutches so that you can reclaim and regain your sanity and move on.  But what then of the others?

I say the others, because one of the things that I have noticed during my 11 years working as a Management Consultant, and 14 years as an avid NLP people watcher is that when these manipulators have finished off or released one victim, they often swiftly move onto the next one, and the same old cycle begins to repeat it self.

“It is almost a form of abuse”

I guess in some ways it is not much different to the high profile sex abuse and paedophile cases that have been blowing up all over the press and in Courtrooms of late.

Who is one boy or girl, or half a dozen boys or girls against the voice of someone in authority or a position of power?

It also reminds me of the time I was sort of 99% convinced that an ex-partner was having an affair.  I was so sure I would almost have put money on it, but then, their anger at even the suggestion of it left me recoiling at my terrible character.  Their exasperation at me bringing it up again, and that I needed to sort my insecurities out left increasingly growing pangs of guilt and uncertainty in my mind and lessened the amount of certainty,  which is again what I think these master manipulators play on.

A fork in the road.  Which path will you choose?

A fork in the road - decisions, decisions . . . .

A fork in the road – decisions, decisions . . . .

And even if one does speak up in a corporate setting it can go either way.  The floodgates might open and the ‘me too’ voices echo from every corridor, and the swell of voices uniting together is enough to expose what has been going on.

Or you are alone.  People applaud you for your bravery in speaking up, but they mostly do this in private and you are then left to operate in an uncomfortable position as you sit across the table from your tormentor whenever your paths need to cross.

Or you decide to get out and leave them to it, creating the space for another unsuspecting victim to fill.

I don’t have a right answer for this and am merely at this stage putting it on the Boardroom table for discussion because to raise your voice and be abandoned can be just as devastating as the bullying and manipulation, but to continue trying to operate under such circumstances can be soul destroying, particularly if you haven’t secretly met ‘the others’ from whom you can at least draw support from the knowledge that you are not the only one.

What would I do?

I have what in personal development and NLP terms you call a 3-times convincer so for me, I would probably give them the benefit of the doubt once or twice.  It might then be a conversation in private to voice my observations and perceptions, which I am almost certain would be met with shock and disbelief that I could even think or say such a thing.  It might then come with a warning that I trust that I am wrong and that I will be noting, possibly more publicly, anything that continues to go down in the future.

“It’s good to talk!”

Talking in confidence

Talking in confidence

I would definitely also say that ‘Beattie’ (you have to be of a certain age to get that reference) was right and that it really is good to talk, so I would say find a trusted and objective confidant, colleague or friend that you can at least share your side of things and perception of what is happening.

I say objective because of course your regular friends will side with you, and sometimes, you are in fact the problem, and it is of your own making or in your mind, so someone objective will at least help you see all sides of the scenario and not just come to the table with a one-sided view.

I say trusted, particularly if you choose someone from your place of work, because the last thing you want is whispers over the water cooler if you haven’t quite decided what you want to do.

I have found that when the ‘me too’ chorus starts,  you never know what might then unfold from there.

I would love to hear your feedback, suggestions and comments, so do leave them below, and also free free to share this link: if you know someone who could benefit from reading this post.

Here’s to courageous voices.

Marilyn Devonish



Marilyn Devonish is a Coach, Therapist, Global Thought Leader, Freelance Magazine Writer, Inspirational Speaker, and no nonsense kinda gal.

She is a Certified Master Practitioner and Trainer of NLP, and a Certified Trainer of Hypnosis, and Time Line Therapy, a Certified PhotoReading Instructor, Life and Executive Coach, Angel Tarot Card Reader and Soul Plan Reader.  She is also a Practitioner of Hawaiian Huna, EFT, DNA Theta Healing, EmoTrance, Access Bars, OTH (Opening The Heart), Energetic NLP, and Access Consciousness.

Marilyn is also a Business Graduate, Marketing CIMDipM, Corporate Trainer, Prince2 Project Manager, and Management Consultant.

She specialises in accelerating human potential and organisational performance, helping people clear the emotional baggage that stops them being fully in touch and engaged with their authentic self and life purpose, and has been in daily practice since 2000.




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About the Author:

Marilyn Devonish has been described as the UK equivalent of Oprah Winfrey, Marianne Williamson, Anthony Robbins, a dash of Doreen Virtue, and the trio from Charmed all rolled into one. I (Marilyn Devonish) have admit that was too big of a statement for me to own, but I equally admit that I do like the sound of it and it did make me smile. Marilyn Devonish - Herself since Year 2000.


  1. Paddy Honan  April 2, 2016

    Great article Marilyn. It goes back to basic Serengeti plains psychology. People don’t like to get left out from the herd and these bullies try to build a power over you to show you that they control your inclusion in the group or popularity. An oppressor acts like a virus. They attach themselves and soon get the victim / host thinking ‘how do I have to behave, to be OK here/ keep them sweet ?’ That actually means that the victim is thinking with the mind of the oppressor, not their own. So talking and sharing perspectives will break up that exclusive ‘bully code’ from taking over one’s mind. Ultimately being clear on your values, what you stand for and who inspires you, will eventually get you to stand up and live in your truth.

    Sure you need to be balanced doing it and may lose some people in the process, but who did you lose? Fakers. That’s who you lost. When you step into your truth , some will move away, some will move closer and you will become a truer version of you. ❤️

    • Marilyn Devonish  April 2, 2016

      Paddy thank you so much for your comments and great feedback, and yes, I agree, the bully does definitely tend to get into the mind of the victim, much like a virus, and cause doubt, isolation, even a sense of guilt. I personally found myself checking with people that I knew, trusted, and respected just to make sure that I wasn’t the crazy one. And the old saying: ‘The truth will set you free’ can be very apt and liberating here.

      Reputations, jobs, credibility, and livelihood is often at stake in these types of corporate situations, aka the movie Whistleblower, so it can be really challenging to stand up and speak out, so I always take my hat off to those who have the courage to do it.

      Marilyn x


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