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Ten Tips for Dealing with Backstabbing Coworkers

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Woody Allen had this great line in his play Central Park West. He said, “People don’t hate you for your weaknesses, they hate you for your strengths.”

How true. Whenever you start to break the rules, you’ll feel extra anxiety being sent your way by jealous and scared coworkers—especially during times of economic crisis and corporate-culture change, when people feel scarcity and uncertainty the most.

I remember when I was an advertising creative director, whenever there was an in-agency competition to win the chance to work on a premiere account, there would be all kinds of sneaky, dishonest backstabbing. When I left the ad world, I used to joke that I was surprised I could still drink a glass of water without it spurting out the knife holes in my back.

Let’s face it—or rather let’s two-face it—some people just can’t be trusted. With this in mind, here are ten helpful backstabbing-protection gear tips:

1. Never wear your heart on your business-shirt sleeve.
Know that anything said “in private” can easily be taken public. In fact, backstabbers often try to gather personal secrets and controversial professional views—so as to stock up undermining ammo. Saying less will protect you more.

2. If your firm is undergoing chaotic changes, keep an extra lookout in your rearview mirror.
Desperation brings out latent backstabbing tendencies. A normally kind colleague might suddenly bend over backstabbing-wards to hold on to their job or receive necessary resources.

3. Those who walk softly and confidently can still carry a big knife.
Translation: supervisors can backstab as frequently as colleagues. Be on the alert. Your boss might be kissing up the ladder while attacking you down below.

4. Don’t remove yourself from the grapevine. Become a fellow grape.
If the backstabber knows you keep your ears and eyes open to office politics, they may think twice before stabbing you. Plus, to survive, it’s admittedly helpful to make sure you’re up-to-date on any and all useful info about reorganizations and layoffs. But make sure you don’t repeat it. (Pssst! Gossip is okay to receive. But not to spread!)

5. Good deeds can actually help you go un-punished.
If you become known for doing favors for people, you’ll add to your “political capital”—plus, create a more positive place to work.

6. Love thy neighbor—and try to pick thy neighborhood.
Okay, admittedly, you can’t always pick who you work with, but whenever possible, try to surround yourself with the people you trust most.

7. Make sure your friends aren’t only in those high places.
Don’t just work to create good relationships with your boss and colleagues, but also become friends with secretaries and assistants.

8. Learn how to better read someone like a book—and if possible, “speed read” them!
Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, says, “The rule of thumb used in communication research is that 90 percent or more of an emotional message is non-verbal.”

Meaning, if you pay attention to someone’s body language, you’ll be able to perceive a lot more info about them. So, here are some tips from body-language experts that offer clues if someone might be fibbing: 

  • They scratch their nose when talking. 
  • They look upward and rightward while talking. 
  • They can’t look you straight in the eye. 
  • They fidget a lot while talking. 
  • They are vague and lack details in their story. (Press for details, watch a liar squirm!) 
  • They hesitate before answering any of your questions, instead of just plain ol’ knowing the answer. 
  • They are constantly telling you, “I’m going to tell you the truth here …" Or asking, “Can I be honest with you?” 
  • They change breathing habits. When nervous, a person might breathe harder, clear their throat, or sigh loudly. 
  • They have their fingers crossed behind their back. (This last one is just a little joke to lighten up your day!)

9. Cash in on the fringe perks of fringe time.
The classic book What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School advises you to be particularly attentive during fringe times. For example, right before or after meetings, while waiting for the elevator, and while standing at the copying machine. People are more relaxed during these times and thereby might accidentally reveal interesting details about themselves—or the behind the scenes goings-on at work.

10. If backstabbed, bring the offending “knife” to the stabber—and get them to fess up.
Say something, like, “If you have a problem with me, let’s resolve it now, because we need to work together in a healthy way to create the most productive work environment. So, together let’s figure out how to ensure this problem doesn’t repeat itself.” If the backstabber is your boss, demand you create “clarification procedures” for fixing the problem that are put on record somewhere. If the backstabber is a colleague, not only confront the offender, but request a private meeting with your boss—and show them the offending “knife evidence” in a calm, rational way. Ask your boss for advice on how to become a member of The Backstabbed Protection Program to get your boss involved in putting your complaint on record.

In summary, if you’ve been backstabbed, know that a combo of “the bright light of clarity” along with “the spotlight of public record” can help melt most knives.

In summary to the summary: You can trust some of the people some of the time—so make sure you know what time it is!

By Karen Salmansohn for Minyanville

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