I had a teaching job recently where I had to go through an extensive background check where the employer hired a firm to do the check. The firm literally called old employers and verified I had worked there and what kind of person I was. When that paperwork was done I had to do a group presentation in front of 30 people and answer their questions. That presentation was after several one-on-one personal interviews. Imagine how delighted I was to have jumped successfully through all those hurtles to and to get the job. Wonderful!

The first night I taught I met my co-worker (assistant?). It was the first time I had laid eyes on her. What followed was my co-worker, who had worked at the school several years, left class on a regular basis to go into admin and complain about me and what I was not doing right. For whatever reason, administration felt they had to appease this woman and give her whatever she wanted. When the co-worker began to criticize me and pick me apart in front of students the whole situation went into the toilet.

What were her motivations? Probably many and all along the lines of ‘less for you and more for me’ kind of thing. I was unhappy with that experience for sometime until, guess what, it started to happen all over again in another school. Having learned to not take sabotage sitting down; I immediately went to the  boss on two occasions and explained, carefully, exactly what had happened and how this affected the class and the students. I didn’t hear much back from him about the co-workers but suddenly (!) their attitudes changed completely and I was worthy of respect once more. It is a hard lesson that we have to be ever vigilant with individuals like this, but thoughtful review of past jobs shows I have been dealing with people like this a long time and just didn’t know it. Here is a good article on the subject.

How to Guard Against Workplace Sabotage

Falling prey to an unscrupulous saboteur in the workplace can sting, especially if the offender wants your job, credit for your ideas or to make you look incompetent.

The good news? “You’re never too young or too old to learn ways to deal with (saboteurs),” said Rebecca Weingarten, a New York-based executive, corporate and career coach. Below the experts advise how to effectively deal with workplace sabotage:

Know what you’re dealing with:“Workplace saboteurs come in a lot of shapes and sizes,” said Mary Hladio, president of Ember Carriers Inc., an organizational effectiveness firm. “What spurs these behaviors can be small or it has been their modus operandi for their entire career.” Saboteurs include gossipers and rumor mongers, finger pointers, slackers, people pleasers, avoiders, belittlers and downright bullies. With unemployment on the rise, a new kind of saboteur has emerged: one who, out of fear of losing a job, has taken on the attitude of “better you than me, so let me help that along,” warned Weingarten.

Don’t be naïve: Be cautious about to whom you complain, confide and tell your ambitions. The person you’re talking to might become intimidated, jealous or fearful for his/her position.

Check yourself: Once confronted with a possible sabotage, first look in the mirror and carefully consider the unpleasant possibility that you’re the problem, suggested Hladio. “If you’re unsure, consult with a trusted colleague. If you are not the problem proceed.”

Defining the Various Saboteurs

According to Mary Hladio, president of Ember Carriers Inc., one way to combat saboteurs involves understanding them.  What motivates them? What personality type are they? You can generically categorize them in three ways:

  • Situational: a specific situation or circumstance makes this person difficult.  Stress becomes a huge factor with someone situationally difficult.  Find out what is going on in his or her world (professionally and personally) that could impact behavior.
  • Deliberate: some people believe that being unreasonable or mean results in effectiveness.  Because no one has ever successfully cut off their behavior and results are achieved, they feel vindicated.
  • Difficult: they have always been this way.  Their ingrained behavior is a part of their personality. Only a life-changing event or therapy can correct this trait.

Don’t get angry: Dealing with difficult people presents emotional challenges, so first take a deep breath and try to neutralize your emotions. Pause before responding and do not stoop to their level. The more you can get your emotions in check, the more control you possess.

Confront the saboteur: Conduct a brief, but pointed discussion with the saboteur. Ask why he or she chose to behave as such. “You’ll get the best results by being straightforward, direct and persistent,” instructed Hladio.

Go up another level or two (or three): If your manager seems unconcerned regarding a workplace saboteur, go to his or her boss. Be careful not to complain how the sabotage affects you; rather address how it affects job production.

Leave a paper trail: A paper trail of your work makes it harder for someone to claim a work idea/concept/project as his or her own. Sally Haver, senior vice president of the Ayers Group, said, “It is of paramount importance to archive relevant e-mails, back up your databases, etc. so, in the case of controversy, you’re covered.”

Find a new job: If all attempts to deal with workplace sabotage fail, sometimes leaving becomes your only option, said Patricia Donovan, a grievance chair at University at Buffalo. “If you do, do not do so without telling whomever in charge why you are leaving. Be calm, reasonable, honest and direct. … Be as professional, informed and intelligent as they say you aren’t,” she advised. “Then smile and vayamos. You’ve got better things to do with your life than shorten it by working with (saboteurs).”

By Larue Novick