A friend called me today and told me she was frustrated and furious. Her team supervisor is making her work life miserable. She pretends to her face that all is okay, and rather than bringing any concerns with her work directly to my friend, the woman goes above her and complains to their boss. The boss then scolds my friend. This has happened repeatedly. “She’s an office backstabber,” my friend complained to me.
I suspect there are other people who have been in a similar scenario. People skills seem to be diminishing and more employees are complaining about toxic co-workers and bosses who are “out to get them.”
Let’s say that you find yourself in an unpleasant workplace situation like my friend wondering…what’s the best way to handle a workplace bully or office backstabber? A Fast Company article titled, 5 Common Workplace Bullies and How to Deal with Them, may help. As the article points out, sometimes, you have to keep detailed notes of someone’s behavior. Other times the best way to survive is to find another supervisor or leader in the company who can intervene on your behalf.
I asked workplace culture expert Jerry Acuff, founder of Delta Point in Scottsdale, Arizona, for his thoughts on how to handle workplace conflicts, office backstabbers and toxic co-workers. He had some helpful suggestions.
1. Try to build a better relationship with the backstabber or the co-workers causing you grief. It may be painful to do, but Acuff says you might say something like…”We don’t have the relationship I wish we did and I’d like to change that.”
2. Have a courageous conversation. If you have made the decision that improving your relationship is not possible, have a courageous conversation. “Make it clear you will not be treated like that,” Jerry says.
3. Build relationships with company leaders, people in positions of authority. By having good relationships with people at the top, you have some clout when someone complains about you. “Sometimes that means taking on assignments that are important to senior level people, such as chairing the company United Way campaign,” Jerry says. “You have to try to insulate yourself from the idiots and backstabbers.
4. Address the issue head on. Jerry says confront the person causing the conflict and turn the tables. You could ask something such as… “Why did you put me in that situation? I can’t imagine you would want someone to do that to you.”
5. Consult a mentor. “You will always find people looking to get ahead, or people who got ahead and don’t have training,” Jerry says. “If someone is putting you in a bad light in your workplace, you may have to face it head on and figure out the best way to do that. That’s where a mentor is valuable.”
I asked Jerry if he thinks you can tame an office backstabber. It’s a question I have been pondering for years as workers in various professions complain about toxic people in their workplaces.
“I think you can at times, but it depends on how evil the person is,” Jerry said. “Trust is rare. I am not saying be skeptical, but rather be real.”
If it is not one person who is toxic, but rather the workplace itself, you may feel comforted in knowing many others feel that way, too. A new study of 3,066 workers by the Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles, found many Americans feel their workplace is grueling, stressful and surprisingly hostile.
The Associated Press reported the findings earlier this week and summed up the study’s bullet points:
Among the findings:
— Nearly one in five workers — a share the study calls “disturbingly high” — say they face a hostile or threatening environment at work, which can include sexual harassment and bullying. Workers who have to face customers endure a disproportionate share of abuse.
— Nearly three quarters say they spend at least a fourth of their time on the job in “intense or repetitive physical” labor. “I was surprised at how physically demanding jobs were,” says lead author Nicole Maestas, a Harvard Medical School economist.
— Telecommuting is rare: 78 percent say they are required to be present in their workplace during working hours.
— Only 38 percent say their jobs offer good prospects for advancement. And the older they get, the less optimistic they become.
— About half say they work on their own time to meet the demands of their job.
I always enjoy hearing from people who love their work environment and feel their co-workers are their second family. If you are someone who feels camaraderie with co-workers, and enjoys a good relationship with your boss, consider yourself fortunate. If you aren’t, it might be time to make a change.