Are Your Coworkers Trying to Make You Look Bad?

By Robert Half September 8, 2015 at 12:00pm

Dealing with difficult coworkers? Here are some tips on what to do when you think a colleague is trying to make you look bad.

Saboteurs. Finger pointers. Belittlers. Spotlight stealers. Do you work with any of these kinds of people? If so, you’re not alone. According to a survey by The Creative Group, 31 percent of advertising and marketing executives interviewed said a coworker has tried to make them look bad on the job. The good news is that the figure is down from 50 percent in 2008, when TCG conducted a similar poll. Still, the fact that nearly one-third of survey respondents feel the need to watch their backs at work is noteworthy.

Dealing with difficult coworkers and their less-than-collegial behavior can be both infuriating and mentally exhausting. It can also sap your creativity, hurt your productivity and, well, ruin your day. And while you may be tempted to try to get even with conniving coworkers (“Two can play at that game!”), odds are you’ll only end up hurting your own reputation and credibility.

When you feel that a team member has wronged you, it’s generally best to bring a balanced approach to the situation. Overreacting and letting your emotions get the best of you can make you look like the problem employee. But you also can’t afford to come across as a pushover if someone truly is undermining you and potentially damaging your career.

Here are few quick tips to consider when dealing with difficult coworkers:

Assess the situation from every angle

Misperceptions can lead to a lot of unnecessary ill will. Take a step back and really think about your colleague's intentions. Did a fellow designer mean to come across as a glory hog in the staff meeting or did the person simply forget to thank you for your contribution? Did a teammate intentionally weave a typo into your creative brief or was it an innocent goof? If a coworker points the finger at you for a missed deadline, could it be that you actually did play a role in creating a bottleneck? Before you confront someone, try to identify his or her motives, as well as any steps you could have taken to avoid the problem.

Explain the impact

Rather than hurling accusations, meet with your colleague to calmly outline your concerns and explain how his actions have negatively impacted you. Then give him a chance to respond and explain his side of the story. Resist the urge to interrupt so that you can pay close attention to everything your coworker has to say. Even if you disagree, you'll get a better sense of how that person thinks and operates, which can help you predict future behavior.

Don’t be afraid to request help

It’s obviously unwise to contact management about every little conflict or interpersonal squabble. Annoying behaviors abound at work. But there are going to be intractable situations that you simply won’t be able to resolve on your own, as well as toxic people that are beyond reasoning with. If you’ve encountered a particularly prickly dilemma or a completely unreasonable (or unethical) colleague, don’t hesitate to loop in your boss or the human resources department.

If you’re curious what other creatives do when dealing with difficult coworkers, here are more findings from our survey:

Coworker Sabotage infographic

Surrounded by office sharks and saboteurs? It might be time to explore your career options. Check out our open jobs now!

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