Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Backstabbing Co-Worker

There are many tough workplace situations, but perhaps one of the most difficult to deal with on a daily basis is the co-worker who must win at any cost. That means that this colleague will backstab -- either on purpose or perhaps unintentionally -- as he or she seeks to succeed in our increasingly tough business environment.

Of course, when the bad behavior is an accident, a one-time thing, it may be easier to get past the incident and move on. But what if the co-worker consistently makes a barracuda look like a guppy? What action can you -- or should you -- take?

Your reaction may range from plotting the person's demise to feeling angry or frustrated to tattling about the jerk to the boss. Or, you may feel immobilized by the actions of this person, finding yourself less productive or creative as you struggle to deal with the emotions that bombard you.

Of course, that is the key:Once you cannot do your job because of this person's actions, then you know that you've got to do something. Some ways to handle such a scenario:

Look deeper. Try to see what is motivating the co-worker to behave so badly. Is there something else going on -- perhaps a personal problem that is affecting the person's performance? You may discover there is an issue at home (family illness, money troubles, etc.)that could be the root cause of the problems. While you may not be able to solve such issues, taking the person out to lunch or coffee and providing them a safe outlet to talk may help.

Be clear about the problem. Don't go to your colleague and say, "Listen, you jerk, if you don't quit getting in my way I'm going to kick your ass and then I'm going to tell the boss what you're doing." Be more reasonable and polite: "I can appreciate how hard you work and all the things you're trying to accomplish. But I have a problem with you making a call to my clients without my knowledge because I have a long history of respect and trust with them and I don't want them to feel confused in their dealings with this company."

Document behavior. Keep track of the backbiting and problems with the co-worker, noting specific instances and how it affected your ability to do your job. This will be critical if you decide to go to the boss with your complaints. Bosses are much more likely to intervene if they find out a worker is adversely impacting the bottom line.

Keep it private. Don't attempt to bring up the problems where others can overhear. That's likely to make the other person defensive, and escalate the bad behavior.

Don't rise to the bait. There's a chance this peer will react negatively to anything you have to say; don't show any similar emotions. Simply repeat that you have a problem with it and that you'd like to come up with a solution. If the person becomes angry or insulting, say that the comments are out of line, and you can see the person is upset. "We need to talk about this, but let's do it later."

Finally, if the boss refuses to take action, and the co-worker shows no sign of stopping the aggressive behavior, you may need to decide if you can live with the situation...or it may be time to move on to a more supportive, friendly environment.

Personal note: I won't be blogging the rest of the week....I believe the highly-technical term is that this blog is "going dark." I'm having a bum knee fixed and plan to be either unconcious or on some kind of la-la land drugs (not a good combination for writing anything that makes sense). I'll be back next week, so don't forget about me and come back and visit, or leave me a comment on anything you'd like to chat about.



Richard Rinyai said...


This is really great information. I have to admit that one co-worker drives me up the wall at times. I always keep my cool, but don't understand why they have to be huffing and puffing all of the time.

I will definitely keep these points in mind and hope it helps.



Anita said...

Glad to know it may be helpful. Let me know if it works out, and we'll try and get more people offering suggestions on how they handled the issue.

Anonymous said...

I am curently working with someone like this and have gone home after work with severe headaches. Now that I read this, I realize I've got to stop being the victim of this person and find a better way of dealing with it. Thanks so much for writing about this very real problem.

Anita said...

Yes, you know you've got to do something when you start having health issues because of someone at work. I really hope you can find a way to work it out with this person.

Anonymous said...

This is a great article with lots of useful info. Thanks so much, I'll let you know how the situation works out.

ps hope all works out with the bum knee!!

Anita said...

Just keep telling yourself that you can choose to let this person ruin your life, or you can choose to live a life you are proud of.
By the way, knee is great!

prathi said...

m a new employee recently joined allmost 6 months got over.My co-workers are feeling jealous about my performance @ the work place. they want me2 quit my all most all the time they are doing backstabbing & taunting me like anything. With respect to this i allready informed my GM.But he is not ready to sort out this issue..many a times he tried to convince them about this but no result.they ddint even left my personal lif also..commenting their harsh behavior hurts me a lot . I hav certain financial i cnt quit my job. dont know wthat to do? kindly guide me...............

Anita said...

Dear Prathi,
This indeed sounds like a difficult and stressful situation. Have you thought of meeting one on one with these people and simply asking if they have a problem? Maybe they're basing their opinions on untrue facts, and you can correct them. Or, maybe they'll back down if you confront the issue directly and in a professional way. I would also suggest finding ways to help such people. While you may not think you want to help those who try to hurt you, sometimes you can win over such people by showing you're a person of integrity, a team member who is willing to help them succeed.