A Guide to Surviving Workplace Backstabbers
By Marla Matzer
Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
"They smile in your face, all the time they wanna take your place," the O'Jays once sang. Backstabbers-- every office or workplace seems to have them. As a co-worker, what can you do about the? As a co-worker, what can you do about them? Total avoidance is often impractical, and just because you're not where they can see you doesn't mean you won't end up with a shiv between the shoulder blades. Its the nature of backstabbers, after all, to act when you're not around to defend yourself.
Backstabbing takes many forms passing misinformation; withholding useful information; spreading damaging rumors. All have the same intent -- clearing a path for the stabber to claw his way to the top. Business books for those seeking win-at-any-cost tips even recommend some of these Machiavellian methods as ways to get ahead. Why? There is a widespread perception that such efforts will be rewarded by higher-ups. You combine scarce resources and weak people, and you get this reaction, said Karen Stephenson, a professor of management at UCLA's Anderson School. Added Stephenson, " It tends to happen in organizations with limited or no accountability, regardless of the size or type of company."
Stephenson and a counterpart at USC's business school m=name academia -- despite its high minded reputation -- as a particular stronghold of politics and backstabbing. "Where there are fewer crumbs, you often get more fighting over them," said Laree Kiely, associate professor of clinical business at USC's Marshall School of Business. When dealing with a backstabber, your only options are groveling or open-trench warfare, right? Not necessarily. Firm but polite confrontation is better strategy if handled correctly, say some experts. Kiely cautions against getting sucked into the would-be backstabbers game by becoming too emotional.
For example, Company X used a computer network that allowed workers to view others' works-in-progress, and also allowed employees to see who was viewing files in the shared system. Seeing that a potential rival was viewing one of her files one day, "Louise" stormed down the hall and confronted "Sally." "Can I help you Sally? Louise inquired, angrily and loudly. The confrontation had the immediate effect of making Sally stop viewing Louise's file. "I always recommend that people take the high road -- it takes tow to play this game" Kiely said. "Taking the high road pays off most of the time in the short run, and almost all of the time in the long run."
A student of Kiely's once came to her and asked how to handle a situation where someone was clearly out to undermine him. The student had taken a leave from his job and his employer had brought in a temporary replacement who proceeded to bad-mouth him to all who would listen. Co-workers sympathetic to their erstwhile colleague told him what was happening, at which point he went to Kiely for advice. Kiely asked him if he had done anything to worry about. "When he told me no," I told him, "Just go back and let it ride About three months later, Kiely got a call from her former student. "He said: 'You were right. They fired that guy,'" Kiely recalled. Here are a few other tips for managing office politics: