Do You Think a Colleague Is 'out to Get You' at Work? Ensure You Have Considered All Angles!

23rd Aug 2017
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There is something about the way our workplaces and hierarchical structures are designed that can breed unhealthy competition and insecurity if left unchecked. I am not saying that our systems are inherently flawed, or all bad. Who doesn’t enjoy the camaraderie and collaboration that closely-knit teams exude? But at their very basic level, workplaces are made of average human beings. As such, all of basic human nature thrives here, including human weaknesses like envy, unhealthy competition, cliques, and more.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Sure, some of us, confident about ourselves and our contributions at work, can be immune to it. But not everyone is blessed with such self-assuredness. Many people can, and do, let their insecurities get the better of them. To them, the most certain way to stay ahead of the curve is by undermining the value others bring to the table.

How can you tell if you are a victim of a colleague’s insecurities?

Sometimes a hypercompetitive colleague can also come across as an insecure one who is undermining your reputation. Before you reach the conclusion that you are being sabotaged, observe the colleague’s behaviour. Does he or she single you out when it comes to obvious signs of undermining, or is that their general attitude towards everyone? While you still shouldn’t take any toxic, demoralizing behaviour lying down, it always helps to know if you need to take your colleague’s behaviour personally, or if it’s just their personality getting the better of them.

There are many other small signs that can help you figure out the seriousness of your colleague’s attempts to damage your reputation or undermine you:

  • If you have a colleague who constantly puts you on the defensive by pointing flaws in your work that don’t really exist, or by putting your ideas on trial in a group brainstorm when that’s not their job, chances are they are trying to undermine your reputation.
  • If your peer consistently oversteps rank when he/she works closely with you, or tells you what to do instead of thrashing out ideas as equals, he/she may be presenting himself/herself as your superior, when in reality, you are equals.
  • Social undermining is a tricky one. Many people just have a bad sense of humour that makes them believe that the only way to be funny is by cracking a few sexist jokes, or singling out one person and making him/her look bad. I’d say trust your gut with this one. Even if someone’s misplaced sense of humour has nothing to do with their insecurity or envy, you’re better off drawing boundaries and calling out toxic jokes if they trouble you.
  • Some people at work thrive on gossip because it’s just good entertainment. Some, on the other hand, use it to disturb team dynamics. If someone insists only on relating stories about the boss’ bad behaviour by way of conversation, or is constantly negative about everything at work, it could stem out of his/her insecurities. He/she could be trying to plant things in your head or disbalance your equation with people. Watch out.
  • One of the most serious things someone trying to malign your reputation can do is steal credit for your work and ideas. Do you always notice that ideas you mentioned in passing to a colleague somehow made it to the boss? Are you not getting the returns of all the hard work and ingenuity you put in? Does the management never seem aware of your contributions? Chances are someone is stealing credit.
  • If a boss or colleague habitually leaves you out of meetings and emails that you are expected to be aware of, but never seems to forget much else, it is not exactly absentmindedness. He/she might be keeping you out of the loop for a reason.

What can you do about it?

As with most issues that plague human relationships, don’t do anything till you are absolutely certain that you are being singled out and undermined. This is a serious allegation. So gather facts, not “feelings”, before you make a move.

Introspection also helps. Are you doing anything to breed envy in your colleague? There is a place and time to gloat about your achievements (hint – appraisal discussions). But if you speak about nothing other than your achievements, chances are you are just coming across as a show-off. Do your bit to mitigate envy. Workplace achievements are great, but surely you have other aspects to your personality that can help you relate with people as individuals, and not just competitors?

If you have done your bit and the toxicity still doesn’t end, it is time to take it more seriously. A candid conversation never hurt anyone. Of course you don’t want to put your colleague on the defensive, but when he/she does something that just doesn’t feel right, bring it up in a separate conversation and explain your perspective on it. At best, the person will tell you it was inadvertent and will be more conscious the next time. At worst, they will know their toxicity is not going unnoticed.

Finally, in all my years of full-time office work, I have realized that nothing speaks like stellar work. You can’t always control other people’s behaviour and insecurities, but you can definitely control the value and interpersonal skills you bring to the table. If you are making the effort to go into office each morning, braving the traffic our cities are plagued with, and are spending a good 10-12 hours at work, you might as well put in some effort and do a good job. Meet your deadlines, and be a team player, and a decent, empathetic human being. Remember, it is hard, if not entirely impossible, to undermine someone whose work and personality speak for themselves.

Read Also: 6 types of difficult colleagues (and how to deal with them)

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