Backstabbing In The Office

You’ve been called into your manager’s office to discuss a team issue. It turns out that someone on your team has been complaining about how you are working. They took their complaints to “the boss” and now s/he has stepped in to help you iron out the issue. This is an all-too-common situation that comes up with teams. We’ve noticed a growing trend in organizations, small and large alike, where individuals spend more time talk talking ABOUT people than to them.

Whenever you get a chance to work on a team, there will also be an opportunity to practice conflict resolution and personality differences. Unfortunately, in some team environments, gossip and backstabbing run rampant.  During these team dysfunctions, leaders often help to perpetuate these problems by listening to these behind-the-back criticisms and then setting out to fix whatever the problem is.

At some point, though, we as individuals and our leaders have to decide to build each person’s ability to hash out their own differences, instead of avoiding them or passing them along to our bosses.

What does it feel like when you learn that people have been talking negatively about you behind your back?

Feelings can range from minor annoyance to full-blown anger, depending on the complaint at hand and your personality. But it never feels good. In a lot of cases, it can be demoralizing and make going into work the next day tougher than ever before.

In her book, Radical Candor, Kim Scott suggests that leaders empower the individuals they manage to take more of an interpersonal approach to the situation that is upsetting them instead of stepping in to manage the issue themselves. One-on-one communication is the best way to resolve these issues that arise, plus it frees up the leader’s time and resources to manage the work itself.

What are some steps you can take when you find out that someone you work with has an issue with you?

  • Cool down.
    Don’t react in the heat of the moment. Take time to let your feelings rise up, identify them, work through them, and then set to work to fix the issue.

  • Gather as much data as you can.
    Since you’ve taken some time to cool down, view this as any other work “problem” that comes up with your project. Gather the data and information, as much as you realistically can. This will involve talking directly to the person who has the issue with you.

  • Choose your battles.
    Some of these problems don’t actually need to be dealt with. Sometimes, a coworker is just having a bad day and is blowing off steam in your direction. Other times, however, it’s necessary to have a longer one-on-one situation.

  • View feedback that comes directly to you as a gift.
    When you’re having this crucial one-on-one conversation, view the feedback they offer as a gift to you. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification.

  • Use empathy to see the situation from their point of view.
    Are they feeling threatened? Did they think you backstabbed them first? Is there something else going on that may be affecting the situation? Do they have a point about something that you’ve done – or not done – and need to fix?

  • Use your problem-solving skills to come up with a solution.
    The objective of these steps isn’t to endlessly have to deal with “fights” in the workplace. It’s to solve the problem at hand in a way that minimizes damage to the project, the team, and the organization as a whole.

  • Learn from the experience as a whole.
    Is there something that you could have done differently to avoid the whole situation? If you took some missteps in trying to solve the issue, what could you have done differently there? Did you trust a team member with too much information or didn’t trust the team enough responsibility?