The office snake. You thought he only existed in movies and on TV, but then it happens: You spent days burning the midnight oil working on a great idea to pitch to your boss, excitedly told your co-worker all about it and at the big meeting, he steals your thunder and passes it off as his own. Your boss loves it, of course. You’re fuming.
Dealing with a backstabbing co-worker can feel like walking a tightrope. You don’t want to come off as bitter or petty or a tattletale to your boss or HR. Every time you vent about it to your officemate, you feel like a hypocrite, but you can’t help it.
“A backstabber is somebody who is not trustworthy and may intentionally or unintentionally hurt you,” says Aoifa O’Donnell, CEO of the National Employee Assistance Program, which is based in Hauppauge.
There are three common types: gossipers, credit-takers and flat out liars. All three can make your experience at work a negative one. But, since it’s a new year and you vow to keep the positive vibes flowing, we ask O’Donnell to share tips to help you handle and move forward from a difficult work situation with your head held high.
The First Step
When you hear a colleague has been talking about you or encounter a situation where the person lies about or takes credit for your work, try to resolve the situation quickly. “If it’s safe to do so, confront the person right away,” says O’Donnell. “I would seek to have a witness if possible or some kind of e-mail evidence of your concern.”
When To Go Higher Up
If that doesn’t work or you feel the person is a physical threat, go up the ladder. “Your direct supervisor is the person you go to if you need assistance. If you don’t trust your direct supervisor or you feel your direct supervisor won’t listen to you appropriately in the way you desire, you can go to human resources.”
Don’t Be Tone Deaf
Whether you’re speaking directly to the backstabber or going up the ladder, you want to remain tactful, respectful, unemotional and offer solutions. That can be hard in a situation where emotions are high and you feel someone has done damage to a professional image you have worked so hard to earn, but it’s essential. “You need to be the professional,” O’Donnell said. “It’s hurtful and emotional but the best advocates keep a cool head, calm heart and the voice that says, ‘I need help resolving the situation. Every human resources person wants to hear that the employee is seeking a solution.” Another tip: bring evidence, like dates and times of incidents and e-mails that support your claims.
Day to Day Handling
Though you may want to see the person fired, chances are the two of you will still need to work together, at least while everything is sorted out. “Your best bet is to stay professional and not share too much information because you don’t want that to be used against you…keep records of all your activities and have an email trail.” It’s not fun to have to do that. In a perfect world, we’d get along swimmingly with our co-workers, but “sometimes you need to be willing to be proactive,” says O’Donnell.
You’re frustrated with the situation and backstabber. It’s understandable. Take the high road when it comes to speaking about the situation with your colleagues. “If we’re spreading negative information about a colleague around the office, we’re gossiping, too. It’s best to keep that out of the office.” Vent to your spouse or a friend who doesn’t work for your company. If you have one or two co-workers you know you can trust, O’Donnell suggests making sure they are the types of people who will help you move forward, not feed your anger.
When to Leave
O’Donnell is a firm believer that with the right approach to advocating for yourself and a management team that can help correct backstabbing behavior, these types of situations are fixable. Though she hates to see someone leave a company because of a negative workplace environment, sometimes it has to happen. If you truly feel you have carried yourself in the right way, gone up the ladder and still nothing has changed, it may be time to consider leaving. “If it starts impacting your productivity, professionalism or your personal health, that’s when it gets to, ‘is this job really worth it?'” O’Donnell says. That’s a tough call only you can make.