Dealing with the Office Saboteur

How to Deal with the Office Saboteur

I have never understood why some co-workers feel compelled to gain the upper-hand by acting like a saboteur. Is it insecurity? Possibly jealousy? Or maybe they’ve been facing challenges at home and need to take it out on someone at work.

I’m not talking about The Arrogant Bore who tries to take over your meeting or The Know-It-All who is all too happy to tell you what to do because they of course know best. I’m talking about the person who creates real havoc in your work life. I’ve come across many types of saboteurs, and I’ve grouped them into the following titles:

  • The Sniper
  • The Passive-Aggressive Disrupter
  • The Smiling Assassin

Before I talk about our 3 featured villains, I want to stress 2 very important concepts:

  1. Most people do not come to work each day with a mission to sabotage your project. So, before you act, make sure that you’re reading the situation correctly.
  2. Most important, do not take things personally. I repeat, do not take things personally. Bad behavior at work is the result of many different factors.

Always address the behavior in a professional and objective manner, citing facts to back up your observations.

Now, on to our bad guys.

The Sniper

This saboteur throws you a curve ball or directly opposes you (out of the blue) at a meeting. The Sniper seems to like striking in public, where they can do the most damage.

In my experience, The Sniper is often motivated by the need to have some control over what is going on or what is being discussed. This saboteur is best diffused by including him in pre-meeting discussions. I ran into one of these guys during a consulting job for the government, where I was a project manager.

At a major status briefing, when I came to a statement concerning his area, he sabotaged my briefing by saying the facts I reported were wrong. I didn’t say anything negative about his area, but he found it necessary to degrade me in the meeting anyway.

The next week, before the status meeting, I met with him and explained what I was going to report. I asked him if my report on his area met with his approval. I also made a point of asking him if I could count on his support at the meeting. He agreed, and I never had further trouble with him.

All he wanted was to be recognized and offered some deference. After I started looping him in prior to meetings, he turned into one of my most effective supporters.

The Passive-Aggressive Disrupter

This saboteur can create quite a bit of havoc when she has a beef with you. The Passive-Aggressive Disrupter comes to you in confidence and tells you something negative that another person said about you.

I’ve found the most effective way of dealing with this behavior is not to act on the information you receive. I worked with a woman several years ago, when I was managing a team of 125 analysts. One day, my co-worker approached me and told me that someone complained to her about one of my team members.

I decided I wasn’t going to play this game. I told my co-worker that if someone has an issue with a member of my team, then that person must come to me and discuss it themselves. I do not engage in watercooler talk and react to hearsay.

After this incident, I never had this sort of problem again, and people started coming directly to me with issues.

The Smiling Assassin

This saboteur can be one of the toughest to deal with, because on the surface, this person is nice to you and in agreement with you. Then, when you least expect it, The Smiling Assassin undermines you with your co–workers when you’re not around.

I have found a couple of ways to deal with this threat without resorting to an HR intervention:

  • Direct confrontation
  • Enlist co-worker help
  • Cultivate your network

Confronting The Smiling Assassin requires cool professionalism on your part. Approach him and tell him that what you heard he said. Give him a chance to explain or discuss the problem directly. Stay calm. Don’t get emotional. Listen objectively. If there some truth to the criticism, own it and work to correct it. If there is no truth, you have effectively shut this back-corner talk down by bringing it out in the open.

Enlisting co-worker help is a less confrontational strategy. Hopefully, you have co-workers that you are comfortable approaching for help. Ask them to shut down the conversation or come to your defense any time The Smiling Assassin speaks ill of you. This shows that negativity falls on deaf ears, and that soon stops the behavior.

Cultivating your network undermines The Smiling Assassin. I faced a situation many years ago where I was in line for a promotion. I found out after the selection meeting that a particular VP who didn’t like me vetoed the promotion. I confronted my Smiling Assassin and asked what I could do to improve his opinion before the next promotional cycle. He hemmed and hawed, and I figured out that there was little chance that he would change his mind.

I made a special effort to engage the Senior VP of that group and to worked to impress him. After the next promotion meeting, my network told me that the Smiling Assassin again tried to derail my promotion. But now, I had the Senior VP on my side and his vote overruled the other. I got the promotion. Afterwards, I avoided The Smiling Assassin as much as I could for the rest of my career at that company.

Closing Thoughts

Many times, workplace challenges are self-inflicted. Learn to honestly assess your own behavior before you blame others’ bad behavior on your negative outcomes. But, if you’ve done your soul-searching and you still think the problem is not yours, don’t become a victim and have faith in your power.

Always remember to stay professional, don’t waste energy taking things personally and try not to go over to the dark side yourself.

If you’ve run into a different type of Saboteur that you’d like to discuss, leave a comment and let’s see if we can add some more coping mechanisms to this post.

 

Gerri Slama Grove

 

Gerri Slama Grove
GerriG@gsd.guru

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