my employee lies to me about things he just said 30 seconds ago

A reader writes:

One of my employees, Paul, lies to me regularly about random things. When questioned, he immediately backtracks and acts like I misunderstood. For example, he will tell me that he completed X, Y, and Z reports, and I will say, “Oh, but I didn’t see your report on Z, will you please resend it?” and then he’ll say “I didn’t do the report on Z.” So I respond with, “But you just said you completed the Z report” and he will respond, “No, I didn’t say that.” Nowadays I usually end the interaction there, because I just don’t have the energy to go in circles arguing about what he did or did not say 30 seconds prior. I have done it on occasion and really pressed him on the things he has said, and it has gone absolutely nowhere. It really confuses me.

I should mention, maybe, that he is almost twice my age. I typically have no issue managing people older than I am, but the way he responds to me sometimes feels patronizing. For example, if I outline a project for him and explain what I would like him to do, he will say, “Oh, very good! Good for you for thinking of that.” So when I question him on things, a lot of the time he’ll answer with “Great question!” and then proceed to lie to me.

He just submitted a major report to me that is riddled with errors. I explained some of the mistakes, and he just gave me a blank look. I told him I would go through it thoroughly and we could discuss each item in detail next week, and he just smiled and said that was fine and he commended me for being thorough.

I have tried also to document some conversations via email, and he will always respond with his rebuttal, which includes things like “there are three sides to every story, and the truth is one.”

It feels like none of this is serious enough to start escalating to written warnings, etc. but I’m getting really frustrated because of the extra amount of time I spend every day coaxing the truth out of him. It is super weird. I don’t know how to handle it.

I wrote back and asked, “When you have pressed him on the lies in the past and it’s gone nowhere, what does that mean exactly? What happens when you’ve pressed him?”

What has happened in the past is he never answers the question, even when it is asked very directly (I think), and I know this is my failure, but I’ve just given up. Here’s an example conversation.

Me: “Hi Paul, did you complete Project X?”
Paul: “Yes.”
Me: “Will you send it to me via email please?”
Paul: “I already did.”
Me: “I don’t see it. Will you send it again?”
Paul: “Well, I’m not done with it yet.”
Me: “Didn’t you just say you completed it?”
Paul: “It is complete but there are a couple of other things I need to do.”
Me: “Okay, so it isn’t complete. Why did you say it was complete when it’s not?”
Paul: “I didn’t say it was, I just said there are three more things I need to do.”
Me: “But when I first asked you, you said it was complete and that you emailed it to me.”
Paul: “I didn’t email it to you because it’s not complete.”
Me: “But why did you say it was complete?”
Paul: “Because it is, I just need to do some additional things.”
Me: “If you still need to do some additional work, it isn’t complete. Why are you saying it is?”
Paul: “I always do my job on time. I am a dependable employee.”
Me: “I didn’t say you weren’t dependable. I am confused about why you said you completed something when you didn’t.”
Paul: “Well, it’s almost complete.”
Me: “Okay. Can you please send it to me before the end of the day?” <<<<< This is where I give up.
Paul: “You know I will, I have great integrity.”
Me: “Okay, thanks. We’ll regroup after you send it to me.”

Maybe this is not “really pressing” the issue but I feel frustrated asking the same thing over and over. I can sense that he is getting frustrated too and I realize he is just not going to give me straight answers (and eventually the conversation turns into how much integrity he says he has and how experienced he is and sometimes it devolves into how he thinks I’m such a great boss and so thorough and he really likes working with me, which I think is his way of attempting to change the subject via flattery). So I end the conversation because it’s not productive. But then the same situation happens again.

Recently he had an issue with a client and the long and short of it is he told this client that he was in a bad mood because the client was asking too much of him. We had this whole conversation with me explaining that this was an inappropriate and unacceptable thing to say to a client, and he still somehow never admitted to saying it and kept blaming the client. E.g.:

Me: “Paul, this was an unacceptable thing to say to a client. Please don’t say it again.”
Paul: “Well, I would never be inappropriate but he was just out of line.”
Me: “Why was he out of line?”
Paul: “He was asking me questions he knew the answer to. I already told him this information.”
Me: “It’s not wrong for a client to ask you questions. Why do you think that’s out of line?”
Paul: “It’s disrespectful. I have a lot of integrity. I am always professional. He was being very unprofessional asking me a question he knew the answer to.”
Me: “It is not unprofessional. Please do not speak to a client this way again.”
Paul: “I never would be unprofessional.”
Me: “Can we agree that you will not say things like this to clients in the future?”
Paul: “I don’t say things like this to clients.”
Me: “Ok. But you did this time, and we agree that it was unprofessional and that you will not do it again. Right?”
Paul: “I will work on my customer service training as you asked.”
Me: “Ok. Thank you.”

Whoa. This is serious enough to start escalating. In fact, it’s far past that point. This guy is flagrantly lying to you! Or if he doesn’t intend to, he’s such a bad communicator that you can’t take anything he says at face value. Either way, that’s a serious problem — so serious that I don’t see how you can keep him in the role if he doesn’t fix it immediately and permanently.

On top of that, he’s also submitting major reports riddled with errors, saying unacceptable things to clients, causing you to spend time every day pulling the truth out of him, and stonewalling you when you try to address any of this. (He’s also being a patronizing ass, but that’s not the biggest issue here.)

I am curious about why none of this feels big enough to you to act on! From the sounds of it, you should be thinking about firing him.

As for how to handle it in the moment, though, you’ve got to stop letting him draw you into whatever game he’s playing. You’re trying to reason him into acknowledging and respecting the truth, and then giving up in bafflement when he doesn’t. When you do that, he’s getting what he wants — he’s getting to rewrite reality. You can’t let that happen.

Ideally the conversations would go more like this:

You: “Hi Paul, did you complete Project X?”
Paul: “Yes.”
You: “Will you send it to me via email please?”
Paul: “I already did.”
You: “I don’t see it. Will you send it again?”
Paul: “Well, I’m not done with it yet.”
You: “Didn’t you just say you completed it?”
Paul: “It is complete but there are a couple of other things I need to do.”
You: “You just told me it was complete when it isn’t. I need to be able to rely on the info you give me to be accurate. Going forward, I need to know you won’t tell me something is complete if you have more to do on it, or say you sent it if you haven’t.”
Paul: “I always do my job on time. I am a dependable employee.”
You: “Right now you’re not being dependable because I can’t depend on what you tell me to be accurate. That’s very serious and I need it to change.”
Paul: “You know, I have great integrity.”
You: “What I need to hear is that you understand and this won’t happen again.”
Paul: (Who knows what he’ll say! Something about integrity, probably.)
You: “Let me know once you’ve emailed the report to me and we’ll take it from there.”

In other words, don’t let him control where the conversation goes. You need to control the agenda, and your agenda is to clearly state when something isn’t acceptable. Definitely don’t agree with him that he’s dependable when he’s not! In fact, it almost doesn’t matter what he says, given how bizarre his responses are; just stick to telling him what you need and how that’s different from what you’re getting.

However, you shouldn’t have more than a couple of conversations like that. If it keeps happening (and frankly, I’d argue you’re already there and you should skip straight to this step), you need to quickly move to a more serious response, whatever that looks like in your organization.  In a lot of organizations that would be a formal improvement plan where you lay out what needs to change and by when, with a clear statement that you will need to let him go at the end of that time if the improvements aren’t made. Include a clear requirement that his answers about projects must be accurate and reliable. If your organization allows you to keep the timeline for seeing improvement short, do — a month, two at most. You’re going to know pretty quickly if he can change this or not. (Prediction: not.)

But also … what is going on with him? Is he deliberating manipulating you to avoid accountability? Is it not deliberate and he’s just an incredibly weird communicator with no regard for the truth? Do his conversations with other people look like this? There’s something creepy about his entire approach — the flagrant lies while smiling at you, the patronizing compliments, the misplaced self-reverence and claims that he has the very traits he just displayed an absence of. I’m getting serious “watch your back in the parking lot after you lay down the law with him” vibes, and I’d want HR and your boss in the loop very early on in this process.

{ 599 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Reminder: Per the commenting rules, please don’t armchair diagnose here (starting a comment with “I don’t want to armchair diagnose” doesn’t exempt you from that rule!).

    Also, if you’re speculating on a fact not in the letter, please include how it would change your advice.

      1. chai latte*

        This is textbook! textbook! gaslighting. It’s not even vague or “I guess I could see how that’s bad…” it’s a very compact and zippy example of what gaslighting is. He lies to you, insisted he didn’t, and slides the conversation over to be about his (self-assessment of) his character, not an action, so that you’re on the defensive.

        Redirect the conversation to the action item you need completed as many times as possible and get ready to fire this dude.

        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          Document, document, document every such interaction with Mr. Integrity; date, time of day and verbatim quotes (write them down ASAP so your memory is fresh). Give formal written warnings (if your company requires this) spelling out the problems with his behavior, the changes you need to see and the consequences for his NOT making those changes. Then follow through on those consequences! (I’d guess that he’ll be out of there within a month if you do this!)

          But DEFINITELY do your documentation due diligence so he’ll have no cause to claim that he didn’t realize what you wanted him to do differently. His vague “lapses” may disappear when he realizes that his job is on the line and he may suddenly become very sharp indeed when recounting how he’s had no written warnings so how could he POSSIBLY have guessed that he was about to be fired? Then it’s your word against his, and that can be very shaky ground when it comes to the legal crunch.

        1. Amaranth*

          This reminds me of the guy who pays with a $20 and confuses the cashier so they get $40 in change.

      2. animaniactoo*

        This is where I am. He is straight up gaslighting. Extremely clearcut case.

        That guy needs to goooooooo.

        I once replied to somebody who was gaslighting me with “So you’re saying that I imagined you doing X?” and when he replied that I had, I said “That is SO insulting.”

        I would go to a similar place with this. “Paul, it is insulting that you’re now telling me you didn’t say something, when it is EXACTLY what you said a minute ago. If you need to clarify something, that is fine. But do not tell me that you did not say exactly what you did say and then expect me to believe you or consider you a reliable and professional person. Reliable and professional people do not do that.”

        1. LTL*

          Honestly the best thing to do with a gaslighter is to not engage. Don’t try to give them a reason why what they did was wrong. Just shut it down. Alison is right that OP should control the conversations and OP is also the one who (hopefully) decides whether this guy gets to stick around. Luckily they’re in a position of power here.

          Don’t fight with the guy. Just tell him “okay, next time I need you to do XYZ”. He can’t manipulate his way out of a PIP and a real possibility of getting fired.

          1. Katrinka*

            This. Someone who’s gaslighting you is absolutely committed to the lie and wants to wear you down until you agree to what they want or start to question your own memory. They will say or do anything to avoid admitting the lie, flat-out denying it, trying to change the subject, talking around it to try to get you to agree with them in some way that they can then twist to mean that you agree they didn’t lie. It can be mentally and emotionally exhausting dealing with it.

            ExH did all of this, and actually questioned my mental health at times. He is a very smart guy but it apparently never occurred to him that there was a reason why I almost always emailed or texted when discussing our divorce and the kids. Being able to prove he was lying to his attorney was the BEST.

          2. I am Jack's Something-or-Other*

            At the height of a very bad weekend traveling together, I followed up with a (former) friend the day after he caused a scene screaming at me in public with many witnesses. He tried to make me feel crazy, claiming it didn’t even happen, that he didn’t even say the things he definitely said, and ‘what does “yelling” even mean anyway?’ Rather than go down that rabbit hole into defining simple terms, I answered, “Whatever you want to call it, THAT behavior doesn’t meet my standards and I am considering not staying in touch with you.” He said, “Ok.” It shut him down completely.

            Like you said, do not engage, don’t waste energy trying to explain why their behavior is wrong. I don’t need his agreement or understanding. Simply: X is what happened, and Y will be the consequence if it continues.

          3. Medusa*

            In my experience, if you push the gaslighter on the lie, the next step is stonewalling or derailing.

      3. NerdyKris*

        I wouldn’t call this gaslighting. He changes course when called on the lie. Gaslighting involves sticking with the lie and making the other person doubt what they know. He’s just saying whatever he thinks LW needs to hear in the moment.

        1. animaniactoo*

          When he insists that he didn’t say what the LW heard him say, that is gaslighting. It is sticking with THAT lie.

          The saying whatever he thinks LW needs to hear is the part where he’s explaining what he meant by what he said… that he says he didn’t say.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Additionally it’s, really rather close to what the guy I eventually fired tried to pull.

            “But I didn’t intend to lie, therefore it’s not a lie”
            “But I didn’t intend to harass X therefore it’s not harassment, it’s a misunderstanding”
            “But my intent wasn’t to abuse. Therefore you can’t say it’s abuse”.
            “But I don’t intend to gaslight people, therefore it’s not gaslighting”

            It’s exactly that kind of ‘but the intent matters’ stuff that had me questioning my own brain in the past. And it really doesn’t matter what words are used to describe this ultimately – it’s wrong and has to stop.

            1. Rainy*

              Yeah. I think part of why the LW keeps saying “this doesn’t feel big enough to act on” is that LW is getting frustrated and Jerkface stays super calm while he lies to her face, and that injects a presumption of “rightness” for Jerkface because he’s the “less emotional” one, and there’s often a hidden presumption of rightness in being able to be less emotional about something.

            2. Caroline Bowman*

              This kind of thing winds me up intensely. ”I didn’t mean to crash your car, it was an accident. Therefore you have zero right to be even slightly upset about it.” Um, wait, no…

              Just no.

        2. Wendy*

          This feels like talking to a toddler. You have to SAY “you lied,” directly, to their face. So pulling from the convo above:

          You: “Hi Paul, did you complete Project X?”
          Paul: “Yes.”
          You: “Will you send it to me via email please?”
          Paul: “I already did.”
          You: “I don’t see it. Will you send it again?”
          Paul: “Well, I’m not done with it yet.”
          You: “Didn’t you just say you completed it?”
          Paul: “It is complete but there are a couple of other things I need to do.”
          You: “You just told me it was complete when it isn’t. That is a lie. YOU LIED TO ME. I need you to stop doing that, because it makes you less dependable and I can’t trust what you tell me.”
          Paul: “I always do my job on time. I am a dependable employee.”
          You: “Telling me you completed it was a lie, and telling me you emailed it to me was another lie. I know you understand what the word ‘completed’ means. I need you to ACTUALLY complete it now, today, and email it to me by [whatever time]. I will also be making a note of this conversation, because if we have to have another talk about you lying to me like this again, there will be consequences.”

          1. Ellie*

            Yes, name the behaviour. As I read the response to the letter, in my head I was screaming, ‘call him a liar – that’s what he is.’ Truth is the best defense against this kind of BS, just cut right through it and see what happens. With any luck, he’ll go off into an angry tirade and you’ll have an excuse to fire him.

            Don’t feel trapped into continuing the conversation until you get agreement either, OP, with some people, you will never get it. Tell him, ‘this conversation is over – just think over what I’ve said’, and walk away. He’ll look like an idiot if he calls after you.

        3. Marthooh*

          Yeah, no, if he wanted to say whatever OP wants to hear, he’d be all “Absolutely, boss, I’ll get right on it!” As it is, the pattern seems to be: 1. blatant lie, 2. sidestep to less blatant b.s., 3. move smoothly along to a forthright declaration of his own virtue. He keeps doing the Gaslight Tango because he keeps getting away with it.

        4. LTL*

          The thing that has me hesitating with calling is gaslighting is that he hasn’t put it on OP (e.g. “your question should have been clearer” “you misinterpreted me” “stop accusing me of not being dependable”). So I’m not sure if gaslighting applies here.

          The employee is 100% being manipulative though.

          1. Medusa*

            You don’t need to put it on someone for it to be gaslighting. He’s denying something that she witnessed.

          2. Boof*

            I suppose gaslighting technically should be intentional crazymaking (if we’re referencing the movie / the most extreme form of this type of abuse), and it’s hard to say if the employee is doing this intentionally to make LW doubt their sanity, or because they just like to skate and throw out whatever sounds good at the time regardless of bearing on reality; my guess is the latter; but it doesn’t matter that much. Seems like they are very happy doing a sloppy job and having lw clean up after them, and trying to maintain that as the status quo

          1. IndustriousLabRat*

            I just spit water on my keyboard. Also, EXCELLENT username. Everybody to the limit!!!

      4. Teapot Librarian*

        Seriously. This is exactly like one of my employees who I regularly complained about during Friday open threads while I still had that job. I want to commend OP for pushing back as much as they have. I would get frustrated about halfway through an exchange like those described here. Unfortunately, even though my bosses and their deputies all agreed that my employee was terrible, they never let me discipline him or engage in performance improvement.
        I would make one change to Alison’s script though. Where Alison says “let me know once you’ve emailed…” that leaves a hole as large as a truck for the employee to avoid sending the report. I needed to say to my employee “send me the report by the time you leave the office today” or another clear deadline, or I wouldn’t be able to hold him accountable when he just didn’t send it.

      5. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        This guy sounds like a real piece of work. I agree with Alison that it would be perfectly okay for you to go straight to a more serious response.

      6. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

        Gaslighting at work! Have we seen that in a letter before? Anyway, yes. This is a perfect example of it and I really think he should be fired-it’s clearly not going to stop. He’s lying and trying to make you think he’s not lying. In fact, you’re lying and you him an apology-that’s next, right? Just fire him and make him someone else’s problem.

      7. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I felt like I was reading a transcript of some Kellyanne Conway evasion techniques.

        1. Min*

          This dude is not only a bad employee, but he’s clearly getting off on his little lying power trip. OP is not somebody he thinks deserves his respect, but he can’t or won’t say it outright, so he gaslights OP instead.

        1. banoffee pie*

          yep gaslighting, and also trying to exhaust you by being so difficult to work with that you just give up (maybe that’s part of the gaslighting??)

      8. OhNoYouDidn't*

        If one looked up “gaslighting” in the dictionary, all one would see is this guys picture.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Why can’t you just get to firing this guy? I stopped reading the litany of BS because it was so clear there is nothing worth keeping about him.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I once worked with a guy exactly like this – the reason he wasn’t gone was pure nepotism (his nephew was some really big muckety-muck at corporate). When nephew left for a different job, my copy of this guy was gone three weeks later.

        Oh, and he was never left alone with clients – it was just never going to happen, and he was convinced it was because he was “training us” on how to conduct business with the clients….

      2. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, it was so exhausting just reading the conversation that I couldn’t get through it all. It must be draining to directly interact with him. He’s an emotional vampire.

      3. Nethwen*

        In my case, the person was in multiple protected classes, so legal advice was to not fire them until there was a more serious problem.

    2. Thrive*

      I have witnessed a manager in an adjacent department deal (unsuccessfully) with a person like this. Unfortunately, said manager was drowning in work and left soon, and no one else cared enough to implement a PIP so ‘Paul’ continued to skate by. I’ll be avidly reading the comments on this one, because I want ideas on this in case I ever have an instance of this as a manager.

      1. The Starsong Princess*

        I think Paul used to work for me. Here’s the thing with my Paul – he didn’t like the job he was in, he couldn’t really do it, he didn’t want to report to me and he had been getting away with his crap for a very long time. It got to the point where he would say he completed something and I would type it in my notes that we could both see so he couldn’t bs about it. I increasingly was pinning him down on things which made him very uncomfortable. I put him on a pip and he was transferred and forcibly retired about six months later. No happy ending.

        1. Boof*

          He’s out of circulation / not able to continue those tricks, sounds line a reasonable ending to me

    3. SarahKay*

      He really does. Even before OP gave us the sample conversation my response was “Woah! Written, written, and then just fire him already!”

    4. Snow Globe*

      Alison asked the question of whether this guy is doing the same thing to others. I’d bet any amount of money that is what happened with the customer. “Paul: “He was asking me questions he knew the answer to. I already told him this information.” Translation: Paul’s story to the customer changed, and the customer started asking more questions about it. I’d recommend that the LW follow up with the customer about that.

      But, yes, he needs to be fired.

      1. Cormorannt*

        Yup. That what I thought as well. The customer pressed him, as they have every right to, and Paul reacted badly and inappropriately. I agree that the LW should follow up with the customer, and let the customer know that someone else will be taking over their account. This is bad bad bad bad bad. He’s doing this with his manager (for sure) and customers (almost certainly). I doubt this is coachable, its likely such and ingrained habit or coping mechanism that he cannot change it without significant help. My ex-husband was a lot like this and it was because he had a deeply pathological fear of being blamed for anything, even the most minor things. While I have sympathy, it’s not workable to rely on someone like that in either a work or personal context.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          For some reason, being gaslighted or BSed just infuriates me. If I were the customer getting that kind of treatment for Paul, there’s a very good chance I would simply cut ties with that business without even bothering to complain to his manager.

          There’s only a couple of materials my business can’t source elsewhere at the drop of a hat…

    5. PolarVortex*

      The LW’s tolerance for this guy’s problems is just mindboggling. Agreed, either he’d be fired or depending on the company I worked for (who weren’t known for firing always) demoted into a roll that a high school intern could do.

      LW: I could be wrong but it seems like you’re not feeling confident to shut him down when he continues to (gaslight!) tell you he never said what you clearly heard him say. If that’s the case, maybe also start having all these conversations via chat/email where you can literally scroll up and point it out to him. It’s only a temporary solution thought, you need to both 1) get a handle on this dude’s problems and 2) recalibrate both what you consider a problem and how you handle that as a manager.

      FWIW: In my years managing people in customer support, I’d allow zero excuses in a situation like that. All my employees knew that if there was a problem with a customer, they could escalate to me and I’d handle it. If they chose instead to be a butt to the client, they’d not only have had a long conversation with me about appropriate behavior, I’d be reviewing their work more than ever because it would mean they were not operating with “integrity”, they’re operating like a child.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Had this happen to me (see further down for tale). It wasn’t so much that I tolerated his behaviour – it was more that I a) couldn’t really pinpoint anything especially egregious (until he really went off the rails) and b) he had me questioning my own perceptions!

        1. PolarVortex*

          Ah the lobster approach, where you don’t realize it’s boiling because it’s always been “fine but maybe a little hot” when asked about the water.

          1. Charlief*

            I hate to be the gender person here- but women and girls are socialised to doubt their own eyes from an early age. If someone is awful to you authority figures will ask you if you are sure it happened like that, you must have misheard or they didn’t mean it.I’ve noticed men are really happy to just be like ‘no it didn’t happen like that’ and just shut it down…

      2. OP*

        Thank you for this feedback. I have felt frustrated because when I push back on him it always goes in circles, so you’re right, I have not been confident in standing firm and not accepting his alternate interpretations of reality.

        The customer service example I gave was a batshit insane situation. I couldn’t even write out all of the ridiculous details. I cannot fathom why he thought his line of reasoning was appropriate.

        1. Cyclopath*

          He did not think it was appropriate. It has been, in the past, a very successful way for him to not do his work and not have consequences. He doesn’t care what’s appropriate. He cares about not doing his work, and getting away with not doing his work.

          At first I thought all the “I am reliable, I am on time” crap was because he needed to hear that. But actually I think he’s saying that because it works on you (and others). It brainwashes you and puts you in a circular conversation. Next time say “That’s not relevant. You lied to me.”

          1. Ellie*

            Oh I don’t know… he could have a personality disorder, or an ingrained habit to lie when cornered. Ultimately it doesn’t matter why he’s doing it, if its a deliberate attempt to manipulate, or if its done unconsciously, you can’t work with someone like that. You just need to be very blunt and honest in the way you deal with him, and if he goes off on a tangent, walk away. But I’d move straight to a PIP- he’s a terrible communicator, he misses deadlines, he makes errors and annoys clients. There should be plenty of things to write him up for.

    6. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I’m amazed that the letters “FTMFA” haven’t appeared in the comments yet.

      Cause…yeah. That’s kind of what needs to happen here (with whatever process needs to happen first).

    7. TrainerGirl*

      WOW. This guy has applied duckboy tendencies to the workplace. OP, please feel free to fire at will. SMH

    8. allathian*

      Oh, I fully agree. He needs to be fired. Working with him sounds absolutely exhausting, and managing him must be worse…

  2. Dust Bunny*

    This feels, from personal experience, unfortunately, like an avoidant strategy–he doesn’t want to tell you it’s not finished but when you ask him about it and he’s actually not finished, he can’t say anything else. I used to do this when I was a kid and struggling with schoolwork.

    But I was in like fourth grade. This is juvenile and it’s time to find a better way to deal.

    (Or, yes, maybe he’s just manipulative and hopes that if he runs you in circles you’ll give up and get off his case. Either way, it’s absurd and it’s well past time to call him out.)

    1. DrSalty*

      This is what I thought. The generous interpretation, I think. Regardless though, this dude needs to be a PIP like yesterday. Pro tip: people who say “I have great integrity” usually do not have that!

      1. Alex*

        My “I Have Great Integrity” t-shirt has people asking a lot of questions that are already answered by the shirt.

        1. redflagday701*

          This is one of my favorite joke formats of recent years, and I thank you from the deepest part of my heart for dropping it here.

        2. Editor*

          “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted the spoons.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

          If I could give the OP a “motivational” poster with this quote on it for their office, I would. Not sure what the art would look like, though.

      2. T. Boone Pickens*

        I was getting some serious, “I’m just a professional” from the movie ‘Man On Fire’ with this. For those who haven’t seen the movie, the people who say the line are corrupt police officers who are involved in kidnapping and lots of other general nastiness.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, it’s still a problem whether it’s manipulation or anxiety, and it still needs to be stopped.

    2. Blarg*

      I agree. This felt child like … and profoundly frustrating and exhausting to deal with.

      I used to lie about whether I put my contacts in. Despite this being … rather easy to confirm. I stopped by the time I was 12 or 13.

      I’d think OP should maybe be a lot more direct and start with the desired end result. Like, “I need the completed and edited Project X report by COB.” And then “it’s done” can be “great, send it.” And “I already sent it” can be “please reforward the email where you sent it, as I didn’t receive it and I want to check with IT.” It isn’t great for coaching and actually seeing how he is doing, but can maybe stop some of the circular stuff when you do have a specific need.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I agree. This felt child like … and profoundly frustrating and exhausting to deal with.

        This was exhausting to *read.* Actually dealing with it sounds more like torture than exhausting.

        1. Empress Matilda*

          Seriously. I can’t imagine how OP has any time for the rest of her job, if she has to spend half her day on conversations with Paul, and the other half either recovering from the conversations or redoing his work. Makes me want to lie down with an ice pack and some Advil, just from reading about it.

          OP, I hope you can fire this guy soon. Preferably from a cannon, into the sun. Yeeeesh, some people!

          1. Teapot Librarian*

            As someone who “managed” a Paul, I can say with certainty that you are right: I spent an inordinate amount of time on conversations with my Paul, documenting those conversations, and then emotionally recovering from those conversations. I didn’t realize until after I was fired (for not being able to get anything done, since I wasn’t allowed to actually manage my Paul? no reason was actually given) how much that stress was affecting me.

            1. winter*

              I was allowed to fire my Paul, quite fast even, and it is still SO exhausting and infuriating. Cannot imagine how tedious it was for you and is for the LW.

    3. fposte*

      I worked with somebody like that, though there was also an element of emotional truth. He would tell me a task that needed to be handed over to me was done when I asked; then when I asked for the handover, he’d tell me he still needed to do X, Y, and Z. X, Y, and Z were often small finishing-up things, so I could kind of get feeling like the thing was done, but it didn’t help me get the thing.

      1. Nicotena*

        I’ve probably done this. But OP also says he initially said it was done and he’d emailed it to her, which is next-level fudging.

        1. Coder von Frankenstein*

          Exactly. You can waffle on the definition of “done,” but “I sent you the e-mail” admits no such wiggle room. That e-mail was either sent or it wasn’t. If he says it was, and it wasn’t, that is lying, full stop.

          1. Teapot Librarian*

            My Paul: “I sent you the email.”
            Me: “Huh, I didn’t get it. Could you resend it, please?”
            My Paul, some amount of time later: “Oh, it was still in my drafts folder.”

            1. pleaset cheap rolls*

              Yeah. This is possible and not that rare. If it happens frequently, he’s either lying (need to be fired) or incompetent and should be warned he must improve.

            2. Coder von Frankenstein*

              Yes, but Paul is not claiming a mistake of this kind–he’s saying that he sent the e-mail, and later *in the very same conversation* saying that he did not send the e-mail because there were still a few things to take care of.

              These are flatly contradictory statements.

              1. Nanani*

                This might have worked decades ago when “it’s on your desk” could be followed “Oh here it is on the floor/under the other thing” when -actually- finished later on.
                Still gaslighting garbage but like, less stupid than lying about emails. Which have timestamps.

                1. GreenDoor*

                  I have a staffer who manages to do this digitally. It’s “done”…. just oops! He “forgot” to move it from his personal drive onto the shared drive. Or “whoopsie!” he was corresponding with the client using his individual email address, not the shared office email account that the rest of his teammates can see. So when he “just can’t figure out” where the draft went, it’s impossible for his teammates to help him hunt in the shared accounts. Aaaand then, well, he gets to start over essentially buying himself more time. (It’s all being documented….including all the emails where I say “We have talked about this before. You need to do this work in the shared account.” )

                2. Sleeve McQueen*

                  And let’s not forget the entire Outlook repertoire which includes such timeless hits as “It was still in draft folder”, “I must have closed Outlook before it finished sending ” and “I CC’d You On It, It must be an IT problem (that causes yours and only your email address to drop off”

              2. LC*

                Yeah, that part takes it well beyond “employee who can’t deal with accountability so lies to cover his tracks.”

                I feel for OP so hard. If I were having a conversation with someone who (consistently!) said they didn’t say something that they said literally 30 seconds ago, I would have absolutely no idea how to respond to that.

                And depending on how it was said, I could easily see doubting my own memory/comprehension ability. Like if after saying X then saying that he said Y, not X, he did a faux-concerned “Are you okay?” thing with the attitdue of “Of course I said Y initially, I have no idea why you heard something that I didn’t say, I am now worried that something is wrong with you.”

          2. Hannah Lee*

            I had a very blunt manager once, who when talking with an employee who was pulling a Paul, got to the “I sent it” “well I didn’t receive it” part of the conversation and stopped, stood up, an announced “ ok then, I’ll follow you to your desk, you can pull up the email from your Sent Items folder and we can review the report TOGETHER. Right Now.
            Paul actually got as far as opening his email app at his desk before admitting he actually hadn’t sent anything. And was gone within a month.

            That manager did not suffer fools or liars. I never saw him lose his temper but he did not back down. There was one meeting when someone was giving him double talk about something, boss asked his question again, something like “did you XYZ?” The guy starting double talking again and boss stared at him across the conference table and said “that was a yes or no question” with such calm but assertive authority that the guy was immediately struck silent and leaned back so far in his chair (like instinctively trying to avoid boss and the direct question) that he fell over backwards, effectively ending the meeting and hopes of his proposal going anywhere.

            It was both a thing of beauty and kind of terrifying.

    4. ThatGirl*

      I agree with you, although whether it’s purposeful manipulation, avoidance to try to save face or dementia doesn’t really matter – the end result is the same.

      1. Dust Bunny*


        It was a bad and very unproductive habit when I was a kid.

        Also . . . I was a kid. You’re supposed to learn better coping mechanisms.

      2. Nicotena*

        I agree with this, the end result is the same – this person almost certainly needs to be fired. But there is a bit of a difference if OP comes away from the comment section thinking “this person is a malicious narcissist who is doing this For the Lulz” and gets security to like, perp-walk this guy out because she fears he’s a threat to her – versus if OP hears it could also be a symptom of something and realizes he’s been declining over time, in which case she may consider severance, disability etc. I don’t have the answers but I’m glad both sides were at least raised once.

        1. Observer*

          in which case she may consider severance, disability etc

          I don’t think that the OP is in any position to consider any of this. The OP should try to act with compassion to the extent possible, but unless the kind of direct language Alison recommends has an IMMEDIATE and COMPLETE effect, as in this guy stops doing this stuff, he needs to be fired. And unless he actually acknowledges that he has a problem, brings up illness etc. AND makes a CREDIBLE commitment to not do any damage, the OP may pretty much need to disable this guy’s access the day he gets fired. Even if he manages to prove that this is a result of some illness.

          *IF* he brings up illness, then the OP or their employer should consider severance and should not fight him on disability and unemployment insurance. But keeping him on is not viable, nor does the ADA or moral consideration require it.

          1. BubbleTea*

            Even if this is being caused by a disability or illness, if he can’t stop blatantly lying about whether work has been done, he can’t do the job. There is no way that allowing Paul to keep lying would be a reasonable accommodation.

        2. Coder von Frankenstein*

          As far as disability and the like are concerned, Paul is the one who would need to initiate that conversation. OP is (I assume) no more qualified than we are to armchair diagnose, and should not try.

    5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yes, this is a person who doesn’t have emotional maturity. The way around it, knowing that he probably CAN’T tell the truth (this would be something for a therapist to unpack) is to stop ASKING. Make declarative statements only and stop engaging in the back and forth to catch his lies or try to get him to admit anything: “Paul, I haven’t received the TPS report. Please email that by 4:45 pm.” “Paul you were rude to a customer; here is a write up of what happened. You will need to go through this online training course. Have it completed by Friday or you will be sent home unpaid until it’s finished.”

      Don’t ask questions when you know you won’t get the answers you want/need.

      1. Thunderingly*

        Yes, this is what I was thinking, because it’s the same advice given to parents for when their child lies!

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Mmm, I like this. Don’t ask him if it’s done, or why he was rude. It only gives him the opportunity to lie and argue.

      3. George Sherman*

        Soccer refs are taught to interact with coaches in a: Ask, Tell, Remove.

        Ask the coach to shut up.
        Tell the coach to shut up.
        Remove the coach to shut them up.

        OP, you are at Tell if not Remove stage of life.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Soccer refs are taught to interact with coaches in a: Ask, Tell, Remove.

          Ask the coach to shut up.
          Tell the coach to shut up.
          Remove the coach to shut them up.

          OP, you are at Tell if not Remove stage of life.

          That’s sage advice. I wish someone had given it to me 25 years ago about hockey coaches.

        2. Irish girl*

          It surprising how much I use the skills in managing a soccer game in real life… Ask, Tell, Remove can be used in so many ways. I wish i could use yellow cards and red cards in real life

    6. Dust Bunny*

      I dated a guy for awhile who was nice and had genuinely good intentions, but he was also such a doormat that as soon as somebody got their hackles up even a little bit, he’d fold like a lawn chair. I realized that I would never be able to trust him, not because he was dishonest but because he didn’t have the mental or emotional fortitude to stand up for himself, even in small situations or when he was undeniably in the right.

      I was OK with raising his kid, but I was not in the market to raise him, and I did not want to have to be Bad Cop for the next 45 years because he couldn’t get his act together on his own behalf.

      Sometimes you just have to dump someone, personally or professionally.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Ohhhh my mom was like that. I would bring an issue to Mom, discuss it with her, she’d assure me my plan was reasonable and I had her support…. and then the second another adult challenged me she’d take their side. Even if what the adult was doing was factually incorrect, unjust, unethical and/or abusive.

        Unfortunately, this behavior had some really negative long-lasting impacts on me mentally – I’m in my 30’s and still trying to get over it. I’m really glad to hear you dumped him both for your sake and your kid’s.

    7. Gothic Bee*

      It’s definitely about avoidance. I had a previous boss who would do this kind of thing, and it was always because they were afraid of being blamed for something. Anytime they were questioned on something, they’d just add in an explanation or context or something to the point where it ended up being a very circular conversation like what the LW is experiencing. From what I saw, being very straightforward and not letting them steer the conversation helps. Though I agree with people saying you could move in the direction of letting this dude go if there’s no improvement.

    8. Batgirl*

      Most people grow out of “get out of trouble” lying by the end of high school. This sounds so frustrating I would go straight to firing if I could, but I would want to say at least once that: “Contradicting yourself is not integrity”.

      1. CatMintCat*

        I felt it coming back where I worked for a very toxic boss – nothing I could do was right, I was always in trouble, and sometimes self-preservation kicked in.

        I got out of there and beat the tendency out of myself pretty fast.

    9. Kate R*

      Agree completely. I worked with a guy who did this at a previous position, and the heart of the matter was that he was really overwhelmed by the job and didn’t know how to do a lot, but also didn’t want to own up to it. I even overheard him ask another colleague to lie about his part on a project so that colleague #1 wouldn’t get in trouble for not doing his part (and then of course he got really angry when colleague #2 refused to do that). Like Alison, I was baffled as to why OP thought it wasn’t serious enough to escalate unless the final results are in fact suitable enough that OP feels like, “well, he’s getting his work done eventually.” But the lying in conjunction with the performance issues OP mentioned seem REALLY serious to me, and I’d be questioning whether he’s worth keeping on.

      1. Properlike*

        I was on the receiving end of this strategy with college student work — we had set project deadlines, and one student in particular always claimed to send something, and when I opened the document that only had two lines (instead of 20 pages), that gave them the opportunity to say, “Oops, wrong file, let me investigate that and turn it in [later.]” And then I’d get maybe 10 pages and a “computer problems” or “finishing up this last thing” because they “didn’t want to send me something with typos” and I was a great professsor, they were learning so much, etc. etc.

        Unfortunately for this student, my BS detector is well-tuned from years in the lying business and working with students (and having kids of my own). I give a first chance but not a second. After the second “wrong file” on the first assignment, I just laid down the law and said, “If the assignment does not arrive complete and proofread by the date and time on the syllabus, it is not turned in and you will get a zero no matter what’s attached.” But I also followed it up with a personal talk with the student, where they contradicted themselves left and right. The key, as others have mentioned, is not to give them an opportunity to lie, and not to let them pretend their “facts” are real or you are somehow making a mistake. For this particular student, we went straight to, “I notice your work is not arriving on time, it’s not complete. I suspect you have other commitments that prevent you from getting your work done for this class. Your grade is currently an F, the rest of your work will have to be turned in complete and on time to even have a crack at a C, so do you wish to continue with this course or withdraw? They tried to bargain their way out and I kept bringing it back to “these are your options, you decide which one you want.”

        Don’t forget that you have the power here. Don’t let him think you forgot it either.

    10. Cobol*

      I work with somebody exactly like this (including age, male, patronizing, etc. (I’m male which matters a bit here)). For him I’ve realized he’s always been a subpar employee, but came of age in a time when measurement/accountability was much harder (and honestly it was harder to replace somebody because you hired somebody by putting a job in the classifieds).

      I don’t know if this changes the advice. Really just document and get rid of him.

    11. I'd Rather be Eating Dumplings.*

      Yeah, this reminds me of how I answered my Mom’s probing when I was 8.

    12. kicking_k*

      I had to work with a programmer like this once. He did not want to tell you anything that wasn’t what he thought you wanted to hear. So he would tell you that the bug was fixed, the testing was complete, and then backpedal wildly when you discovered these things weren’t the case. It was absolutely maddening.

      I was a younger, female non-programmer and I suspect that he thought he could get away with talking nonsense to me because I wouldn’t really know what he was talking about.

      Unfortunately my department had no real power to make his manager take this seriously. Eventually he did leave.

    13. MissDisplaced*

      Right. Like he is afraid to say he isn’t done, or that he can only send a draft because he has more to do on it.
      Trying to people-please, in some ways, but when caught, digs in more. It’s very weird and passive-aggressive.

      I have to confess though that one of my managers is somewhat like this when I actually do send a DRAFT that is clearly marked as being a draft. It’s like he thinks it should all be 100% finished, but yet he still wants very much to give his input and make changes so sometimes the graphics are still rough or low-res until he reviews it.

    14. Liz T*

      I don’t think that’s an “or.” He hopes that if he runs OP in circles they’ll give up and get off his case. The reason he didn’t finish the report isn’t relevant or something we can discern.

    15. Been there*

      This sounds like me when I was completely failing at a job. Fortunately, my boss and I were able to find a face-saving way for me to quit and move on.

    16. OP*

      I think this is it, really. He is a veteran and often talks about his time in the army. He has specifically said his military training prepared him for the corporate world and gave him integrity (of course). When I ask questions, I think his “yes” answers are reflexive, because I outrank him (he has said in the past that rank is very important to him). It’s only after I probe or ask clarifying questions that the truth (or something closer to the truth) emerges. It’s really hard for me to tell if he’s intentionally trying to manipulate me or if he just feels, because of his military training, that he needs to be deferential and answer “yes” no matter what the question is. He doesn’t want to tell me things aren’t done, and he certainly will never take the blame for something (that’s a whole other thing), so it’s either “yes” or silence.

      Anyway it doesn’t matter what his reasoning is, really, but I felt compelled to respond because I do think this comment hits the nail on the head.

  3. FD*

    LW, I imagine part of the reason this situation feels bizarre and hard to handle is that in a normal conversation, it’s possible to misunderstand something a person just said, so it feels unnatural/mean to insist that you didn’t misunderstand. But this is WAY beyond that! And he’d doing this with you as his boss–what must he be like to work with as the other coworkers?

    His behavior is not OK and you need to get him on a PIP now. Also, his MO appears to rely on making you doubt yourself, but you have to hold your ground on this one. Document, document, document. And please update us!

    1. Paris Geller*

      I think this is an important point! I can see how in the moment, each individual interaction doesn’t feel like enough to to push back on (except for things like the rude comment to the client), because most of us will have honest misunderstandings with coworkers and bosses at some point about tasks over the course of our working life, though hopefully they will be few and far between. On the surface, I can see how some of these look like legitimate misunderstandings, but the OP has identified a pattern and now it’s time to take appropriate action to remedy the situation.

      1. FD*

        Exactly! I mean, in isolation, I know that I’ve definitely said things in an unclear way and had to walk back and clarify what I was trying to say but this is WAY beyond that point. However, most social conventions assume that the people are trying to communicate clearly, and that…doesn’t seem to be the case here for whatever reason.

        1. Sleeve McQueen*

          I’ve actually had to tell someone “these things happen, but they seem to happen with you far more regularly than most people. Either you’re saying that because you don’t want to admit it you haven’t done it or you are not taking the appropriate care on this.”

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    In the words of Dan Savage – DTMFA

    Paul is an unreliable jerk and he’s trying to gaslight you. Get rid of him and hire someone competent.

        1. Observer*

          Does that even matter? It doesn’t make anything better. In fact, to the extent that it’s relevant, that would make it worse.

      1. Fitz*

        I’ve dealt with someone like this before (though I didn’t supervise them, thank god) and I get how obvious it seems that this should be escalated. But it’s hard for me to articulate how absolutely confusing and unreal this behavior is to deal with in the moment. That’s why it works – it’s so far beyond social norms that it’s easy to start questioning yourself rather than believe someone is outright lying about something they said 30 SECONDS AGO. I have so much sympathy for OP!

        1. KHB*

          Agreed. As social animals, we have a strong tendency to want to believe we’re being told the truth – and if not “the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” at least something with a kernel of truth, or something that the other person believes is the truth. It’s often hard to process flat-out lies, and so flat-out liars can exploit that tendency to get away with quite a lot.

          Also, the thing about manipulative people is that they manipulate you – and that includes manipulating you into thinking that you’re not being manipulated. So I can understand how OP might not have recognized how bad this is.

        2. Gothic Bee*

          The person I knew who did this type of thing had a tendency to amplify the confusion by preferring spontaneous conversation over an email or meeting request. They also tended to just jump into things mid-conversation and avoid giving context for things until you pried it out of them, so they were already catching you off guard and making the situation confusing. To this day I’m unsure if they did all that because they were intentionally manipulative, or if they were just that incredibly scatter-brained and therefore the deny-what-I-just-said tactic actually worked for them in a way that it wouldn’t for most people.

          1. Who is the asshole*

            Exactly! Skilled people (skilled in manipulation) usually catch you off-guard in several ways that social convention usually stops you from questioning. When you take a step back and start to counteract their manipulation you notice how much they’re doing to keep you questioning. And it really really doesn’t matter what motivates them. stand your ground or, better, distance yourself.

        3. Littorally*

          Same. Particularly in verbal conversations, where this thing most often happens, the sense of unreality can be intense. Like, did I actually hear what I just heard? Maybe I made it up? There’s nothing to refer back to, unless you’re pulling a Nixon and taping everything.

          I would suggest having more email conversations with this guy, to enforce your own sense of reality if nothing else.

        4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          True. The guy I used to manage who did this had me convinced that I really was just misunderstanding him because honestly I’d never encountered someone so….slippery before. Nothing was his fault.

          His last, major, act (which involved attacking another member of staff) was in front of me and while he was busy denying it I remember freezing in just brain shutdown mode. I mean, I’d seen it and I just had no frame of reference for that level of lies.

          (But yes, he was fired for that. He tried the whole time to make out that it wasn’t his fault)

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I also think Paul enjoys messing with you (and others, who knows) and wasting your time.

    These are time wasting conversations that are entirely his fault.

    AAM is right. When he starts, don’t let him control the narrative or conversation. He’s filling the conservation with ever-changing BS to cover up his incompetence or laziness or whatever. He’s trying to trip you up.

    P.S. and I thought I won for most assinine work conversation. You get a gold medal!

    1. Nicotena*

      I wondered if Paul was having a mental health symptom, rather than doing this maliciously as others have suggested. His short term memory may be shot, or who knows. I don’t think it changes Alison’s advice though, OP needs to hold him accountable and ultimately may have to part ways, but I would wonder about disability protection and if I should suggest a physical or something.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        If his short-term memory is so bad that he can’t remember what he said 30 seconds ago, he’s unemployable.

      2. Lizzo*

        But terrible short term memory shouldn’t segue into the flattery and “I have integrity” statements. That stuff is what makes this behavior manipulative.

        1. Properlike*

          The moment someone assures me how they have integrity/are brilliant/are dependable — especially in the face of evidence to the contrary — I *know* I immediately have to switch into “document everything” mode ’cause this is going to go sideways and they’re going to make complaints about me being unfair/abrasive/accusatory.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes, people with actual integrity don’t feel the need to go around telling people they have integrity. There is no doubt in my mind he’s just completely full of it. And you absolutely cannot keep him on your staff as long as he continues to lie like that.

          In addition to Alison’s suggestions my first thought was to have as many of your conversations as possible over email or chat so if he continues to flat out lie there is a clear written record for his file. Then warn him it’s got to stop and if it doesn’t, fire him.

      3. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        Yes, I was wondering about early-onset dementia. That likely wouldn’t change the eventual outcome- if you can’t rely on his work it’s not really reasonable to keep him in his role- but it might change how the OP feels about it. If his actual reality were starting to go, he wouldn’t be intending to gaslight her. It might be useful either way- manipulation or some kind of medical issue- to get a third party in to observe these conversations, maybe someone else at her same level who Paul’s work vaguely intersects with, or someone in HR? Sometimes a person who’s only there to observe can catch subject changes/redirect the conversation in ways it’s difficult to do when you’re the one having it. (Sorry, not trying to armchair diagnose and I hope this doesn’t derail! It’s just such bizarre behavior for someone to be doing intentionally.)

        1. Emma*

          Someone who has dementia sufficiently advanced that they forget what they said less than a minute ago, multiple times a day, is not going to be able to remember what report LW is asking about in the first place. If they are in that position then it will be clear to everyone who interacts with them regularly that something is very wrong: dementia isn’t a condition that only rears its head when someone is trying to get out of responsibility for their actions.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yes, exactly! This isn’t *forgetting* what he said less than a minute ago–it’s that he lied a minute ago, the lie was then immediately challenged, so he had to change his story.

          2. Splendid Colors*

            And how would Paul be able to do the report if his memory is that bad? I got kicked out of grad school for not being able to do the work when I had a medical issue affecting short term memory and my memory wasn’t even as bad as Paul’s would need to be to forget everything in a conversation seconds later.

      4. Zephy*

        If the employee hasn’t requested accommodations for a disability, the company doesn’t know about it and therefore can’t be discriminating against him for it.

      5. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Eh, speaking as one who’s brain can occasionally operate on a different reality, it truly doesn’t matter. I can’t be protected against my actions and I shouldn’t be.

      6. I edit everything*

        I would expect, with short-term memory issues or early-onset dementia, that he’d send the email, forget he sent it, and send it all over again.
        But the segue into “I have integrity!” and “I”m dependable,” definitely feels defensive–he knows he’s done something wrong and is shifting the conversation.

        1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          Eh, people who are experiencing memory loss often become defensive and secretive about it, it’s one of the difficult things about the whole condition.

          But the fact that this can’t continue and it doesn’t matter what the cause is still stands.

      7. froodle*

        If it were genuine memory lapses, I’d expect a roughly fifty fifty split on “statements that make out that OK is in the wrong” and “statements that make out like Paul is in the wrong”. Seems unlikely to have memory lapses where all of his misremembering makes him out to be the sound guy with lots of integrity…

      8. Observer*

        but I would wonder about disability protection and if I should suggest a physical or something.

        No, the OP should most definitely suggest anything like that. Paul WILL use it against them. And from a legal pov, it’s on Paul to bring it up if there is anything going on here. There is simply nothing here that would trigger a “should have known” type of situation on the one hand. And on the other, letting someone mistreat customers and lie up and down about all sorts of things are never considered “reasonable accommodations”.

      9. Kella*

        I would expect if it were some kind of health issue that *he* would act confused, or say “I don’t remember” or “I don’t know” more often rather than changing his story and confidently lying. If you said to me “But you just said the opposite” and I didn’t remember doing that, I wouldn’t say “No I didn’t” I’d say, “Huh?” What do you mean?” Someone who’s telling the truth tends to act with confusion when they’re confronted with an account of their own behavior that doesn’t match their experience. Liars don’t act confused, they act like nothing important is happening or turn things into being your fault.

    2. KHB*

      This is what I’m seeing, too: He’s doing this on purpose because he enjoys messing with you and/or undermining your authority. What sticks out to me is how he keeps jumping to “I’m so dependable/professional/full of integrity.” That’s a very common DARVO tactic, in my experience: Making the conversation all about “how dare you accuse me of doing [thing],” to deflect from whether he actually did [thing].

      If it is indeed deliberate, that means there’s no fixing it. You can be as clear and precise in your communications with him as you possibly can, and it’s not going to make any difference, because the problem was never a lack of clarity/precision on your part to begin with. The only way out is to get rid of him.

        1. anon for this*

          Lord yes, my ex and I had these conversations all the time.

          “Why didn’t you tell me you did X?”
          “I didn’t do X.”
          “I have evidence that you did X.”
          “You never told me not to do X.”
          “We talked about X so many times, and I said –”
          “You said it was OK if I did X if Y and Z.”
          “No, that’s not what I said. I –”
          “Well, that’s not how I remember it. I have a GREAT memory and…”

          It’s deliberate. It’s to exhaust you, to wear you down, and make you give up, and let them do whatever they want. They’re always right, it’s always someone else’s fault — usually yours, for not doing something oddly specific — and then they follow up with blatant feelgood crap about how smart/trustworthy/whatever THEY are, and how they’re just looking out for you, etc.

          Man, I got cold shivers all over from this.

          I got away from all this by dumping him. Just sayin.

          1. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

            I absolutely agree. I had an ex who did the same thing (still does, but now he’s out of my life) and it was exhausting.

            1. Jan*

              I had an ex like Paul too! He’d randomly accuse me of doing/saying/implying something I hadn’t, and when I’d defend myself by saying I hadn’t, he’d demand “Did I say that?!” I’d snap back “You know full well you did, so don’t insult my intelligence!” Which led to him lecturing me about what a clever mind he had and that’s how he knew I was up to something, because that’s what all women are like. I told him that wasn’t particularly clever, that’s just his default assumption about all women based on lazy stereotyping, which is a sign of very low intelligence. And yes, he called himself a Nice Guy.

          2. Temp*

            That conversation with your ex reminds me of something I’ve heard referred to as the “narcissist’s prayer” (not saying Paul or your ex is a narcissist, this just sprang to mind):

            That didn’t happen.
            And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
            And if it was, that’s not a big deal.
            And if it is, that’s not my fault.
            And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
            And if I did… you deserved it.

          3. Fricketyfrack*

            When I was younger (and OP has to be a fair bit younger than I am or Paul is well past retirement age), I used to engage in those conversations and feel like I was losing my mind by the end. Now that I’m old(er), and have very few effs left to give, I don’t even let people keep talking to me when they try that. I start politely, like, “Stop, you and I both know what you said, we’re not doing this.” And then I go full blown Dr. Evil telling Scott to zip it. More or less politely, depending on whether it’s a personal or professional situation.

        2. biobotb*

          Yes, that’s exactly what jumped to my mind as well. And that’s why abused people sometimes end up seeming like they’re unbalanced when they try to explain their interactions with the abuser–those interactions are so nonsensical.

    3. Thrive*

      Another avenue may be to specifically address his response to feedback. It may be that he is very sensitive to criticism and is determined to deflect it, perhaps unconsciously, and needs his perspective towards feedback to be reprogrammed.

    4. Snow Globe*

      Regarding the question of whether he is doing this to others—I feel absolutely certain that the issue with the customer started out with this behavior. The customer was asking questions about things Paul already told him? Customer was asking questions because Paul’s story kept changing.

    5. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This letter reminded me of the OP with the “my expectation is that you will do X” employee.
      When she finally called him on it, he gave up the game.
      I believe she said, “why would expect that?” when he told her that a bookstore employee should have been fired instead of being told not to do Y again.
      This time, instead of not addressing the phrasing and telling employee what he knew anyway, he could not “praise her for acting” like he was in charge.

  6. disconnect*

    What about not asking “is Project X complete”, but instead asking “how’s Project X coming along?” Don’t give him the easy answer to start. It’ll probably devolve pretty quickly, but at least you can give him a little more rope.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I was thinking this, as well. Instead of asking if it’s done, tell him you need the status of Project X.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I’d have a notepad with me and when he replies, “it’s done.” I’d write recite, as I’m writing, “10 AM Tuedsay, confirmed with Fergus, X report is done. Will receive document in email at…” and look at him pointedly, saying nothing.
        “well, it isn’t done, I have three things to do.”
        OP: so I will receive the document, when?
        “blah blah”
        OP: which means I will receive the document at what time?
        “blah, blah”
        OP: since you don’t have a time frame for completing this, I’ll give you some time to think. I’ll follow up with an email and you can reply to that. Thanks so much.

        1. Data Bear*

          I was going to suggest the possibility of switching to communicating with Paul only by email so that there’s an automatic record of his contradictions, but this may be easier.

          Regardless, document everything with an eye towards firing him. I’m not saying it’s impossible to fix this problem, but it doesn’t seems unlikely that you’ll end up needing to go that direction.

        2. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

          This is what I was thinking too. Write his answers down in the very moment he gives them, and make it very obvious that’s what you’re doing.

          I wouldn’t put money on that stopping the flip-flopping. But at the end of the meeting, whatever’s been said, you have contemporaneous documentation.

    2. twocents*

      That feels unnecessary and LW is already putting a TON of work into trying to get a straight answer.

      A reliable employee would answer a request for status update with “I have XYZ to complete and then it will be done” but considering Paul already lies to simple yes-or-no questions, allowing him MORE room to lie or deflect is just making things harder for LW to do her job.

      1. KHB*

        Yeah, agreed. The reason OP’s having trouble getting a straight answer isn’t because there’s anything wrong with the way she’s asking the questions. It’s because Paul is determined not to give her a straight answer.

        1. Teapot Librarian*

          Thank you for this. I spent 5 years thinking that there must be a problem with the way I was asking my Paul questions. I appreciate hearing that it could just have been that my Paul was determined not to give me a straight answer.

          1. KHB*

            If you struggled with it for five years, it seems very likely to me that the problem was with him, not you. Question-asking is not such a difficult skill that it takes five years to figure out.

            1. Teapot Librarian*

              I *did* learn early on not to ask yes or no questions unless the answer really was yes or no. E.g. “Could you show me where X is?” Response: “Yes.” Not, “yes, I’ll be right by to show you” or the like.

      2. Aunt Vixen*

        Right. I have to remind myself to ask open-ended rather than yes-or-no questions if I want my kid to give me informative answers rather than the answers he thinks I have in mind. My kid is four and a half. A person who is old enough to be twice his manager’s age should know what “Is project X finished?” means and answer appropriately.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I feel like this would quickly turn into the same conversation.

      How’s Project X coming along?
      It’s done.
      Good, I need you to email it to me.
      I just need to finish a few things.
      But you said it was done.

    4. Batgirl*

      He’ll just say it’s done, she’ll ask to see it and then he’ll say it’s not done…the circle is already set in his mind.

  7. Cindy*

    Removed. Per the commenting rules, please don’t armchair diagnose here — and if you’re speculating on a fact not in the letter, please include how it would change your advice. – Alison

    1. NeutralJanet*

      I agree that it’s such bizarre behavior that it doesn’t seem like something that someone would do deliberately, but it seems that he’s combative when presented with actual proof that he said something untrue, like responding to emails with “there are three sides to every story and the truth is one.” Of course, dementia patients can sometimes become nasty or argumentative, but that doesn’t quite sound like dementia to me? In any case, I’m not sure that that changes the advice to OP, though it may make her view him in a more sympathetic light.

      1. Threeve*

        No excuses. That is a completely unacceptable response to your manager. (In writing, no less!)

        “You don’t think I’m telling the truth? Well, I don’t think you’re telling the truth!”

        There’s no coaching this guy. We’re in forward to HR territory, explaining that Paul is under-performing, refusing to be truthful about his work and behaving disrespectfully to both his manager and their clients.

      2. JB*

        Working in banking, I’ve encountered quite a few customers with dementia. They all become combative or argumentative when confused, even over seemingly minor things.

        In their mind, what they’re saying is the absolute truth and you’re the one lying to/gaslighting them. They don’t remember or aren’t willing to accept that their own memory is not reliable.

    2. Generic Name*

      Does it matter WHY he is lying to his boss’ face, though? It’s not on his employer to try to guess/diagnose the least awful reason for behaving like an awful employee. The bottom line is he lies to his boss, says unprofessional things to clients, turns in work late, and said work is riddled with errors. Doesn’t matter why.

      1. JB*

        Well, it matters in that if it’s due to dementia, he’s NOT lying. He’s telling the truth as he understands it.

        But ultimately it needs to be handled in the same way, because he’s still unreliable.

        That’s the point – that LW needs to focus on the outcome (an unreliable, frustrating employee) rather than why he’s doing this or moral value judgements (like ‘lying’, ‘manipulating’, etc.)

        1. Yorick*

          That doesn’t matter. If he’s not doing it on purpose, then he’s not capable of working here.

      2. Medusa*

        It doesn’t change the ultimate outcome, which is that he needs to be terminated. Personally, I think I would feel a little better if I knew that I was being gaslit due to a medical issue than pure malice.

    3. Mathilde*

      It seems pretty deliberate to be dementia : the patronising, the weird reverence… this screams manipulation, condescension and unreliability.

      It doesn’t change anything for OP anyway. Alison’s advice is great and works in any case.

      1. Nicotena*

        IME, patients with dementia often get defensive and try to conceal their symptoms in a variety of ways, including hostility and obfuscation.

        1. Mathilde*

          It might be, that is interesting to know. I don’t think it really changes what OP can do, though. It’s not like she can diagnose him herself, or change anything about it.

        2. onco fonco*

          Yeah – IME people with memory gaps will sometimes go to quite significant lengths to deny the problem to everyone and themselves. Filling the gaps with a fictitious version of events that they cling to even when it clearly can’t be accurate, and that could include attempting a bit of manipulation to try and make the uncomfortable questioning stop.

    4. Anonnnnie*

      I immediately thought of one of my Board members who interacts this way and is recovering from a serious traumatic brain injury. But I also have someone in my life who does this in regular conversation, though not quite this bad. It’s gross and gaslight-y.

    5. PT*

      That’s what I was thinking. He’s out of it and dissembling, and the dissembling is throwing the LW off enough that she can’t quite quantify in the moment what needs to be done. Especially if the general vibe he is giving off is “confused grandpa” instead of “insubordinate employee” (which she may be registering subconsciously, not consciously) where it might feel cruel to start digging into this as aggressively as you might someone who was younger.

      I’ve worked with older people where their cognitive abilities had slipped below the level required to maintain the job. It is definitely a tough situation, especially if they are someone you like and care about, and know that they will be in a bad place financially if they end up losing their job. No one wants to be have that level of responsibility on their shoulders, even when it’s the right thing to do for the company. It just feels bad.

      1. Nicotena*

        Is long term disability an option here (I guess FMLA is too short) or does that require the employee to be too proactive?

    6. aunttora*

      It reminds me of my brother when he was in the later stages of severe alcoholism (he died of it eventually). You’d have these bewildering conversations with him, as an illustration (not a real example):
      Me: Why do you have that bowling ball?
      Him: I don’t have a bowling ball.
      Me: Yes you do, you’re holding it.
      Him: No I’m not.
      Me: Yes you are, it’s there in your hand, see?
      Him: No it isn’t.
      Like, no effort at coming up with a “lie”, just denial until you’d get tired of not making any progress toward an actual conversation with data exchange. I often wondered what was really going on inside his head. But, I wasn’t attempting to manage his work!
      Reading this gave me all kinds of vibes in that direction.

      1. Cormorannt*

        I mentioned up-thread that my ex-husband was much like this – and he was also an alcoholic, which I was not aware of until almost the end of the relationship. I don’t know if Paul has a substance-abuse issue, but I feel like this level of deflection, denial and manipulation is often learned and put to use in hiding a substance use disorder. Then it just gets out of control and becomes a daily habit in all things.
        Honestly, this letter was hard to read and I’m trying not to simply advise the LW to yeet Paul out the window.

    7. Lora*

      Yeah, I thought of my mother too. There were a lot of defensive-to-hostile conversations about easily-verified big things that she didn’t want to admit showed her mind was turning to Swiss cheese, and then after a while she acted like that all the time because she could no longer tell the difference between “this is a big deal Lora will drag you to the neurologist about” vs “this is not a big deal”. It started with her having GPS on all the time no matter where she was going, and getting into car accidents due to not being able to focus on the road for very long. Like people weren’t going to notice a large sedan rear-ending them or something if she just told them it wasn’t that bad, just a scratch. She hoped very much, just as your employee is hoping, that by being a big enough pain in the butt, you’ll let it go – and look, it worked!

      1. Lora*

        Note, the difference is – if this is a new development and he wasn’t always like this, then maybe it’s worth referring him to EAP before you fire him to see what’s going on. And lay it out like, as of X date, I’ve noticed this / that / the other behavior has changed, so I’m giving you this chance to figure out if you can fix it.

    8. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I had a coworker who I suspect might have had an undiagnosed stroke. He was an older fellow whose personality suddenly turned hostile, and he ended up being fired after about six months of this. It might be worth asking around to see if Paul has always been difficult to communicate with, or if something changed and he’s acting weird recently.

      1. Observer*

        No, it wouldn’t. It is TOTALLY not the OP’s place to play detective here. And it wouldn’t really matter anyway. It doesn’t change the behavior and what the OP needs to do.

    9. Beth*

      My thought also, based on my personal experience. It’s incredibly common for dementia patients to put massive effort into covering up and denying — and if the person was an asshole to begin with, this will take the form of being an ever more obstructive and unreliable asshole.

      Possible dementia or not, the guy has got to go.

    10. CurrentlyBill*

      I get that you mean well here, and this still feels uncomfortably ageist. Okay employees need to be held accountable for their work in the same way younger employees do, and assuming dementia is a possible cause because of their age makes it harder on other older employees.

      Add for how an organization deals with it, keep in mind that the ADA protections apply to not only areas of disability but areas of assumed disability.

      So while it may be fair to considers the OP’s challenges in these conversations MAY be impacted by their feeling around the age dynamic, let’s avoid guessing the lying guy has a disability due to his age.

      I realize I may be overreacting here so I apologize if that’s the case. I just see this stuff too often in society so it raises a flag with me.

      1. PT*

        Honestly, I don’t think this is ageist. I’ve spent a lot of time working with seniors, and there’s very poor awareness in our society of mental health and neurological issues that affect seniors. People will just write someone off as “crazy” or “jerk” or “asshole” when that person is in need of kindness and compassion and patience, and with a little more awareness, it would have been easier to figure out what was going on and deescalate the situation by being kind and patient.

        Our society is quite rotten to the elderly, if you spend any real time with them as a group.

        1. Observer*

          You are mostly right.

          But this behavior is impossible, and in this context it just needs to be stopped. Should the OP go in with guns blazing, treating Paul like a monster? Of course not. But that doesn’t change the basic fact that his behavior IS untenable.

      2. Former Employee*

        I am a long retired senior citizen myself, so I feel I am in a position to respond.

        I don’t think this is ageist. Even though we don’t know how old the respective parties are, we can safely assume that the OP is not fresh out of college or she wouldn’t be a manager. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say she’s around 30 and “Paul” is pushing 60.

        It’s a lot more likely that someone his age is suffering from a medical condition that might cause him to act this way than it would be if he were in his 30’s.

        While it sounds annoying, frustrating, and downright exhausting to have to deal with someone like this, I know that I would feel terrible if I got him fired and then found out that someone should have had him evaluated, that it turned out he did have a medical condition.

    11. Campfire Raccoon*

      This was my thought too. You get someone who already has a penchant for gaslighting and then they start to have memory problems? It can get bad, fast.

  8. serenity*

    My heart goes out to you, OP. This sounds like an absolutely exhausting employee to have. But I absolutely 100% do not understand “none of this is serious enough to start escalating to written warnings”. What??? Unless your company is completely dysfunctional and anarchy reigns, what you just described are fireable offenses. Easily fireable offense.

    I hope you can enforce some accountability and successfully deal with this individual moving forward.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I wonder if maybe OP thinks written warnings won’t hold water because of Paul’s plausible deniability. That’s false of course, but gaslighting is a beast.

    2. Friyay*

      I work for a gov’t agency and… yeah, none of this would be written-warning-worthy. So could be in a gov’t or public sector setting. Things that might get a written warning or could eventually lead to being fired in my experience: falling asleep during meetings, not showing up for work (would need to be multiple days), sexual harassment (even then, we’ve seen plenty of people just get shifted around to other areas of work where they’re not interacting with people), using the office purchasing card to intentionally purchase personal things. Stuff like this post, or missing client meetings, or watching youtube videos for hours at work, have no consequences. It might take something to go very wrong to actually be able to do anything about it concretely.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        IMO, documented and continuous untruths to management (and clientele) are much much worse than falling asleep in a meeting. The problem is catching the lie in documentation enough to demonstrate a pattern.

        I could only wish that places like your agency grasped that.

  9. Jam Today*

    His returning to points about “always being on time” and “having integrity” feel like vocabulary extracted from prior performance appraisals, like he’s either dodging the current state of his performance by pointing to things that have been previously said about him OR…he doesn’t understand that his performance has deteriorated because if someone previously wrote it down, it must be a constant truth about him. It doesn’t really matter which, because in either case he’s not doing the job and you’re getting bad outcomes, its just really odd that he does this.

    1. Ama*

      He reminds me a bit of someone I had to work with once who was just incapable of ever admitting he was at fault. (He was not an employee, more of a third party collaborator, so I didn’t have the ability to fire or discipline him.) He even went so far once as to backdate a deliverable that was six months late and email me cc ing my boss to try to make it look like he’d sent it on time and I somehow missed it (nevermind that I had a separate email chain from him where he acknowledged four months after the original due date that he knew he hadn’t submitted it yet). I didn’t even care that it was late (for the type of project he was working on it isn’t that unusual for the final report to be a few weeks behind although six months was pretty extreme), I just needed it submitted.

      That said, this guy sounds twice as exhausting as my colleague — and OP has the ability to take action here, I would absolutely not have tolerated what my colleague did if I’d had any power to take action.

    2. Nicotena*

      This reminds me of something I heard once about people with mental illness; “feelings are facts.” This guy *feels* like he is person with integrity so it must be true, and the fact that his actions are clearly contradicting this doesn’t equate. Almost nobody actually thinks they’re a bad person even if they’re willing to admit that some of their actions didn’t pan out so hot.

      1. lobsterp0t*

        Wow, what a mean and stigmatising thing to say about mentally ill people. Most humans have a bias about their innate being and whether they are good or bad, which is at least a little bit divorced from their actions and impact on others.

        You sound like you read one article about emotional reasoning – which is often a feature of anxiety – and confused it with a Ben Shapiro quote.

      2. onco fonco*

        What? You’ve taken a snippet of information out of context and applied it to the absolutely vast spectrum of ‘people with mental illness’ as if…every one of those people believes their feelings are fact? As if no one without mental illness is also prone to that belief? There is a whole lot more to this than you seem to be aware of.

    3. Sylvan*

      Yeah, I was wondering about that. Also, he might be moving the goalposts so that you don’t argue with him effectively. It seems like, when you approach him about specific things he said or did, he shifts the subject of the conversation to generalizations about his character.

    4. Nanani*

      Exactly. He thinks reality should reflect his idea about himself instead of adjusting his self-perception to reality.

      “But I’m dependable!!”
      means “since I have this attribute, nothing I do can make me not dependable, because I am dependable. You must be wrong about my performance because Paul = dependable!!”

      1. Hollywood Handshake*

        He turns a “what you DID” conversation, about his actual deliverables and work, into a “what you ARE” conversation, suggesting that since he is a person with integrity, how dare you call I to question what he did? People do this when they say/do something racist/sexist all the time. What they did gets called out, but they deny responsibility for it by saying “I’m not a racist/sexist person so that can’t be” without ever having to reflect on their actual actions. OP, keep it a conversation about what he DID, not the kind of person he believes he is.

      2. Medusa*

        Oh my god. You almost word-for-word repeated an argument I had with my at-the-time boyfriend, which was about sexism, not dependability, but it was very much “I am not sexist, and therefore nothing that I ever say or do can be sexist.”

  10. Save the Hellbender*

    I think the most stressful thing for me if I were the OP would be how utterly impossible it is to put this guy’s weirdness into a one sentence “this is why we fired him.” Because it’s something so bizarre and different from simply “he lied about work” or “he was a poor communicator” — what is this called?!? Does anyone know?!?

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*


        I’d also accept “His performances weren’t acceptable.”

      1. Save the Hellbender*

        I guess that sums it up neatly! I wonder if OP wasn’t sure if things should be escalated because they were thinking of it as a weird nameless conversational tic and not chronic unreliability (and an inability to take direction and feedback).

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It’s a fair question. I’ve experience HR departments who might look at this and say “well what’s the actual business concern?” It’s good to have an answer ready (even though it should be obvious imo).

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        This. I manage an IT department – Information Management is literally in our title and I’ve got (well, these days anyway) good at ‘you cannot constantly misreport or misrepresent or fudge data to suit your own purposes’. That is a serious disciplinary offence.

    1. Littorally*

      “He lied about completed work, spoke inappropriately to clients, and was extremely unreliable” would just about sum it up.

      1. LITJess*

        Yep. Stating “I have integrity” does not actually confer integrity – especially when said 30 seconds after lying to your bosses face. Also, “he lied to my face repeatedly about work” is another phrase OP could use, but it feels a little emotionally charged.

    2. NeutralJanet*

      Assuming I were in a situation where I was unable or unwilling to go into the specifics, I might just say he was dishonest, unreliable with his work, and unprofessional with both coworkers and clients—I’m not sure from the letter if he’s actually missed deadlines (while claiming to have met them) or not, but if so, that’s something to add. I agree, it’s such a bizarre situation that it’s hard to get all the nuances in a short summary, but in most cases when you’re not venting to a friend, I’m not sure that you need all the nuances.

    3. Generic Name*

      Drawing from my own personal experience and resultant therapy, I’ve heard this dynamic and the resulting confusion referred to as being in a “Narcissistic FOG” (where FOG stands for Fear, Obligation, Guilt). You are correct, the weirdness is very difficult to explain, partly because it is just SO WEIRD, but it’s also difficult to explain because a person in these types of situations is often conditioned to minimize, excuse, and even cover for the strange behavior. It’s a dynamic common in psychologically abusive relationships.

      1. Birch*

        Same, and it’s horrible to experience. I’m so sorry for OP! It’s so difficult because this person will construct their own reality that they 100% believe in, to protect their own self image. You can’t use any of the usual conversational flags to indicate that hey, we really need to take a moment and re-evaluate what’s happening here. It’s impossible to nail down even that person’s perception of the situation–logic and reason get you nowhere, appealing to empathy gets you nowhere. If they feel attacked by you trying to get to the truth, they’ll attack back in weirdly personal non-sequiturs and refuse to follow any kind of ethical code, willing to make up lies about everyone around them to shift the focus to somebody else. Even the Grey Rock avoids the emotional lashing out but doesn’t get you any closer to the truth. For anyone interacting with them who has a shred of self awareness or humility, it starts to feel like you’re the one losing touch with reality. And if you try to explain this to anyone, as OP has tried here, it’s almost impossible to capture that feeling of reality dropping out from beneath you. This thread is probably dangerously close to armchair diagnosing, but IMO the final diagnosis is abusive asshole who needs to be fired immediately. If nothing else, he’s not doing the work he’s been assigned, and you can’t get a straight answer out of him. Those are job requirements as basic as “reads emails” and “shows up to work.” Plus– if he’s willing to lie this blatantly to your face, what else could he be doing or not doing that he’s willing to lie about?

        1. Fitz*

          Yes, and I’m really concerned about all the commenters who are saying “How could OP not see how terrible this is?” I absolutely get why that conclusion looks obvious secondhand, but it’s almost impossible to describe how difficult it is to handle in the moment.

        2. Nicotena*

          Is it easier to focus on clear outcomes (“I need a final report on my desk by 3PM; there cannot be errors such as X and Y. If this is not done we will have to discuss your future in this role”) or will that not help?

          1. Birch*

            I mean, it solves the problem of these circular conversations, but it doesn’t solve the deeper problem of the work not getting done. People who do this are usually deeply insecure, often because they actually are incompetent but are forming a rosy reality of their own where they are actually superstars. In my case, it was my boss and I ended up leaving after 2 years of no progress. My boss would assign me a task, I’d give updates or ask reasonable questions (e.g. “I found this issue x, there are 2 main solutions and I think we should try A over B, here is why.” Normally in my field this would lead to a short conversation and the boss approving that action). Boss would freak out over the fact that there were two ways to do something, accuse me of making her do my work for me by choosing a method (but if I went ahead with my own choice, they’d freak out about the fact that I was “insubordinate” by making decisions that were above my pay grade), then just tell me to choose what I thought was the right thing. Weeks later, they’d decide the entire project needed to be done a different way, so that task and all that work was placed directly into the trash and I was blamed for “delays and mistakes.” That’s just one example. TL;DR: the work never gets done, as OP is finding. The only answer is strict consequences, usually getting rid of this person (or waiting till everyone they supervise quits!)

        3. Anon for this*

          Ohhhhh no. Your whole comment is a pitch-perfect description of the arguments I’ve had with my (very recently ex-) partner. This puts some things in perspective. O_O

          If my experience is anything to go by: this won’t change. It doesn’t matter how clearly you explain yourself or how explicitly you state what you need. Their need to see themselves as “a good person” will override any issues you point out or suggestions for improvement, and/or they’ll paint themselves as the victim (“You’re too critical, I’m doing everything I can and it’s never enough for you”). I hope I’m wrong about Paul, but I would keep your expectations low.

          What helped me was writing down as much as I could remember after we’d had a conversation like that. “I asked for A, he said B, I said C but he disagreed because D, E, F…” Then at least I had a record so I could see I wasn’t going crazy or making things up or misinterpreting. It didn’t help so much with clearing things up or changing behavior – “I didn’t say that” turns immediately into “Well I didn’t mean THAT” – but it did help me keep a grip on reality and make it easier to talk about it with friends/therapists/etc. (I also, as per Generic Name’s comment, constantly referred to these arguments as “existing in a fog” – though I wasn’t aware that was an acronym, that is 100% what it feels like. Everything’s just so confusing and murky afterward and nothing feels resolved, you just come away feeling vaguely like *you’re* the one who screwed up somehow.)

          Documenting the conversations, in your case, will also help you build a case toward firing him. I agree with Alison and the other commenters here that this is probably the best move. I don’t know how you get someone like that to change, except perhaps by putting them in a position to learn from their mistakes. I wish you the best of luck, LW!

      2. maggie98765*

        Interesting… I thought “abusive” when I read the letter but was mostly thinking about the gaslighting (I too have been there). But I didn’t realize it could be a full blown personality disorder! Makes sense though.

        1. Nicotena*

          I totally respect that we can’t armchair diagnose and why, but I actually think it’s helpful to have someone (without diagnosing anything, of course) suggesting the broad possibility of an alternative to “this guy is a malicious abuser who is torturing OP for fun,” which otherwise is allowed to go unchecked.

          1. StrikingFalcon*

            But it doesn’t really matter why he’s doing it. It doesn’t matter if it is due to some diagnosable personality disorder, malicious intent, or a misguided attempt to always look good. All that matters is how the OP needs to deal with it, which is to document her attempts to address the issue and fire him if she doesn’t see immediate and sustained improvement.

            1. Nicotena*

              It matters a little in terms of how OP would treat someone who she’s decided is maliciously lying to her for the lolz versus someone who may be experiencing a tragic medical condition. Yes, either way, they can’t be allowed to remain in the role, but there’s not zero difference, to me.

              1. Boof*

                Personality disorders aren’t medical conditions; they are clusters of very maladaptive behavior patterns

              2. Mannequin*

                OP is not in the position to diagnose or treat an employee who might have a medical condition or personality disorder, so no, it actually doesn’t matter.

    4. kiki*

      I totally get what you mean. Firing someone is hard and it’s something most people want to have a really solid, objective reason for doing. But this guy has LW sucked into his whirlwind of confusion. Everything seems more complex than it is because he’s acting so bizarrely that LW feels like maybe they’re missing something or overreacting when really this guy deserved to be fired yesterday. I think there’s also maybe a feeling that LW needs to prove to the employee that he’s hard to communicate with, but he’s … impossible to communicate with so he won’t understand or accept LW’s criticism. I don’t know if this employee is being intentionally manipulative or genuinely struggles with communication, but it’s really not LW’s duty to figure that out when the work is suffering in this way.

    5. some dude*

      He will also 100% be sure that the reason he was fired was because OP was terrible/out to get him/didn’t appreciate the work he did. All the writing on all the walls won’t be enough to convince him that maybe he is in the wrong.

    6. Duckles*

      I’m surprised that no one mentioned this but it sounds like EE is in a protected class (age) so OP needs HEARTY documentation before letting him go so she should be documenting absolutely everything.

      1. Emma*

        I mean, documenting everything is always a good idea in a situation like this. But you don’t need any more documentation to fire an older employee than to fire an employee who is a woman, or is gay, or is Christian, or is in any other protected class. You need to be able to demonstrate that you fired them on specific performance-related grounds and that you told them what the problem was and gave them the opportunity to improve – that’s not a super high burden of proof as long as you have halfway decent processes.

  11. ragazza*

    This guy is an expert manipulator with a focus on on-the-spot gaslighting. I agree with Alison–watch your back, literally.

    1. Sylvan*

      Yes, but also, try having conversations in writing? My experience with a person who was good at on-the-spot manipulation was that she floundered in writing, and her problems became crystal clear.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        Furthermore, when you have the conversation in writing, you have a documented record. You can go back later, when you’ve had a chance to clear your mind and get a little distance, and review exactly what was said.

        And you can show it to other people if you need to justify your decision to fire the guy.

  12. Generic Name*

    Woah. This guy is a serious problem. The two conversations related are textbook examples of the manipulation tactic known as “DARVO”. It stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. You start off by calling out his lying (to your face!!) and he turns the conversation around on you so that you are reassuring him that he has integrity and is reliable. He is not a reasonable person, and I would give up trying to reason with him. Instead of getting him to admit to lying, focus on what you need from him. I would practice scripts using the fewest words possible. I think the script Alison provided is generally good except for the multi sentence part. There’s just too much material for him to work with and turn around on you. “I need the report by COB today. Can you do that?” Repeat.

    1. highbury house*

      I agree with this. I’d also caution the LW to closely examine his other work, like expense reports, inventory counts, taking credit for work done by others/not done (or whatever else he may be in charge of), because gaslighting like this is indicative of more widespread misbehavior.

      1. anon for this*

        The Al Capone Theory of Sexual Harassment, as applied to weird manipulation and gaslighting. It’s true though–people who are manipulative, defensive, etc. like this in one area of their work aren’t going to compartmentalize it. They’re almost 100% up to other things.

      2. StrikingFalcon*

        Yes, in the OP’s shoes, I would want to be checking in with his coworkers and at least the one client that they know there was an issue with. I would be very surprised if the things they’ve seen are the whole problem and not just the tip of the iceberg.

    2. serin*

      This is good advice.

      He needs to be fired, though, as quickly as possible, because at this point, even if you never catch him doing anything wrong for the rest of his working life, you still cannot ever believe a word he says. You can’t be confident he has any compunction about lying to your face. You can’t be confident that he can tell the difference between lying and telling the truth. You can’t be confident that he understands the difference between “an assertion that supports my self-image” and “an assertion that is actually the truth.” You can’t be confident that he has a goldfish’s memory for what he just said thirty seconds ago.

      His behavior has made it impossible to trust him, so your company really can’t continue to employ him.

    3. Frankie Bergstein*

      I have a person like this in my life. What’s worked is to go to the heart of the matter: “it’s not done, Paul, you lied to me because you weren’t willing to say it wasn’t done. I need the truth if we are going to be able to salvage this working relationship. Otherwise, I don’t see how this will work out.”

  13. IndustriousLabRat*

    This sounds utterly exhausting, he sounds utterly bizarre, and the only advice I might add to what has already been given- as you escalate this (because I do hope you will escalate it firmly and promptly), trying to do as much bulk of your necessary communication with him in writing is probably not a bad idea, if only to either a) force him to be honest or b) lay a paper trail when he can’t.

  14. Butterfly Counter*

    Lying to my face is a bit of a berserk button for me. If I had to deal with this person, either he would be gone or I would because this is just unacceptable.

    I imagine the issue is just that he’s a habitual liar. He’s discovered that if he starts by saying what people want to hear, regardless of accuracy, they’ll leave him alone for a while. But when pressed, he’ll lie some more because THIS time you’ll leave him alone. And when pressed some more, he’ll tell the truth, but then lie about lying because people don’t like liars, especially when they have to work with them, so he will deny that about himself.

    Basically, he’s just telling you things he wants to be true. And this habit seems so much a part of him (you said he’s an older person) that I seriously doubt this is a thing he even thinks about consciously or will do anything to change because to him, intention is truth, not facts.

  15. Eldritch Office Worker*

    Paul is screwing with you, and probably enjoying it. He does not respect you, and this is classic gaslighting.

    If he says crap like “I have integrity or I’m dependable” it’s okay to come back with “right now, in this situation, I’m not seeing that and I have serious concerns about your work”.

    But actions speak louder than words, it’s time for a serious PIP and preparations to remove him if the behavior doesn’t improve (I really doubt it will).

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      In the meantime get as much in writing as possible. Try to communicate by email or Teams or whatever makes sense for your office.

      Also please update us!

    2. Empress Matilda*

      If he says crap like “I have integrity or I’m dependable” it’s okay to come back with “right now, in this situation, I’m not seeing that and I have serious concerns about your work”.

      I wouldn’t even bother disagreeing with him at this point. If he starts to say how much integrity he has, OP can respond with “That’s fine, and I still need the TPS report by 4:00.” Repeat, repeat, repeat. Every single thing he says – there’s no point in arguing or coaching by now, so just keep repeating “Yep, and I need the TPS report by 4:00.” Then walk away (or hang up – one of the good things about always being on Zoom calls!)

      It feels rude to cut him off, but that’s exactly what he’s counting on – he needs to keep you engaged in the conversation long enough to get confused, and long enough for him to avoid doing his work. So literally every interaction with him, you go in with a clear goal – tell him you need the TPS report by 4:00. Then you deliver that message, and end the conversation. Let him wax on and on forever about integrity if he wants – it doesn’t mean you have to listen, and it doesn’t change the fact that he needs to do his work.

      To be clear, what I’m recommending is *exhausting* – you should’t have to put that much emotional labour into any work conversation, let alone *every* work conversation. But you’re already putting in a lot of emotional labour, so you may as well use it to direct things the way you need them to go.

    3. Buni*

      I would either go with what Empress Matilda said – completely ignore and carry on – OR I would do the complete opposite:

      “I have integrity.”
      “No, you don’t, otherwise this wouldn’t be happening.”

      I’d be interested to see what he does with a flat rebuttal…

  16. TryingHard*

    The way I read it is he is defending his position because he appears to keep saying he is dependable, etc. How long has he been managed by this OP? Is this his first younger boss? Is he concerned that he is going to get fired because he perceives the need to hit a high level of work that he’s just not capable of and is afraid of that if he admits any thing that he will get fired? NONE of those excuse the behavior but can give a peek into what his perspective is.

    1. mreasy*

      This feels to me that it could be extremely related to the age difference, in that Paul doesn’t believe the OP – being younger – deserves accurate and respectful behavior. And he’s somehow expecting OP to defer to his experience (continually mentioning his dependability etc) while actively doing wrong.

    2. Sharon*

      I agree. I dealt with someone like this once. He screwed up a lot (possibly due to some kind of brain issue?) and placed great importance on appearances because he couldn’t handle being wrong or making mistakes. He didn’t realize that the constant coverups were actually much more serious than the mistakes. For some reason this person wasn’t able to understand that everyone makes mistakes and most of the time they aren’t that big a deal – he imagined that if every time someone was disappointed in his performance, he would be shamed and sent to the gulag or something, so instead of admitting the error and correcting it, he made every effort to convince people that they weren’t in fact disappointed in him, or that if they were, they shouldn’t be.

  17. Meep*

    My former manager is a pathological liar who lies about the most random things. Sometimes minor. Sometimes serious. Every other word out of her mouth had the potential to be a lie, though. Heck, just last week, I caught her in a lie regarding our business license! (She said she would renew it in May. It expired in June. I asked where the new one was on Aug 10th. She claimed it was upstairs and would bring it down “today”. Didn’t show up until last Thursday with an issue date of… August 10th._ Because of it, she thinks everyone else is a pathological liar and will try to catch them out on lies. Thank goodness for paper trails!

    On the flip side, I worked with someone who was a bit of a perfectionist. He would complete work but never submit it because while it was functional and ran smoothly there were always improvements to be made.

    I am sure Paul is more like my former manager in which case, document without accusations until you have enough evidence. He will either wise up and stop lying or dig into his lies and you will get enough cause for firing.

    1. Quinalla*

      Agreed, this dude does sound like a pathological liar. I used to think it was a real thing, but then my parents’ had one as a contractor and he would lie to your face with ease, over and over, and make you doubt yourself. It was awful! But yeah, Alison’s advice is spot on, if you don’t feel you can escalate to a PIP or whatever applies in your company, use her script a couple times then escalate. Especially since he’s being rude to clients, it should make it easier for you to escalate this ASAP, though the lying to your face is astounding. Sometimes when someone is so brazen, we just don’t even know what to do!

    2. What She Said*

      I had a boss give me another bosses phone number and claimed it was hers. I literally pointed out her number has a different area code then the one she gave me and she was like “oh you want that number”.

    3. anon for this*

      A few years ago my workplace had a guy like this. Our last interaction went as follows:

      Guy Like This: “I didn’t make it to the 4:30 meeting with Entry-Level and Middle Ranks, can you fill me in?”
      Me: “Nope, I had a 4:45 meeting with Adjacent Team B, but I heard the 4:30 meeting was going to get to get a special presentation from Satellite Branch?”
      Guy Like This: “There was no special presentation from Satellite Branch at the 4:30 meeting! I should know – I was in the room, after all.”

      And that’s when I decided I was done. Pathological lying and enough arrogance to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

  18. Rosamond*

    I worked with a Paul. Evasive half-truths about tasks and when you tried to get an actual answer, you’d get a blank look or non sequitur. I don’t think it was malicious (although admittedly Paul sounds creepier), it just was genuinely an inability to communicate like a human in the working world. Imagine how much of your time and energy will be freed up by not having to deal with this anymore, LW!

    1. Heidi*

      I’ve also worked with people who told pathetically transparent lies. For whatever reason, they cannot bring themselves to say they didn’t do the work. Maybe it would force them to admit something about themselves that they’re in denial about. Maybe the failure to do something small takes on a larger meaning than it should in their minds. They also can’t seem to understand that I’d rather know the truth about the work not being done than falsely believe that the work was done.

    2. many bells down*

      Yeah I’m with you. I make kind of a “study” of online romance scammers (I get tons of them for some reason) and this is how they talk all the time. They’ll tell a very obvious lie, and when called on it they say that I’ve “misunderstood” and it was a “mistake” and “no one is perfect” and oh actually I was “distracted by your beauty.”

      I mean, obviously Paul isn’t exactly the same, but it’s the same playbook of “never admit you’re wrong and change the subject.”

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        For actual scammers, it’s probably an intentional test to see how easy you are to deceive. If you call them out on an obvious lie, they move on until a victim believes what they say. I’ve met both the actual pathological liars, that really can’t seem to tell the truth about anything and 100% believe their own lies, and the scammer liars that know exactly what they are doing and employ their tactics strategically and at certain victims.

        1. Boof*

          Fwiw, the ones who are intentionally testing how much you would accept denial of reality testing, i would call textbook gaslighting (intentional and for the purpose of gain)

        2. Mannequin*

          The pathological liars I’ve known have been a little bit of both- told lies about all kinds of things that didn’t matter like they just couldn’t help it, seemed like they believed at least some of their lies, and also lied on purpose to manipulate people.

      2. Another health care worker*

        Oooh, I am fascinated by romance scammers. In all the stories I’ve read, there were early clues, but they were overlooked by the victim. You must be an example of someone who never ends up in the story because you actually call out these early clues!

        Can you say anything more about the scammers trying to target you and how it goes? Do you know why you’re being targeted in the first place?

      3. Observer*

        oh actually I was “distracted by your beauty.”

        Are you not conventionally pretty? A bit heavy? POC?

        This sounds like someone who thinks that you are SOOO starved for a compliment that throwing in how “distracted” they were by your beauty will make you SOOOOO excited! that you’ll overlook the lie and that fact that they are blaming YOU for their lie.

  19. Uncle Bob*

    I’ve been wondering where that PR guy for Saddam Hussein went to after the Iraq war and now we finally know.

  20. Kat*

    Honestly this letter raises serious questions for me about the LW’s competency as a manager. Someone straight up lies to your face ALL. THE. TIME. That is where you should draw the line and fire someone but instead the LW keeps wasting everyone’s time going in circles and doesn’t even think this is worth escalating!!!
    LW you need to look into some training on being a much more assertive manager with clearer communication skills because you are a door mat and letting this employee walk all over you all the live long day! If this is how you respond to a VERY clear cut and easy case of firing someone I question how effective you are at managing employees with performance issues, coaching requirements, etc. I don’t mean to be insulting – just pointing out that if you struggle with this it’s worth taking a hard look at other areas of your job as a supervisor to see where you could improve so that you don’t end up in these kinds of situations feeling powerless.

    1. Deborah Rowan*

      Nah, this is super gaslight-y and if LW has been lucky enough in her life that this is the first time she’s being mentally messed with in this way, I can see OTHERWISE being a good manager but having trouble with this situation.

      1. BRR*

        Even if this is the fist time the LW has dealt with someone like this, the part “feels like none of this is serious enough to start escalating” is concerning. It’s more understandable if the LW has questions how to deal with it, but Kat is fair in pointing this out since having a direct report directly lie to you about their work should be a huge reason to escalate.

      2. Kat*

        I disagree bc the LW is very clear that they know they are being lied to repeatedly. They’re not questioning their version of events so even though employee is gaslighting them, that’s not really the issue. The LW keeps getting caught up on the fact that the employee is doubling down on the lying and not agreeing with the LW that they lied. The fact they know they’re being lied to and somehow not seeing that as an issue requiring escalation doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in me that they’re effective as a manager.

        1. Batgirl*

          You don’t immediately question your own version of events when being gaslighted though. At least for me, I started out pretty confident in my memory, I just felt like I must not be communicating or explaining clearly enough how they are wrong. It felt like I was only one sentence structure away from nailing them into admitting they were off base and fibbing. It’s like falling into a Rubix cube. If you stay long enough on the puzzle though, you will start to doubt your memory next after doubting your communication ability.

          1. NorthernTeacher*

            Exactly. You start to feel like you are the problem and just not trying hard enough to work with the other person. I had a track record of getting along well with colleagues, but when faced with a similar situation to the OP, I started to believe that I was the problem. It made it worse when at first the principal called it a personality conflict Between us…she changed her tune two months later when she experienced it first hand. Yet, was still not successful in handling this coworker before the end of the school year. She is a seasoned principal who is respected by the staff.

            1. Birch*

              Oh yeah, the “well I get along with everyone else… but this person is so confident and I’m still having problems with them, then the problem must be me…. but that means now I’m questioning my relationship with everyone else…” It’s the abuse tactic of isolating people from other support: “everyone else is trying to deceive you, I’m the only one you can trust and depend on, but you have to be exactly what I want you to be in order to receive my attention, and sometimes I’ll punish you for no reason just to keep you desperate and blaming yourself.” Worse, these people are often charismatic and charming, so people who don’t know you well assume that you must be the problem and you start getting a reputation for drama despite trying as hard as you can to be professional and calm. Once they control both your perception of the situation and your public image, they can pretty much get whatever they want from you.

      3. Threeve*

        And a surprising number workplaces really press managers to make things work with problem employees, and firing people is pretty much reserved for things like threats, theft and harassment.

    2. Malika*

      When you are in the middle of a situation like this it is very easy to get manipulated and to get enmeshed in the complicated web of lies, denial and half truths instead of stepping back and seeing the gaslighting situation as it really is. Blaming the person for not having a helicopter view before getting much needed perspective from Alison is akin to blaming the victim. It is further complicated if the LW has a personal background whereby mental abuse was normalized (I have no idea if this is the case for LW and don’t need to know) or if at the other extreme she has never experienced this before. In the former, it is hard to step out of the fog and have the confidence to call out the BS without proper reflection and personal growth and with the latter it is such alien behaviour that you might not label it as gaslighting. I hope the LW can apply Alison’ s advice and can see this experience in a lesson on how to handle such situations in the future.

    3. Thrive*

      I know experienced managers and directors that would struggle to deal with this kind of situation. I imagine that it is very hard to process and respond in the moment. And it sounds like Paul is an expert at this strange behavior. LW, good on you for checking in with Alison to get the ‘sanity check’ – as a fellow manager, this kind of employee would probably stump me too, and I would also be reaching out to my mentors for feedback on how I would handle it.

    4. Batgirl*

      Not everyone has experience with gaslighting. You do feel you’re losing touch with reality the first time you experience it. It’s the whole point of it.

      1. kiki*

        Right, and even when somebody realizes they’re being gaslit, like LW, for most folks it’s really uncomfortable to deal with in the moment because it goes against typical social flow. There’s not really a polite way to directly tell somebody they’re lying and it’s surprising when somebody decides they do not need to subscribe to a shared reality.

      2. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

        Exactly. And if you’ve never dealt with it before, it’s hard to see what’s happening and it’s confusing as hell. And they can wear you down by being exhausting. He should just be fired for flat out lying to her and to the customer.

    5. Nicotena*

      To be I think the way to focus is not on the lies or the bizarre conversation, but simply on the deliverables like with any employee: in the example, the report was late and arrived riddled with errors. That’s a performance issue regardless of whatever runaround OP is getting. Document that in writing, and after two or three of these, you can fire this person. Their assessment of their own integrity is irrelevant.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I personally tend more toward ‘even the best managers can be caught massively off guard when the weird happens’. It’s not a reflection of how good one is as a manager.

    7. HR & Cats*

      This seems really unkind and unhelpful. The LW clearly knows something is wrong and that’s why she’s reaching out for help. I don’t think we need to question her entire ability to do her job.

    8. lobsterp0t*

      I mean. LW already got feedback in the reply that she needs to step it up a notch. This feels a little harsh. If you’re never confused by any human behaviour then it’s hard to learn how to handle it differently in future.

  21. Daniel*

    Me: “Didn’t you just say you completed it?”
    Paul: “It is complete but there are a couple of other things I need to do.”


    Paul sounds wildly incompetent at best. It’s totally possible that he’s just trying to manipulate you, but he is so far gone that it honestly doesn’t matter what his thought processes are. He’s making communication literally impossible by making “I did X” mean the same as “I didn’t do X”!

    Please get him on a PIP, like, yesterday, or the equivalent at your office, and loop in HR because you can’t be sure what BS this guy might try after you start laying out consequences. And try to make the PIP short if you can–I’m thinking a couple of weeks. Communication issues this basic can’t be left go keep going on like this.

    1. chai latte*


      Would love to hear how it shakes out in six months or a year or three! Hopefully for the best with LW standing up to him and him eventually no longer working there.

  22. Public Sector Manager*

    I had an employee just like this (with an emphasis on “had”). He would never admit he did anything wrong or that he didn’t follow through because he felt that if he admitted to something, it would be used against him towards discipline and termination. I explained to him that I needed to rely on what he told me, and we would never fire him for a single error unless it was egregious. I also said that if he was making errors, it was more important how many times he was making the same error, which we could address with training, conversations, workplace tools, etc..

    None of this sank in. He continued to do the same thing as the employee in the OP’s situation. So after our informal conversations, we went to issuing an expectations memorandum, then to a PIP, then to a demotion, then to more informal conversations, then another PIP, then termination. When he was being let go, he was still in denial–“I never saw this coming.”

    OP has been more than patient with someone having substantial performance issues.

    1. J.B.*

      I was team lead for someone like this, and my boss at the time thought he hung the moon so the behavior didn’t change. Years later (well after I had moved groups) the scuttlebutt was that he had finally messed up so badly she fired him.

  23. OtterB*

    I wonder how long he’s been working for LW, and if he has ever reported to someone else in the organization. I don’t think it makes any difference in the way it should be handled, but it might reduce the WTF-ery to know if he’s always been like this, if he’s a fairly new hire, or if he was different with previous supervisors.

    Yeah, announcing that he is a dependable employee with integrity – while turning in late and/or bad reports and gaslighting about them – and weird praise for supervisor – is just bizarre.

  24. Abax*

    You need to realize that your other reports are watching this. They know he isn’t doing his work, and they know he outright lies to you, and you let him get away with it because you “don’t have the energy”. This makes you look like an ineffective manager, both to your reports and eventually to your own manager. People notice these things, even though no one may have brought it up to you directly.

    1. oranges*

      THIS. People are losing respect for you as a manager. Fire him for YOUR professional future, LW!

  25. Sleepless KJ*

    I’m wondering if Paul is having some cognitive issues and this is his way of trying to cover it up?

    1. fhqwhgads*

      It doesn’t matter whether he’s doing it because he’s a manipulative jerk, has the maturity of a four year old, or an unknown to OP medical issue. The answer in all three cases is: if it continues, he can’t stay in this job.

  26. TechSupport*

    Sounds like the guy we let go at the beginning of 2021 almost word for word. The guy we let go would also gaslight the other employees, especially the women, when we tried to get a solid answer from him.

    1. Ari*

      It sounds kind of like the guy the country let go at the beginning of 2021 from, uh, an important supervisory role.

      1. STAT!*

        Sounds like the dude heading up MY country at the moment! Supposedly a religious fellow, but his true devotions appear to be as exemplified by the narcissist’s prayer elsewhere in this thread. He has been sacked from two other high profile jobs in dodgy circumstances. Hoping it will be a third booting very soon.

  27. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Is this new behavior? Or has it been building and has reached a tipping point? I wonder about brain issues or substance use that might cause him to “slip gears” about what he’s saying.

    I think the answer is still to continue to keep the conversations focused tightly on the original question, avoid any discussion of random, generalized qualities of his personhood and get right back to “I need a complete, correct report in my email at 4 PM today. Will that happen?”

    When it doesn’t, then the question can be “Is there something happening that makes you unable to keep doing your job?” If he says he’s doing fine, and there’s nothing he’ll change, then you can change whether he works there.

  28. My Friend Also Reads AAM*

    Without intending this as a diagnosis–but rather, as a counterbalance to the (understandable) default story line of, “this seems twisted” or “this seems gendered” or “this screams of intentional gaslighting.”

    While all of the above is (of course!) possible…

    A friend’s (amicably-separated) spouse was fired for pretty exactly this (escalating errors; non-truths presented as truths; rote retorts; failure to notice the disconnect between the-fact-as-stated-a-moment-ago and the-fact-as-restated). The problem had progressed to forgetting entire tasks, then forgetting scheduled work hours, despite being a valued employee of 20 years.

    The root cause turned out to be dementia (early onset, in the context of a family history of same).

    1. My Friend Also Reads AAM*

      Forestalling responses saying, “so, you’re saying she has to keep him on, if it’s not his fault / if it’s medical”–none of that is implied.

      Some companies do manage to keep people on, with backup, for months or years. Kudos, to those who make it work.

      But it’s common for early onset dementia to quickly zoom past the point where reasonable accommodations exist.

      1. chai latte*

        Precisely – whether or not it’s a medical thing or he’s just a manipulative dickhead, it doesn’t matter. (And it’s not LW or our business which it is – though if it was definitely a health condition, maybe an EAP referral and/or medical leave would be relevant).

        The behavior is untenable. The why isn’t really important.

      2. doreen*

        This behavior is exactly how my 81 year old mother began to act a few years ago ( to the point where she will tell my sister “you never take me anywhere” as my sister is in the car actually driving her somewhere and not even realizing the inconsistency) Whether it’s dementia or another cognitive deficit or if he’s just a manipulative liar doesn’t matter in terms of whether Paul has to go or not – he has to go if he doesn’t change . But if Paul is 75 and acting like this, I wouldn’t get the same “be careful in the parking lot ” vibe I would get if Paul was 45

    2. Elenna*

      Eh, it’s possible, but the patronizing responses make me think gaslighting/sexism.

      Either way, it’s not really LW’s problem since if this is a medical issue, a) Jack is going to have to admit that himself, and b) it seems pretty hard to make reasonable accommodations.

    3. Nanani*

      Occam’s razor puts the horse of “doesn’t respect younger woman in a position of authority” well ahead of the zebra of anything medical.

    4. root beer float*

      I’m with you, I’ve known a lot of people with dementia, and this is exactly how they act. They’re not intentionally trying to lie, but a lot of times they don’t know the answer and their brain is trying to compensate by confabulating or flattering you. When they say they’re reliable and have integrity, that probably is how they used to be in good health, but co

      This doesn’t change what you need to do (PIP–>likely dismissal) but it does mean that this should be done with compassion instead of the normal anger one might feel if they thought they were being intentionally lied to or gaslighted.

  29. The Crowening*

    Oh I worked with one of these a few years ago. It wasn’t dementia. It was a combination of gaslighting for sport and avoiding accountability. He was terrible at several parts of his job but seemed to resent the expectation that he could do them. This was a guy who once told me it was un-American that management expected him to be at work during certain (regular, first-shift) hours. He just felt like he should be able to do what he wanted, when he wanted, with little to no quality, and any efforts to hold him to our processes and deadlines were met with exactly this type of song and dance. It was exhausting and infuriating and although it took years of steady documentation on the part of our manager, they did eventually document his useless butt out the door.

    Oh – and he also had a habit of coming to the office in the middle of the night (we could tell from email and file-mod timestamps) and had been seen going into/out of people’s offices when he thought no one was around. We had things move around, go missing – so yeah. This type of flagrant lying and manipulation represents a major disrespect for personal and professional boundaries, which translates to “watch your back.” Start holding him to it and documenting this crap, like, yesterday.

  30. Don’t hide my straightener*

    You can’t fix this. My mom does this. You will never win (for lack of better word) You are always going to have “misunderstood,” or “put words in my mouth,” or “torally twisted what i was saying.”

    It’s a character flaw.

    You can not fix this.

    1. Neighborhood Friendly QC Lab Tech*

      My mother is exactly the same way. If it doesn’t sound like something she thinks that her perfect view of herself would do, she didn’t do it. Even if she did do or say it 30 seconds ago.

  31. Construction Safety*

    I’ma guessing the client interaction he had was because the client had the same type of conversation that the OP is having.

    1. logicbutton*

      Oh, a client was asking a bunch of questions of the guy who can’t keep a story straight for ten seconds? Weird!

    2. Bostonian*

      That’s the most alarming part for me.

      This guy actually thought he was in the right for being rude to a customer who *deigned* to ask a question?! What planet is he from?

  32. Cait*

    OMG, he needs to be fired asap. Unfortunately you need to cover your butt before you do so and that involves keeping notes of everything. Every conversation, every email, every meeting, etc.. Paul sounds like he has a few issues. One is a problem with authority in general, one is a problem with a FEMALE in authority, one is a problem with communication, and one is a problem with personal responsibility. All of this makes for a nightmare employee. It’s like trying to negotiate with a toddler. Toddlers don’t like to be inconvenienced or reprimanded so they try to change the subject, divert blame, and ignore you altogether. The best way to manage this is to not rise to the occasion. I agree with Alison’s example but also think this might be more straightforward…
    (same as above, then…)
    Paul: “I always do my job on time. I am a dependable employee.”
    You: “This isn’t an issue of whether you’re dependable or any other personality trait. All I need is for you to tell me if the project is done or not done (and when it will be done). Almost done, doesn’t count.”
    Paul: “You know, I have great integrity.”
    You: “Again, these various personality traits aren’t what concerns me. If you can’t give me a straightforward answer without trying to change the subject to your personality, we’re going to need to have a very serious conversation.”
    Paul: (Who knows what he’ll say! Something about integrity, probably.)
    You: “Paul, I need to give you a warning about how you are conducting yourself professionally. Let’s meet in my office at X time.”

    Every time he lies, send him an email (it’s probably best to communicate via written messages that you can save to back yourself up) and tell him that you’re giving him another warning. Let him know in explicit detail what you expect from him (answering your questions truthfully, not reprimanding clients for asking questions, not changing the subject to how great his personality is, etc.) and point out when he doesn’t follow up. After three or four instances of addressing these issues, let him know one more infraction will get him fired.

    It might also be worth thinking about his mental health. I’m not suggesting that an older person (you said he’s twice your age) must be senile but if he used to be a stellar employee and is now starting to falter in his work or is having a sudden change in demeanor, you might want to consider mental health issues at play.

  33. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, Paul needs to go. He lies to you and denies lying, he doesn’t comply with your reasonable requests, and you can’t count on him to produce reasonably error-free information. He doesn’t respect you or your authority, he manipulates, smokescreens, and deflects, and he talks ‘at’ you in pronouncements from Mt. Paul. He wants you to overlook his performance and instead think, ‘Yeah, he means well and he has integrity,’ but I’ll argue he does not on either count.
    He’s ducking the heat he deserves and, oh yes, HE LIES AS EASILY AS HE BREATHES.

    Also, I wondered the same thing Alison did – why didn’t you think his behavior warranted escalation?

  34. hbc*

    I would point out the big picture, and explicitly ban him from talking about his integrity, his professionalism, his dependability, and your skills as a boss. This seems to be where he’s getting hung up, either out of defensiveness/weakness or as a ploy.

    Something like: “I know your integrity and professionalism are very important to you, but we end up talking about them in situations where we’re trying to deal with a small issue, and it derails the conversation. If you have any concerns about my perception of you in that way, I need you to save them for our one-on-ones. But when I come to you with a question about whether the Z report is finished, I just need to know when I’ll have it in my inbox. Or when I tell you that customers are entitled to re-ask questions, we can’t have a debate about who is more or less professional. Understand?”

    And he will immediately respond with the fact that he doesn’t derail, he is completely professional, you will have to answer, “This is what I’m talking about. Can you commit to having regular conversations about work without bringing up your general professionalism and integrity?” It will be awkward as hell, but it gives him the most clear instructions for how to change, and you the clearest case for terminating him when he won’t stop derailing. Though really, the whole “I finished it, I emailed it to you, except it’s not finished really and therefore was never emailed” should have been enough.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      The temptation to just “that’s nice” every time he brings up his professionalism or integrity and just repeat the actual question until he has to try another tack (who knows, it might even include answering it, but I’m doubtful) is strong.

    2. Threeve*

      This is a good point–you’re talking about actions, and he’s trying hard to redirect to talking about characteristics. It’s okay to say “we’re talking about a specific [behavior/project/interaction] right now, not your overall performance.”

    3. HipsandMakers*

      Precisely this. Paul keeps shifting the conversation to his identity (as a professional with integrity) to avoid having the specific conversation about his behavior (providing misleading task updates, making rude remarks to clients). And that’s one of the things that specifically needs to change.

      1. hbc*

        Paul might not even aware he’s “shifting” the conversation. If he what he hears the OP saying is, “You have failed in your responsibility to deliver me a report and are a bad worker,” for him, the conversation *is* primarily about his identity. But if he can’t be pushed to focus on the narrower issue that his boss wants to talk about, it doesn’t really matter if it’s deliberate or accidental, just like the person who breaks down emotionally when you give them a little criticism/feedback.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Right, I had a coworker with similar issues. I also think it was at least some sexism on his part. He wouldn’t accept any feedback I gave him because I’m a woman, but our boss who was male could. This was even though I had a higher job title and a lot more experience than him. He also made mistakes a lot, but didn’t want to take responsibility for any of them. I started looking for another job in a different department after the first year in the role, which was the earliest point I could. Took me another year and a half to find one. He left not long after I did. My guess is that my replacement didn’t want to put up with him and finally convinced the new boss.

    4. __ID__*

      I was on a board where we managed a CEO who was a chronic liar. We didn’t realize this because “the board shouldn’t be involved in day-to-day matters; they set the direction for our future”. This diverted us from a good deal of her nonsense. One of her hallmarks was to constantly comment on her own “integrity”. She had people convinced that she was truthful because she talked about “having integrity” all the time. Now when I hear people talk about their integrity, I immediately smell a rat. People with integrity don’t need to talk about it all day. Anyway the lies that this person generated set us back in many ways.

      On a lighter note, I’d love to see OP respond to the Paul’s integrity claims with “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” (Credit to The Princess Bride)

  35. Former Llama Herder*

    Allison already gave excellent advice, but one additional piece I’d emphasize is documenting. Have conversations in writing when possible or just have a spreadsheet where you can privately document what’s going with a time stamp. When I was dealing with an employee who wasn’t providing reliable narratives, the best advice I got was to always have someone else in the room, especially for high stakes conversation.

    1. Red Swedish Fish*

      I was coming to say this too, if possible try and talk to him through messenger and copy the conversations.

    2. onco fonco*

      I was thinking both of these things – document these encounters (have email exchanges if possible but at the very least write it all down yourself somewhere) and have witnesses present whenever you possibly can to back up your version of events.

  36. Hack The Gibson*

    An employee I can’t trust is a line for me. I once had a boss who mentioned this when talking about trust “If I find that I can’t trust you, you’ll find I don’t need you.” I subscribe to this line of thought. Trust is the number one most important thing – you have to be able to trust your people.
    I would be hard-pressed to give extra chances to an employee that has broken my trust – and definitely if someone has out right lied to me. If you haven’t started HR type conversations, you might have to put up with it longer. I would definitely document any fresh conversations that you have along with picking up any emails that would show it has been a consistent pattern. The next thing I would recommend is to give this employee the lowest impact/priority things that you can until this situation is resolved (either by rebuilding trust or the employee is no longer at your company).

  37. Jiminy Cricket*

    I’ve worked with someone like this before. He drove his manager up the wall for years with incompetence but was successful in not getting fired using similar techniques. I definitely think flattery was used to make it harder to punish him. His manager was also very unpleasant and ineffective, and exceptionally weak to flattery. In the end his manager forced him to take ‘early retirement’ against his will – but it took about 10 years.
    This employee was a non-native English speaker, but I’m pretty sure he was using that as cover when he lied. Also in private, he told me all kinds of things that maybe explained his behavior – about how he felt deeply disrespected (he had a much higher position and professional qualifications in his country of origin) – as well as strange conspiracy theories and ideas about how we should improve the world using… eugenics? No seriously. But in public he was all smiles and had this disarming naivete. He was definitely smarter but also stranger than he made himself sound. I was rather creeped out by the end.
    So in my opinion, OP, you should act quickly. Put Paul on a PIP and probably fire him. He is manipulating you and indeed might do some sneaky things like make a formal made-up complaint against you (eg. age discrimination) to make it harder to fire him.

  38. Doc*


    If you hadn’t mentioned age, I would have thought it was just gaslighting. But…does he have dementia? Fabricating things to fill in gaps is classic for dementia. The other things (poor behavior suggestive of frontal lobe dysfunction, making lots of errors) also line up.

  39. teapot analytics manager*

    I had to move heaven and earth to fire a man just like this to the point that I wish I could email the OP to ask the name of this person.

    He lied to me consistently about the progress of a critical project and I only found out he was lying when the person to whom he had OUTSOURCED THE DEVELOPMENT WORK apologized to me for not having it done although they worked all weekend. It still took nine months to get him fired!

    It was a nightmare and I’m sorry but you need to immediately start documenting your case for termination.

  40. TootsNYC*

    this is one of the reasons I don’t love the “why did you do this?” and the “can we agree that you will…?” approach.

    I prefer something more direct, and a direct admonishment: “You just told me you had emailed it already. That was clearly not the truth. If this happens again, where you tell me something is done and it is not, we will be having a serious talk about whether you should still be working here. Is this clear?”

    1. TootsNYC*

      Him: I have integrity.
      You: No, you do not; you frequently tell me things that are not true. That’s the opposite.

    2. hbc*

      I think some of this depends on how easy it is to fire people at this company. I can definitely imagine Paul coming back with “I thought OP was asking about the writing portion of the report where it can be internally reviewed, not the final polish for the customer” and someone higher up giving him another chance because it’s all a big misunderstanding. If Paul actually tells OP that reason when asked “why did you do this?” in the moment, OP can shoot it down, and then there is zero question about misunderstanding if/when it happens again.

  41. Seashells*

    Please send us an update, OP! I am always so curious if anything changes when OP’s use Alison’s advice.

  42. Am there!*

    I know this guy. I am married to him.

    Conversations are super confusing. I don’t know that he realizes how much different his conception of reality is from mine, honestly. I always joke that it will be difficult to tell when he becomes senile, since he makes so little sense normally.

    I agree with other comments that your best communication strategy is to pursue specificities – rather than, is this complete?, ask, or tell him…I need this report on my desk today at 9 am. And, if you are willing to continue to work with him, and have the flexibility, build in a buffer on delivery expectations, since his definition of ‘complete’ is obviously not the same as the one generally used by mosr people.

    But, I would not to work with this guy either, so you have my sympathies!

    1. carbonbasedlifeform*

      i used to be married to this guy. and as i discovered, not only had he been lying constantly *to* me, he had also, of course, been lying *about* me to other people, blaming all manner of his own fuckups on me. if he ghosted on plans with someone? he’d say i forced him to stay home with me and wouldn’t let him use his phone, of course. Someone invited me out through him and he didn’t tell me about it so I appeared to have flaked out? he’d tell them i wasn’t comfortable around them and didn’t want to go.

      since i ended my marriage and cut him and his whole phony, image-is-everything, truth-is-whatever-i-need-it-to-be-in-the-moment-so-i-don’t-feel-or-look-bad family entirely out of my life, every single aspect of my life has improved significantly. my career, finances, social life, artistic expression, physical health, mental health, self-image, family relationships, housekeeping, everything. turns out if i’m not spending my days navigating bizarre convoluted obvious lies about everything from whether the cats got fed this morning to where my credit card is to how much money did you take out of the joint account that we both can see all transactions on anyway, i have so much more energy and emotional capital to spend on other things.

      just something to ponder.

      1. atru*

        I also used to be married to this guy. For more than a decade her convinced me that I was the problem and no one else could put up with me. He had and still has everyone convinced that he was the victim because… I was the one who was yelling and he was sooo calm while he lied constantly about absolutely anything. It turns out I wasn’t crazy and I haven’t raised my voice in 2 1/2 years!

        That is how people like this operate. I’m not at all surprised that OP can’t really tell if these issues are big enough to act on — part of this type of interaction is making you believe you’re the problem.

        Of all the stories in this thread about managing this man, I wonder which one is about my ex. He hasn’t worked for years, but before that he never met a job he didn’t immediately start trying to lose. After gaining more corporate experience since leaving, I realize now he was probably on a PIP at and knew he was going to get fired.

  43. Scott*

    It’s quite frustrating to see how many people ignore Alison’s commenting rule regarding armchair diagnosing people, only to have others pile on with their own experience with someone who had “that” neurosis, psychosis, etc.

    LW – you don’t need to figure out why Paul is exhibiting this behavior. We cannot control what’s in someone’s head, we can only react to their behavior. Focus on the inappropriate behavior and if he can’t fix it, terminate his employment.

    1. Observer*

      Most of the people who are sharing their experience are not trying to diagnose. They are trying to make a point. The most common themes:

      * This behavior doesn’t get better by itself. In most cases it doesn’t get better, Period. The only way to put an end to it is to fire the guy.

      * This behavior is EXHAUSTING. It also is a VERY big deal. Big enough to warrant the OP moving in the direction asap.

      * This behavior can confuse you, make you doubt yourself, make you doubt reality.

      * “All the sympathy”. BTDT.

  44. too many too soon*

    I was married to someone who did this kind of thing. I ended up divorcing, filing for bankruptcy (thanks to the destruction of my finances by said gaslighting liar) and put dude in jail for domestic violence. Paul needs to go.

  45. Your Mom...*

    This guy is exhibiting classic narcissistic behavior patterns: lying, gaslighting, unfounded and overinflated sense of self-worth, misdirection and obfuscation. If he is indeed a narcissist, the likelihood of him changing his behavior is almost nil. Draft an improvement plan, including as short a timeline for improvement as allowed by your company policies, with dated and pre-scheduled check ins, and then HOLD HIM TO IT. Also, document, document, document. This guy is a slippery one, and will most likely continue his MO if/when you fire him for misconduct, negligence and poor job performance, by appealing to people higher up the food chain. Do yourself a favor and loop your supervisor(s) in NOW, and ask for their input (if that makes sense in your organization), but at least give them a heads up, so they are not unpleasantly surprised by the likely fallout.

  46. Perstephanie*

    Ah geez, this is like growing up with my mother. (Except she was the one with authority over me.)

    Even now, decades later, I haven’t found a way to explain what it’s like dealing with her reality-bending. Sometimes it seemed clear she knew she was lying; other times, it was like she really believed the words coming out of her mouth. Talking with her was like trying to walk across a waterbed.

    If his brain works like my mother’s did: You can’t win. He’ll never see the reality you do. He’ll never acknowledge what he’s doing. He may or may not even be fully aware of what he’s doing. He’ll never give an inch. You’ll be wrong-footed forever.

    As a kid, I learned: *Trust yourself, and disengage.*

  47. ThinMint*

    Oooo LW, I used to have a Paul work for me. It drove me bananas. Those back and forths go nowhere as you’ve seen because this is practiced behavior for Paul and he knows how to become so circular that nothing happens.

    With my Paul, I stopped asking after one question and would instead say things like ‘When you say X is complete and then immediately tell me is it not complete, you are misrepresenting you’re work and the status of a project. You cannot do this for Y and Z reasons.’

    Y and Z reasons were always tied back to the work. Yes, I felt like Paul was just a liar, but connecting it back to work kept my emotions in check about it. I should also add that in addition to to tying it back to work product, my Paul was generally evaluated on communication and I would also cite this as a pattern there.

    Good luck!

  48. LizB*

    Whether this is dementia, intentional gaslighting, a combination, or something else entirely, I feel like the OP’s action steps are the same. Paul needs to be turning in acceptable work on time. He’s not doing that. He needs to be civil with clients. He’s not doing that. He needs to be clearly communicating to his manager where he’s at with his work. He’s not doing that either. This needs to be escalated into formal discipline, like yesterday, and he needs to be outta there if he can’t or won’t shape up.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Agreed. Unless and until Paul brings forward a medical diagnosis, the OP’s responsibility to herself, her staff, and her clients remains the same. Even if he did a change in duties would likely be on the table. I’m sympathetic if something is wrong, but I’ve known enough dudes like this that something being wrong isn’t my default assumption.

      1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

        Yeah, I feel like people so want it to be something else that they miss the fact that there are a lot more manipulative assholes out there than people with an actual mental illness. I guess you can keep it in mind, but, ya know, get off my foot no matter what.

    2. Actual Vampire*

      Right. It sounds like LW is caught up on the fact that she can’t convince Paul he’s wrong. But as my therapist used to say… if you had to convince someone they were wrong before they faced consequences, very few people would ever face consequences.

  49. irritable vowel*

    I have a parent like this, who I could picture quite easily having these conversations with his supervisors at work, where he was never successful and often let go, for reasons that were of course completely unfair and not his responsibility. Google “charming psychopath” and you will probably recognize this guy.

  50. Grayling38*

    This wasn’t mentioned by the OP but is another culture involved? I live and work in a country where what I would call lying isn’t seen as lying, and where sometimes people don’t want to admit that they haven’t finished something they should have finished (especially the men). I have found myself getting into these life sapping circular arguments, and I know they find my questioning bizarre. This doesn’t stop me, obviously. On researching this a bit more, collectivist cultures are more likely to do this than individualist. This might be completely irrelevant but the conversation extracts really reminded me of what I’ve had to deal with on practically a daily basis since I moved here. And if I tried to fire everyone who did it I’d have hardly any employees.

    1. Retired(but not really)*

      I have experienced this with a person who spent an extended period of time in a culture like Greyling38 described. When he returned it became obvious that his initial response to any question would be what he thought you wanted to hear. Followed by “reasons” it wasn’t actually quite that way after all.
      I had to remind him that I wanted to know the reality from the get go, not sometime later. It took awhile but eventually he did change.
      This was not in a work situation for me. Don’t know how he was at work.

  51. foolofgrace*

    What Alison said, but you could keep the convo on track when he says something off-topic by saying “That’s a separate conversation, we’re talking about X.” Keep saying that. Like when he says how dependable he is — “Your dependability is a separate conversation, we’re talking about the XYZ report. You told me X and I want to know why.” I use this tactic in “arguments” / disagreements with a certain friend of mine.

  52. irene adler*

    Where I work, this ‘technique’ is used by the head of manufacturing to get management off his back regarding product deadlines. Or to avoid scrutiny over missed deadlines. Works too!

    He tells them X product is “Done and ready to ship” when in fact, they haven’t even built X yet. So management comes after me wanting to ship X product today. “So where are we with testing? Did it pass? Customer wants it ASAP! Irene, let’s go! You are delaying shipments!”

    So I have to be the one to explain that X product is not made yet (and I cannot test what is not built-right?). I am not believed. THEY insist it is built and I need to go check into this (“he told me so!”). I do. And every time, the head of manufacturing shakes his head and says to me, “They misunderstood.” Uh-huh. Right.

    Management keeps falling for this- for over 20 years now.

    They never seem to learn.

    1. A Person*

      Have you tried walking management over to manufacturing and saying it all in front of both of them, rather than being the go-between that is never believed?

  53. Siege*

    Anybody who tells you they are X or are not X in fact is not X or is X. Doesn’t matter whether X is racist, stupid, has great integrity, anything that is not a direct noun (and even sometimes then!) that goes into X is exactly what that person is. Paul has no integrity and is not dependable. If he was either of those things, he wouldn’t need to lie to everyone who challenges his self-view of how great he is, including himself and you. Paul needs to be fired.

    1. Sylvan*

      It’s like “I hate drama” or “I’m an empath.”

      Someone might have integrity or hate drama or be empathetic, but wait and see if it checks out before you believe it.

      1. SimplytheBest*

        Any person who says “I hate drama” I just *know* will end up being the biggest drama magnet in that situation. It always happens.

  54. A*

    This is the guy on the other side of my cube. Anytime anyone asks anything of him, there is pathological avoidance which includes lying, gaslighting, illogical arguments and outbursts if the other three don’t work. He’s made it so that it takes a pound of your flesh to interact with him and expending all of your energy to get him to do anything. It’s paid off for him in that people now avoid him and he does little to no work each day.

    1. Actual Vampire*

      Hey I’m sure you aren’t aware of this, but “pound of flesh” as an idiom has an antisemitic origin and I personally find it painful to hear/read.

      Anyway, sorry about your cubemate! That sounds exhausting.

      1. NJ Worker*

        Thanks for the info. I find any work idioms using body parts weird – like skin in the game, flesh out (an idea), etc. But I will note this as specifically biased.

      2. A*

        I think the common understanding of the phrase has no anti Semitic connotation. There are phrases that do have a strong, obvious and odious connection to anti Semitism in common parlance, but not this one.

        1. ThatGirl*

          It has a connection to antisemitism in that it’s from Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice) and is the payment the Jewish character Shylock demands. There is a lot of debate over whether Shylock is a sympathetic character or not; antisemites have used the play to support their views over the years.

          1. Actual Vampire*

            And Shakespeare got the idea from an older novel with a similar plot. It seems to be an antisemitic idea that was floating around Europe for a while. I think part of the problem with antisemitic phrases (as well as with other offensive phrases) is that so much of it is so old and so divorced from its context that it can be easy to forget/ not care what the original context was. But I think it’s useful to know where phrases came from – even if you don’t choose to stop using a particular phrase, it’s good to understand how the language in which you express yourself is shaped by discrimination.

        2. Observer*

          Please. That’s just not true. Most people who know the phrase know that it’s connected to the Jew Shylock who wanted a terrible price from his poor victim.

          While it’s true that there is a some legitimate debate about whether Shylock is actually a sympathetic character or not (his speech in where he asks “Do we not bleed” is pretty powerful) the play mostly casts him as the villain. And while people know of the play, they actually do NOT generally realize that he might be more nuanced. It’s “Shylock the Jew and his pound of flesh” all the way.

          Pretty much every dictionary / reference that has the phrase explicitly mentions the Merchant of Venice and the unreasonable cruelty of Shylock (with zero mention of possible nuance.)

          I get that YOU may not have meant it that way. But when something like this gets pointed out to you, maybe you should back off? It’s not like this is the only (or even best) way to communicate something.

        1. allathian*

          Me neither, but I’m happy to be informed so I won’t use the phrase. I always figured it had something to do with the seven deadly sins and the punishment for greed…

    2. Middle Manager*

      This. 100x this. I inherited a fully incompetent employee who literally did no work in my first management job. Through a combo of gaslighting, complaining, lateness, calling of sick, excuses, blaming others, “misunderstanding”, making claims of racism that were clearly BS, and any other number of tactics she had at her disposal, she had managed to stay in a job for over a decade that she not only didn’t do, but couldn’t do, because it was so tremendously painful to deal with her on any level.

      I’m a little bit prone to tilting at windmills, so when I came in as her manager, I put my foot down. She would often quote me her prior supervisors performance reviews, basically saying that is anyone had ever told her she was a satisfactory employee, than I was just a mean/racist/unfair/young/stupid manager because I was wrong and they were right. It sounded so much like this guy constantly resorting to “but I have integrity”. She escalated the nonsense 10x for awhile and eventually self destructed by telling blatant and document lies to senior management. It took me three years (government bureaucracy at its finest), but she is gone and I’m promoted. It is an epic relief and not just to me.

      For the love of all that is good in the world, deal with this person and sooner than later. The longer this goes on, the worse it would get.

  55. Drew*

    I managed a person like this. The goal was to make it as difficult as possible to assign him work.

    Performance improvement plans were worthless, because then he knew exactly how low the bar was. He knew that he just had to wait until a new manager was assigned, and he could start it all over.

  56. Almost Empty Nester*

    This sounds like a bad Saturday Night Live sketch. I would immediately start sending emails instead of talking with him in person. It’s hard to deny statements that are in black and white in the email string.

  57. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Document, document, DOCUMENT. Don’t ask him in person how Project X is going. Email him and ask him when you can expect to see the deliverable for Project X. Ask him to email daily updates on his progress and projects. Show him where he committed to Deadline Z and Deliverable H.

    If this is new behavior for Paul, it might indeed be worth inquiring whether there is a medical issue going on, although this is an area where you need to tread carefully and bring HR in to advise you. In any case, it’s on him to understand that there’s a problem and take appropriate steps.

    1. irene adler*

      I don’t disagree- document everything.
      However, even with written communication, there’s still ways to wiggle around what was written. Paul will claim he misunderstood something when he responded to the LW’s inquiries or submitted updates. Hence the “complete” report is not really “complete” because “I thought you meant something else when you asked about completion dates”.
      It is all designed to exasperate the LW.

  58. History Girl*

    I second Alison’s advice to be wary in the parking lot after laying down the law with this guy. My supervisor at a volunteer gig behaved just this way, and when I went to report my concerns to the board of directors he cornered me one night and started screaming at me and threatening me.

    Not to say this will definitely happen with Paul. But people who behave this way sometimes will turn on a dime when they realize there are consequences headed their way.

    1. Michael Valentine*

      I am also concerned. Paul is very practiced at this technique and expects it to keep working. If you’re the one who finally successfully exposes the fraud, so to speak, he might come down on you hard.

    2. Tiny Soprano*

      I would also be very proactive in looping in upper management and/or HR and making sure they’re aware of his track record of behaviour, your plans of action, and his potential to retaliate. A big extinction burst is one possibility. Another is that he might try and go over your head when you start enforcing better standards. He has a pattern of lying, inability/unwillingness to accept responsibility for his own actions, exhaustive glibness and an inaccurate self-concept. So he could well try and pitch a narrative where you’re the unreasonable one persecuting a model employee, especially to anyone he perceives to have authority over you. I would document the crap out of everything and make sure HR and the higher ups have your back before you even begin with this guy.

  59. Lee the Speech Enby*

    This is what I was thinking. Especially given that the reports had so many errors. Some people with early stages of dementia are really good at hiding it, and if you don’t have the context of the disease there you just think their behavior is weird or confusing.

  60. Judy Bloom*

    I had a Paul not too long ago- this one was younger than me but same scenario. I could never figure out if they could just not do the job or were just stringing me along. Eventually they were fired after a year of documentation – I was too exhausted dealing with their shenanigan to care anymore.

  61. Academic*

    This comment will probably not help solve this situation, but I am absolutely imagining this co-worker as Creed Bratton.

  62. Free Meerkats*

    Since he’s going to (already does) deny that any of this is happening, I would suggest giving him notice that any further conversations “may be recorded for quality assurance.” Before you ask the first question, pull your phone out and hit record. Be very obvious about it, maybe even say, “I’ve started recording our conversation.” Then see if the same thing happens. If it doesn’t, you know he’s f-ing with you; if it does, he’s either totally oblivious or has a medical/metal problem and you have evidence to play for HR when you move to fire him.

    1. Lizzo*

      IANAL, but I think there are serious legal concerns with using this approach based on comments I’ve read from actual lawyers here about similar proposals to audio or video record conversations.

      1. JSPA*

        If it’s disclosed in advance, the only problem i can think of would be violation of work rules. Recording someone with prior notification is legal and common — think of all of the tech support and financial support lines this state explicitly that you are on a recorded line before the conversation starts.

    2. LC*

      I was wondering about this too. If they’re remote and communicate via Teams or something, recording is a built in option. I doubt it’ll solve anything, but it might be helpful in the process of getting rid of him.

      And if they’re in a two party consent state or something else meaning OP can’t record without Paul’s consent, then only communicate over chat and email. Let him know those are his two options. (Obvs confirm with HR/Legal/whoever that this is okay.)

      A note about using text chat, I’d look into what happens if someone edits something they typed after the fact. Does it show it’s been edited? Even if it does, does a record of what was originally sent exist? If he can edit something after the fact and there’s no way to see what it initially was, that might actually even be worse than having voice conversations since the written record can’t be trusted either.

  63. Firecat*

    I know a lot of commentors will probably think dementia due to the 2x my age comment, but honestly I’ve had this exact issue with young men too. I think this is purposeful misleading and manipulation. Especially when they “pivot” the conversation of simple fact to I have integrity and professionalism – essentially stonewalling the conversation because to press the fact is to call them a name. We also had a recent president who did exactly this.

    Do you have other direct reports? Have you talked to them? I would not be surprised to find out this guy is offloading his work on others, particularly younger female coworkers and/or delivering subpar work internally.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This. Especially in combination with the other behavior that’s clearly condescending. This is a power maneuver.

    2. Firecat*

      Also as someone who has worked with dementia patients, the confusion is never this consistent and pointed. It’s usually more like:

      Did you finish the report?
      Which report?
      The green one?
      Oh yes yes.
      I don’t see it emailed where is it?
      Where is what?
      The green report?
      Oh it’s not done.
      But you just said it’s done?
      Did I? Say that?
      I’m sorry I’m confused what are we talking about? < And this is where the flustered behaviors can start. Laughing it off, getting defensive etc.

      The amount of mental memory required to consistently lead people down the – we are talking about my professional reputation and not a specific problem is huge.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Yeah, and even if he *does* it doesn’t change the advice. For instance, I’ve got a mental illness that can cause delusions. It’s very well controlled these days but if it does slip and I have a bad ‘flare up’ and really can’t equate my version of reality to…actual reality, it’s enormously helpful to not have people just handwave it or ignore it.

      In fact ‘that’s not what we’re talking about Keymaster, at all’ is rather kind.

  64. Salad Daisy*

    Seems like he is gaslighting you at least part of the time. I am also wondering about the dynamic of him being older than you. I may be totally off base here, but do you use she/her as your pronouns? If so, it could be a combination of age and misogyny that is driving their behavior.

    And I second the parking lot warning!

  65. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Those back-and-forth conversations would drive me around the bend.

    I’d start looking at a completely different conversation style with Paul. As another commenter has said, ask open-ended questions instead of yes/no questions. And let Paul run out of steam.

    “Tell me where we stand on Project X.”
    blah blah blah some more things blah blah
    “Tell me what the action plan is for completing each of those things.”

  66. quill*

    One thing about the liar: the fact that he’s got an error problem and a communication problem makes me wonder if the problem is something in his working memory – either he’s remembering that he’s not done AFTER he’s told you that he’s done and then digging himself into a hole by not admitting that the first thing he said was inaccurate, or he’s lying and self justifying his way into a hole. Either way, recording what he’s said – possibly getting it written down? – might be a reasonable step after laying down the law. If you otherwise think that it’s worth the effort of keeping him, at least temporarily.

    I’m less inclined to believe it’s a simple communication difficulty with the condescension and the being rude to clients though.

  67. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Disclaimer: I am NOT saying this guy has the same issues the guy I fired for doing similar did. In fact I still don’t care *why* he lied and gaslit me constantly.

    It’s eerie how similar it is. My staff member outright told a client that they were far too stupid to ask him any questions and that they weren’t respecting him by asking stuff. Then he started closing calls in the queue (tech support) that he hadn’t actually done, but would claim that he’d assessed and found to be not important enough, or he’d claim he had fixed easily and just hadn’t had time to put the notes in.

    It escalated, I’m sorry to say I didn’t do enough but at this point he actually had me questioning my own sanity – given that I’ve got a past with delusions.

    He started verbally abusing other members of staff (only ever young women or LGBTQ people) and then saying that he never did that. He broke an entire database (you don’t run untested stuff on a production box!) and gave me a half hour speak about how it wasn’t him, he didn’t do it (I can see the server logs!) and anyway it’s really unfair how I’m always picking on him.

    Talked to my manager about this because I really did wonder if I was losing my mind. My boss at the time (this was about 8 years ago) told me to never let myself be diverted. When telling Dirtbag Dave (the liar) he’d messed up and said something wrong I wasn’t interested in his reasoning, or who else he thought had done it, or what he’d thought he’d said 30 seconds ago : I just wanted him to stop the bad behaviour.

    Unfortunately a few weeks of ‘I don’t want to hear your explanations- you were wrong and I want you to make sure you act better in future – end of discussion’ and he did something really awful to another member of staff – in front of me! – and claimed that he didn’t do it, and then he couldn’t help it because he had a drinking problem. Therefore I shouldn’t expect him to remember stuff and him being an absolute git to others was something I’d ‘have to accomodate’.

    He got escorted off the premises that day. I really, really, really regret not putting in the paperwork to get him fired before that. Toward the end he hurt that other member of staff a LOT and…gods I should have protected my staff better.

    If only I’d pulled up him sooner and stopped him. I don’t care *why* someone lied to me at work now – they stop lying or they go.

    1. Salad Daisy*

      This reminds me of a quote from the movie The Blues Brothers, where John Belushi is in the sewer with Carrie Fisher:
      I ran out of gas! I got a flat tire! I didn’t have change for cab fare! I lost my tux at the cleaners! I locked my keys in the car! An old friend came in from out of town! Someone stole my car! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Rather apt! He’d got rather good at claiming that he had a protected right to do/say whatever he liked and that his perception of what had actually happened was far more important than my perception of what had happened. Or the client’s perception. Or his coworker’s perception (“you don’t honestly believe I called her a *seriously offensive word* do you? I’m not like that! She’s trying to get me into trouble”).

        Nightmarish. I hope never to encounter his like again.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Yet I also know people who will go blank when challenged simply because they are being forced to face their own failings and can’t handle it. The cause doesn’t matter — what matters for OP is getting this guy off her team.

  68. Aspiring Great Manager*

    I had an employee a bit like this. IT SUCKS.

    How I managed it and it was hard but it worked:
    – Document everything you have so far in writing about this madness
    – Loop in HR and your manager immediately and tell them what is happening
    – Start on a Action Plan /PIP right away.
    – Manage that action plan VERY closely and focus on the results and milestones. That is the only thing that matters, forget about claims of integrity or whatever – do NOT engage in these conversations.

    As for interactions:
    – Don’t ask questions. Instead give instructions and set deadlines. Ask if they have questions about the task and answer.
    – Send the task and agreement in writing, if the item is not sent by the deadline, send a follow up by email
    – Do not engage in anything except the work objectives and deliverables because anything else is an HR slippery slope. Your job is to manage the work, so buckle down and do that very tightly.
    – If, and only if he would react well and you can cope, sit down in one of the Action Plan conversations and tell him you are concerned about his wellbeing and provide resources he can contact.

    Good luck OP, this is not easy but the only way out is through it!

    1. ferrina*

      I’ve had this employee too. It’s the worst. It sounds like you managed it really well.

      Unfortunately, you have to shut down communication with this type of employee. You say your piece (preferably in email) and DO NOT converse. You can’t follow societal rules of nicety, because they will say that rules of nicety say [INSERT WHATEVER GETS THEM OUT OF TROUBLE].

      My employee loved to do this tactic where she moved from this particular instance to generalities, and then use those hypothetical generalities to tell me why it was unfair that I punish her (i.e., by giving her feedback).

      Me: You missed a bunch of typos on this document.
      Her: But I have great attention to detail! You know I have great attention to detail!
      Me: This document has a bunch of typos.
      Her: You know this isn’t like me! I don’t know what happened! My computer has been having issues! This isn’t my usual work, and it’s not fair that you’re punishing me!

      Even though I warned my manager, I still got in trouble when she complained that I micromanaged her (i.e, gave feedback on her work and told her when it wasn’t up to standards….which is my job) and told them that I yelled and was vindictive and that she was afraid of repercussions. Even though this had never come up with any other colleague and never came up in the 2 years prior, her words were taken at face value. I had to document my own actions for three months (after having 3 months documentation on her actions) before I could even talk about putting her on a PIP.
      Then I left the company. Cuz seriously, who wants to deal with this drama?

  69. Aquawoman*

    “These are not the reports you’re looking for. Move along.”

    “Rebuttal” emails are not ok, and especially not with the “third side is the truth” garbage. You don’t get to be a troll at your job.
    One possibility is to ask for the DRAFT of the Z report right away, because I bet dollars to donuts that the 3 things he hasn’t done are the beginning, middle and end.

  70. redflagday701*

    Ugh, I had a conversation much like this with a couple of people a few years ago. I had inklings of what it would be like, but the actual experience was infuriating. In one breath they’d admit they were essentially responsible for what I was concerned about, but in the next they’d proclaim that they’d never do such a thing. It was not an issue where they had to worry about admitting to any legal liability — it was like they were literally allergic to taking the blame, like they had to avoid it at all costs. It felt creepy the same way the dialogues with Paul do. Of course, they weren’t working for me. They’re just running the Montessori school my kid goes to.

    1. redflagday701*

      (All of this is to say I agree with the folks who say this isn’t dementia or a brain tumor. There are just some people who are like this. They need to feel like they’re in control — the teachers I mention are also cloyingly condescending, like Paul — and it’s so hardwired that they deny reality to maintain the fiction they’ve created.)

      1. Recruited Recruiter*

        “They’re just running the Montessori school my kid goes to.”

        This could totally be my former employer…

    2. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      “Allergic to taking the blame” is what it sounds like to me too.

      There are people who are quite competent in some ways, whose professional/emotional skill set has a big gap at “owning your mistakes”.

      It’s like they never learned to tolerate the sinking feelings of “uh oh, I made a mistake”, or “this person is thinking less than highly of me”. So whenever the need for that arises, they have to quickly push the conversation onto different territory.

      (I’m thinking of this one time when someone forgot to do something, and without any kind of “aah sorry, I forgot”, they immediately shifted to claiming the task “wasn’t important”. Same thing on a much tinier scale, I think.)

  71. EngGirl*

    Oh this so very much reminds me of the only time I’ve had to fire an employee.

    They would just tell me they’d completed major tasks and I took them at their word then a few days later I’d have a massive problem because they hadn’t actually done the work and it was causing down stream issues. The employee would then hedge and say “well I meant to finish it that day but I didn’t get around to it” and then they could never tell me what got in their way. I spent a lot of time explaining the importance of deadlines, communication, and the effects this work had down the line. When she tried to blame me because she didn’t feel I have her enough help planning timelines I set up an entire tracking system which she then didn’t use or filled out marking tasks complete before they were done. It was rough.

  72. Archaeopteryx*

    Do not engage. He’s trying to be a slippery bar of soap; stop allowing him to set the terms of the discussion. There shouldn’t be a discussion; he has integrity issues and needs to be gone.

  73. Lacey*

    I have known people where it turned out to be a medical problem (I don’t remember the details, an extreme vitamin deficiency or something) that was causing them to contradict themselves ALOT one day, but they would be highly competent the next.

    I’ve also known people who did similar things and it was this finely honed work avoidance strategy. Probably built up over their entire career.

    But, the cause doesn’t super matter to the OP and I think Allison’s advice is right on and I agree that this is WAY more serious than the OP thinks it is.

  74. Batgirl*

    OP you need to drop the goal of getting Paul to admit to anything before you expect anything. Just go ahead and expect. If you can’t go straight to firing him, concentrate on putting the burden back on him to meet basic communication goals of 1) No inappropriate interaction with clients, 2) Accurate work and 3) Accurate work status updates. Notify him that his job’s in trouble if he doesn’t clean up his act, no discussion! Anytime he misses those goals make a note. If he says “It’s done” 30 seconds before he says “It’s not done”, don’t get into the weeds of a discussion, just jot it down as failing goal 3. Raise it with him when you fire him if you want to, but don’t expect a sensible response.

  75. SJ*

    I had a direct report like this! (Very briefly, because I had no patience for it.)
    He was just a dishonest person. There are people like that! He was active in the local tech entrepreneurship scene and, as far as I could tell, took a “bullshit your way through a pitch meeting” approach to every interaction. Like he was just in that mode all the time?? He would lie about things being done and then get either defensive or flattering if pressed. When that didn’t work he got verbally aggressive, and as a result of that he was immediately let go.

    It takes all kinds, I guess… but not in my office.

    1. SJ*

      Also, OP – you might find some solace in the book Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft. It’s aimed at women in relationships with abusive men, but there is a lot there that might be helpful to your situation. Dealing with someone so extremely slippery is very difficult and stressful and you deserve support. You can google the name of the book plus “pdf” to find free copies online if you don’t have safe access to a bookstore or library copy – the author has confirmed he is okay with people reading the book that way if they need to for any reason. :)

  76. Isabel Archer*

    Any chance this guy is TRYING to get fired? Hates his job and would like to collect unemployment for a while? His behavior is so deliberate and consistent, I just have to throw this possibility out there.

    1. Natalie*

      Actually, I think this could be a possibility. I have (unfortunately) known several people who purposely tanked at their jobs because they wanted to be fired for some reason or another. One person actually told me they hated their job, but if they quit their spouse would be furious. So they just did a bunch of stuff that lead them to be fired. Because they got fired and blamed it on “mean jerk boss”, their spouse wasn’t as angry. That whole situation was super manipulative all around!

      1. Isabel Archer*

        Natalie – That was actually one of the scenarios I envisoned as well. Quitting would bring undesirable consequences elsewhere in his life, but he’d be off the hook from those consequences if he got fired.

  77. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    This sounds like straight up gaslighting to me. When people tell you you didn’t hear something you very obviously did hear, or they say/do something but then deny it and try to make you look like the crazy one, that’s manipulative gaslighting behavior. Unfortunately way too many people get away with this psychological bullying and harassment, and that’s what it is.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      This was meant to be a reply but honestly it stands. I’m begging literally anyone to watch Gaslight before tossing that term around. Unless this employee is intending to make OP doubt their sanity so that the employee can enact further abuse, this isn’t gaslighting, it’s garden variety manipulation and lying. I swear, culture has completely destroyed this word’s meaning and made it impossible for actual victims of gaslighting and abuse to talk about their experience.

      1. Boo Radley*

        This is a pet peeve of mine as well. Discussions on social media seem to have a difficulty with proportionality. Whenever there is a consensus that something is reprehensible, there seems to be a severity creep in the commentary.

      2. redflagday701*

        I’m not sure the mainstreaming and consequent blurring of the term really makes it impossible for victims of gaslighting to talk about it — even if you just describe the experience without using the word, it’s going to sound horrifying and despicable to any sane and compassionate person. And there’s a lot of value in such terms becoming better known, so that people can recognize what’s being done to them, even if the tradeoff is some definitional creep.

        But beyond all that, I don’t think this is even that much of a misuse of the word! Paul is denying reality, and the effect has been to make OP question herself. He’s not just lying.

        1. Mannequin*

          I didn’t know what my abusive ex did was called “gaslighting” until just a few years ago, when the term became more well known, but I sure knew something was off…and I dated that guy in the mid 80s! I’m grateful the term is popularized!

    2. Nanani*

      I think people are calling it gaslighting not because of the “it’s done” when it’s not done lies, but because Paul keeps trying to convince LW that he is dependable and reliable when he isn’t.
      THAT is the gaslighting. Manipulating reality. Trying to convince people that he’s really a good employee when he’s demonstrably not, is gaslighting.

    3. Batgirl*

      He’s rewriting what he said exactly a moment before. That’s not straightforward lying. It’s “no you’re mistaken about your own ability to hear”.

  78. NW Mossy*

    Another poster nailed it, I think – Paul’s behavior is showing you that he doesn’t tell the truth about his work. He’s continuing to lie in an easily disprovable way despite repeated conversations that make it clear you’re not taken in by his obfuscations and are imposing some consequences (direct negative feedback, remedial training, etc.).

    In that context, Paul’s inappropriate behavior is unlikely to change because he either doesn’t have the ability or the will (or both) to be able to change. He’s already broken commitments to change. And ultimately, an employee who does not demonstrate the ability to change is an employee who will never be materially better than they are today. If you aren’t prepared to live with this indefinitely, he has to go.

    We could speculate as to why Paul is who he is, but it doesn’t really matter for you. It matters for Paul because he’d be a whole lot more likely to be able to keep his job if he could identify the cause and address it. But you’re his boss, and you’re not in a position to be his doctor or therapist or spiritual counselor or whatever he needs to understand himself.

    I managed a Paul once, and what ultimately brought me to peace with firing them was that I’d given them reasonable and fair opportunity to remedy the issues. The fact that they couldn’t reconcile their own poor performance with their self-image as a good employee was not a problem I could solve for them, but I could solve my problem of a chronically underperforming employee with the performance management structure my company has.

  79. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — If you haven’t done so already, you really, really need to brief your own manager and your HR about this. Now, not tomorrow. Because as soon as you start drawing boundaries for Paul and holding him accountable, he will start to complain about you to everybody within reach. So get in now with your own administrators, get any advice they have to offer, and line up their support.

    I know it’s tempting to speculate about why Paul acts this way, but it’s irrelevant. One of the smartest HR directors I’ve ever worked with told me never to let myself get drawn into discussions of the motives of problem employees (I had more than one), just focus on the behavior that needs to stop and what needs to be done instead. Since Paul is good at side-tracking people, you need to cut off the discussion yourself before he gets entrenched in it. “Mostly done isn’t the same as done. Have the report to me by noon.” Keep your tone neutral and stop saying “please.”

    The other thing you need to do is document everything Paul does that doesn’t meet professional standards. It sounds as though you’ve let this behavior go on for a while, and your HR people are probably going to insist on documentation. Try to shift most of your communication with Paul to email and bcc a copy to your personal mailbox. Make notes of conversations and keep them someplace Paul can’t find them. There are several good online cloud storage services available. Pick one and start a Paul folder.

    Alison may be right that you’ll need to watch your back in the parking lot at night, but I think it’s more likely that you’ll get an increase in his condescending behavior, some passive-aggressive acting out, and maybe some petty sabotage. Are there other people at your office whose work overlaps with Paul’s? He should NOT be the only one who knows how to do key processes nor should he be the sole source for critical information. If he is, start working on cross-training and written documentation as soon as possible.

    Good luck and please send us an update.

  80. Agent Diane*

    He just submitted a major report to me that is riddled with errors. I explained some of the mistakes, and he just gave me a blank look. I told him I would go through it thoroughly and we could discuss each item in detail next week, and he just smiled and said that was fine and he commended me for being thorough.

    He commended you? HE commended YOU? This is not how this relationship should work. You can use this report as your evidence base over the coming weeks. Do not fix all his mistakes for him: find them, group them by type and tell him the pattern of his errors. Give him a clear timescale for him to fix the report. Hold him to it. Document how you provided him with feedback and a timescale, and his performance against that.

    Also, if you don’t already have regular one-to-ones scheduled, get them in the diary. Then when he pulls his “I’m very reliable. Very reliable.” BS you can say “we can discuss that in our weekly one-to-one on Friday – all I need to know for now is if you’ve done X.”

  81. Boo Radley*

    I have a sneaking suspicion my 4 year old is leading a double life as your employee. This is a line for line remake of conversations we have about her stealing desserts.

  82. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    The back and forth-ing would be way too much for me as a manager, and exasperating if I were a coworker or employee who is diligent, efficient, and does a dang good job, watching this go on and watching him keep his job. I wonder how many times he says it’s not his fault the printer was jammed.

  83. Ashley*

    This x 100.

    Integrity, professionalism, dependability are all things you SHOW. I have all of these traits and have never once said these words in the course of describing myself at work because I act it every day. Like how if some guy talks to me about how he’s “a Nice Guy” I’m probably going to run for the hills.

    1. Ashley*

      Oh no, this was meant to be a reply to another comment. Oh well, it still stands on its own, I think.

    2. esmerelda*

      Haha, yes! I laughed at the “Nice Guy” line and running away – I mean, not that it’s actually funny (it’s terribly creepy!), it’s just so accurate and I wish it wasn’t.

  84. Workerbee*

    Fire Paul yesterday. He’ll survive just fine—he’s got his integrity, after all.

    All legality permitting, I would be recording each Paul conversation, or at the very least resort only to written communication. Though those types are really good at denying even those proofs, so at the end of the day, Paul needs to be set free to not-do anything productive elsewhere.

  85. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    He needs to go. Now. His behavior, regardless of the reason for it, is impeding your ability to do your job, and wasting your time.

  86. esmerelda*

    I agree with Alison’s final words about getting a creepy vibe. I do, too. *shudders*
    This comparison doesn’t totally work, but I instantly pictured Paul in the letter to be kind of like Creed from The Office. And that’s… not a compliment to Paul. At all. Creed is a terrible employee and a creepy person…

  87. pleaset cheap rolls*

    “my employee lies”

    Stop right there.

    Unless the rest of the detail is extremely exceptional, the employee has got to do.

    Spinning hedging evading etc might (MIGHT) be acceptable in certain ways at work, but lying. Absolutely not.

  88. Observer*

    OP, Alison is 100% right. I think it would help you to reframe and change your goal here.

    You do NOT need any explanations from him. Nor do you need acknowledgement or understanding from him. Don’t even try to get that from him.

    What you DO need is accuracy in the things he says and correct work (ie appropriate interactions with customers and correct reports etc.)

    So, stop asking him for explanations. Stop trying to get him to acknowledge that he said or did x, y or z. Instead call him on the things he says and does, make it clear what you need from him and lay out the consequences. And MAKE THEM STICK.

    Something like
    OP: Where is the Quark Report up to?
    Paul: It’s done
    OP: I need to have it
    Paul: I sent it to you
    ~~~ This is where you change what you do
    OP: I don’t have it.
    Paul: I just need to finish some things.
    OP: You just told me that it’s done and you sent it to me. You didn’t send it to me and you are now telling me that it’s not done. That’s not acceptable. I need to know that when you say something that it’s true. That’s a condition of employment,
    Paul: It IS done.
    OP: You told me that you sent it to although you have not done so. And, needing to finish a few items is NOT done. This is not up for debate. Please have the report completed and sent to me by the end of the day (or whatever makes sense).
    Paul: I am a dependable employee and –
    OP: (Cut him off if you need to) We’re not discussing your theoretical dependability. You need to get me the report by end of the day, and you need to NOT say that something is done unless it actually done, without needing anything else AT ALL.
    Then END the conversation!

    Document this up the wazoo and move towards firing him as expeditiously as your workplace will allow it.

    1. Just Me*

      Yes! This is one of the times when interrupting is absolutely the right thing. He will also use this to make you out as the Cruel and Petty Tyrant, but he was going to do that anyways.
      This also helps you solidify reality in your own head.
      I once had this coming at me from two angles- an employee and a (now-ex) spouse. It really messes with your head and your ability to trust yourself.

  89. Sharrbe*

    I had someone in my life who would deny he said things from one day to the next. He would pull me into these circular converstations when I confronted him with the disparities. He was doing it so often that I began to feel crazy and frustrated. It wasn’t until I compared notes with other people that I learned that he did this routinely. It wasn’t because I was the one “misunderstanding” him as he claimed. If I had to guess, the LW’s employee’s endgame is NOT to produce good work, or to cover up his own skill deficiencies, it’s to deliberately make other people uncomfortable. Yes, there are people like that out there. They are like covert magicians – one minute their claim is there, the next minute it’s not, and we’re not meant to understand how or why it changed. I never believed it until I experienced it. He likely won’t change until his job is threatened and my guess is he will move on if he can’t get away with his behavior anymore. This problem is absolutely worth escalating.

  90. Krabby*

    This type of thing is what follow up emails were invented for!

    When you have one of these baffling interactions (even if in the moment you find you let the issue go) it’s a good idea to follow up later that day with an email saying something like, “I thought more about our conversation this morning about the teapot report. You told me that it was completed and had been emailed to me, but then contradicted yourself and said you were still working on it. We’re not at the deadline yet, so it’s okay that it’s not done, but I need to have confidence that you are providing me with accurate status updates. Moving forward, I need to be able to trust what you tell me. As we previously discussed, this is the type of issue that needs to be corrected for you to be successful in this role.”

    Then, save those emails for documentation.

  91. Gabrielle*

    I had a coworker who had a similar avoidant pattern to your conversation about completing projects. He was afraid of admitting the parts he had trouble with, and wouldn’t follow directions so could be stuck for days on one task. I once told him “I know it’s hard, but you really do have to do step X and then we’ll be able to finish this.” That worked–he did step X, completed that task and later others like it.

    One possibility is to approach this as if your employee has major fear of consequences, and you need to just tell him what. So when you ask “have you completed this yet?” What he may be hearing is “this is late, you are a bad employee for not having finished it!”

  92. elle*

    I have somehow had TWO managers just like this — it made me feel like I was losing my mind. And you can’t even explain it to anyone without sounding like you are crazy yourself. The first manager was like this, but in an angry, attacking malicious sort of way. The second one was more innocent, definitely insecure but not purposely setting me up to fail.

    My suspicion is that in both these situations these older men were very threatened by me — extremely competent, well-respected young woman in the male-dominated field as well as dealing with their own severe anxiety and self-esteem issues.

  93. Gabrielle*

    Some of this looks exhausting but not the worst ever. I had a coworker who had a similar avoidant pattern to your conversation about completing projects. He was afraid of admitting the parts he had trouble with, and wouldn’t follow directions so could be stuck for days on one task. I once told him “I know it’s hard, but you really do have to do step X and then we’ll be able to finish this.” That worked–he did step X, completed that task and later others like it. I do think he had trouble listening due to some misogyny as well, but he was able to improve.

    One possibility is to approach this as if your employee has major fear of consequences, and you need to just tell him what the consequences are and are not. So when you ask “have you completed Project yet?” What he may be hearing is “Project is late, you are a bad employee for not having finished it!” If you asked “what do you have left to do on Project? Do you have time to finish it today?” You *might* get a better answer, especially if you can see through the blustering to the real answer. And say if he can’t, what that means: will you give the project to a coworker to finish? Is it okay for that to happen sometimes but something for him to work on, or is every missed deadline a serious performance problem?

    With the client though, that’s where this gets really bad. I think you handled the conversation better, letter writer, by not trying to get him to admit to having acted badly, but simply telling him you know he did so. I would still explicitly name what the consequences are and what he should have done. “If your client is frustrating you, I need you to come to me and tell me the problem before you are tempted to talk to them like this. We’ll work on how to handle these situations.” Try to get agreement there, but also you could say “If I can’t trust you to do that and to learn from it, then I may have to take clients away from you” and then explain what that could mean for his job.

    Ultimately though if the condescension continues after that then I can’t see another choice but to fire him.

    1. ferrina*

      If there wasn’t the lying element, I would agree. But the repeated and obvious lying escalates things to a whole new level.
      The first time it happens? Bad, but everyone messes up. The second? Oh no, that’s not looking good. By the third time it’s a pattern, and now you have multiple problems on your hands.
      This isn’t about gently coaching him through his fears, because you don’t know if he wants to be coached through his fears. Your goal is about seeing performance results (hence the PIP). A manager can be kind, and should certainly make sure their team has the tools to succeed, but if an employee won’t use those tools after given multiple chances(!) it’s not on the manager to assess or diagnose or whatnot. A manager is not a psychiatrist, and even for those that are, they certainly shouldn’t be their employee’s psychiatrist.

  94. Recruited Recruiter*

    I was (un)lucky enough to end up with one of these employees. When we put him on a PIP, he made vague threats of violence against the people who “told these malicious lies” (turning him in for his constant lies). We were lucky enough that he quit less than two weeks later with no notice, and so we didn’t have to get the police involved in the firing that was coming.

    1. Please help, HR is hard*

      Yes, please follow Alison’s last piece of advice and get your boss and HR involved sooner rather than later. We had an employee like this as well, and the firing that inevitably happened did not go well. She cornered me in the parking lot afterward to spew personal insults.

      Hopefully this won’t happen, but with people who turn on a dime like this, it’s best to have others aware of the situation!

  95. Lizy*

    Ugh I’m dealing with someone like that. He CONSTANTLY is bullying or being mean to others and then will claim “I’m nooootttt!” when I call him out. I’ve gotten to the point where I just repeat myself.

    Me: Stop doing X.
    A: I didn’t!
    Me: Whatever. Stop doing X.

    But he’s 8, so…

  96. Jessica Fletcher*

    This guy is so manipulative! When you go to write him up or fire him, he now has all these examples of you saying he’s dependable and he has integrity. Assume he’s been documenting every one of those.

  97. Nanani*

    I wonder if he had a history of working with bosses who could easily be made to go away by telling them what they want to hear.

    I’m picturing something
    “Is the report done?”
    – Yep
    “Great! You’re so dependable”
    (boss leaves, for a meeting or something and not for anything they needed the report for)
    (Paul sneaks report onto boss’ desk after the conversation)

    This breaks down as soon as a boss like LW shows and literally looks at actual work instead of being happy with words. He might be used to people taking his word for it -because- he’s an older man and that comes with de facto authority. Or Paul might just be a lying liar who lies.

    No matter the why, LW needs to put a stop to it ASAP with real consequences. No more accepting this gaslighting “But I would never do that!” garbage about things he clearly just did.

  98. WantonSeedStitch*

    I try not to bring politics in here often, but…do you manage Donald Trump?!

    Anyway, I would also add every time he makes some kind of claim about his integrity, dependability, etc., “saying you are dependable/have integrity isn’t enough. I need you to SHOW me, by doing XYZ.” And I would also call his attention to the pattern of this behavior, as an initial step in establishing a PIP. Because this guy needs to be on a PIP, and told in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that if his behavior does not improve, he’s looking at being fired.

  99. Could Be Rod Serling*

    Wow. I am a newer manager and have an employee who is EXACTLY like this. As in, while reading the letter I began to wonder if my report is working two jobs and also reporting to OP. This is Twilight Zone level weird for me.

    Anyway — to the commenters asking how you can question if it’s serious enough to escalate. I also have been there. I think it’s because as a newer manager (and I don’t know if OP also is one), I don’t feel like I have a good sense of that just yet. So I’ve erred on the side of giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he’s just a really weird/awful communicator.

    Now I have a different perspective and will be changing my approach.

    1. ferrina*

      Definitely! I dealt with one of these as a newer manager, and it’s awful. Loop in someone you trust- ideally your boss, but another manager with years of experience will help too.
      There’s also a cycle where you stick to your guns, the employee walks away disgruntled and spreads rumors about how terrible you are, and you start doubting yourself. You need someone to help you reality check things.
      Good luck!

  100. AKchic*

    A lot of people are trying to diagnose here, and that is frustrating.

    It is not the OP’s job to pre-emptively assume that Paul has dementia or some health issue that he is hiding. In fact, doing so would be ageist and get her in trouble. All she has to work with is this: he is lying, gaslighting, manipulating/twisting his words/the situations, and has now started to do it with a client. It is now time to discuss this with HR or a higher level of management. Does this only happen with women or does Paul do this with *all* authority figures and all deadlines? Have any previous managers made similar complaints about Paul, and how long has this been going on at this company? What is the company willing to do to help put a stop to it (I.e., a PIP or would they rather just terminate?)?

    It sounds like he’s been doing this for a long time and is practiced at it. Skilled. His fall-back to using “integrity” and “reliable” as keywords seem very manipulative. Repeating the words you want people to associate with you when you are in fact the opposite of those words isn’t the way to get people to think you are, in fact, those qualities. I do not tell all and sundry I am a wealthy fashion icon for exactly that reason.

    1. Nanani*


      “I’m not diagnosing but” doesn’t make your comments about (insert health thing here) any less armchair diagnosy. Stop being garfield in the “Huh I wonder who that’s for meme” as you all scroll by the pinned comment.

  101. Robin Ellacott*

    Oh golly, I am infuriated just READING this. Poor OP.

    I guess we can add “I have great integrity” to the list of Protesting Too Much When Nobody Asked you, along with things like “to be totally honest with you”.

    Personally, I’d lean toward looping in HR and management ASAP because I don’t see him taking it well when he’s shut down.

  102. Chauncy Gardener*

    Is anyone as amazed as I am about how many “Pauls” are out there? That is some scary stuff!!

  103. OP*

    Wow, thank you for all of the responses. I haven’t had the chance to read through each of them yet but wanted to answer some questions I saw and add some context.

    Why haven’t I thought this is serious enough to escalate? Well, I think part of me does think it is serious (thus why I wrote in), but it’s always about the stupidest nonsense that I have let things go (plus usually I can get the information I need from him eventually, it just takes forever to coax the truth out of him).

    Paul has been an employee here for a long time. I am not his first manager here, and in fact he does get moved around to different managers often (but this is true of most people in my company/industry). His previous manager acknowledged to me that Paul can be challenging to work with and says “weird things”, but thinks Paul is a good employee (NB: this person is also my current manager).

    We are short staffed and Paul is the only person in his position right now. I know, I know. An additional person will be onboarded shortly, but either way this is far from ideal. Paul has technical skills and expertise that I do not have (I am not expected to, but the point is that I can’t jump in and just do his job), so losing him would be an enormous problem right now. This has also caused me to be more lenient with Paul than I should.

    Anyway, I will continue reading through these comments. I have started documenting our conversations. I work for a large corporation and there is no such thing as “fire him yesterday” (except for the one employee that came in drunk to work, hoo boy). Everything will need to be meticulously documented and if I can convince my superiors that he should be on a PIP, that will be the next step. I do agree that I need to “watch my back” with Paul, if not because he’ll follow me into the parking garage but because he will complain about my integrity (or whatever) to anyone who listens.

    Yikes. Thanks again. I will comment more / respond to specific questions later.

    1. Teapot Librarian*

      Oh, OP. This really does sound so similar to my own experience. I hope that you can get your higher-ups to let you put him on a PIP, and that some of the language in other people’s comments above is helpful in writing the PIP. (I could never get my own higher-ups to let me put my Paul on a PIP, and I thought that drafting the PIP and showing it to my superiors might help, but I never had the right language to get it done.)

    2. Caboose*

      Oh, I’m hoping that Paul doesn’t make the new person completely miserable. Either way, if he’s not doing his job, do his skills actually matter? It seems like they’re purely theoretical at this point…

    3. wolfmama*

      Paul is definitely causing issues for you and needs to be dealt with. I’m just adding my two cents that I’d also caution against getting sucked into an adversarial vibe. It sounds to me like your communication styles are really destructive together because you’re looking for clarity and specificity (and what you consider honesty) and he is moving the ball (for whatever reason). Reading the comments, I think it might also be valuable just to take a much bigger picture approach, instead of getting increasingly narrowly focused.

      E.g. with the report: him – I sent it to you; you – I don’t have it; him – I just need to finish a couple of things up; you – send it to me by 2pm, thanks.
      2pm: you, by email – Hey, that report you promised to resend by 2pm still isn’t showing up. Going to loop in IT to make sure there isn’t some issue on my end.
      2:15pm: you, by email, to him and IT – Hey, we’re having some issues with this report. Paul sent it to me earlier and I didn’t receive it, and still haven’t gotten it. Can you please check the spam filter?

      I used to be in a relationship with someone like this, and I’ve also been on the wrong side of situations where my communication skills weren’t working well for me with supervisors, and I feel like on either side of this dynamic, part of the key to riding it out can be simply to avoid increasing the tension. There’s something bizarrely parental about this kind of quickly accelerating argument in a way that I can’t quite articulate but it’s like a weird kind of acting out that he’s doing that I personally now encounter with my MIL (ugh).

      So, as awkwardly as I’ve expressed this point of view: Don’t reward the sense that it’s some kind of drama on his part that will get you to pay closer attention to him. Just barrel past and see what you can uncover. All IMHO, and good luck.

    4. H.C.*

      I second “get it in writing” approach; even if the discussion took place over phone or in-person, follow-up with email (e.g. “Per our conversation, you indicated X, Y, and Z – let me know if there’s anything I missed, otherwise look forward to [next steps].”); if he tries to follow-up verbally, request/insist that he do it over email reply.

    5. Heidi*

      I kind of think what Paul is doing is on par with coming in to work drunk. Being drunk can in theory be a one-time lapse in judgment. Or, if alcoholism is the problem, it can be treated medically and people can recover. Paul, on the other hand, is coming to work with the belief that he doesn’t need to be honest with his boss about work. His doubling down on his own integrity indicates that he does not see his behavior as a problem that needs to be fixed. In some ways, he might do more harm to your work than the drunk employee.

    6. Sparkles McFadden*

      Thanks for the additional info, OP. I really feel for you!

      The fact that your boss thinks Paul is a good employee makes this more complicated but not impossible. The documentation becomes even more important (if that’s possible.)

      Yeah, bigger corporations have specific procedures around firing, and that usually results in managers not wanting to go through the process, which can sometimes take six months or more. Consequently, employees like Paul never suffer any consequences for not doing the job.

      On the plus side, people like Paul often do something while the process is going on to make things more obvious for HR and your reluctant manager. After I was in a particular management job for six months, I set up a series of training sessions with my Paul to try to address his inability to do his job effectively. (Please note: This was an entry-level job and he’d been at the job for ten years.) He flipped out and called HR and said I was creating a hostile work environment. So, I got to bring my documentation about him to the legal department. After legal was done investigating me, the head of the legal department asked HR why the guy was not on a formal PIP, and insisted HR and my boss start the process. Without that push from legal, my boss would have dragged his feet. He just kept telling me “I feel so sorry for him.” Gah!

    7. Observer*

      I think that it will be useful to both document everything, but highlight the specific performance type issues. So, bad conversation with client. Report that’s not in on time. Report that’s riddled with errors. Highlighting those things that are harder to play off as “small” or “personality”, and that actually disprove “he does his job” are going to be the most useful to you.

  104. Elm*

    I am a big fan of leading with empathy. It sounds like that happened, so it’s time to drop it.

    “I need this report.”
    “I sent it.”
    “Please re-send it.”
    “It’s not done.”
    “Okay, then send whatever you have done right now.”
    “I’m dependable.”
    “I’m depending on you to send me whatever you have done right now.”
    “Send me whatever you have done right now.”
    “This is unprofessional!”
    “Send me whatever you you have done right now.”
    [Hemming and hawing, undoubtedly, where he’ll say something *actually* unprofessional.”]
    “Send me your report as it is right now. I’ll consider what you just said.”

    If they continue fighting, then it’s time to ask them to leave your office (where I assume the convo is happening) and call HR for sure. Loop HR in either way.

    Email a summary of the conversation to him *after* getting the email, including the time of the conversation, how long it took to get the email (if it’s more than, say, an hour, which seems reasonable), and, most importantly, what they said that was unprofessional. Be emotionless.

    I’ve had this work more than once, even on irrational customers at retail locations. You just can’t get upset; you have to remain totally calm and continue making the reasonable request, nothing else. Otherwise, they won’t hear how they sound.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes. Either the person will improve, or you’ll have documentation for termination.

  105. A Feast of Fools*

    This sounds exactly like my ex. He has a host of personality disorders, which is neither here nor there.

    I joined several support groups for “partners of people with [mental illness]”, learned as much as I could, got us both into therapy, was told that I needed to be extra understanding and accommodating because it’s a “brain disorder” that is out of his control. Like, would I be mad at him if he was color blind and therefore I couldn’t lean on him for help with choosing paint color?

    Then one day I realized that it didn’t matter if it was physiologically-based or something he was actively choosing to do (which included compulsive lying). The results were the same. If he had “Punch Feast in the Face” disease and literally couldn’t control the trajectory of his closed fist, my jaw would be just as broken as if he had made a conscious decision to punch me. [Because this is the internet, I fell obligated to note that this is a metaphor; no actual punching ever happened.]

    Which is where I land with this guy. It literally doesn’t matter *why* he’s gaslighting the OP. He’s doing poor work, he’s behaving inappropriately to clients, and he’s being condescending / patronizing to his manager. Time for *one* hard conversation with him and, when nothing changes, it’s time for him to go.

    I also think that’s why armchair diagnosing here isn’t helpful to the OPs. It’s not a manager’s job to get their employees into therapy, assisted living, a neurologist, a psychologist, rehab, whatever. You have the Come to Jesus talk, push the HR brochures about the EAP and other resources across the table to them, and then it’s up to the individual to make the decision to get whatever help they need to make the changed required to keep their job.

    1. Observer*

      I also think that’s why armchair diagnosing here isn’t helpful to the OPs. It’s not a manager’s job to get their employees into therapy, assisted living, a neurologist, a psychologist, rehab, whatever.

      This, 100 time over.

  106. Effective Immediately*

    My only additional question beyond Allison’s great advice is: has this ever been addressed with him as a pattern of behavior? Because if not, I think now is the time (in the form of a written PIP or whatever your company’s written documentation is) explaining that while you’ve addressed each instance individually in the moment, this has gone beyond discrete ‘mistakes’ and into ‘very serious recurrent behavior’.

    I only ask because I very much get the sense that he thinks he’s getting one over on you when each instance is ‘resolved’ in a way that benefits him. Normally, I give employees the benefit of the doubt that raising individual instances doesn’t make the connection for them that this is a bigger, broader issue but this is reminding me of the ‘Myth of the Male Bumbler’ (, where the person’s manipulation is couched in this, ‘aw, shucks, I just don’t understand’ schtick in order to resist attempts to hold them accountable.

    I really think it’s worth laying out (if you haven’t already) *all* the instances of the lying, obfuscating and topic-changing as resistance, with clear messaging around the ways it’s negatively impacting your/the team’s work, with an unequivocal message that this is a serious performance issue that will put his job in jeopardy if it continues.

  107. Nicki Name*

    OMG, I used to work with a guy like this. In addition to the flat-out attempts to rewrite reality from a minute ago and the terrible work, he lived in a world where every single person who was out of earshot was either incompetent, jealous of him, or had something biologically wrong with them. One of our teammates maintained a work friendship with him, and I was always thinking to myself, “Do you not notice how he talks about everyone who isn’t here to defend themselves? Do you think somehow you’re exempt?” He was also constantly seeing how far he could get in belittling women who didn’t outrank him (thankfully, I did).

    I never saw him challenged directly on any of his lies, and could never understand how he managed to last for years and eventually managed to leave voluntarily. I guess I’m starting to see how. :(

  108. NorthernTeacher*

    I am sending big positive thoughts your way OP that this will get better. I dealt with a teaching partner last year who was exactly the same. On top of ignoring what was said, her regular response was to point out that she has worked for our school board for 9 years when anyone spoke to her about a concern regardless of what the concern was..ignoring covid protocols, telling a parent about a CAS call, not doing supply plans when sick..etc.. I brought my concerns to our principal and witnessed her do the same roundabout with them. They handled this the same way you have been and there was the same outcome.. more roundabout conversations and no improvement. It is really really difficult to know what to do and can make you feel like you’re the problem. I think because it was passive (rather than the person arguing back), I felt like I was being mean by speaking up. I know because that is how I felt. It didn’t help that our third teaching partner would complain to me, but do things behind her back (e.g. hiding toys we were not suppose to use that she would keep giving to kids when we were out of the classroom). If he is doing that to you, there is a good chance he is doing the same thing to other coworkers who don’t feel comfortable speaking up. I ended up requesting to switch grades so I no longer have to deal with this colleague and will move back when she retires in a few years. I really hope you get the support you need to improve this situation in whatever form that takes.

  109. Cactus*

    For some reason I am picturing every bit of this guy’s dialogue sounding like Tommy Wiseau/Johnny in The Room. “You know I am looking very full of great integrity today!” “I did not send it! I did NOT! OH HAI MARK.”

  110. Sparkles McFadden*

    Bottom line: Paul is not doing his job. Document every blown deadline, every mistake, and every issue with the clients. The lying and blathering nonsense about his integrity is just how Paul gets you off the track of discussing his terrible work. You can (and should) include the lying in your documentation, but phrase it as him “repeatedly giving inaccurate information regarding project status.”

    Paul is giving you lots of ammunition. Use it. Fire Paul.

  111. Macaroni Penguin*

    This guy has a strange fixation on “integrity.” It’s quite baffling and who knows what’s going on in his head. Like Alison said, it doesn’t really matter what his motivations are . The dude needs to do his job, and the OP can’t get distracted by his Jedi Mind Tricks.
    On a related topic, I really want to play Anthropologist and study this guy. Like, does he equate questions as a challenge to his self image and “integrity?” Is this a childhood defence mechanism run amok? Is he a actually moustache twirling villain? We will never know.

  112. Elephants and dogs*

    Sending sympathy to the OP.
    I had to deal with this. In my case the employee had memory loss. We worked with HR and she asked for an accommodation. But she didn’t describe exactly what the accommodation request was. (She asked me what I thought would work.) It was a tough situation. I wanted to be empathetic, but I also couldn’t ignore the problem. I spent a lot of time documenting conversations. Unfortunately, she got very sick and then retired.

  113. OnwardandForward*

    OP mentioned that Paul is nearly twice his age, but didn’t say exactly how old either of them are. Presuming OP is in their mid-thirties, that likely makes Paul in his late 50s to early 60s if not older. Is there ANY possibility that this poor communication may be the result of some kind of new/early cognitive deterioration? Obviously not everyone Paul’s age (and again, assuming he is late 50s-early 60s) experiences this, but it is certainly something to consider, particularly if OP has worked with Paul for a while and these communication issues are new. While Paul’s insistence that he is a good employee and has integrity could definitely be an attempt to manipulate OP into believing what Paul is saying, Paul could also be saying these things as more of an attempt to preserve his own confidence in himself when he knows that he is not functioning the way he used to. Talking (carefully) to Paul’s peers about their own interactions with him to get a sense of whether this issue is unique to OP and Paul’s communication or is a problem everyone is experiencing could certainly provide insight. I might also suggest OP saying something like, “I’m not sure what that has to do with this Paul, can you please explain what you mean?” when Paul responds with quasi-nonsensical/irrelevant statements to allow OP a peek into how Paul’s brain is working as he will have to explain his logic. Perhaps Paul is making some inaccurate assumptions about what OP is trying to say or attempting to read between lines that aren’t there to be read between and is responding in a way that makes sense to him but not to OP.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      It doesn’t seem like this is new. I think LW would have said that Paul has just started doing this.
      I also don’t think we should be commenting on if he has any cognitive issues or not. We just don’t have enough info.

    2. Observer*

      Is there ANY possibility that this poor communication may be the result of some kind of new/early cognitive deterioration? ~~snip~~ but it is certainly something to consider,

      Why is this something for the OP to consider?

    3. OP*

      I’m 37.

      I honestly don’t think he has any cognitive deterioration. I mentioned his age only because I was thinking that maybe he was acting this way toward me because I’m younger than he is. It’s probably not relevant at all.

  114. Cj*

    “It feels like none of this is serious enough to start escalating to written warnings,”

    Yes. Yes it is.

  115. theguvnah*

    I actually had an employee similar to this over 2020 and into 2021. I felt like I was losing my mind after every conversation – she just confidently talked in circles and contradicted herself in the same conversation and calling her out on it (professionally) got us nowhere. the good (?) news is, she also got literally no work done – zero!! – and so largely using that I was able to propose a PIP or a package and she took the package (Ideally I would have just fired her but this is how my company works so YMMV).

    It was one of the more frustrating work experiences of my life.

    1. ferrina*

      Nice! Well done! My Paul would oscillate between decent work and pretty bad (like, someone with less than a year experience would come up to me and say “um, I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to do this….”). They were also well-liked and I had gotten them a couple great assignments. Everyone thought that they were my department’s rising star, when I was desperately covering for them behind the scenes so that our program wouldn’t get cut…

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      My Paul refused the package that was offered. I don’t know if he was that self-deluded or that he deduced (correctly) that our department head would feel bad about firing someone for cause (and thus no severance). Even the guy’s union rep said “You need to accept this severance offer because they have every right to fire you now.” In the end, the guy was so blindingly incompetent that HR had no choice but to move ahead despite my department head’s eleventh hour concerns about the guy (“Can’t we create a simpler job that he might be able to do?” Oh, please.)

      The most amazing part was that at the final meeting where he was officially terminated, the guy said “But…wait. I’ve been through this warning system a lot of times and no one ever actually fired me. Why would this time be different?”

      1. Rainy*

        Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion, when we discover the answer to that age-old question: can Paul be taught?

        (I’m betting not.)

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        The most amazing part was that at the final meeting where he was officially terminated, the guy said “But…wait. I’ve been through this warning system a lot of times and no one ever actually fired me. Why would this time be different?”

        It’s not that amazing, really. They trained him to expect a certain outcome.

  116. Delphine*

    We recently fired a person exactly like this from my company. He was young though, but shared all of these issues, including talking down to the (women) managing him and his work. It was beyond frustrating and we went around in circles for a while (two years) thinking his problems could be corrected. Didn’t pan out that way.

  117. LadyProg*

    This reminded me of a guy they hired and added to my team once. He didn’t last a month XD

  118. I'm just here for the cats*

    Can I just comment that this right here is the best:
    Paul: “You know, I have great integrity.”
    You: “What I need to hear is that you understand and this won’t happen again.”
    Paul: (Who knows what he’ll say! Something about integrity, probably.)

    OP please use Alison’s script and report back on what Paul says!

    1. Ellie*

      How about:

      Paul: “You know, I have great integrity.”
      You: “You just lied about having completed the report. That does not demonstrate integrity.”
      Paul: blah blah blah
      You: “That is irrelevant, don’t do it again. Now, how much is left to do? Can you show it to me now?”

  119. brihanne le marre*

    Oh god, this is so triggering! It’s like arguing with our ADHD/ODD pre-teen. I’m with Alison, this employee isn’t going to improve. They’re 100% married to their version of reality.


    This reminds me so much of a former employee that it gives me the chills. The conversations were remarkably similar, and I always felt something wasn’t right, but at the same time it was incredibly difficult to explain why. He confused the hell out of me, and I spent so much time going in circles, doubting myself and thinking I was a shitty line manager for not being able to deal with him. Man, the hours I spent being “understanding” and “empathetic”. It was all distractions.

    I finally found out that he was using our company to further his own agenda (making deals for his own private company while on the surface representing us, trying to get us to make deals that would be favorable to him but jeopardizing the entire project, etc). He then manipulated my manager to distrust me when I caught on to it. I was subjected to vicious lies, had to explain myself against heinous allegations, and I eventually quit. It nearly broke me. But it taught me to trust my gut feeling – which was screaming at me the entire time. As yours is screaming at you. And you need to listen to it, because this is way more serious than you think.

    Get. Rid. Of. Him.

  121. Amethyst*

    Ugh. I’ve dealt with these people (I have a couple in my family, unfortunately) and the only thing I’ve found that works for me is to use “nevertheless” when they start word-salading (what I call what Paul does):

    Nevertheless, I need the report by X time.
    Nevertheless, you need to ___.
    Nevertheless, this is an issue and it needs to stop.

    Ignore everything else. Keep using nevertheless. When they realize you’ve cottoned onto them they’re going to really hate you (if they don’t already). You are a broken record who just repeats the things you need without arguing, especially now that you know it spirals for however long it takes for him to get you to give up.

    Document EVERYTHING. This type of person will also destroy your work reputation if you don’t CYA. Don’t ever let your guard down.

  122. Q. for Alison*

    Alison — I know we are not to armchair diagnose, and I do really appreciate that. What if, however, we’ve had a similar situation that DID turn out to be an illness? Should we just refrain from posting about that? (Will happily comply if that’s the rule, of course! Just trying to get clarity.)

    1. Caboose*

      It’s generally only worth it if there’s actual changes that would need to be made to the advice given due to the illness– lots of people have suggested dementia, for instance, but that doesn’t actually change the issue at work, which is that he’s lying to his manager and not doing his work properly. The *why* doesn’t really matter, since he’s not the one writing in. (When LWs write in with issues that are relatable, that’s one thing, because we can say “hey, this reminds me of me when my condition wasn’t treated, here’s how I handled it”. But whatever the cause is for Paul lying like this, it doesn’t matter to LW.)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You are welcome to share your own experience as long as you (a) are explicitly clear that you’re not assuming it’s the same situation as in the letter and (b) explain how that possibility would change your advice.

      1. Q. For Alison*

        Thanks for the clarification, Alison. Also: love your blog, and have learned a lot here.

  123. GrayC*

    It may have been mentioned already but could this be a cross cultural communication issue? (Geert Hofstede, Dimensions of Culture) That obviously depends on whether or not they’re of the same culture, but it sounds like is a possibility.

    1. Observer*

      Still needs to be managed out.

      In some cases, you can have a REALLY clear conversation about this, ans the person will change. But more often than not, when it’s reached this point, it is NOT going to change. Although it is possible (possible, not likely) that getting fired over this could be the driver that gets a Paul to start changing his ways.

  124. serin*

    In the short term it may be helpful just not to ask him any questions.

    Remove “What’s the status of the X report?” and substitute “I put 15 minutes on your calendar so I can come to your office and see the work that’s in progress on the X report.”

    Remove “Did you complete Project Y?” and substitute “Project Y is due at noon. Please go email it to me now.” (If he says he sent it and you don’t see it in your inbox, just say, “Please resend it now.”)

    It may not be his purpose to derail the conversation, but that’s the effect it’s having.

    In the realm of abstractions like “complete” and “true” and “professional,” he’s skilled at finding all kinds of wiggle room, so it might help to be very concrete. I guess like the difference between telling a dog “be good” and telling one “sit.”

  125. Observer*

    Wait, you are expecting the OP to manage this guy’s health? If this were the weekend non-work thread, and his spouse wrote in, this would be good advice. But in a work context “you need to have him medically evaluated” is a MAJOR over-step.

    In this context, it simply doesn’t matter if it’s dementia or not.

  126. Raida*

    My guess:
    He’s an underperformer who learnt a long time ago how to manipulate a conversation and use uncomfortable subjects to steer the end result to his preferred one.
    IE bringing up reliability and integrity, so that if there is any further disagreement it is now *about him* and not the specific task, and oh gosh those are really serious things to bring into question so people drop it. Or get stuck in endless mediation sessions, perhaps!

    I agree with Alision – Focus on the specific needs, the specific issue, the specific tasks. Do not get into personal descriptions (integrity, good employee) when you can instead stick with concise parameters.

    ask his co-workers, look up his old managers, you’ll probably find that this is his way of avoiding work and responsibility, this guy reeks of self-aware of his own weaknesses professionally, based on a few people I’ve worked with in the past that were verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwly pushed out.

  127. Davy Cricket*

    I have a colleague like this in my job as a Teapot Polisher – let’s call him Frank Spencer. When you ask him about something, he has incredible skill at the exact same conversations as your guy. He firstly didn’t do it, then he says it was done right, then he tells you something else that he actually achieved, followed by it isn’t his fault, then someone told him to do that, then it’s because nobody showed him, then he says it’s always been like that, then don’t worry it’s taken care of every morning anyway. Or he segues the conversation into something else and babbles nonsensically and then throws in a different subject and tells you something great he did, then asks you a question, and you’re so confused that you don’t quite realise he has evaded the whole situation.

    I also got promoted before he did when he thought it was his on a plate, so yeah there is that dynamic going on and he seems distressed at the idea I might do it again. So anytime another department manager talks to me, he tries to join in. I offer to spend my day off covering a sick call over in Teapot Painting, and both my boss and the Teapot Painting Manager are pleased, so it’s all confirmed for tomorrow and they hand me the paintbrushes, which is when Frank Spencer butts his way into the conversation saying he could try to find someone else to do his Teapot Polishing tomorrow so that he can be the Teapot Painter instead. Uh, no. Then when Joe from the Training Department says he’d like to mentor me for progression, Frank Spencer pounces on Joe and announces all the Teapot Counting he has done today. (Joe said later on that people aren’t going to progress just by trying to look good, pointed in Frank Spencer’s direction, said “Teapot Counting” and rolled his eyes.)

    As a colleague the only way to cope is to quietly fix the mistakes or pretend that when you point them out, you’re doing it in order to help him. We’re hoping his next mistake is a really big one that gets him fired – but it probably will never happen.

  128. Tiger Snake*

    Time to talk to this guy exclusively through you’re chat application, so that you can directly quote him.

    He will say “Oh can we have a phone call about this.” The answer is “No sorry, I’m in other meetings. I just need you to confirm and give me a precise status and exactly when I will see it in my inbox”

    (Apparently people think I’m is really good at being direct and cutting through this sort of nonsense. Which is why they say I’m a bit abrasive, but then explicitly ask me to be the one to follow up with our Paul)

  129. Bowserkitty*

    This post made my blood pressure rise. Looking forward to an update if you’ll give us one, OP.

  130. Academic Librarian too*

    Just sending sympathy. I had exactly this situation. This is an insane situation. Take Alison’s advice.
    First of all stop in engaging.
    Document, discuss, document.
    What I did- email task/project with deadlines.
    Have a one on one reiterating task/project with dead lines.
    Have employee agree to do the work within a checklist of parameters.
    EMAIL employee documenting the conversation just had
    “as we agreed in today’s meeting blah, blah, blah”
    Do a weekly check in with progress on the project.
    Document employees response (or none response)
    Rinse and repeat.
    Took a year and half to fire Paula.
    Good luck.

  131. hallucinating hack*

    Are…are you…managing my mother? Because I’m getting dreadful flashbacks about the way she behaves at home.

    Alison’s advice is spot on. Like many other commenters have said, this dude is deflecting and manipulating all over the place to cover up his own incompetence. You have to:
    (1) narrow it down to the one key issue currently at hand: he hasn’t sent you what you need, or he did something execrable during the client meeting, or whatever other unacceptable behavior it is
    (2) inform him that failure to rectify said behavior on a specific timeline will result in Consequences
    (3) make those consequences happen

    Most importantly, don’t ever compromise! Not on the key issue, not on what you require from him, and absolutely not on the consequences. Never mind inches and yards, you give this kind of person a millimeter and he will take a whole mile, which from the sound of it he’s already doing.

  132. FL*

    I understand not wanting to go to senior management, because it’s hard to explain why what he’s doing is a problem if you just focus on how weird and frustrating it is. If you want to get rid of Paul, the way to do it is to really zero in on tangible deliverables and document them not being delivered.

    Then, the problem you’re presenting to senior management isn’t, “Paul’s a weird liar and I sound insane when I describe it” — it’s “There’s a persistent pattern with Paul where he doesn’t deliver X or he delivers X but it’s not in acceptable condition or he’s gruff with the clients when they ask him stuff.”

  133. The answer is (probably) 42*

    I’m kind of late, but I noticed a tactic this guy is using that’s useful to be aware of. He’s turning every specific critique of an action/behavior into a treatise on his entire personality. He abstracts “you delivered this one thing late” to “you are a person who is always late”, which twists your comment into being about how you view him as a whole. And if it’s something minor that doesn’t feel dramatic enough to make a broad statement about*, he’s framed it so that you’re either overreacting or you have to drop the subject. It flips the script so that he’s the wronged party, when this is supposed to be about something he did that affected you.

    *Even if it IS something worth having a bigger-picture conversation about, it’s derailing the specific issue at the moment.

    It’s the same logic where if you point out that a word someone used has a charged racial history, they’ll get defensive and say “But I’m not racist!” You didn’t call this person a racist, but now you’re the perceived asshole in the conversation and the person who used the loaded term doesn’t have to reflect on anything they said or did.

    1. OP*

      Thank you, this is a great observation and one I will be mindful of. Any specific issues we discussed are routinely derailed by him twisting my comments into indictments of his character. I’ve been letting it go in service of getting the actual answers to my questions (which I usually eventually get, even if the first few minutes are me trying to navigate his exaggerations/lies/whatever), but I need to be more clear that I will not engage in his efforts to make it about his personality instead of his actions.

  134. Crazy*

    I just read catch-22. This almost sounds like the conversation could be pulled from this absurdist post-modern novel. This is crazy!

  135. DrunkAtAWedding*

    This reminds me of the attitude I – and others – had towards schoolwork. As if, it wasn’t important whether it was actually done or not if you had a good excuse for it not being done, or if you could make the teacher forget about it. Like the important thing wasn’t Doing the Thing, but something else, like what an authority figure thought of you or what got written down as a grade or something. If that makes sense?

    I think for me – and most people – that attitude got knocked out of us quite early on in our careers or when we became responsible for someone or something, or even while still in education. So I would be surprised if the reasons behind his behaviour were a total misunderstanding of what matters. But the other options are things like intentional maliciousness, and that just sounds bizarre to me as well.

    I suppose, at this stage, why he does things like that is not totally relevant to the OP. Still, getting a few ideas of what might be going on in his head might be useful.

  136. Crumbledore*

    Joining the chorus of folks who once had an employee like this – he would talk himself in circles trying to avoid accountability, and rarely if ever did anyone call him on it. If they did, his tactic was the opposite of OP’s employee – he would get down on himself instead of proclaim his good qualities – so I think a lot of people (myself included, I hate to admit) just felt sorry for him, and he managed to ride the waves of management changes and reorgs onto different teams without facing consequences. He finally pushed me too far when he was preparing for vacation, told me all of his projects were under control, but when another stakeholder pressed him for details, he told her nothing was done, referred her to me and left. Suddenly she’s in my office, demanding to know what I’m going to do to cover his work, he’s unreachable, and I have to spend an afternoon figuring out what was going on with his stuff and how the deadlines will be met in his absence. (The weird part is, it all *was* under control; he just…didn’t want to talk about it, I guess?) We had the PIP conversation when he got back, during which he told me that since I was his manager, everything he did was technically *my* fault. I really wish I had fired him on the spot, because of course he pulled his act together for the duration of the PIP, and only ended up being somewhat demoted – given less responsibility at the same pay (exactly what he wanted!). Then another reorg landed him on another team, where his behavior escalated in the direction of sexual harrassment, and eventually he was let go as part of a RIF. I can’t draw a clear throughline from “avoids accountability” to “makes inappropriate sexual comments”, but I do feel like his experience surviving the PIP gave him a sense that he could get away with more egregious behavior at work.

    Lesson learned: Don’t let this stuff slide, even if those around you have. I was a new manager at the time and far too interested in being liked, and he absolutely exploited that. If I had the chance to go back and do it over, I would shut his BS down at the first opportunity, in the way that Alison and the commentariat have suggested.

  137. ElleKay*

    I feel like there’s 2 things going on here:
    1- the avoidance (Did you do X? Yes. Send it to me? I have 3 more things to do.) seems pretty clearly like he’s trying to CYA about work not getting done/ not meeting deadlines
    2- the customer service conversation (I was not out of line; I will work on customer service training), however, sounds like a buzz word-y version of ‘I disagree that I acted inappropriately but I recognize that I have to do this thing (the training) anyway.’

    This is NOT to say that he isn’t out of line and a serious problem; he is and you should *definitely* have him on a PIP but I suspect that there are a couple of issues/rationales going on here that your (reasonable!) frustration means that you aren’t seeing.

    (As someone who’s worked in customer service there are definitely unreasonable, disrespectful clients. While you can’t snap back at them, everyone *wants to* and I can see where, if you did do so, you’d resent the re-training you’d be required to take!)

  138. Erin*

    Paul’s behavior is totally out of line. However, has he always been like this? If he has been declining over time, he may be experiencing cognitive difficulties that are associated with aging.

    The talking in circles, not remembering what he just said, overly friendly one minute and then indignant the next could point to memory issues.

  139. Carol*

    This guy does this because it gives him satisfaction and because it lets him get away with literally anything, with no accountability for his behavior. If there’s a health or psych issue that’s not your business–you have to deal with the behavior, not the cause.

    He gets away with it because most people play by more rational rules and aren’t used to someone saying “the sky is purple” one second and “the sky is pink, I am full of integrity” the next second. Most people don’t know how to respond to that from a grown adult. He’s taking advantage of that to benefit himself.

    Release the idea that this guy will ever be rational with you, or that you can get him to converse by normal rules. If you can get past that, you can stick to reality much easier and not allow him to set reality’s terms.

    This is unacceptable behavior in any job context, or honestly in any kind of interpersonal relationship that doesn’t involve raising/teaching a child or maybe adolescent (but even teenagers know this is wrong). This is really, really serious. You can’t fix or change it–you have to make it unacceptable, communicate it’s unacceptable in terms he can’t litigate, and then there have to be consequences when he (likely) makes no real changes.

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