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When co-workers play dirty

  • Story Highlights
  • Here's what to do when a co-worker resorts to sabotage and backstabbing
  • Don't be afraid to confront your co-worker directly
  • Confront the person face-to-face rather than by e-mail
  • Don't make the discussion personal and pick your battles wisely
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By Mary Lorenz
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The Bears have the Packers, Alexander Hamilton had Aaron Burr, and Betty had Veronica. From sports to politics to pop culture, rivalries exist everywhere there's the potential for competition, and the workplace is no exception.


Rivalry between colleagues isn't rare.

Oftentimes, it's harmless and could even be a healthy morale booster. Whether you covet the boss's attention or are vying for that promotion, you're all probably trying to stand out among the crowd, a task that requires working that much harder and being that much more productive to get a leg up.

But when a colleague stops playing fair and starts playing dirty, the "competition" can quickly go from exciting to excruciating.

When a co-worker resorts to sabotage and backstabbing in attempts to climb the corporate ladder, what's an office underdog to do?

The best bet, according to Stephen Viscusi, author of "On the Job: How to Make it in the Real World of Work," is to face the problem head on.

"We call these people 'frenemies"' in the workplace," Viscusi says. "Often, they end up sabotaging themselves; however, those that don't sabotage themselves, need to be confronted directly."

Backstabbing co-workers operate under the assumption that no one will challenge them, so they usually back down when someone actually does.

Viscusi provides the following list of "dos" and "don'ts" to follow when confronting your workplace rival:

• Don't be afraid to confront your co-worker directly. "They are really just bullies and assume that most people will simply 'roll over,'" Viscusi says.

• Do confront the person face-to-face rather than try to conduct a discussion via e-mail. E-mails can be used against you or may be misinterpreted.

• Don't make the discussion personal. Keep it short and limited to real workplace issues.

• Do pick your battles wisely.

• Don't assume that frenemies ever change on their own. They usually don't.

If confrontation doesn't work, Elizabeth Freedman, author of "WORK 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself," offers another approach.

She says, "If you're working with an idea-stealer or someone who takes credit for your hard work, think like a lawyer."

Use the following advice:

1. Gather witnesses.

Make sure other people know what you're working on as often as you can. For example, if you're working on a brochure, make sure you copy everyone who is involved in the project in e-mails, voice-mails and memos. so you have proof that you were the one doing the work.

2. Gather evidence.

Keep a running report of everything you've been working on, so that you have a paper trail of your efforts. This practice is particularly a good idea because "you never know when you'll need HR to intervene if things get particularly ugly."

Finally -- and perhaps most importantly -- "don't even consider stooping to your miserable co-worker's level," Freedman says.

While you shouldn't have to accept mistreatment, if you start playing games, spreading gossip or engaging in other unprofessional behavior, you will risk damaging your own reputation.

"No awful co-worker is worth that." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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