Editor’s Note: As a fan of writings on organizational effectiveness, today’s post shares extracts from three articles that define and deconstruct challenges associated with gaslighting, a behavior that attempts to destabilize and delegitimize its targets and can have costly consequences in environments ranging from courtrooms to c-suites. Gaslighting challenges are relevant to the discipline of discovery as they can impact investigation, litigation, and business decisions by influencing the decisions of people involved in discovery programs and projects.
Gaslighting in Litigation
Extract from an article by Alyson A. Foster (Published by the American Bar Association)
Everyone says there are two sides to every story. Court is your chance to tell yours. Plenty of people want their “day in court” for, they say, just that purpose. (That is rarely true. Most litigants want what they think is justice, or, in business litigation, to win money or to lose less of it.) As an attorney, it is in fact your job to tell your client’s story in the best way possible and in accordance with the rules of procedure and evidence. Those rules aim to make the storytelling process a fair one, and they roughly work. But the litigation process can be long, and the journey to your client’s day in court requires you, as the attorney, to tell many stories along the way—often without formal rules to govern you or, more importantly, to govern your opposing attorney.
More often than I’d like to admit, I have found myself standing in court dumbfounded by opposing counsel’s recitation of facts and events. As a newer attorney, I often felt uncertain how to respond to these more seasoned attorneys who spoke with such authority. I knew that what they said was not exactly what happened, but they spoke in a way that sounded right. For example, an opposing attorney might tell the court a story about our discovery process and what led to the motion to compel he filed. He tells a story about how I did not return his calls, or refused to cooperate, or took a position that was untenable. And it is not true. But he tells it with such force and calmness, I begin to wonder if I’m wrong, if perhaps I made a mistake and did not conduct the process correctly. There is so much pressure to be right—felt so keenly at all stages of our careers—and so much potential to make a mistake, it becomes easy to doubt ourselves and wonder if we did screw up.
We didn’t screw up. We got gaslit.
Gaslighting as a Manipulation Tactic: What It Is, Who Does It, and Why
Extract from an article by Dr. George Simon, PhD (Published on Counselling Resource)
In a stage play and suspense thriller from the 1930s entitled “Gas Light,” a conniving husband tries to make the wife he wishes to get rid of think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp. In recent years, the term “gaslighting” has come to be applied to attempts by certain kinds of personalities, especially psychopaths — who are among the personalities most adept at sophisticated tactics of manipulation — to create so much doubt in the minds of their targets of exploitation that the victim no longer trusts their own judgment about things and buys into the assertions of the manipulator, thus coming under their power and control.
Gaslighting is just one of the many weapons in the arsenal of personalities hell-bent on having their way, even if it means doing so by subtle and covert means of conning others. One of the most important points I make in all my articles, books, and other writings about the narcissistic and most especially, the aggressive personalities, is that they will do whatever it takes to secure and maintain a position of advantage over others.
Projection: A Gaslighter’s Signature Technique
Extract from an article by Stephanie Sarkis (Published by Forbes)
Whatever the gaslighter/narcissist is or whatever he is doing, he will assign those characteristics or behaviors to you. It’s done almost to comedic effect – if it wasn’t so potentially damaging to your career. At work, your gaslighting/narcissistic boss will write on your performance review that you are always late. However, you are punctual to a fault – it’s your boss who consistently shows up late. Your coworker accuses you of hacking into their laptop – however, you have seen him lurking around your laptop when he thought you couldn’t see him. Your kleptomaniac cubemate is constantly accusing you of stealing things off her desk.
In a relationship, the gaslighter/narcissist will constantly accuse you of cheating. He will check your phone, barrage you with questions when you are 30 minutes late from work, even have you followed. You have given no signs that you are cheating, yet your gaslighting/narcissist partner brings up your supposed cheating all the time. However, as is the case with many gaslighters/narcissists, they are actually are doing the cheating. When you confront the gaslighter/narcissist about his cheating, he turns it around on you and says you are accusing him because you are one really doing the cheating. The gaslighter/narcissist continues his game of projection- now using it as a strategy to deflect from being caught.
Why do gaslighters/narcissists project? In part, it distracts from their own bad behaviors.
- Blue-Sueded? Considerations for Decision Making
- I Me Mine: Two Cogent Commentaries on Credit and Collaboration in the Workplace