5 ways to stop the office backstabber — without sinking to their level
The co-worker who takes credit for your work. The manager who forgot to invite you to a meeting — but blames you. The office gossip who lets it slip that you came to work hungover.
Sound familiar? Then chances are you're dealing with an office backstabber. Characterized as an unusually competitive and often vindictive co-worker, the backstabber will stop at nothing to throw others under the bus.
There's a good chance you’ve had to deal with this destructive workplace behavior at some point in your career: Some 27% of workers say they've been the recipient of current or past abusive conduct at work, according to a 2014 workplace bullying survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute.
Some backstabbing characteristics are the same no matter where you work, like gossiping and lying about others. At times, the backstabber will first cozy up to their intended victim to lower defenses and gain trust.
The blame game is a classic hallmark of the backstabber.
Leslie Lessnau, a former Ritz Carlton concierge supervisor, witnessed this on an ongoing basis at her old job, she told Mic. "When the backstabbing employee came up short or performed shoddy work, she would either blame other employees for her failure or would go to my manager and say her shortcomings were due to my poor leadership," she said.
Other kinds of backstabbing are especially prevalent in specific industries — and can have even more serious consequences.
"In creative fields, it may take a passive form, such as not contributing to the group effort," Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, told the career site Monster. "In health care, a seasoned professional may withhold vital information, which not only hurts the new employee, but also affects patient care."
What can you do if you feel you or others are being hurt by an office backstabber?
Here's how to stop the damage — without becoming part of the problem.
1. Keep your cool
You may want to hit back once you’ve been bombed with backstabbing, but this reaction may produce an unwanted cycle of events.
"Backstabbers aren’t going to just let retaliation go," Lessnau said. "While it’s tempting to get back at that person, resist the urge to engage in their games."
Of course, staying cool is not the same as staying silent.
2. Call out bad behavior without being confrontational or defensive
You might feel the instinct "to avoid the person and create a safe distance," Kristi Hedges, leadership coach and author, said by phone to Mic.
"While our gut instinct is to stay away, that usually doesn’t work," she said.
Hedges suggests asking the backstabber to validate behavior. "Be objective and say you’ve observed a certain behavior, such as cutting you off during meetings, and ask why," she said.
Without knowing the other peer’s true motivation, you don't want to create stories or assumptions on motivations.
3. Write it all down
Don't just run to your manager with your woes and start babbling.
Have concrete, written proof that a co-worker is being dishonest or trying to paint you in a negative light.
While it may be difficult to wait as you gather information, you’ll be far more effective when you present your case.
4. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer
"Although this sounds counterintuitive, increased interaction with the peer is more helpful than less," Hedges said.
The goal, she said, is to see if you can deescalate the tension — so you don't end up needing to bring in the big guns. By extending an olive branch, you might be able to resolve problems on your own.
"Getting to know the person will help you to build a bridge and convert the relationship," Hedges said. "It's a lot harder to backstab someone you know about and like than a stranger."
5. Enlist backup
You aren't likely the only person that the backstabber has hurt — so know whom you can trust and ask them to back you up.
Workplace allies can also help you build your case to present to management, so consider meeting with trusted co-workers and coming up with a strategy to explain why (and how) the office troublemaker needs to be stopped.
Most importantly: Never sink to the level of the problem person — don't lie or exaggerate about problems, alone or as a group.
Remember that the backstabber, however terrible, is only human.
Neutralizing conflict is most successful if you can hang on to your empathy and honesty along the way.
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