Is your organization brainwashing you?


Brainwashing is a subtle but forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up their own basic beliefs and attitudes to accept contrasting regimented ideas of another in authority or more powerful. It is a process of mind control, coercive persuasion, thought reform or re-education. It is a psychological concept that believes the human mind can be altered or controlled by certain psychological techniques by someone wielding the power over the person being controlled.

Brainwashing literally means wiping a person’s thoughts of all original thoughts and completely filling them up with another person thoughts. Brainwashing aims at discrediting individuals, elicit information that may not normally be given without thought, and implanting suggestions and other forms of mental control. Social Media has become one major source of subtle manipulative tool used to brainwash or manipulate people to stop them from exercising independent thoughts in order to sway them towards a certain ideology, or even encourage them to behave in particular ways they may not normally behave.

According to Philip Zimbardo, an American psychologist, brainwashing is “the process by which individuals or collective freedoms of choice and action are compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, cognitive or behavioral outcomes.”

How are employees brainwashed?

If a manager engages in any of these action then they may be brainwashing their employees:

  1. They discourage differing views from staff. In an organization where people are discouraged from holding and expressing views different from those held by their leaders there exist an active brainwashing process. A brainwashing leader desires and subtly, and sometimes, openly encourages everyone to fall in line with his ideals and any deviations are met with disapprovals. People who hold differing views must either follow or keep quiet and never openly speak up and if they do they risk being penalized. The already brainwashed are encouraged or see it as a duty to report on their colleagues with differing views.
  2. They highlight only the good news but hide any unwelcome developments in the organization that employees need to know. It is the wish of every manager to always have good news to announce to their employees and stakeholders. However, a manipulative manager would hide mistakes and where they are known would fail to acknowledge them. At the extreme when there are mistakes a manipulative manager not only will refuse to acknowledge them but will also make someone the scape goat.


Four paths to spot brainwashing at the office:

  1. You must recognize that those who brainwash others tend to prey upon the weak and vulnerable. Not everyone is their target, people who appear weak are more susceptible to manipulation than confident ones. A skillful manipulator knows what to look for in people and targets those going through a difficult period in their life and are more vulnerable and amenable.
  2. 2. Be aware of people who try to isolate you or someone you know from the influences of confident and knowledgeable people. As people who are experiencing a personal tragedy or other major life change are inclined to feel lonely, a skillful brain-washer works to amplify those feelings of loneliness in order for them to feel drawn to them. Once they are able to successfully isolate these vulnerable people, they have them in their grips and the brainwashing processes swing into full gear.
  3. 3. Brainwashers attack the self-esteem of their targets. Brainwashing only works when the brainwasher is in a superior position to the victim. This means that the victim has to be broken down, so the brainwasher can rebuild the victim into the image of what the brainwasher wants. In the corporate offices this is done through mental, or emotional wear down of the targeted employees through criticism of their work and adverse appraisals. Mental washing may start with lying to the victims, gradually progressing to embarrassing or intimidating the victims often during corporate get-togethers. Sometimes the victims are intentionally not recognized for their efforts while their colleagues are singled out for mention or praise or reward.
  4. 4. Brainwashers try to make the victims believe being “part of the inner group” more attractive than those not considered inner people. The mind controller provides a seemingly more attractive alternative to what the victim has known before being associated with the brainwasher. The goal is to achieve blind and unquestionable obedience, where the victim will commit totally to the brainwasher. They often offer the brainwashed employee sometimes undeserved awards. This results in the brainwashed staff becoming completely broken and compliant to control by the leader or manager in order to continue to enjoy from the largesse of their mind controller. As long as the brainwashed obeys rewards flow but as soon as they show any “disobedience” or become critical of the leader’s actions the punishment is swift and severe. They may be ostracized and all benefits cut off.
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How to identify a brainwashed person:

Look for fanaticism and/or dependency: A brainwashed employee appears focused on the leader or the group to the point of obsession. At the same time, they seem to be unable to solve problems independently without always having a recourse to the manager, team lead or the group.

They are sycophantic: A brainwashed staff will agree unquestioningly with whatever their leaders or groups dictate, without any regard for the consequences of doing so. Every word of their manager is lapped up without questions.

How to stop yourself from being brainwashed:

  1. Don’t believe all that you read anyone can write anything
  2. Don’t believe the hype, the reality might be starkly different
  3. Don’t buy into fear or scare tactics they are only designed to make you toe the line
  4. Watch for someone’sagenda, they always have a purpose
  5. Look out for subliminal messages, the unspoken messages are meant to scare you
  6. Create your own path and keep to it
  7. Do your own research don’t just accept whatever you are told
  8. Listen to your own intuition, when you feel you are being subtly controlled you probably are being controlled.

How to stop brainwashing your employees:

  1. Encourage employees with divergent views to share them openly without fear of victimization. There is always some wisdom to be gleaned from their critiques. Leaders must recognize that surrounding themselves with only people who agree with them always is a recipe for disaster. Managers or groups need critical thinkers who are also unafraid to say it when the need arises. Praise-singers sometimes may not even understand issues but are only desirous to court the favor of the managers or the team leads for their own selfish reasons. They agree to anything.
  2. Don’t spin the truth. Everyone knows a truth from a fib. Spinning the truth makes the listener look on you as an untrustworthy and manipulative person. Manipulative managers who filter information and engage in spinning the truth sometimes forget that it is these same employees that generate the basic information for them and they most probably know or understand the real happenings themselves. Managers must be honest with information dissemination in the organization, and must let employees know how they will be impacted. This would make employees have confidence in management and in themselves.
  3. Do not believe everything the PR department of the organization churns out. It is important to send the right message to your employees. A good un-manipulative manager separates PR from reality and provides a balanced and truthful message to their employees. This shows the respect the manager has for their employees. Such managers or team leads are careful their staff do not develop the herd mentality.
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Final word

The best managers don’t mind control their employees but prove themselves not by hype and hypocritical adulations. They seek followers able to do independent thinking yet contribute to group success.

The author has extensive experience in Rural Banking in Ghana. He is a staff of Lower Pra Rural Bank, Shama and a researcher in current trends in Human Resources Management and Rural Banking. He may be reached on Cell: +233 050 636 3388

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