Solution Saturday: I’ve Been Stabbed in the Back
I built what I thought was a pretty solid relationship with some colleagues. Recently they hired a new person. Once she got comfortable she started becoming the backstabber. She quickly changed almost everyone’s perception of me. I could instantly see the attitude of people changing towards me.
I talked to my boss who stated that people felt intimidated by me. I recently applied for a leadership position only to be told that my people skills need to improve. We recently had a meeting to discuss the issues yet the backstabber said absolutely nothing.
This girl is damaging my career, but I am hoping that the boss noticed that she had nothing to say when we all were supposed to hash it out. I hope that earned me brownie points.
Backstabbers are the lowest form of gossip in office life. I’m sorry you feel the knife.
10 ways to deal with a knife in your back:
- Don’t fight fire with fire. If you aren’t skilled at stabbing people in the back, you’ll lose every time. Plus, it’s unethical.
- Stay engaged. Don’t assume a protective posture. However, avoid being alone with your backstabber as much as possible.
- Keep your boss informed about your work. Send occasional status emails. “I just thought you might like to know….”
- Publicly celebrate your teammate’s contributions to projects you lead. Pat others on the back when they help you succeed.
- Perception is reality. If other’s think you need to improve your people skills, you do. Don’t resist – explore. Define problems and solutions in behavioral terms. Ask for examples. Clarify how others will know you’re moving in the right direction. It takes humility to adopt this approach, but the alternative won’t work.
- Don’t ask your boss or colleagues to chose sides. You want them to defend you. It’s clear they won’t.
- Extend kindness and courtesy to everyone in the office, especially your backstabber. Good manners are about you, not others.
- Get support from outside your organization.
- Build strong relationships with everyone you can.
- Sharpen your resume’.
You’re in a tough situation. It makes my stomach hurt to think about it.
Act in ways that are best for you and your organization.
What suggestions do you have for “painfully backstabbed”?
*Solution Saturday posts may exceed 300 words to allow readers to see large portions of the notes I receive.
I found it almost amusing that the unethical portion of don’t fight fire with fire came after the thing about skill, but of course this blog is always practical first, not that it’s ever amoral here. Morals are strongly enforced but practicality is absolute.
Thanks Project…. It’s cool that you noticed. I made a decision to tag the ethical argument on the end. Frankly, we can justify unethical behavior when we feel betrayed. I thought I would make an argument based on self-interest before heading to ethics.
Thanks again for noticing. Cheers.
Bob Dylan said “[P]eople seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.”
It’s always about the behaviour, rather than the ethical rights and wrongs.
Dan, your suggestions of how to deal with this type of situation are excellent.
I would add, “stabbed in the back” needs to begin documenting things on “paper” going forward and he/she needs to find a way to protect herself and avoid being a victim of this abuse. This scenario has become what would qualify as a hostile work environment–I’m not talking from a legal standpoint here because I’m not a lawyer. I’m talking from a mental health standpoing.
As you infer in point number 10, she needs to prepare to leave what is now a very toxic environment if things don’t change. The price to stay is too high.
Very few managers or employees have a clue as to how to deal with this level of conflict and few companies will invest in outside help to deal with it and to learn how to handle similar things in the future.
Thanks Alan. Your insights are helpful. Our lack of skill and discomfort with these situations makes leaders bury their head in the sand. A good backstabber is nearly impossible to nail down.
Summing up the excellent suggestions, be the person you want to be while you begin your search for a new opportunity. Oh, do reflect on your people skills and make some changes!!! PERCEPTION IS REALITY!!!!
Thanks John. Yes! your suggestion is central to navigating this situation. Do things that make you proud of who you are. Easier said than done. Cheers
The backstabber probably also has the skills to get people thinking about any and all of your negative attributes – even if previously they didn’t think you had any. I’ve seen people greatly diminished by trying to change to address the stated ‘concerns’ of their peers. I’ve reflected on this a lot and would, if I were ever in the situation, call the backstabber out in public – in a reasonable voice and tone but letting them and everyone else know what is happening. This might give audience enjoyment to those who have fallen in behind the backstabber but soon enough will cause the backstabber to lash out – showing their true colours. Not all back stabbers are women either.
Thanks Diane. I’m so glad you joined in and shared your insights. One of the messages I hear is don’t lose yourself in this situation.
Hello Dan, I like your sentence, “Don’t fight fire with fire”. Another way to deal with backstabber, we should not show reaction for what she did. Instead, love her, help her… until she see her own action to us. Evil can’t destroy good things in this world. Just keep being positive and helpful with her. However, we should also have backup plan to protect ourselves if necessary.
Thanks Srem. You make me think about being proactive vs. reactive. In these situations, I can see the danger of reacting.
This is a great article with a lot of insight…Thanks for sharing!
I’ve found myself in a similar situation many years ago, and my top-level boss would not help. The middle-level boss could see what was going on, but was relatively new in her position and didn’t want to overule the ‘big’ boss. She tried to offer limited support – under the table style.
I was lucky that some other peers could see through this person’s behaviour, although I didn’t realise this until I left. But it did make me feel a bit better about things.
Ultimately this person came in from another country and befriended me. I opened up not only all of my work ideas and experience, but also my personal friendship circle. She stole a lot of my ideas and took credit for them, as well as stealing some of my personal friends from outside of work. She backstabbed me for quite a while before I found out.
Eventually I think most of my old friends saw her for what she was, but it took many years for some to see it, and I had already cut ties with many friends.
I had to leave work for my own mental health as well. But not before I got a promotion out of my toxic environment. It wasn’t to a great location, but that was the price I had to pay to get out and not lose all of my hard work.
I have learnt not to be so trusting and I also think that if you can try to keep your chin up and not let it show at work, (after all you aren’t getting the support anyway and you don’t want to make anyone think she is correct), this will be better for you in the long run. I would continue to be very polite to my colleagues,avoid the backstabber as much as possible, but be polite if you are near her, show an interest to your boss/es in self-improvement and then get the heck out as soon as something better comes along. In this way you can do what another colleague of mine calls ‘leaving well.’ In other words, you could always return at a later date if you wanted, (not that you would).
I know it is really tough to not let it eat you up, but just remember it is only short term. You don’t want to let her ruin any future jobs by making it difficult to have your bosses act as referees for you. Show them how serious you are about lifelong learning and self-improvement, (even if you don’t think you are the problem). This will show your bosses how professional you are and how willing you are to continue your own growth.
Thanks Chrissy. I’m so glad you shared your story. Congratulations for navigating through tough circumstances. It can be so disappointing to have passion to do a good job and have someone stab you in the back. But, what’s worse is the disappointment that others don’t stand up for us. It’s easy to slip into blame. Boy! That won’t work.
A really deep rooted phenomenon at almost every workplace. You have suggested powerful measures to deal with backstabbers. They carry lots of depth and meaning. While reading your suggestion with attention, I wanted to look for “Accountability” word. I jumped off when I did not find that. However, you have indirectly pointed out about keeping team members informed about your success and development.
Backstabbers always shift accountability to others. When you fix them accountable for task, they find little space to play. When they are part of the project, it is always better to clearly define everyone’s role with clear deadlines. Secondly, whenever any decision is taken in their presence, always communicate with clarity. They can interpret meaning from your communication. So, it is always better to write clearly. Invite their suggestion through mail, repeated mails, and reminders etc.
Backstabbers are generally soft spoken, well connected and well informed people. When engaging them into project, always make record of discussion. They are smart at creating records against others. You do not need to meet everyone physically, but keep informed everyone about what you are doing. In case, you find any rumor without justification, and if possible invite everyone and say what you have heard about them. Sometimes, it is necessary to take strong steps.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. I’m thankful you added accountability to the discussion. You took us to an important aspect of dealing with backstabbers. Create environments where people are given clear goals and hold people accountable for their work. I suppose, hold the whole team accountable is better. You might even practice public accountability.
Your comment reminded me that manipulators use sympathy to get what they want. They want you to feel sorry for them. This idea might be useful for spotting and blocking backstabbers. Cheers
Pick a fight, not among those non-critical positions !
Sent from my iPhone
The suggestions are great, but, Frustrated, please don’t call the backstabber a girl. She’s probably well over 18 to be working in your office.
Yes, your letter may have been written informally, and yes, you may never use “girl” in the office. Just please make sure your expectations of the backstabber aren’t wrapped up in unconscious, sexist expectations for a how a woman should or should not behave.
It’s really tough to feel like everyone is watching for you to slip up, and it will be hard to be the one to “take the high road” at work. It’s very hard to do that when you’re feeling attacked, so make sure you have someone in your corner, probably outside of work, who can cheer you on as much as you need it.
Loving #4! Publicly celebrate your teammate’s contributions & pat others on the back. I can’t tell you how this has helped me to rise above the fray.
Many years ago, I watched a confrontation between an auto parts delivery person and the service manager of the place where I was having my car fixed. Delivery person was on time and had the correct part, but was beyond rude and had no problem airing whatever gripe he had with the service manager loudly and publically. The manager was undeterred. When the rude driver had left, the service manager came in the office where I was waiting and proceeded to call the driver’s supervisor. I was expecting more uncomfortable bad-mouthing, but instead of berating the actions of the delivery driver, he instead told his supervisor thanks for sending him, how important it was to have this great relationship with the parts dealer, how much he appreciated driver x’s willingness to drop everything and get the job done, and how his job was just made so much easier when good people like that were great at their jobs. Not a single “but,” nothing about the behavior at all. I was dumbfounded when he put down the phone. The manager just smiled at me and said “he can go back and say whatever he wants, but I have relationships to build. Praise has never failed me.”
As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve followed his example and praised the good acts of others out loud and publically, even when I don’t feel like it. Just the exercise of sorting through what they said or did to find the actions or intentions that I CAN praise has helped me see the best in others and appreciate the unique contributions that we all bring to the table – and to disagreements. Celebrating others’ contributions to your success builds trust and goodwill. What workplace doesn’t need more of that?!?
From a worker’s point of view it’s important to remember that you are there to do a job to the best of your ability. Your actions will speak louder than anyone else’s words. You need to concentrate on being the best form of you that you can be and not worry about what others say or do. Colleagues will see what you do. That’s what matters. From the leader’s perspective it’s important to value the contributions of others and let them know you value it. A true leader knows what each person contributes and should take the time to coach each person to their best ability. if the boss is doing his or her job, the employee will know their contributions are being noticed and no “backstabber” can malign it.
I regret to say at this professionally advanced age , I am living and breathing this for the first time in my professional career at a new company for me. It is interesting that all the businesses I have started, mentored and worked with- this is my first time life experience with the stabber !!Even though I truly believe all of the wonderful comments, I am likely to wisely move on since this person has incredible recognition in the company…. even though others are leaving for the same reasons. It is clear that this behavior has clout and recognition so it is not for me. Going to sharpen the resume….
Engage the use of humility in assessing the validity of what is being said. Remind yourself of your strengths and look at other options with team settings. I use words of encouragement and acknowledgement for all team members. Every person wants to be seen, heard and acknowledged. I lived through a similar situation and use it even today as a reminder of how not to behave and as a talking point in a group settings if things seem progressing into negative territory. Tryust your gut!
What can I say? Snakes crawl from beneath rocks. Our response must be to keep an eye on them and to know that they will bite every chance they get. The root problem here is jealousy. I’ve had my work stolen, modified and represented as having been created by the snake-of-the-moment I am not sure there is a solid answer for this situation. Hold it together, stay aware, and continue to do the best work you can. Others always know what is going on, and they feel helpless to help you most of the time. Your classy diligence alone, will always be working in the background to expose the snake for who she/he is. Stay the course.
I have experienced some painful backstabbing recently from someone that I considered a part of my ‘A Team’ at work. I instigated change in the department I manage in the fourth year of my leadership, including the renovation and modernization of our work space. This person is clearly resistant to change and went over my head with a very personal attack to my CEO. She then called me to discuss the grievances. My response was that since she had gone to the CEO directly instead of discussing the grievances with me first I would also discuss with him before having the conversation with her. This is still being resolved but unfortunately some of my team who have been here for several years have sided with her and this makes some days uncomfortable. I do not let on how this makes me feel and act professionally with everyone concerned but have learned some valuable lessons about trust and alliance in this situation.
Sharpening up the resume for sure!
It is clear to see this is common in the workplace by all the scenarios listed. It is really important to reflect internally and perhaps get someone else to help. I did this using a coach and realised the negative beliefs I had about myself enabled the person giving me grief to utilise them to maximum effect. I came out stronger and more able to cope but still can’t quite believe what I was put through. My line manager was ineffective – calling me out as the one with the problem despite 15 years of great service to the institution. I read the article about 4 stages of team development by Bruce Tuckman and recognised my team immediately. The introduction of a new player to the team had taken us all back to the storming phase. It took too long for the norming phase to be achieved and in the mean time I left to a much nicer post!
I am glad to see someone else mention accountability; not only by the team but there is leadership failure from the manager as well. I recently dealt (and occasionally still do) with a passive-aggressive co-worker who placed the blame on me for issues and left me out of discussions, which made me look bad in the eyes of our customers.
After months of this, our boss finally took the lead and told us not only to communicate with each other directly (not to the boss only) and used team meetings to hash out and bring up any team issues. This has helped immensely where there is now accountability on all sides to communicate effectively. Silence is no longer tolerated.
If the manager isn’t coaching to help resolve the people skills issues – real or imagined – then they should be held accountable as well. If your manager sees that you are working to improve, but the rumors persist, then their eyes are opened to the backstabber’s true nature.
It is unfortunate though, that good people are undone by the failure of leaders to manage to toxic work behaviors.
Thanks, Dan, for sharing this. I have been reading your blogs for a bit more than a year and wondered when you might tackle this kind of issue. Unfortunately, back-stabbers do exist in all environments–work, school, social settings–if there is an antidote to gossip and cruelty, I’d love to get some of that.
Love #1 – I attended a communication seminar earlier this year and one of the simplest and most valuable takeaways for me was around dealing with people who are back-stabbers, negative, or just generally nasty human beings. The lesson was that I shouldn’t treat others kindly, politely, professionally, etc. because I want THEM to like ME, but because I want to like ME. Don’t carry someone else’s garbage home with you every night.
I have been with a company for over 18 years. I was the “Jack of all trades” for a very long time. I did everything from managing to marketing. I have a post-secondary undergraduate degree. I have made my career in business management as an Executive Assistant to a large firm to a COO of my current firm. Basically the job has added 3 or 4 more people since my first day but not enough to talk about. I am the only woman in the company. There are 16 of us. I actually hired the accountant. Now he was hired a few years ago. His salary was lower than mine by about $5,000. I just found out that the accountant is getting paid part of his salary under the table to the tune of $15K more. Funny thing, I do the payroll. So basically my boss doesn’t want me to know that he makes more than I do. It’s a smoke screen. He’s even come to me during reviews and asked me to give up the payroll and let him do it! I told him that it would feel like a demotion to me. Here I’ve worked for years taking care of the company and doing all kinds of personal things for him to picking up dry cleaning, shopping for his girlfriend, etc. Now he is asking me to hand over a privileged part of my job to someone I hired! So he gets tax free money all year and the two of them have a big secret. The extra he gets does not go onto payroll. Are they sparing me? What!?? I’m a big girl but I also know that my job description should make as much as his does. Why does his “extra” have to be a big secret? Gosh, I am the COO, I can take it! It makes no sense to me at all. So I now feel that I’ve waited long enough to ask for more money. The going rate for what I do is about $20K more than what I am being paid. Am I a sucker? I love my job and care about the people I work with/for. I do payroll, all the HR, Asst. Project Manager, Receptionist, mail, COO, Marketing, Business Development, do all the Facebook page, maintain and built the website, order business cards, order the lunches, clothing with embroidery, all the cell phones and WiFi jet packs, iPads, laptops, plan parties, flight travel, customer service, cleaning, etc., I could go on and on and on and on. I’d like to hear what others feel about this. It’s really bugging me. It’s making me feel like not doing as much work or as good…it’s really a crappy thing to find out. I guess you gotta be in charge of the $$$$ to rate here. My boss is really a nice person and is nice to me, just a bit for the guys I think. It’s just not fair in my eyes. What irks me the most is he is getting paid privately and not on payroll.