The One Sign Your Co-Worker Will Stab You In The Back
November 16, 2014

The One Sign Your Co-Worker Will Stab You In The Back

by Brian de Haaff

People talk about the workplace as a jungle. Some days are civil, but some days feel like a scene from Lord of the Flies. It is dramatic but true. While there is no pig’s head and burning island, sometimes you can smell revenge in the air, and it is best to hole up in a conference room until the firestorms pass.

I know all about nasty offices because I have worked in a few of them. I consider myself fairly tough, but I have been bullied in a parking lot by a colleague and even threatened by another when I received a choice assignment after a promotion.

Christine Porath and Christine Pearson have been researching bad behavior in the workplace for over a decade. In a Harvard Business Review article, they write that 98% of workers report experiencing uncivil behavior, and about half say they are on the receiving end of rudeness at least once a week.

As the CEO of Aha! (roadmap software for product managers), I vowed to build a company based on accomplishment and respect. So, I have been thinking a lot about what we should do as we rapidly grow the team to leave no space for bad employee relationships.

If you are unlucky enough to work in a dog-eat-dog organization, how good are your survival skills? Are you beaten down or silently planning your next ambush?

Aggressive workplaces abound, but you can be humane and still succeed if you know what to look for — the signs that you will shortly be under attack. So, do you know what the one sign is your co-worker is going to stab you in the back?

You know your co-worker is on a warpath when they say, “You do it.”

That is when they are doing more than just pushing off work. Alarm bells should go off in your head for the following reasons:

Separation Pretend you are in a team meeting, discussing the moving parts of a new project. Team members who are peers usually talk about how work will be divided. Peers ask and suggest, but do not dictate. As soon as you hear “you,” you know that your co-worker has given up on collaboration and is now creating separation.

Anger “You do it” is usually said in anger. If they are a peer, they should be bouncing ideas off you, asking and suggesting, and offering help — not giving orders. When a co-worker starts thinking “me” vs “you,” they have moved from shoulder-to-shoulder into a metaphorical face-to-face (fighting) position.

Blame When you hear these magic words, it means that you are left to get it done by yourself. There is no safety net. And and if you do go down in flames, it’s going to be a high-profile crash that makes the office gossip front page. And your co-worker is likely to be gleefully spreading the news.

I apologize if this post strikes close to home. Perhaps this scene plays out daily at your job, or worse, you find yourself as the one saying “you do it.” But it is worth thinking about your current company, and if it is draining the life out of you. There should be no tolerance for acts of malice.

Learn to see your colleagues for who they are. The good, the meh, and the back-stabbers.

So what do you do when you find feral behavior at work? Trust first — but watch and listen closely. Be transparent in what you do and your interactions and expect the same. Talk to an advisor if you are being mistreated and escape if you need to. You should always work towards a company that has a more collaborative, supportive culture.

How do you know when a colleague is about to whack you?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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