Whenever a group of people get together, there is gossip and the spreading of rumor. These are usually short-lived periods of time – a party, a happy hour, a weekend jaunt with friends. But what if the gossip, the rumor, the back-stabbing and more are permanent conditions that a person lives with every day at the office? Then these behaviors become a constant source of anxiety, anger, and a real danger to job security.
Those people who engage in “office politics” usually do so out of fear and insecurity – fear that they will not be held in high esteem by their bosses and co-workers, and insecurity about their positions because their performances are pretty mediocre. The problem is their behaviors usually mean that others become victims. And only victims of office politics will understand the following 11 things that office politickers can do to make their lives miserable.
1. They Try to Drag You into their Lairs
They have plans. They want to sabotage the reputation or the work of others and they want you to take part in those plans. You don’t want to be involved, but the culprit seems to be a “favorite” of the boss, and if you don’t go along you could be next. You are asked not to share work with this other person or to be too busy to collaborate with them to get something completed. Caught in the middle, you find yourself avoiding both of these people. The pressure is so stressful that you start looking to change departments and use up all of your sick leave looking for another job.
2. They will try to get you to be disloyal to others on the team or your boss.
There are people who believe they can move up in an organization by being disloyal and by undermining others; sometimes this even works. And being disloyal takes on many forms. Sometimes it means that the politickers do a deliberately poor job on a project to make someone else or their boss look bad. When you don’t want to “play this game” and you are committed to always doing your best, you are seen as a “traitor” to these folks.
One victim tells a story of a collaborative project she was working on with two co-workers who were real “snakes.” They hated their boss and wanted to discredit him. When the boss approved the project and told them to send it on to the district manager, they imbedded a link to a porn site in the text before sending it on in their boss’s name. The employee was so upset by this, she privately told the boss, who was then able to repair the damage and fire the other two employees. The word got out, however, and she became a “leper” to everyone else in the office. She ultimately quit.
3. They try to get you to engage in gossip and spread office rumors.
That co-worker who just got the promotion? She is obviously sleeping with the boss. Lunch in the company cafeteria becomes a gossip and bashing session that gives you indigestion and heartburn. Rather than spend all of your extra cash on acid reducers, you then have to find excuses to eat at your desk or run errands during lunch hour just to avoid it all. And if you do this too often, they come to see you as “not one of them” and you lose cooperation when you need it to get things done. You feel isolated and alone and start a job search.
4. They undermine and shun you if your work is “too good.”
If you stay late to finish up a task or project, if you take work home with you to meet a deadline, or if your work product is just too well done, you are a “suck-up,” deliberately trying to make them look bad and find special favor with the boss. You have a strong work ethic and you are committed to doing your best at everything. Now you are stuck between doing less than your best to be a “team player” or sticking with your work ethic and incurring their anger.
One employee was in charge of doing the background research for a major consulting presentation that the boss was going to make to a potential client. A couple of team members were upset that he was getting so many compliments from the boss on his work. When he submitted his portion of the presentation to the team leader, it was altered before going on to the boss. He had no idea until the boss expressed his disappointment with his work. Fortunately, he had a copy of the original and was able to provide it. Because the boss did nothing to rectify the situation, he found that he had to be sure to back up everything he produced and submit it separately to the boss. This situation was intolerable and that boss ultimately lost a good employee.
5. They help and cooperate until you start getting too many compliments from the boss.
Once they see you as being more “favored,” they are threatened. Now they have to sabotage you in subtle ways, or, maybe, not so subtle ways. One individual reported that she arrived at the office one morning to find a large sales data base file that she managed for the whole office was corrupted and unusable. She suspected two co-workers of the deed, because she had not shut down her computer properly the night before, and they were still there when she left for the day. What they did not know, however, was that she had a data base recovery software in place that allowed her to restore the entire file. While she was unable to prove that two co-workers had probably conspired to do that, she certainly never left the office again without fully shutting down her computer. After fending off a few other attempts to sabotage her work, she decided to fight the situation by addressing it with her boss. His response was that he was certain she was being a bit paranoid, and that those events may have just been errors on her part. Obviously, she promptly began a job search.
6. They engage in “turf” wars.
Politickers are very much like the child in the sandbox who will not share his/her toys with anyone, no matter how much another child may need a particular utensil to finish a creation. They never outgrow these turf wars, probably due to deep-seated insecurities, but God help the person in the office who encroaches into an area of responsibility that belongs to this person.
When one co-worker had called in sick, and a project was due, another co-worker stepped in to finish it. When the absent co-worker returned the next day, he was furious that his work had been usurped and turned into the boss. He wanted to be the one to turn it in. The co-worker explained that he had been given credit for the project, but that did not matter. From that point forward the “injured” co-worker refused to cooperate in any way and, in fact, developed a habit of withholding important information, just to make his “enemy” have to work harder to locate it on his own.
7. They can play the “gender” game with co-workers of the opposite sex.
One school administrator tells a funny story from several years ago. She was promoted to associate principal and athletic director of a very large high school in the Midwest. Athletics was huge, and the coaches who had been passed over for the position were just waiting for her to fail. That was obvious when their cooperation was less than forthcoming. One of her responsibilities was to attend a monthly meeting with the athletic directors of all the schools in their conference – all of them men. After the first meeting, which went fairly well, she returned to her school district and made a report to the Superintendent. In the conversation, he expressed surprise that she was back so soon, because the group always went out for a meal and a beer afterward. As the next monthly meeting was ending, she said to the group, “Where are we going to eat?” They had no choice. She surprised them all with her ability to talk sports, and they were quite impressed that she had personally followed college football avidly. She was even able to describe and draw some particularly unique plays that had been used. The coaches waiting for her to fail never got their wish. She became a respected athletic director in that state.
8. They try to “play” you against a co-worker or your boss.
The scenario goes like this. A co-worker comes to you wanting to tell you something confidentially – something bad that a co-worker or your boss said about you to them, but you can’t repeat it because it also was told in confidence. The “do-gooder” just wants you to know what was said.
You are devastated. And your attitude toward that co-worker or boss changes big-time. They sense it of course, and the relationship deteriorates. You retreat emotionally at work, and, ultimately, you begin to look for another job. The culprit has just neutralized you as a competitor.
9. They will try to get you to criticize or say negative things about your boss.
It begins rather innocently. A co-worker comes to your desk or office and expresses frustration with the boss – maybe an unreasonable deadline or a disagreement on how to proceed with a client. You express empathy and in so doing agree that sometimes that boss can be unreasonable and too demanding. The words are out and they will be repeated to others, ultimately making their way up the chain to the boss. And you are left wondering why you don’t get the good projects anymore – projects in which you can demonstrate your expertise and your value.
10. They gain your confidence and then use it against you
A team member welcomes you aboard, invites you out to lunch, and goes out of his/her way to help you become acclimated. They becomes a good friend and you begin to socialize together – going out for drinks after work, playing tennis on the weekends, and so forth. You begin to share some “secrets,” like the fact that you have been known to occasionally use a little pot, during non-work hours of course. When your job performance begins to be recognized and praised, the snake is threatened. Pretty soon, the fact that you use pot is all over the office, and the boss calls you in for a “meeting.”
11. They will steal your ideas and present them as their own.
This is probably one of the most common backstabbing techniques of the really insecure culprit. When you express an idea or a potential solution to a problem, it might be rejected as impractical. All of a sudden, that idea or solution has been presented to the boss and he praised it.