We have all encountered Backstabbers at work. They are gossips—mean spirited and hurtful! The incidence of Backstabbers in high-performing business situations is several times higher than in the general population. Are you surprised? These people have little conscience or ability to develop one. Their only goals seem to be power and personal gain.
Taking credit for others’ work and finding reasons to place blame whenever anything goes wrong are typical behaviors for Backstabbers. In the research I did for my book, Toxic People: Dealing With Difficult People in the Workplace Without Using Weapons or Duct Tape, this category of difficult behavior was mentioned most often.
Backstabbers Cause Real Damage
Never overlook the damage Backstabbers can do. Don’t laugh at them or shrug off their misdeeds. If you do, you are just reinforcing their negative behavior. They won’t change, because Backstabber behavior has worked for them in the past.
Backstabbers send blatantly threatening messages, such as: “Be careful what you say about me, or I’ll do something that will embarrass you in front of others,” or “There is nothing you can do to stop me; I’m cleverer than you.” And they send passive-aggressive messages, such as: “I’m only trying to be helpful. Maybe you don’t see the weakness in yourself. It’s lucky for you I’m honest. Listen to my feedback if you want to succeed.”
Choose Your Survival Tactic
The good news is that survival tactics are learned. One approach is to build a positive relationship with the Backstabber and anyone she or he has enlisted. The more your coworkers like you, the less they will side against you. Never say anything negative about a Backstabber. If they find out, they will label you a troublemaker.
If a Backstabber tells you that someone else in the office doesn’t like you or has it in for you, go to the person directly and ask if it’s true. The Backstabber has probably told the other person a similar story about you. These lies can be exposed if there is good communication in the workplace. And yes, it is your job to start the process of clarification. Don’t wait for it to improve on its own.
When seeking clarification, I’ve found the following statements to work effectively: “You did sound like you were serious. Do the rest of you feel that way? Is this becoming a problem?” or, “I understand that you’re unhappy with the plan. Your feedback is important. I want to hear what you think.”
Keep careful records if you truly believe the Backstabber is trying to ruin your career. You need dates, times, a summary of each interaction, and other data. Use a daily planner or calendar. Substantiate what has actually happened in a log. When you can, indicate witnesses and obtain their approval.
If you are going to talk directly to the Backstabber, write down precisely what you will say and practice the conversation. Focus on maintaining ownership and personal accountability by emphasizing what you need. Remember to use “I” messages. Use phrases such as, “I need your help in clarifying a situation,” vs. “You have created a problem for me.” “You” messages can be interpreted as threats and will only make the Backstabber more aggressive. Be ready for the Backstabber to try to frustrate and confuse you.
Backstabber Survival Plan: Take It, Change It, or Leave
Stop using victim talk such as, “I can’t," "I won’t be able to," or "It will never work.” You always have choices when deciding what to do in a toxic situation. When you are stuck in a rut and feel you have nowhere to turn, stop and question yourself. “Do I choose to take it, change it, or leave? What’s my plan?”
1) Take it. When you accept events as they are, you are telling yourself that the situation is OK for right now. Maybe not perfect but livable. It is not creating tremendous stress or discomfort. You know current conditions are temporary. With focus, goals, and planning, the future will be different and the Backstabber will be in check.
2) Change it. This may appear difficult or overwhelming if you've never done it before. But changing the situation can be as easy as changing your perspective, your opinion, or your attitude. Or you might have to negotiate to get what you want. Deciding to change means tackling what is going on right now for the sake of building something better in the future. It takes work to identify what you need and want from the Backstabber. It takes courage to ask for what you want. Remember, if you can’t accept it and don’t want to leave, then working for change is your only option.
When you confront a Backstabber, maintain eye contact without staring. Avoid fluttering or blinking too much—these are signs of weakness, nervousness and fear. Stand when you speak and keep one foot slightly in front of the other. This helps you project a confident and competent image and allows you to move with energy (not threat) toward the other person. Above all, be pleasant and focus on the positive intent of the interaction. A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort!
3) Leave. The most difficult decision you face is whether to step out of your comfort zone and reject the situation, which may represent an overwhelming risk. This is when you say, “I'm not going to accept the situation the way it is, and I know I can't change it, so I'm leaving.” You begin looking for a new position. Just make sure you are not running away and that you have made several attempts to resolve the situation. No risk, no reward.
About the Author
Martha Petrie Sue is the author of Toxic People: Dealing With Difficult People in the Workplace Without Using Weapons or Duct Tape. As a professional speaker and author, she is the Mohammed Ali of communicators. She can dance and look pretty, and she uses the entire ring, but she knows how and when to land a knockout punch. Get the smelling salts! Her presentations are charm school with live ammunition.
Please visit www.MarshaPetrieSue.com
or read her blog: www.DecontaminateToxicPeople.com.
Request the Ten Commandments of Cooperation from Marsha!