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Archive for the Conflict Category

Armstrong & Getty Discuss Career Acceleration Tips

Armstrong & Getty Discuss Career Acceleration Tips

Dan Rust joins hosts Jack Armstrong and Joe Getty for a fun and fast discussion of career advancement tips and strategies. They talk about the frustrations of younger workers who focus on just doing a good job, ignore office politics, and then get frustrated when some who are less talented or don’t work as hard seem to have greater career acceleration.

Click on the link below it listen.

Behind Closed Doors: 4 Ugly Truths About Workplace Sex Abuse

Behind Closed Doors: 4 Ugly Truths About Workplace Sex Abuse

“I don’t believe her. Why would a man in his position be so stupid and risk his career and reputation?” she said. “Plus, look at all the women who have come forward to support him.”

I heard this comment from a female colleague regarding former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson’s recent allegations against Roger Ailes, Fox News CEO. Carlson recently brought a wrongful termination suit against Ailes after her contract as the host of Fox’s The Real Story was not renewed. She is alleging sexual harassment, saying that Ailes made comments about her physical appearance and once told her that they should have slept together long ago.

I have no idea which one of them is telling the truth. You don’t either. But plenty of people have come to quick, firm opinions on the matter. And I’m particularly surprised at the number of women who have decided they don’t believe Ms. Carlson because they’ve heard so many other women (who currently work for Mr. Ailes) expressing support for him and adamant disbelief regarding the allegations. If he didn’t harass THOSE women, their thinking goes, he probably didn’t harass Gretchen, right?

Update: Ailes was just dismissed from Fox News following an internal investigation. He takes with him a $60 Million severance package. Previously supportive female hosts on Fox News have gone silent.

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Before I go any further let me acknowledge that as a man writing about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, my perspective and personal experience is inherently limited. And giving advice that may be politically incorrect or uncomfortable is going to strike some as inappropriate, maybe even offensive. Over the years I’ve had many conversations with women about the sexual pressures and abuses they face at work. And as much as possible, I’m going to try to reflect their experiences and perspectives rather than my own.

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While it is certainly true that women have the ability to commit sexual abuse in the workplace, the reality is that men are far, far more likely to be the perpetrators. And women with little power are almost always the victims. So that is the point of view I’m taking here.

With all that said, here are a few hard truths about sexual misbehavior in the modern workplace.

1. Sexual Harassment training has helped… and hurt.

Every year, millions of employees are required to complete annual training focused on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. Huge amounts of money, time and resources are committed to this yearly effort, and this has been happening for decades. So by now we should have finally stamped out sexual abuse at work, right? Or at least diminished it significantly? Perhaps.

But one perverse consequence of all this training is that sexual abuse perpetrators have also been trained – and they’ve become MUCH better at covering their tracks.

Sure there are still stupid guys sending inappropriate texts and pictures, and HR loves to bring the hammer down on them. But the smart ones, the real sexual sociopaths, have become much more subtle and clever.

“It took me awhile to recognize the pattern,” Linda said to me. “Whenever I worked late at the office, he was there. He owned the company, so I assumed he always worked late. But I later realized it was only those nights when I was working late, alone.” Linda went on to describe how she had been “groomed” to become comfortable with him, and ultimately pressured into a sexual relationship. “He was very careful, and no one in the company had a clue. The weirdest thing is that at a certain point I decided I needed evidence of our ‘relationship’ if you can call it that. And it’s almost like he instinctively knew, because that’s when it ended.” She was grateful that the sexual pressure ended, and didn’t perceive any negative impact on her career. “But to this day I wonder if he simply moved on to a fresher target, and I’m sure if I had tried to make a big thing of it, my career would have suffered.”

The important thing to understand is that in today’s world the (mostly male) perpetrators of sexual harassment and abuse are clever. They plan. They strategize. They create “cover” relationships with other women at work and ensure that those women perceive them as straight arrows who NEVER say or do anything inappropriate. As crazy and evil as it seems, they get a kick out of the game.

“Always have plausible deniability,” a call center director said to me a few months ago as he described a series of office trysts with underlings. “If there’s ever heat, make sure it comes down to he-said, she-said.” He’d had a few drinks and I thought the alcohol had caused him to let his guard down. Until he held up his glass of whisky and wagged a finger at me. “Even this conversation, it’s just you and me. No trail, no evidence. nothing to come back and haunt me.” Needless to say, we haven’t gone out for drinks again. But the conversation haunts me.

It is also true that massive sexual harassment training has made some people over-sensitive to the issue, and they run to HR the moment they feel offended by a comment or occurrence. “Apparently something about the way I was looking at her made her uncomfortable. She went to our female boss to complain that I was ‘leering’ at her,” a sales manager said to me. “The boss called me into her office and told me to cut it out – I was confused and surprised, and trying to deny it just made me look worse.” Feeling that his reputation had been permanently and unfairly damaged, he eventually moved on to another employer.

So massive sexual harassment sensitivity training has helped, but is hasn’t changed human nature.

2. “Putting up with it” is a career choice many women still make.

While writing this article I reached out to a number of female colleagues with whom I have worked over the years and virtually every one of them shared at least one example of “putting up with it” for the sake of their career. These are strong, professional women and I was frankly surprised. one of them was very open about the compromise she made with her own values.

“I could have gone to HR and no doubt it would have hurt his career at that company. But it also would have hurt mine.” she said. “I know a lot of people will judge me for this, but I just told him to stop it, I made it clear that nothing was EVER going to happen between us. I was firm, but not harsh or strident or shaming. Because I needed to have a good working relationship with him.”

While I would never want my wife or daughter to make such a compromise, I also don’t want to pass judgement over those women who do.

“I just look at it as part of the cost of doing business in my industry. My clients are mostly men, they ask me out for drinks, to ‘talk business’ but it often leads to uncomfortable moments,” a female sales rep said to me. “I have to find ways to say ‘no’ without bruising their egos too much. Otherwise I have no shot at their business.”

It is a mistake to assume that the only women who “put up with it” are those who lack confidence, or who are desperate to keep their jobs. I worked with a female VP of Sales who projected the epitome of confidence and power. Her comments were a big eye opener for me.

“I had big career ambitions, and I wasn’t going to let any man’s bad behavior get in the way,” she said. Sometimes that meant pushing back hard, sometimes it meant talking like ‘one of the boys’ and sometimes it meant just ignoring or putting up with it. I know that’s not politically correct to say – but it’s what got me here.”

3. Going to HR immediately may NOT be your wisest move.

I’m afraid this may upset some of my friends in HR but I’ve heard too many stories from people (again, mostly women) who did the “right” thing and it ended up hurting their career.

Understand that the Human Resources department exists to serve the interests of the business. They are not there to be your personal advocate or counselor. So when someone lodges a formal complaint, what HR is looking for is specific, verifiable evidence. He-said, she-said accusations will certainly be acted upon, to some degree, but HR is going to protect the rights of both employees (as they should) AND MOSTLY protect the interests of the business.

The folks in HR do not have an obligation to protect your privacy. In fact if you lodge a complaint against another employee, HR has a primary obligation to address the complaint and protect the business, not to protect your identity.

In smaller businesses or those with a single owner (or other especially powerful individual employees) the people in HR often understand that in order to keep their own jobs they have to keep THAT person happy. The folks in HR have their own career pressures.

If you are going to take the step of lodging a formal complaint regarding unwanted sexual comments or actions, first seek out your own legal representation. You need to have counsel from someone who is solely focused on your interests, and has experience in this area of the law. This person can give you fact-based advice regarding when and how to contact HR with the allegation.

4. Don’t expect automatic support from other women.

If harassment occurs, be very careful about whom you decide to discuss it with at work. In the modern workplace, the days of female solidarity are over. Some women won’t believe you. Some may believe you but are more concerned with their own careers. Some may view this as an opportunity to push themselves up while pushing you down.

“My boss came on to me during a business trip, and I made the mistake of telling another woman at work about the situation. I trusted her and asked her to keep it between us until I had decided what to do,” a marketing manager said to me. “Well, she told someone. And THAT person went to my boss, saying that I was ‘spreading rumors’ and needless to say, the whole situation blew up on me.”

In the days following Gretchen Carlson’s allegations against Roger Ailes, a long list of Fox News female hosts, producers and others came forward to express their support for Mr. Ailes. None of them called Gretchen a liar exactly, but they made it clear who they were supporting. Obviously the fact that Mr. Aisles was their boss had to be a factor in their decision to come forward.

Only one prominent female host (Megyn Kelly) did not come forward with public statements of support. She hosts the #1 show on Fox News and clearly does not feel the same career pressure as others.But it turns out, if recent news reports are to be believed, that she told the internal Fox news investigators that she had in fact experienced unwanted advances from Mr. Ailes earlier in her career. Apparently she had “put up with it” in those early years of her career.

Which seemed to work out well for her.

Here is a recent radio interview focused on the same topic:


This is a complex and difficult topic, and I’m only certain of one thing: Every situation is unique, and every woman has to make decisions and choices based upon her own values and priorities. I’d love to hear your perspective on this.

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This LinkedIn post is not an excerpt, but my new book “Workplace Poker” includes career advice with a dash of smirky, sassy humor. Is it is available everywhere books are sold. You can view a brief video of reader comments by clicking on the link below.

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“Humor is just another defense against the universe.” – Mel Brooks

Navigate the Landmines of Office Politics

“Why can’t people just say what they mean and mean what they say?” lamented Jenny, a mid-level manager for one of my client businesses. “If we focused all of this energy on the business we wouldn’t have most of the issues that cause the gossip, paranoia and backstabbing.” She was reacting to recent comments from a “friend” in the business, confiding that some of her coworkers were worried because she had been coming in late the past week. First of all Jenny was surprised because her cubicle was in an area where no one could see her daily comings and goings. She had been arriving about 30 minutes late ─ and staying 30 minutes longer at the end of the day, but apparently no one noticed THAT ─ because her husband’s car was being repaired and he needed her to drop him off at his workplace.

Jenny had just become a manager for this group three months ago. She knew they were a bit frustrated with her because she was more hands-on than their previous manager, who had retired after a long career with the company. What she didn’t know was the group had expected that one of them would be promoted to the manager position, so they were surprised when a young woman who had no experience in their business was hired. Jenny was bright, competent, hard working and truly a good manager. But I was hired to provide her with some coaching because the director for her division realized she had a blind spot which could derail her promising career ─ her response to the office politics and other messy human issues related to her job was to express frustration, complain to her own boss, then decide it was time to “clean house” and start to build her own team.

“She’s got the potential to be a strong leader for our business,” her director had told me. “And we know she has a difficult group to manage. Most of them have been with us more than twenty years and they aren’t interested in changing their ways. But their deep knowledge and expertise is critical to our business and you can’t simply replace them. It takes a full two year cycle to bring someone in their position fully up to speed, but Jenny doesn’t know the business well enough yet to really get that.” He went on to walk me through all of her strengths and capabilities, then said, “She also doesn’t get the chess game here. If you let one person go and replace them with a trainee, how does that impact all of the others. How motivated will they be to train the new person? And how many of them will start looking for a new job? All of that has to be part of the thought process. And speaking frankly, she was quite charming when we were interviewing her, but every since she started having problems with her team, that warm charm seems to have faded away. If we can’t get THAT Jenny back, I don’t think she will be here long, either by her choice or ours.”

Learn to Love the Game

I suck at golf, and not for lack of trying. I’ve been coached by great golfers, and I’ve spent many many hours trying to get good. Or at least good enough to not be embarrassed. A friend took me to an indoor golf coaching clinic where you hit the ball into a video screen while being recorded from two directions in order to analyze your swing. On my third swing the ball hit something hard on the edge of the screen, deflected up to the ceiling and hit a metal pipe then kicked back down to hit me in the forehead. Swear to God. As they were applying a cold washcloth to the growing red lump on my forehead the owner of the golf clinic said “Maybe you should try another sport. But not darts.”

So I hate golf. Now, do I hate it because I suck at it, or vice versa? You decide. I happen to love bowling and I’m good enough to not be hit in the head.

Most people profess to hate office or corporate politics. And this is primarily because they suck at it. This is of course a natural reaction. Who wants to play a game where you don’t know the rules, can’t understand what is happening, and lose every time?

But whether you claim to hate it, avoid it, or actively seek to eliminate it, the human dynamic is a fact of life in every business. And humans are messy, chaotic, fickle creatures. They are also very bright and alert, which just adds more intensity to the intrigue. And lets be honest, you’ve been playing human politics almost since you were born. When you smiled and giggled to encourage your mother to hold you, feed you, change your diaper. When you cried loudly if the giggling didn’t work. When you chose your friends (or enemies) in school, gave loyalty to get loyalty, did favors to receive favors, and the list goes on. When you give a generous tip to the waiter at a local restaurant because you know you’ll be returning many times and you want to ensure good service in the future, you are practicing human politics.

The human dynamic in business becomes more complex because there are both competitive and cooperative pressures. Plus these are people with whom you might not normally choose to associate. We select our friends instinctively, and can easily choose to “un-friend” them, but work colleagues are often foisted upon us. In this unnatural tribe of coworkers, the human dynamic allows some to gain advantage personally or for a cause they support, sometimes at the expense of others.

The hard truth is that you must learn to navigate the “minefield” of human dynamics if you want to ensure your own success and that of your projects. If you deny (or merely express frustration at) the ‘bad politics’ that may be going on around you, and avoid dealing with it, you may needlessly pay the price for your disengagement while others gain advantage. And if you avoid practicing ‘good politics’, you miss the opportunities to properly further your own interests, and those of your team and your cause.

And as you get better at this particular sport, you’ll come to enjoy it. Especially if you start with things like:

  • Helping others more than is expected
  • Going out of your way to help a colleague avoid a “train wreck” on their project or assignment
  • Working harder than others, but sharing the credit broadly
  • Generating new ideas, but giving credit to the “team brainstorming” culture
  • Giving advice designed to truly help another person boost his or her career prospects
  • Making a little extra effort to get to know people on a personal level
  • Being a good listener and a “safe” place where others can express their frustrations without fear of it being shared with others
  • Going out of you way to be consistently cheerful and charming – a “bright spot” in everybody’s day at the office

These are all things that a good decent person would do in the workplace, with or without any sort of “political” intent. And there are many things you can do (or perhaps do already) which have a “political” aspect to them, but are in fact purely positive activities in the office environment. Studies reveal that increased political skill of this type leads to better job performance – not just for the “political person” but for others as well. Research shows that this applies both to people in upper-management jobs and to employees in lower-level jobs that don’t require much personal interaction.

When you view the entire trajectory of a career, political skill proves to be the best overall predictor of above average achievement. Your tactical job performance, intelligence and personality traits are fundamental to success of course, but these will only get you to the career endpoint at which most other bright competent professional like yourself arrive. Not bad, but not exceptional. It is your political skills (or lack thereof) which will ultimately determine if your career endpoint is extraordinary. To deal effectively with office politics and use it yourself in a positive way, you must first accept the reality of it and make a firm decision to become a master of human dynamics in the workplace. (Doesn’t that sound better than being an office politician?)

Making Politics Work FOR You

The best way develop strategies to deal with the political behavior that is going on around you is to first be a good observer and then use the information you gain a deeper awareness of the working network you operate within. This will also help you develop a network of positive alliances and office “friendships.” I put “friendships” in quotes because the truth is that none of these people are your friends. Even the ones you go to lunch with. Even the ones you invite to your wedding. Even the ones you sleep with. They are not real friends. If you lost your job tomorrow, how many of them would be having lunch with you a year from now?

The first step in developing greater fluency with office politics is to think through the informal hierarchy within the broad business, as well as within your particular work group. Human influence and power often circumvent the formal organization chart. Sit back and watch for a while and then re-map the organization chart in terms of political power.

  • Who has real influence to make things happen?
  • Who has authority but doesn’t exercise it? Why are they passive? (Are they trying to foster leadership in others, or are they afraid of accountability, or is it something else?)
  • Who is respected? Why? (Longevity, innovation, helping others, business results?)
  • Who champions or mentors others? (and who do they choose to champion/mentor?)
  • Who really “gets” the business?
  • Who seems to be really good at navigating the human dynamics within the organization (find people at all levels if possible)

This is an exercise you should work on over time. Unless you have had years of experience observing this particular group, you should think through these questions and then spend time noticing their interactions at meetings, events, work discussions, etc. You can even ask others about their perceptions of particular people, but be sure to do so in a totally benign way – don’t telegraph a positive or negative perception of your own. Too often people will tend to mirror the perception you telegraph, or at least soften their own expressed opinion so as not to be in conflict with what they perceive your opinion to be. so ask neutral open-ended questions like:

  • “What is it like to work with Sandra?”
  • “What do people think of Bob?”
  • “Who do people do to when they really need to get something done?”
  • “Who would be a good person for me to talk to, who really could help me understand the business more deeply?”

Of course you have to be thoughtful about how you ask these questions and with whom you are speaking. In the workplace there seems to be a common underlying paranoia that doesn’t occur in natural friendships or families. Typically if you ask a family member to “Tell me about uncle Bob,” you won’t get a paranoid reaction (unless uncle Bob has some dark secrets that no one is supposed to talk about). But in the work world even the simplest questions about other people can generate paranoia. So if someone responds with “Why do you ask?” your reaction should be nonchalant. But you do have to give them a reason. Just saying “no reason, just curious” will make them more paranoid. So give them a benign reason, for example:

  • “Just wondering, trying to get to know people around here.”
  • “Just curious, figuring out the organization.”

Over time as you gain a better sense of where the power, influence and natural respect of others exists within the organization, you can also start to pay attention tot he social networks:

  • Who gets along with whom (or at least appears to.) and what is the basis? Friendship, respect,common goals, manipulation?
  • Who clearly doesn’t associate with whom?
  • Are there obvious groups or cliques?
  • Are there noticeable interpersonal conflicts? Who is clearly involved? Who MIGHT be subtly involved?
  • Who has the most trouble getting along with others?
  • Who is a “loner” and how do others view them? (Some loners are respected, others ostracized)
  • How does the influence flow between the parties?

Again the deep valuable answers to these question will come over time. To truly “crack the code” of an organization requires patient observation and interactions with people in many different situations. Think of Jane Goodall and her observations of Lowland Gorillas. She was patient, observing them in their natural settings for years, being careful to not disrupt their natural patterns and interactions. And over time she gained amazing insight into their social networks and hierarchies.

As you observe and deepen your awareness, you can also begin to build your own social network within the organization. You probably already have a natural network. If you are a new employee you may have aligned with other new employees. If you are an experienced mid-level manager you probably have a natural alignment with your direct reports and others at your level. But as you think about the political landscape within the organization you may want to expand your work/social network.

  • Do not avoid politically powerful people in the organization. Get to know them.
  • Ensure you have relationships that cross the formal hierarchy in all directions (peers, bosses, executives).
  • Start to build relationships with those who have the informal power.
  • Build your relationships on trust and respect – avoid empty flattery.
  • Be friendly with everyone but don’t align yourself with one group or another.
  • Be a part of multiple networks – this way you can keep your finger on the pulse of the organization.

As you build your relationships, you need to learn to use them to stay clear of negative politicking, and also to promote yourself and your team positively. It is up to you to communicate your own and your team’s abilities and successes to the right people, and you do this through positive political action.

Use your network to:

  • Gain access to information.
  • Build visibility of your achievements.
  • Improve difficult relationships.
  • Attract opportunities where you can to shine.
  • Seek out ways to make yourself, your team and your boss look good.

In my first discussion with Jenny, the mid-level manager with poor (really, non-existent) political skills, she became impatient. Probably somewhat embarrassed because she understood the value of having deeper insight into those around her, but she wasn’t used to being coached or mentored. She had always been an exceptional performer in every previous job – hence her rapid career progress – and had always exceeded the expectations of her employers. So this was a new experience for her, having someone identify a “gap” in her performance. And not surprisingly, she wanted to rush the process, close the gap and never have this happen again. It took a fair amount of discussion for her to accept that there was no quick fix, and when it comes to the human dynamics within an organization, there are rarely easy answers.

But to her credit, she began the process described above. She came to a much deeper understanding of the dynamics within the group she was managing and eventually someone outside of the group helped her understand their frustration that none of them had even been considered for the management position. Right or wrong, it was as if the entire group had been dismissed, and they naturally took this as an affront. And even though Jenny was not part of that process, she was the focus of the group’s frustration. Being aware of this didn’t solve the problem, but it was a big step forward.

For Jenny her next step was to neutralize the negative dynamics that were occurring and begin the process of creating a more positive and productive relationship with her group of employees.

It takes a confident and mature person to smile and engage positively with someone you know has been backstabbing you. It takes an exceptionally gifted person to deal productively with a group of backstabbers. But I told Jenny that I truly thought she was up to the difficult task at hand. One of her early realizations was that her choice to work in a cubicle that was distant from her work group was an error. It created both a physical separation and a social distance, and she acknowledged that perhaps her own discomfort with the group drove her decision. “I guess I could tell from the beginning that they weren’t thrilled with me,” she said. “So when the facilities manager gave me options, I selected a cubicle away from them, sort of to isolate me from the negative environment. But I realize now that my job is to change that environment, not run away from it.”

Neutralize the Negative Players

Some negative people can be turned. Generally speaking you can positively influence those who are difficult because they see you as a threat, misunderstand your motivations, or feel slighted by you in some way. When you engage positively with these individuals, ask good questions and actively listen to them, they will often begin to turn. If you truly engage in an effort to mend fences and genuinely want to help them with their priorities, these people can eventually become allies. Sometimes they become your strongest allies. Others however can never be turned. And it is difficult to discern the difference.

Your mapping of the informal spheres of influence in the organization will have helped you to identify those people who use others for their own purposes, and not necessarily for the common good. It’s natural to want to distance yourself from these people as much as possible. But what can often be needed is the opposite reaction. The expression, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” applies perfectly to office politics. Get to know these people better and be courteous to them, but always be very careful what you say to them. Understand what motivates these people and what their goals are, and so learn how to avoid or counter the impact of their negative politicking.

Govern Your Own Behavior

Through observation you’ll learn what works in your organization’s culture and what doesn’t. Watch other people at work and identify successful behaviors that you can model. There are also some general standards to observe that will stop negative politics from spreading.

  • Don’t pass on gossip, questionable judgments, spread rumors – when you hear something, take a day to consider how much credibility it has.
  • Rise above interpersonal conflicts – do not get sucked into arguments.
  • Maintain your integrity at all times – always remain professional, and always remember the organization’s interests.
  • Be positive – avoid whining and complaining.
  • Be confident and assertive but not aggressive.
  • When voicing objections or criticism, make sure you take an organizational perspective not a personal one.
  • Don’t rely on confidentiality – assume things will be disclosed and so decide what you should reveal accordingly.
  • Be a model of integrity to your team, and discourage politics within it.

The philosopher Plato said, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” And this hold true today in the workplace: If you don’t participate in the political game, you risk not having a say in what happens and allowing people with less experience, skill or knowledge to influence the decisions being made around you.

Office Politics are a fact of life. Wise politicking will help you get what you want in the world of work without compromising others in the process. Learn to use its power positively while diffusing the efforts of those who abuse it.

How to Hug your Backstabber

How to Hug your Backstabber

When Eric Urtiaga started his new job as a Product Manager for a nutritional products company in San Diego, he was looking forward to having an impact on a market that he cared a lot about. Eric was passionate about maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit, at work and in the rest of his life. He had been told by co-workers at his previous employer that his attitude and energy were was one of the reasons they looked forward to coming to work each day.

So it came as a shock to Eric when he heard that someone at the new company was talking about him behind his back, and not in a good way.

“He doesn’t have the educational or research credentials we need to advance our products,” sniffed Marlene, the corporate communications manager. She seemed to take every opportunity to second guess his ideas for new product introductions and current product promotions. And when he went over budget on a trade show booth, she mentioned “our budget problem” at several meetings, just to be sure Eric’s boss was aware if it.

At first Eric tried to take the high road. He just kept his head down and focused on doing a good job. But Marlene was a long time employee with many friends and acquaintances in virtually every department. Over time her behind-the-scenes whispering campaign began to take its toll. Eric could tell that he was losing the confidence of some people, so he tried to address the issues directly with Marlene.

“I think somehow we got off on the wrong foot, and I’d like to start over,” he said to her in a private conversation.

Marlene looked stunned. “I have no idea what you are talking about.” Eric began to give her a few examples but she cut him off. “I thought you wanted open communication? I’ve been clear with you about my concerns, and when it seems appropriate I’ve shared those concerns with others. Our culture here is an open give-and-take environment where people are free to express their opinions.”

Eric was getting nowhere with her, so he ended the meeting and thought perhaps she might at least think twice before talking about him behind his back again. Instead, Marlene went immediately to the HR Manager and filed a complaint. She totally characterized the nature of the conversation and told HR that she “felt threatened” by Eric’s anger at her criticisms.

When Eric was called to the HR Director’s office and given an opportunity to respond, he was shocked and (unfortunately) angry. She had so clearly lied, and the surprise of it all caused him to lash out. “I’m telling you! She is a conniving, lying bitch! That is NOT what happened! I don’t know what it is, but she has had it in for me since day one!”

It would be great if this story had a happy ending. If somehow Eric had learned the “8 Steps for Dealing with Office Backstabbers” or something like that, and then he and Marlene eventually developed a productive working relationship. That would be nice. But the reality is that this did not end well.

For the next six months Eric’s career at the nutritional products company spiraled slowly downward. More controls were put in place over his budget. His boss began to second guess many of his ideas and encouraged him to “Just keep the trains running. No need for new ideas right now.” Eric could see the writing on the wall. The only bright spot is that he starting interviewing at other companies and was able to land a new position before the old one was taken away from him.

But in the end, Eric didn’t really learn anything about how to handle the backstabber. He felt wronged and it is a story he now loves to tell anytime someone mentions the old company. I’ve heard the story several times over the past two years – each time “Marlene” gets nastier, more clever and more powerful.

So is there anything that Eric COULD have learned? Anything he COULD have done to make things better at the old company? Could he have beaten Marlene at her own game?

(Note: the Product Manager hired after Eric left turned out to be a good friend of Marlene who had interviewed for the position previously when Eric had been selected. Hmm…)

While every situation is different, here are some general guidelines that can help you when you are dealing with someone in the office who is clearly backstabbing you.

“Unless you’re willing to switch jobs, you’re stuck working with your office enemy. These strategies will help you deal with making the most out of your working relationship.

Get Close

While your instinct might be to avoid this person at all cost, this only gives them more room to maneuver against you. So sit NEAR them at meetings, not at the other side of the table. Give them compliments in an open forum so that others hear you saying NICE things about them. You don’t have to lie. You can say things like:

  • “You’ve got an experienced perspective on this.”
  • “I appreciate how much you care about this.”
  • “Thanks for helping the team out.”
  • “You’re background and knowledge on this has been helpful.”

You get the idea. Without going overboard, these compliments are intended to let OTHERS know you have an appreciation for this person. It will make their behind-your-back negative comments seem small and spiteful.

Should this person offer any criticism publicly, be sure to THANK them and let them (others really) know how much you appreciate the candid feedback. But try not to argue the point in public. Instead try something like:

“You’ve made an interesting point and I really appreciate the candid feedback. I want to think about it, to make sure I give this the level of thought it is due, then we can talk further.”

Your goal is to “hug” your backstabber (metaphorically, of course) with public kindness, appreciation and professionalism. Even in private understand that in the mind of a back stabbing type of person, this is all a human chess game. So be careful about every move you make.

Eric’s biggest mistake was in assuming that there could be a win/win outcome, because that was his personality type. And inherently positive people often get steamrolled by backstabbers because they don’t understand the win/LOSE mindset. But you have to assume that the backstabber will always take every opportunity to defeat you, step by step.

So “hug” them. Get close. Never let them know that you are aware of their behind-the-scenes activity against you.

Recruit Allies – Carefully

It is best to never let anyone at work know your inner frustrations because you can never be sure which side they are REALLY on. Most people want to be on the side of the “winner” so if it appears that the backstabber is getting the upper hand, that is the direction most will gravitate to. Don’t let this frustrate or depress you, it is simply human nature. We are drawn to perceived strength.

At the same time, even if you can’t express your own frustrations, you can see the signs of frustration in others. Look for a subtle roll of the eyes when the backstabber takes credit for a project she only briefly worked on. Or indications that others are getting impatient with the backstabber. You can get closer to, and align with, these people. And if they begin to openly express their frustration you should listen attentively, but don’t join in. This is still a chess game. Don’t vent, just bite your tongue and take a deep breath. The same goes for sharing your feelings with your boss; when it comes down to it, to your supervisor (and to companies in general) it only matters that employees are performing. Personality clashes you’re having with a colleague are low on their priority list.

Use Your Humor and Good Nature

Bullies feed on the fear and frustration of others, so give them NOTHING to feed on. Never let a backstabber’s comments ruin your day. Don’t let the bastards get you down. In fact, you should take pride in the fact that they are unable to beat you down. Instead you should focus on elevating others to show the dramatic contrast between your style and that of the backstabber.

If someone comes to you and tells you about a backstabbers comments about you, shrug it off with a laugh and say “I’m going to have to spend more time with her so she gets comfortable sharing these things with me directly. That way we can have a productive conversation.”

If they criticize you publicly, at a meeting for example, you can laugh and say with gentle sarcasm “don’t hold back, tell us how you REALLY feel.”

No Easy Answers

There is no quick or perfect solution because every situation and every Backstabber personality is different. That’s why I am interested to hear YOUR ideas…