What To Do When Someone’s Out To Get You At Work
It can come out of nowhere. There you are, minding your business at work, trying to do a good job, when a colleague undermines you. It could be a shot across the bow from a new competitor or a conniving, malicious act from an old friend. It hurts, and it can hurt your career.
We know that politicking and backstabbing exists in the workplace. Many times these situations exist because corporations are set up to be extremely competitive, with fewer seats the further you move toward the top. Functional heads are frequently pitted against one another in a sort of psychic and physical endurance test to see who gets promoted.
It’s no surprise that relationships between people who need each other to get things done can turn toxic when it feels like a zero-sum game. (Ironically, teamwork is one of the key skills required for promotion, but I digress.)
I can say, as a coach, that the culprit is often poor communication or misunderstanding, but not always. Not to get too woo woo on you, but as the inspirational author Marianne Williamson writes, all actions come from a place of fear or love. You can guess where territorialism, gossip, or backstabbing comes from.
The question is, what do you do about it?
Your instinct may be to keep your head down, do good work, and hope the powers that be will see the truth in time. Or your approach may be to take on your saboteur directly, and match fire with fire.
I’m going to offer a third option — a road less travelled but worth the trip. Approach the situation as an opportunity to build trust instead. You’ll strengthen your presence and influence in the process.
I realize this is a leap when the situation may exist because trust has been destroyed. But consider that the absence of trust with a co-worker creates an incredibly unhappy, stressful, and untenable environment for a person. You end up constantly on guard, with your adrenaline pumping to the fight or flight responders in your brain, leaving your best intellectual power untapped and unavailable.
Finding a beneficent solution is both a selfless and a selfish act.
You may never be able to singlehandedly morph a relationship, but you can do your part. Instead of cowering or attacking, try these ideas instead:
- Seek to understand. Make it a mission to learn about your colleague’s motivations. The more you know about what makes him tick, the more context you’ll have for his behavior. We naturally stay away from those who threaten us, but the adage “know your enemy” has circulated since Sun Tzu wrote it in The Art of War thousands of years ago. The more understanding we have, the broader our perceptions and our options.
- Validate your perceptions. Take the initiative to vet your assumptions with the other person. This is not meant as an attack, but a level setting. Share your observations in a nonthreatening way. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements. For example: “I’m picking up on some tension. I’d like for us to find a way for us to work better together. What can I do to make this work?” Even if the person denies or stonewalls, you’ll learn more than you knew going in.
- Change the dynamic. Relationships either move in an upward spiral or a downward one. You can change the directional dynamic by taking a surprising tack: be openly supportive of the other person. Back her up in a meeting or call out her excellent performance. Talk up her project to others. Be genuine! Offer sincere compliments, not flattery.
- Encourage regular interaction. More than one workplace feud has been resolved during a lengthy business trip. Unless you’re dealing with a sociopath, chances are commonality exists between you as well — if you can find it. Look for ways to work together one-on-one to expand the impressions you have of each other. This may start by initiating a “how can we help each other” meeting.
- Take accountability. If you find your way to an honest dialogue, own up to your part in impairing the relationship. Think of what you’ve contributed and take accountability — don’t defend your actions as a reaction to his.
- Keep talking. As Susan Scott put it so well in Fierce Conversations, “The conversation is the relationship.” Many a divorce, business partnership, or professional relationship has frayed from the silent treatment. When you bother to talk, it shows you care.
This post also appears on Forbes.com.
Part of this column has been excerpted from Kristi’s book, Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others.
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