How To Manage Office Politics, Part 2: How To Defend Yourself From Office Backstabbers

This is a guest post by Cornelius Mota.

This is part 2 of a 3-part series on how to tackle office politics and become a master of it.

  1. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 1: 5 Essential Tips To Getting Started
  2. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 2: How To Defend Yourself From Office Backstabbers
  3. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 3: How To Master the Game and Excel in Your Career

Office Backstabbing

If you are developing a career in a corporate environment, the question is not if you will experience backstabbing attempts. It’s just a matter of when this will happen. Therefore, let’s explore together how to best defend yourself against office backstabbers.

What Is Backstabbing And Why Should You Care About Defending Yourself

When you interact with a group, it is only natural that you will get along well some people and less well with others. However, if everybody plays with the cards on the table, at least the interactions happen on a fair basis. You can stand up for yourself if the case. Everything is transparent.

In real life, things are different. Even more so when there is something at stake. In an office environment, people are in competition for career development opportunities, power, money.

Some people choose to get ahead by any or by almost any means. This is how backstabbing comes into the picture.

So what is the backstabbing all about?

In short, it refers to actions of other people that are done behind your back and which are directed against you.

Backstabbing is dangerous because most of the time you don’t know something is happening, until it’s too late. The damage is done and you get in a reactive mode, i.e. you need to manage the outcome.

Backstabbing can be a long term endeavor or a one time event. For example, a colleague that acts positively in direct interaction may consistently undermine your position behind your back with your other colleagues, bosses or with the entire organization. He may steal your ideas and present them further before you are able to do it. He may take credit for your hard work. Or he may suddenly turn against you in a context in which you were counting on the support he promised.

There are many forms of backstabbing and sometimes you are in for big surprises, as people whom you consider good friends turn out to be fierce enemies. People behave funny when they smell a real opportunity to get more power and more money. Some may be good friends for years and then change dramatically in certain circumstances.

In any case, is it worth worrying about backstabbing?

The truth is that backstabbing is dangerous. In some cases it may not do more than leaving a bad taste in your mouth. However, in other situations you may lose significant career development opportunities. Or your career can be completely ruined in that company.

So I firmly believe you need to have a strategy for dealing with office politics in general and with office backstabbing in particular.

Always Be At Least One Step Ahead Of The Game

The most effective defense is to apply a blanket protection strategy in advance. When you are only reacting to a situation, it means you have already been backstabbed.

One of the most devastating types of backstabbing happens when someone discredits you in front of the key leaders in your organization, whether formal or informal. This may have consequences in terms of slowing down your career, losing a specific promotion and so on.

So how do you apply the so called blanket protection strategy?

Make sure that you identify the key influencers in your organization and that you establish productive relationships with them. At a minimum, be sure that your project successes have the right visibility. They should know that you do your job very well consistently.

Then, it would be ideal to ensure the support of more than one key influencer. How should you get this support? I’m not suggesting anything shady here. It should all be based on understanding these key influencers’ agenda inside the company and supporting them to achieve their goals.

  • Over-deliver in your job.
  • Volunteer yourself for projects that are top priority for these people.
  • Identify an opportunity and take pro-active action.

When you genuinely support people in reaching their goals, they usually reciprocate. You may not always be in a position that allows you to work on high visibility projects, but keep your eyes open and try to create such opportunities for yourself.

If you apply the above, when the backstabber initiates actions against you, such leaders are less receptive, if at all.

If you do have an issue in the organization, try to get influential people on your side. Make both them and yourself part of the solution. Backstabbers try to take advantage of the times when you are weak, when you experience difficult times.

Even if you haven’t solved the problem yet, let the leaders know that you are taking actions and take them on your side, as advisors. A backstabber would have a hard time to put you in a bad light if you do this.

Be Careful With Self-Disclosure

While trusting people is good, be aware that not everybody has the best intention for you at heart.

Don’t be excessively generous with self-disclosure, especially with people you don’t know well. And never let your guard down. In team-buildings, before and after meetings, during casual encounters in the copy room and so on, people tend to relax and reveal information easily.

You don’t need to become paranoid. But hey, it’s a tough world out there. Proceed with caution at all times!

Stay In Touch With The Organization

While you should stay away from gossip, you need to be in touch with what is happening in your organization. In many cases, this will also enable you to find out faster about any backstabbing attempts.

Steps To Take When Backstabbed

Despite all the above, you will face backstabbing situations that will take you by surprise. Because you may feel the situation is so unfair and the emotional charge is high, you are in danger to make decisions that you may regret later on.

When faced with a backstabbing attempt by surprise, here are a few tips to deal with them:

  1. Cool down! Don’t make decisions and don’t react when you are nervous.
  2. Gather as much information as possible and make an assessment of the situation.
  3. Choose your battles. Sometimes you are better off not to react at all, as you will suffer greater damage if you do. Other times you need to fight fiercely to defend yourself. Make this choice consciously though.
  4. Decide what to do and take action quickly. If you decide to take any form of action, do it quickly. In most cases, it’s a good idea to drive clarity. Confront the offender and have a clarification discussion. If there is a company program designed to help employees against abuse, see if you qualify and follow the procedures of the company.
  5. Take a constructive approach. Realistically, try to take the most constructive approach possible. Your objective is not to engage in endless fights with people in the company, but to solve the problem in a way that minimizes damage.
  6. Learn your lesson. Try to learn something from the experience. Even if it was not your fault, ask yourself if you triggered the attack in any way. Could you have done anything differently before, during or after being back-stabbed? Have you trusted someone too easily? Have you disclosed too much information about yourself? Learn your lesson and move on.

Final Considerations

To note, in my opinion there is a difference in how you approach backstabbing in a corporate environment versus your private life.

For example, in my private life, I get the backstabber out of my life. This is a luxury you may not afford though in your professional life, as you have to continue working with such people.

Therefore, make your decisions taking into consideration the continuity factor.

Let all negative feelings go. As they say: business is business. I totally disagree with the “business is business” approach myself. I believe we are human beings in the first place. But this is the reality of the working places. You need to smile, clarify the situation, establish how you will work/deal with each other in the future and move on.

Remember, behaving professionally at all times and genuinely helping people will protect you to some extent against backstabbing. It will also help you get the support of influential people after being backstabbed.

Finally, be professional and supportive with everybody in the organization, not only with the key influencers. I honestly hope that you do this because this is how your values dictate you to behave, not as an office politics management strategy.

In next post (and the last part of the series), we explore what it takes to master the game to its highest level and excel in your career. Read: Part 3: How To Master the Game and Excel in Your Career

This is part 2 of a 3-part series on how to tackle office politics and become a master of it.

  1. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 1: 5 Essential Tips To Getting Started
  2. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 2: How To Defend Yourself From Office Backstabbers
  3. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 3: How To Master the Game and Excel in Your Career

(Image: hikingartist)