How to Deal With Backstabbing Coworkers and Sabotaging Employees

This article provides tools for you to employ in dealing with sabotaging subordinates and backstabbing coworkers.

You may have heard of the psychological concept of self-sabotage: the art of shooting oneself in the foot. Those who engage in self-sabotage seldom consciously recognize themselves partaking in the act. They build habits which bring them comfort, but serve to destroy any valuable progress they make personally or professionally. 

Sabotage in the professional context is a little bit different. Unlike self-sabotage, backstabbers and saboteurs in a workplace environment tend to be well aware of the effects their backstabbing tendencies result in. The skilled backstabbers don’t break any rules; they break trust and unveil themselves to be disloyal. They pull others down in an effort to rise themselves.

Attempting to combat backstabbers in an official, professional context is seldom effective. The game at hand is one of controlling public perception and causing more counter-damage to the backstabbers than they caused you. 

Anticipate Sabotage With Patterns to Remain Unhinged

Sabotage in the professional context is a complicated concept to study in full. For each time you recognize a certain trigger or opportunity for coworkers to sabotage you, you’ll be surprised to discover many more. Attempting to guess and prevent all the avenues available for sabotage in the workplace environment is a fruitless pursuit. You’ll be attempting to grasp an ever growing list of specifics. 

The better approach to take in understanding sabotage in the professional environment is to worry less about specifics and discover as many general patterns / rules of thumb as you can manage. 

For example, rather than attempting to track the comments made behind your back by a jealous subordinate, it’s better to simply anticipate such an individual’s nature by recognizing their jealousy early on. From there, you can plan for them to eventually backstab you and protect yourself by limiting the sensitive information they have access to. 

Rather than scrambling after the fact, the recognition and acknowledgement of jealousy in a subordinate is all the information you need to protect yourself from sabotage. 

Remaining more general in your anticipation of sabotage in the professional realm will naturally force you to be less trusting and more skeptical as a whole. Since you’d be referencing past patterns in an effort to predict future actions, you’d be worried less about specifics and more about overall signs. 

Your Reactions to Any Signs of Disloyalty Are Important

As you inevitably discover disloyalty in your profession, your resulting reaction holds more importance than you think. The publication that a saboteur inflicted enough pain for your general mood and day to day processes to be derailed is an important metric in the eyes of others who seek to cause damage. 

Ensure your reaction to a backstabber making themselves known is one which communicates your expectation of such an event, not surprise. Always give off the impression that you knew who was attempting to sabotage you as they were in the planning phases. 

Surprise in such scenarios is a useless emotional state. In fact, it is a detrimental one. Being visibly disgruntled at the news of backstabbing behavior communicates to others that a sensitivity of yours was successfully pried open. You’d thereby serve to communicate weakness to those remaining loyal to you whilst providing further confidence to those considering employing their nefarious plans. 

Allow Space for, and Utilize, the Reactions of Onlookers

The reactions of those around you are important opportunities to not only measure their loyalty toward you, but to strategically defend yourself from any effects of being sabotaged by a subordinate or team member. 

Others coming to your defense is a more powerful strategy than attempting to mitigate the effects of being backstabbed yourself. Those who’ve previously been exposed to the individual who has now sabotaged you will be believable, objective third party witnesses to the derogatory behavior exhibited by the backstabber in question. 

Onlookers emotionally reacting to a bout of sabotage by someone they once knew or worked with is even more powerful when you remain calm. The sense of control you emit by remaining cool in the face of discovering you’ve been lied to, stabbed in the back, or sabotaged will be exacerbated by the reactions of those around you. 

You can utilize reactions of onlookers to the drama you find yourself in by not discouraging them from sharing their honest opinions on the matter with others. Your strategic silence will propel their desire for your truth being heard. 

Speak About the Events Matter-of-Factly & Without Exaggerations

As those proximal to the events transpiring spread their findings to others across the organization (friends, acquaintances, departments, managers), you’ll find yourself speaking to those distant from the situation about the matter. 

They’ll come up to you on your lunch break to ask what happened, they’ll attempt to confirm certain elements of gossip about the backstabber throwing you under the bus, and they’ll call on you to tell your story. 

Ensure you don’t bask in the positive attention you receive from being perceived to be on the side of innocence. Speak about your situation with the backstabbing individual matter of factly, without inserting your feelings, opinion, or juicy bits of gossip into the mix.

Explain what happened as it occurred from an objective perspective, and continue to indirectly encourage others to voice opinionated stances for you. 

In remaining objective and unemotional in your recitals of the events, you limit yourself from garnering unneeded attention and making exaggerated claims. Allowing others to make the exaggerations for you protects you from any rebuttals that the backstabber can counter with. 

The closer you are to the objective truth as it transpired in your recitals of the situation at hand, the less likely that those who’ve sabotaged you can turn the tide of public perception around. 

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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.