Are you dealing with petty gossip and negative comments from people in the office? Backstabbing is one of those things we don’t like talking about in our workplaces, but unfortunately, incidents do occur, and they often leave us feeling confused, betrayed, and even embarrassed.
The good news is that there are strategies to handle a backstabbing situation that reduces its impact and increases your own feelings of well-being.
According to experts, here are ways to deal with backstabbing coworkers so that you can protect yourself and move forward productively.
CEO and Founder, MEvolution
Daily life can be challenging enough without the mental and emotional drain of dealing with a backstabbing coworker. With stress and burn-out currently at high levels and the future filled with uncertainty, it can create conditions ripe for increased toxic behaviors.
You may see colleagues display behaviors such as throwing others under the bus, passing blame, taking credit for ideas that are not theirs, or even making belittling comments.
When you become the subject of such shady conduct, if not dealt with, it can lead to festering emotions, impact your own behaviors, and, over time, build resentment.
But don’t worry; once you have identified a backstabber, there are steps you can take to navigate the situation as productively and positively as possible.
Honor your emotions
The first step is to process how you feel about the situation and their behaviors. Understanding, naming, and bringing awareness to your emotions, will help you gain greater clarity.
Emotions can distort how we see a situation, so this will minimize the risk of a less-than-ideal response based on heightened negative emotions, which can often lead to future regrets. You can start by simply asking yourself how you feel and why.
If you find yourself experiencing very heightened emotions, it can be helpful to write everything you feel about the person involved. Allow yourself to let out your immediate thoughts without judgment. This is not to show anyone; in fact, you likely want to get rid of it afterward.
However, it can help you declutter unhelpful thoughts that may steer you in the wrong direction.
Giving yourself the space to feel, embrace, and process your emotions will allow you to move forward with greater intention and limit the capacity wasted in continuous negative thoughts.
Get curious and gain perspective
Once you have taken the time to process how you feel, the next step is to gain perspective. You can do this by asking yourself why someone may have behaved the way they did.
Sometimes people’s behaviors are driven by their own past experiences, which cause them to feel fear and insecurity or create a scarcity mindset.
Related: Why Are People Insecure?
For example, they may feel they need to put others down to feel good or allow leadership to think something was their idea due to fears of job security. This does not excuse their behavior but allows you to try and understand the person, their motivations, and internal challenges.
Asking why and exploring possibilities that could explain their behavior allows you to see more options for the best response and creates room for empathy and compassion, even in the toughest moments.
Make a choice that allows you to move forward in the best way possible
Now that you have processed your emotions and looked at the bigger picture, it’s time to choose what you want to do about the situation. The best response will be one that allows you to move forward in the best way possible and that you feel good about.
It can be helpful to consider the impact of their actions. If it is just a minor annoyance, then you may not feel it is worth it to take action. You may want to talk to a mentor or advisor in confidence so that you can unpack the situation with someone that you trust.
While challenging, if you decide to have a conversation with the backstabber, then some key considerations can help you have a more productive interaction:
- Beforehand, plan what you want to say based on the evidence that you have of their actions.
- Be sure to pick a moment and environment that makes both parties feel as at ease as possible and limits distractions.
- Focus on how you feel about the situation, the evidence, the impact of their behaviors, your needs moving forward, and, depending on the context of your situation, any alternative paths of action should the behavior continue.
- Remain professional and remember to listen to what they have to say.
- Politely remove yourself from the conversation if the moment goes awry.
If the conversation does not go well, their behaviors are taking a heavy toll on your mental or emotional health, or having a big impact on the business, then you may want to consider documenting what has happened and escalating to the right people for advice on next steps, such as an HR representative or your manager.
Choose how you want to show up in the situation
These conversations can be difficult. Reminding yourself that you do not control how someone responds can be helpful. You are, however, in control of delivering what you say in a respectful manner.
It can also be beneficial to remind yourself of your personal values before the conversation. Rather than letting another person influence how you show up, you can use your values to guide your actions and words.
When thinking about your approach, consider how you would feel if you looked back on the moment at some time in the future. Would you feel proud of how you handled the situation?
Protect yourself in the future
Moving forward, you may want to take some actions to manage these types of individuals better. This means looking at behavior modifications that you can make and are in control of.
For example, you may want to:
- Limit interactions with someone.
- Be careful of what you share with them.
- Ensure you document your thoughts and ideas in follow-up emails after meetings.
- Keep your manager more updated on what you are doing and the outcomes and impact you achieve.
Susan Andrews, FCIPD
Business and HR Consultant, KIS Finance
Finding out that a colleague is trying to sabotage you at work can be stressful but is unfortunately not that uncommon, particularly within organizations with a competitive culture.
It is often easier to deal with open hostility as you can take direct action to resolve the matter, but most workplace backstabbers are far more subtle in their attacks.
If you feel that someone is deliberately trying to undermine you, it can be tempting to ignore the situation and hope it goes away but left unchecked, you could find your reputation at work permanently damaged. Therefore, taking action is essential.
Identify who is behind the problem
This can be challenging, as many saboteurs are subtle in their actions, leaving you wondering if you are imagining things. However, there are some clear tell-tale signs that you can look out for.
Is there a colleague who frequently gets praised for work that you actually did? Taking credit for others’ work is a classic sign that someone is trying to undermine you. A less obvious trick that the saboteur may use is to encourage you into gossiping about other colleagues.
They will then share what you said to others to undermine your reputation and persuade colleagues that you are untrustworthy. They may even share confidential information, claiming that you were the source of the leak.
Related: 15+ Signs of an Untrustworthy Person
If you find yourself the victim of a backstabber, it’s crucial to take action to sort the matter out; otherwise, your professional reputation could be permanently damaged.
Speak directly to the person
Once you are clear about who is behind the issue, then the best approach initially is to speak to them on a one-to-one basis. It’s essential that you maintain a professional manner, so don’t allow your emotions to get the better of you.
Plan exactly what you want to say and the evidence you have to back up your suspicions. For example, if they have been taking credit for your work, you could say that you were surprised that your manager praised them in a recent meeting for a piece of work that you had completed and ask the individual why they had taken the credit for this.
They may try to make excuses, but it is essential to stand your ground and make it clear that you will not stand back and allow them to do this again in the future.
Report the matter to the management
If you’ve tried resolving the matter directly with your co-worker, but the problem persists, then it may be time to escalate matters to your manager.
Before you ask to speak to them, make sure you have clear evidence to back up your claims; otherwise, you may come across to your manager as trying to cause trouble within the team.
It may be necessary for your manager to facilitate a meeting between you and your co-worker to try to resolve the situation. If that’s the case, then again, it is essential that you remain professional and don’t allow emotions to boil over.
How to protect yourself from backstabbers at work
As they say, prevention is better than cure, so if you suspect there may be backstabbers amongst your co-workers, it is worth taking a few precautionary measures to protect yourself from becoming their victim.
- Maintain clear records. Make sure you keep a paper trail of decisions, progress on projects, and any deadlines set. Sending an email to back up any discussions will also mean that you have a clear record of what has been agreed upon.
- Provide your manager with regular updates. That way, other people can’t take credit for work that you have undertaken.
- Stay away from office gossip. Backstabbers will often use what you have said against you, so keep your opinions to yourself, particularly about other colleagues or the organization itself. That way, you can avoid your views being shared with a wider audience.
Speaker and Equality Advocate | Author, “Step Up: How to Live with Courage and Become an Everyday Leader“
Take time to empathize
As with any work conflict, we should start with empathy. We do not have to agree with someone to show empathy. We only need to understand their perspective.
Taking the time to empathize with someone allows us to momentarily get out of our heads and respond (intention) rather than react (impulse).
- Were they simply having a hard day?
- Did they come from a workplace culture where that was how they got ahead?
- Was “going behind your back” simply a crime of efficiency because they were on multiple simultaneous deadlines?
Step into their shoes to try to see the why behind their actions.
Reimagine the story you have in your head
We often mistake the story we tell ourselves about a situation for the absolute truth. After we have understood another’s perspective, the next step in dealing with workplace conflict is to reimagine the story we have in our heads.
- What facts led us to that story, and what is merely inference?
- Do we have all the context and backstory to know why the “backstabbing” occurred?
- If we give the person we are in conflict with the most generous interpretation possible, how does the story in our head change?
- Is there even the slightest possibility there is another version of the story we are telling ourselves?
Going through this practice, like starting with empathy, gets us out of our heads long enough to see a broader view of the situation. It makes us more flexible and, therefore, more open to hearing what someone else has to say.
You will notice that these first two steps have nothing to do with the other person. This is all our own work in stretching our minds beyond the rigid barriers conflict so often creates.
We feel attacked, and we want to fight back. That is reasonable and natural. But what if our perception of the attack is wrong? Would we want to fight, then? This allows our mind to explore beyond the binary of right and wrong and see the conflict as the complex situation it is.
We are no longer limited to either/or but can embrace the idea of both/and — that multiple things can be true at the same time. Once we are at a place where we understand someone’s perspective and examine the situation through the lens of seeing them in the best possible light, we are ready to interact directly.
Enter the conversation with your colleague from a place of curiosity
The last tip would be to enter the conversation with your colleague from a place of curiosity—not judgment, aggression, accusation, or defensiveness but general curiosity.
When we start with empathy and reimagining the story, we have already explored the why behind their actions. Curiosity allows us to get that answer directly from them.
Remember, your questions have to be rooted in a desire to get to the truth, not a need to be vindicated. When we frame the questions, ensure you are the subject rather than them.
“When you talked to John about the mistake I made, I felt angry and betrayed. Can you help me understand why you did that?” this leads to a very different conversation than “Why did you make me look bad to John behind my back?”
This is likely not the last time you will have to interact with this colleague, so our goal should be to have an improved and straightforward relationship, not just to win this battle.
You can still clearly state your feelings, boundaries, and future expectations but your approach to the conversation sets the stage for whether that path forward will be collaborative or adversarial. The power is in your hands. Take the time for empathy, reimagining, and curiosity to be the leader you desire to be.
Joyce Marter, LCPC
Licensed Psychotherapist, Choosing Therapy | Author, “The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life“
Be consciously responsive, not emotionally reactive
Backstabbing is a form of workplace bullying. When you become aware of the backstabbing and/or are face-to-face with the backstabber, remember to:
- Keep your cool, breathe deeply, and avoid being reactive.
- Avoid interrupting or provoking bullies to de-escalate the situation.
- Practice empathy to diffuse them.
- Detach, don’t get hooked, and avoid defensiveness.
- Be consciously responsive, not emotionally reactive.
- Hang onto your confidence.
- Remove yourself from a toxic interaction with a backstabber and seek assistance.
Say something to the backstabber and document it
Maintain eye contact. Stand tall with your shoulders back. Hold your ground. Speak honestly, assertively, and diplomatically.
Use “I” statements to express your feelings and set healthy boundaries. Demonstrate respect for yourself and others with a professional and firm tone.
Call themself in a matter-of-fact, non-escalated way. Be direct and neither passive nor aggressive when setting boundaries with statements such as:
- “I understand that you told the team I am not qualified for that project. Is that true? I would like to understand why you think that. Also, I do not feel that was your place.” (This gives an opportunity for clarity if there has been gossip that isn’t even true.)
- “I learned you called my contact and closed the sale I was working on. Is that true? That feels like a violation of professional respect.”
- “I hear you have been talking about my dating life with our coworkers. Is that true? That is gossip, a form of workplace bullying, and is not okay.”
Document what you said by writing it down or emailing yourself so you have a time-stamped record in case the event happens again and you need to file a formal report.
Keep it factual, objective, and true. “Today, Sue said, “you are a loser” and I replied, “It is not okay to speak to me that way. That is workplace bullying, and I will not tolerate it.”
Tell someone and file a report
Tell somebody else what happened. Tell your boss. If it’s your boss that’s the backstabber, tell your boss’s boss. If you feel comfortable going to HR, do so.
If you do not, tell a trusted mentor or even coworker who may have a trusted boss or supervisor higher up in the organization. Some organizations even allow anonymous reporting of bullying or harassment in the workplace, so look at your company’s employee policies and procedures.
- Seek therapy or counseling to heal and recover from the harmful effects of workplace bullying. Remember, you may have some free and confidential sessions through your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
- Work a confidence or assertiveness training program.
- Practice healthy detachment by recognizing what is within your control (your own thoughts, emotional management, choices, and behaviors) and letting go of what is not in your control (the backstabber and other people’s thoughts, emotions, choices, and behaviors).
- Cultivate equanimity and emotional intelligence by practicing mindfulness like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga. Studies reveal mental and physical health benefits include improving stress regulation and decreasing emotional reactivity.
- Create a support system at work by seeking out like-minded colleagues, finding a trusted mentor, and at least one ally or workplace buddy.
- Work a mental fitness program for recovery, such as “The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life.”
- Visit stopbullying.gov for more information and resources.
- Seek legal advocacy.
Workplace Legal Expert and Founder, The Rahbar Group PLLC
Dealing with a backstabbing colleague is particularly difficult, especially because you may not even beware that your reputation is being attacked. Therefore, I suggest the following proactive steps to hopefully lessen the likelihood of becoming the target of such attacks.
Communicate and create your own narrative
It is crucial to maintain communication with your manager and others you report to, as well as those who may report to you. Be proactive in sharing your ideas for collaboration, accomplishments, and challenges the team can work on together.
An important part of this is sharing successes with your team members and openly crediting their contributions. Colleagues will always want to support those who give them credit for their contributions and make them look good.
Maintain boundaries; be careful about what you are sharing and who you are sharing it with
More than ever, workers are sharing personal information with their colleagues, including their compensation and details of promotion discussions with managers.
If you are going to share information with your colleagues, you need to be careful about what you are sharing and who you are sharing it with. My advice is to stay out of the sharing loop and any potential gossip related to it.
Any information you provide may fuel those who wish to gossip about you. The same is true for information about your personal life. I suggest keeping this outside of the workplace, away from those who may have the inclination to gossip about you or others.
Be direct and transparent
If you can’t escape the wrath of your backstabbing colleagues, you should act quickly in response. Your first step should be to confront your colleague directly.
Let them know that you are aware of their behavior, ask them why they are acting this way towards you, and make an attempt to resolve any confusion or misinformation that may be motivating their actions against you.
If they refuse to stop, work on a plan to raise the conduct with your manager or human resources.
Remember, you have nothing to hide, so be open and honest about the underlying actions, how they have impacted you, and how you have already tried to address it with your colleagues. Also, be clear about your preferred resolution to the matter.
Backstabbers, like all villains, generally have a way of losing in the end. But it is also on you to remember that in an office, especially one in a state of flux or a downturn, information is currency. Here are a few things to remember:
Wait and see
It may come as a shock that you have been betrayed, but others in the office may be fully aware of who steals ideas or claims credit for work they did not do.
Devastated that the person you thought was your new bestie claimed your great idea as their own? Or maybe they told the visiting executive that the pivot table you worked on all night was their work product? Don’t beat yourself up too fast for trusting this person.
They may have a long history of this kind of behavior that everyone else is already aware of. Wait and see. If you do not get the credit you publicly deserve now, it may be coming or already known in private. Certainly, you will not let it happen again.
Get over oversharing
If you think what you are about to say may be sensitive, gossip, or harm someone if repeated—don’t say it. Always better to be safe than sorry.
Most people have to find this out the hard way at least once. Try to avoid being one of them. Remember those three key questions you were taught to ask yourself in elementary school? (Is it necessary? Is it kind? Is it true?) Forget all those. If you’re asking, don’t say it.
Keep an audit quality trail of what you’re doing, when, why, and for whom
In today’s world of electronic communications, where most messages are written down, this is easier than ever.
All the questions anyone could ever ask you about work you are doing, have completed, shared for approval, completed on time, or otherwise are requested to show detailed proof of by someone trying to undermine your credibility can be at your fingertips—if you take a few precautions.
Keep your communications organized and at your fingertips when working with someone new or whom you don’t trust. Whatever someone may throw at you: you’ll be ready.
Senior Professional in Human Resources, Choosing Therapy
Contact a member of the human resources team to apply internally for a job promotion or transfer
Sometimes, directly dealing with a backstabbing co-worker isn’t an option, especially if the backstabber is friends with the team manager or part of the team manager’s tribe. Work teams are merely groups of people whose members often align with others of similar ilk.
Good leaders remain impartial, but I have seen inexperienced supervisors, in a desire to be liked, undermine a team’s effectiveness by picking favorites and tolerating the backstabbing of other team members outside their core identity group.
In one instance, a female manager, new to the company, wanted to be liked and admired by her younger technical team members, recent college graduates. She created two work groups to align work better.
In one workgroup, with which she communicated often, the team members were young, white college graduates, who lived and worked on the east coast, and who shared her non-traditional view of relationships, in that most were in LGTBQ relationships.
That was her tribe. To those individuals, she awarded new projects and shared company intel.
In the other work group, she cobbled together the remainder of the existing staff, including non-US-based team members, remote team members, married and family-oriented team members, and older team members, demonstrating an obvious preference for the first group of individuals versus the other.
Before the new manager arrived, all the team members had worked on the same team and got along respectfully and well. Once the new manager came, she began to triangulate conversations between individuals on the two teams.
Even simple interactions, such as one team member correcting another’s documentation errors, blew up into drama-filled cross-team divisiveness, with some newer team members backstabbing and accusing more senior and experienced staff of trying to undermine them.
In a scenario like the one above, once you have been deemed an outsider, you may find yourself the scapegoat for team problems. In that case, you are well-advised to contact a member of the human resources team to apply internally for a job promotion or transfer.
Large companies are made up of teams led by managers. Your happiness is often just a new supervisor away—working for a leader who supports inclusiveness and doesn’t tolerate backstabbing. And HR staffers recognize that co-workers don’t always get along.
If the firm and others value you as a company employee, they can advocate for you to find a better fit with the organization, often on another work team that is more supportive of all people, untainted by the bias or backstabbing of a group.
If all else fails, trust your gut instincts and find a role in another company that treats people respectfully.
Senior HR and Recruitment Manager, 20four7VA
Try to approach the situation calmly
Backstabbing in the workplace often happens because of unresolved issues or conflicting ideologies.
There might be a certain level of competition in the workplace, and when one feels like they are not succeeding, some might resort to underhanded tactics that involve talking behind someone’s back.
As the leader of your team, it is essential to remind everyone that there is no competition or favoritism and promote camaraderie and friendship instead. Sometimes, leaders forget to set boundaries and talk to their employees about handling disagreements professionally and respectfully.
If you are the one who is being backstabbed, try to approach the situation calmly. Try talking to the person privately and expressing how you feel. Remember, you can’t fight fire with fire.
Ask them why they are doing this to you, and know if something can be done to resolve it. It’s essential to understand where they are coming from and fix the problem before it worsens.
If your attempts to make peace do not work, don’t hesitate to contact HR. Believe me or not, HR personnel are the best mediators in these types of situations because they are calm, confident, and have the experience to help both parties reach a compromise.
Don’t let it affect your performance in the workplace, and continue doing what is best for you
Backstabbing can happen in any work setup. It may be inevitable, but it is manageable. Remind yourself that you are better than that, and keep your head up. Don’t let it affect your performance or attitude in the workplace, and continue doing what is best for you.
A productive work environment comprises cooperative individuals who value respect and relationships over any competition. You deserve to work in an environment where everyone has each other’s back.
With the right approach, it is possible to create a supportive workplace where everyone can be their best selves.
Chief People and Culture Officer and Head of HR, Life And My Finances
The main thing about backstabbing co-workers is the fact that they have fuel to backstab you in the first place. So the main thing is to keep things to yourself.
Keep your distance
Don’t share anything about your personal life with co-workers that are too eager to know things about you. Be observant; there is a difference between genuinely friendly and supportive co-workers and those who want to use anything against you to benefit themselves.
Similarly, don’t share your ideas with toxic co-workers, as they may steal them. Only speak about your ideas in the presence of a superior or other co-workers who can back you up.
In cases such as this, learn how to document things. This means opting out for emails rather than verbal communication. Don’t speak to a backstabbing co-worker unless necessary, and even then, keep it to one-liners.
However, don’t be hostile. The best revenge is no revenge at all. If you keep doing your job and doing it well, then, in the long run, you’ll be the winner. Sometimes, ignoring is the best way to deal with a situation like this.
Know who your friends are
Choosing your circle of supportive co-workers is one way to avoid potential backstabbers. Besides, there is no point in picking fights with a backstabber.
Be nice and friendly to everyone, and it will pay off. People will see you in a better light; therefore, it’ll be much harder for toxic people to cause you harm.
Joan Hampton, MS, LPC-S, BC-TMH
Licensed Professional Counselor and CEO, Oasis Mental
Take care of yourself
It’s important to prioritize your own emotional well-being. This may involve finding healthy ways to cope with the stress and hurt caused by backstabbing.
This could include:
- Talking to a therapist or trusted friend
- Engaging in self-care activities
- Setting boundaries with the person who is backstabbing you
Address the situation directly and calmly
Instead of responding to backstabbing with more hostility, try to address the situation directly and calmly. This may involve having a conversation with the person who is backstabbing you to express your concerns and boundaries.
Talk to a therapist or trusted friend
It can be helpful to talk to a therapist or trusted friend about your feelings and experiences. This can provide a safe space to process your emotions and develop strategies for dealing with the situation.
Consider seeking mediation or conflict resolution
If the backstabbing is severe or ongoing, it may be helpful to seek the assistance of a mediator or conflict resolution specialist to help facilitate a resolution.
Protect your reputation
It’s vital to be proactive in protecting your reputation, especially if the backstabbing is causing damage to your professional relationships. This may involve seeking the support of colleagues or superiors or taking steps to rebuild damaged relationships.
Remember, it’s important to prioritize your own well-being and take care of yourself. Seek support from trusted colleagues and friends, and consider seeking the assistance of a therapist or mediator if the situation is severe or ongoing.
Chief People and Operations Officer, Checkr, Inc.
Address the situation directly
One of the best ways to handle a backstabbing coworker is to address the situation directly. It’s important to confront them in a professional yet assertive manner.
Explain that you are aware of their behavior and ask them why they are acting this way. Let them know that it is unacceptable and must stop immediately. It’s also important to remember to remain calm and not allow their behavior to provoke you.
Document your coworker’s behavior
If the situation escalates, it is crucial to document your coworker’s behavior. This can include written notes and other evidence of their backstabbing comments or actions.
Documentation will help if further action needs to be taken against them. This will provide evidence of their behavior while demonstrating your professionalism in handling the situation.
Report to the management and provide evidence
If the backstabbing continues, it is vital to contact a supervisor or HR manager and let them know of the situation. It’s best to provide documented evidence if possible. This will help management take appropriate action against the backstabbing coworker.
Find a solution
If management is involved, it’s important to work with them to find a solution. This may involve avoiding the coworker altogether, talking out the situation with the HR representative, or even relocating office spaces if the problem persists. Finding a solution can help reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace.
Avoid participating in gossip
When dealing with a backstabbing coworker, it’s essential to avoid participating in gossip about their actions. Refusing to partake in office gossip will help keep the situation from escalating any further.
Gossiping may feel good in the short term, but it won’t solve any issues and could even make them worse.
Brooks E. Scott
Executive Coach | Interpersonal Communications Expert | Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Advisor, Merging Path
Turn your questions into statements, and try your best to remove as much emotion as possible
It’s not your responsibility to teach your backstabbing co-worker how to be a better human. But it is your responsibility to teach them that they aren’t going to get away with being that way with you.
When this happens to us, we often ask useless questions to our assailant.
- “Why did you do this to me?”
- “What did I do to you to deserve this?”
The answers to these questions aren’t going to bring you any resolution. Instead, turn your questions into statements and try your best to remove as much emotion as possible.
Only do this after you’ve had a conversation with that person or have proof and evidence of your accusation. Be direct and tell them what you know and tell them the behavior they are no longer going to direct towards you anymore:
- “Here’s what I know…”
- “Here’s what happened…”
- “Here is what you will no longer do to me again…”
HR Manager, Office Topics
Confront the person directly
If you feel comfortable doing so, confront the person directly and ask them why they are backstabbing you. Be calm and remain composed, even if the person denies their behavior or becomes defensive.
Talk to your manager
If the situation affects your work or your relationship with the person is too strained to address directly, talk to your manager about the situation. If possible, provide evidence of the backstabbing behavior and ask for their guidance on how to handle the situation.
Document the behavior
Keep a record of any instances of backstabbing behavior, including dates, times, and witnesses, if possible. This can be helpful if you need to escalate the situation to your manager or HR.
It can be tempting to retaliate against a backstabber, but this can escalate the situation and make things worse. Instead, focus on maintaining a professional demeanor and continue to do your work to the best of your ability.
If the situation is causing you significant stress or distress, seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional. It is important to take care of your own well-being in these situations.
HR Specialist and Recruiter, Passport-Photo Online
Start gathering evidence and keep a track record
When dealing with a backstabbing coworker, there is only one healthy way to deal with it—start gathering evidence. It’s usually a better strategy because talking with the supposed backstabber will likely make them mistreat you more cautiously in the future.
You don’t want to go to your manager or boss and present a “he said, she said” situation.
When you inevitably go talk to the manager or anyone else, you want to be prepared. Gather evidence, and keep a track record of decisions made against you and situations when they tried to take credit for your work.
It may take a while, so hang in there, but once you have what you believe is sufficient evidence, speak up. There is a time and place to stand up for yourself, and when a backstabbing colleague threatens you, now’s the time.
Katharine Halpin, CPA, MCC
Founder, The Halpin Companies, Inc.
Do not step over anything
With the mental illness in our US society today and across the globe because of the Covid pandemic and the resulting supply chain challenges and economic downturn, people that were on the bubble of mental illness four years ago have descended into a diagnosable disorder sadly.
Most of these people are still working, and we have to deal with them daily. This causes each of us stress, distress, and potential conflict that can literally be career-limiting.
The key, from my perspective, is to not step over anything. The least little comment or snide remark, the intuitive hunch about this person and their unproductive behavior, and the rumor or gossip they spread all must be addressed quickly.
Here are two proven techniques to use to at least alert them that you are unwilling to participate in their negative, costly, and unproductive activities.
At the first sign of a problem, you could say, “I’m confused. Please help me understand….“ What you are asking to understand could be any number of things but primarily about understanding why they would make such a negative comment.
The more you can retain your composure and ask this question with genuine interest and a commitment to moving forward productively, the more likely the other party can respond positively, professionally, or at least neutrally.
If they come to you with a rumor or piece of gossip, I’ve found it’s best to respond with, “I know xxxx, and I know xxxx would want to know this information. Do you want to alert xxxx, or should I?” Both of these can stop them in their tracks!
Senior Editor, Tandem
Do you remember when you were younger, and all you had to worry about was your next playdate with your best friend or what time recess would be? Those were the days. As we get older, we start working, and hopefully, we are working in a career that we truly enjoy.
Sometimes, however, no matter how much you love what you do for a living, you might encounter a situation that makes your job less desirable. One such instance is when you have a backstabbing coworker.
How do you deal with a person like this? There are a few different types of backstabbers at work. Some of the most common are:
- Those who take credit for others’ work – Probably one of the most notorious types, credit stealers are only out for themselves. They will do everything in their power to look good, including making others look bad if necessary.
- Those who can’t take any blame – We all will make mistakes at one time or another, whether at work, home, or with friends. But some people will point their fingers at others whenever something goes wrong and will never take responsibility themselves.
- Those who love to spread rumors – Many people enjoy a little bit of gossip here and there. Others like to spread rumors and stir up drama. This can help them to make others look bad, which, in turn, might make them look good.
Other behaviors can also indicate that a person is backstabbing. Maybe they only come to you when they need something, or you find them nice to someone in person, but you hear them disparaging that same person behind their back.
Regardless of the type of backstabber they are, there are a few ways you can deal with them.
Don’t fall into their web
If you notice behavior that screams, or even whispers, to you that you are in the presence of a backstabber, don’t let them catch you.
Be wary of their behavior and document as much as possible. This includes documenting the work you do, any actions they take, or ways they are acting that you find inappropriate.
Do stay calm
Getting upset over the way someone else is behaving won’t be very helpful to you. Instead, it will probably make you even more frustrated than you already are. Instead of getting mad, do your best to stay calm. Though this can be difficult, it should help you in the long run.
Don’t be part of the problem
When gossiping is part of the backstabbing that is going on, steer clear of the gossip. If it’s someone saying inappropriate things about another coworker, don’t listen to them or repeat what they say. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and there is no reason to stoop to their level.
Do be positive
Whether you accomplish this by surrounding yourself with positive coworkers or setting up a vision board for yourself, there are many ways you can remain positive, even in frustrating situations. It helps to take short walks when needed to remove yourself from any negativity.
Don’t engage a backstabber
Even if the person used to be your friend, it seems they currently have an ulterior motive. Instead of going to lunch with them or allowing them to continue their inappropriate behavior, stay away from them as much as possible.
Though you might need to work with them, there is a difference between work and social time.
Go to your boss if necessary
This should not be the first step that you take, as there is the possibility that you perceive a situation differently than how it was intended. That said, if you need to escalate what is happening to your supervisor or HR, you have every right to do this. These people in your office are there to help you, so reach out for help if and when it’s needed.
It’s never fun to be in a situation where backstabbing is occurring. But if you remain calm and act as professionally as possible, hopefully, you’ll be noticed for the good and not the bad. Fortunately, good things often happen to good people.
CEO and Founder, Pixel Chefs
Be respectful but maintain your distance
The thing is, if you get into an open feud with your colleague and refuse to work with them, it’ll look like you’re disrupting the environment at work and getting in the way of productivity, and that’s not a good look which I can tell you as a boss.
Instead of damaging your own reputation at work alongside your colleagues, you need to choose a more diplomatic route and still be polite and respectful, but you should have your guard up against the person.
Don’t share personal secrets or unnecessary updates about work with them, so they don’t get a chance to do this again.
If you feel that your colleague’s actions are getting in the way of your work life or mental health, you shouldn’t shy away from confronting them.
This one time, I thought a colleague of mine had thrown me under the bus for a project that had gone wrong, but it was only after I talked to her myself that I was able to discover it wasn’t her but someone else who had incited my boss to think badly of me.
Confrontation may actually help clear out misunderstandings and fix things with your colleague so you can easily work together in the future.
Maintain a paper trail or keep updating your manager
One major issue I run into is that if an employee brings a complaint to me about some other event that took place, I’m not able to do much about it because they’re not able to give me solid evidence against the other person that I can rely on upon without a show of doubt.
Additionally, my tip would be that if an employee throws you under the bus and blames you for getting something wrong, you should always maintain a record of your activities so that you can pinpoint exactly the route you took and show that there wasn’t any mistake in it.
CEO and Founder, Bullseye Locations
Toxic colleagues have been one of the buzzwords revolving around the corporate sector these days. Here is how they can be dealt with:
Approach the HR Department and file a formal complaint against the person
Firstly, I would advise that you steer clear of such instances, but that is only till the point it has not become a significant or repetitive problem that hampers your day-to-day functioning.
If that is the shape the problem starts to take, then my first resort would be to approach the Human Resources Department and file a formal complaint against the person that I know was backstabbing me and creating a negative image of mine in the workplace.
Directly and respectfully confront the person
If that does not work, then my next line of action would be to directly confront the person who is making your work experience toxic and getting in the way of your performance.
Without being disrespectful, you could simply let them know you do not like certain aspects of their behavior and how they influence your image around the organization. Notice their behavior in the upcoming few weeks to assess any changes.
At the workplace, you have to deal with different people, and backstabbers are the ones who are very friendly in public, but they want to get ahead of you. Their goal is to achieve their goal by doing anything they can, and as per my experience, dealing with backstabbers is sometimes exhausting.
Here are a few points that you can follow to deal with backstabbers:
Understand the situation and gather as much information about the backstabber as possible
Your statement will lose credibility when you show emotions and give an instant reaction. Understand the whole situation and gather as much information about the backstabber as possible.
You should do it quietly without showing someone and ensure you can prove all your complaints with evidence. Describe what’s happening to your friends so they can sympathize with you. Possibly, they can clear up any false information about you.
Maintain good working relations with your boss and show your importance in the organization
Many chances that a backstabber will avoid backstabbing after knowing your relationship with your boss. You should not confront the person who backstabbed you because it could worsen the situation. Remember that he wants you to lose your temper and become vulnerable.
Make every effort to be cordial. Avoid getting involved with the backstabber as much as possible and interact only during important work. Keeping a cordial attitude will be helpful if you wish to return to the company after leaving.
CEO and Founder, My Office Pod
Make a strategy to safeguard oneself
A professional must perform properly and accomplish particular objectives in every work. In my opinion, those aspects of a position can be jeopardized by dishonest, self-serving employees.
You should absolutely think about it if events like people lying about you and unfairly accusing you occurred at work. Watching everything you do and ensuring it complies with all rules and regulations is a smart idea.
To develop a plan that safeguards both yourself and your employment, keep notes of every talk and communication you have with coworkers. It can be unpleasant and upsetting to work with coworkers who appear to care about you but then actively undermine you.
In toxic surroundings, this behavior is typically prevalent. When you learn that a coworker is engaging in such behavior, I advise you to maintain composure and refrain from expressing any strong emotions. Find out what happened and whether things are really as they seem by conducting your own study.
Meet with your supervisor to address the actions of your scheming coworkers, and if your manager is okay with it, talk to the other individuals involved. Finally, consider developing a strategy to shield your reputation from harm.
Chief Operating Officer, Bullion Shark
Do not overreact or resort to their tactics
Unfortunately, most of us have had to deal with coworkers who were more interested in themselves than others. These same coworkers often resort to backstabbing as a way to get ahead.
It is often their own insecurities and lack of confidence that push them to sabotage those whom they perceive to be doing a better job.
The best way to deal with these individuals is not to overreact or resort to their tactics. Continue to do your job and perform with the same professionalism as before.
Document your work and interactions with the individual
Ensure all dealings with the individual are done in writing so you have a paper trail that shows you remained professional in all of your interactions.
Documentation will also provide evidence of the work you have done, the hours you have spent on projects, or that your ideas were original.
Hopefully, you will never need to share this documentation with anyone, but it is essential to maintain a clear record. If you are able to befriend the individual, you may be able to stop the behavior altogether. If not, documentation is the best way to protect yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do people backstab?
Jealousy or envy: Backstabbing can stem from feelings of jealousy or envy toward a colleague who is considered more successful or favored by management.
Personal gain: In some cases, individuals may engage in backstabbing behavior to advance their careers or gain a personal advantage.
Insecurity: Backstabbing can also result from a lack of confidence or insecurity in one’s own abilities. By undermining or discrediting others, individuals may believe they are enhancing their own status or reputation.
Poor communication skills: Sometimes, backstabbing occurs due to miscommunication or misunderstandings. Individuals may spread false rumors or misinterpret information, leading to harmful behavior.
Negative workplace culture: A workplace culture that tolerates or encourages negative behavior can contribute to backstabbing, as individuals feel it is acceptable or even necessary to behave this way.
It is important to note that betrayal is not always intentional, and individuals may not be aware of the impact their behavior has on others. Nevertheless, it is a harmful form of behavior that can have negative consequences for the workplace and the individuals involved.
Can a relationship with a backstabbing coworker improve over time?
Yes, it is possible for relationships to improve over time with a backstabbing coworker if both parties demonstrate a genuine commitment to change. The path to trust and reliability may include the following steps:
Maintain open communication: Share progress, expectations, and concerns regularly.
Demonstrate accountability and trustworthiness: Show that you are committed to maintaining a positive work environment through your actions.
Acknowledging improvements: Acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of both parties to resolve issues.
Solicit constructive feedback: Actively ask for feedback to monitor the improvement of the relationship.
Focus on shared goals: Strengthen your working relationship by collaborating on projects and striving toward common goals.
What are the effects of backstabbing?
Backstabbing in the workplace can have several negative effects, both for the person involved and the workplace as a whole. Some of the most common effects of backstabbing include:
Damage to reputation: Backstabbing can spread false rumors or discredit the individual, damaging their reputation and credibility in the workplace.
Decreased morale and motivation: When employees feel they cannot trust one another, it can lead to a toxic and hostile work environment, which in turn affects morale and motivation.
Lower productivity: Backstabbing can lead to a stressful and distracting work environment, which can affect productivity and the quality of work.
Increased stress and anxiety: Being targeted by a backstabbing colleague can cause stress and anxiety, which can impact an individual’s overall well-being and mental health.
Loss of trust: When colleagues engage in backstabbing behavior, it can undermine trust and collaboration in the workplace, making it challenging to build positive relationships and work effectively as a team.
Legal consequences: In some cases, backstabbing can be considered workplace harassment or discrimination, resulting in legal consequences for the individual engaging in the behavior.
What can a company do to prevent backstabbing behaviors?
Preventing backstabbing behaviors in the workplace requires a proactive and intentional approach from the company. Here are some strategies companies can implement:
Establish clear guidelines and policies: Companies can establish clear policies on respect, communication, and teamwork to promote a positive work environment and prevent backstabbing behavior.
Encourage open communication: Promoting open and honest communication between employees and management can help prevent misunderstandings that can lead to backstabbing.
Provide team-building opportunities: Offering team-building activities and opportunities to work together can promote a positive team culture and reduce competition among employees.
Set clear expectations: Companies need to set clear expectations for employees regarding appropriate behavior and consequences for violating those expectations.
Address conflicts immediately: Addressing conflicts quickly and directly can prevent them from escalating and leading to backstabbing behaviors.
Promote a positive work culture: Companies that foster a positive work culture based on mutual respect, trust, and open communication can help prevent backstabbing behavior.
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