Knowing what to look for if you think someone might be sabotaging you at work requires going back to grade school in your mind. Essentially, our co-workers are the same people we went to school with and the same individuals that taunted their fellow campers at camp. I hate to say it, but each of us brings both good and bad behavior to work. Many experts will say that it’s the bullies who are insecure, and therefore, in order for them to feel better about themselves, they have to push around the people who are perceived as weaker. More often than not, a bully in grade school is the same bully at work.
It’s human nature to be competitive, of course. And born out of our drive to win, some of us “play dirty” from time to time. Ever cheated on the golf course? Maybe just improved your lie? Almost all of us do little things to try to get an advantage. When the stakes are high, whether it’s about winning a game or a pay raise, bonus, or promotion, we sometimes take the attitude that we must win at all costs. Here are the signs that maybe you’re not paranoid and your co-workers really are out to get you.
Not getting credit where credit is due
We’ve all been in the meeting where your co-worker, or even your boss, doesn’t acknowledge your contribution to the project. I’ve been in team situations in which the leader has taken the credit for winning an account and never credits the “cold caller” for opening the door or the closer for closing the deal. Truth be told, it was the door-opener, the closer, the creative team, and the leadership.
I have a client I’ll call Allen who was asked by the CEO of his company to welcome and support the new president. It was a difficult request, since it was the ousted president who had brought Allen into the company. But after all, he was still an employee. So, out of a sense of fair play and team loyalty, Allen wholeheartedly welcomed Sheila. After a couple of weeks he realized that his fellow co-workers were avoiding him. They no longer would come to his office for the occasional chat, there was no water cooler conversation, and basically they started treating him as an outsider. What Allen soon realized was that his co-workers were sabotaging the new president and that Allen was going to be collateral damage.
Loss of control
Losing control in the workplace is often a devastating feeling, and it erodes self-confidence. I remember one candidate I’ll call Sandy who was working as the SVP of client services at a major healthcare agency. She hired a smart, strategic thinker to work on a major account. At first, the colleague was in Sandy’s office on a regular basis, soaking up, as Sandy puts it, knowledge about the client, the office politics, etc. After six months, Sandy noticed that her colleague was going directly to Sandy’s boss (with Sandy’s ideas, usually). This person was also trying to undermine Sandy’s authority with other people in the client services department. The good news with this situation was that Sandy had a very long and solid relationship with her boss. They both recognized the struggle for control of the office and approached the newbie to fix it.
Being left out of the loop
Ever walked by a conference room to see your entire team gathered for a meeting you weren’t invited to attend? Sometimes, being excluded means something. It almost always does when nobody in that conference room goes out of their way to assuage your concerns afterward.
The sharp elbow game
As the workplace has become more treacherous, a new expression has emerged: being “thrown under the bus.” Just a few years ago, nobody knew what this saying meant. Now, however, when people start throwing colleagues under the proverbial bus instead of defending them like professionals, le jeux sont fait! (This is a French expression meaning, essentially, “the game is on.”)
People talking trash about others
If you hear your colleagues talking trash about others, most likely they are talking behind your back as well. This is the type of behavior that undermines a company’s culture, damages company morale, and ultimately, interferes with the company’s ability to deliver in the marketplace. Do all you can to refrain from talking negatively about colleagues at any time. There’s a reason why the expression “don’t shoot the messenger” is so prevalent. As often as not, the messenger gets shot.
Think about the playground in sixth grade. Remember the bully? The brainy kid? The jock? The popular kid? These and other roles persist in many workplaces. How did you manage when you were a kid? Sometimes practicing the Golden Rule is a great place to start. Stay vigilant though, because in most workplaces, that’s not enough.
By Erika Weinstein who is president and founder of eTeam Search.