Are Your Coworkers Trying to Make You Look Bad?

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By Robert Half January 9, 2019 at 9:00am

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, 49 percent of advertising and marketing managers said a current or former colleague tried to make them look bad on the job.

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 will 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.

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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 to know what other creatives do when dealing with difficult coworkers or the level of staff rivalry at other companies, here are more findings from our survey:

WORKPLACE COMPETITION

How would you rate the level of competition among employees at your company?

2% Not at all competitive
16% Not very competitive
51% Somewhat competitive
31% Very competitive

How do you feel workplace competition affects employee productivity?

39% Bring it on! It boosts productivity.
56% A little bit is beneficial, but too much impedes productivity.
5% Productivity suffers when employees experience any level of it.

Source: The Creative Group Survey of more than 2,800 senior managers in the United States

COWORKER SABOTAGE

49% of managers said a current or former colleague has tried to make them look bad on the job.

What is the best course of action when a colleague tries to make you look bad?

53% Confront the person directly
34% Notify the person’s manager
8% Alert colleagues to the situation
5% Do nothing

Source: The Creative Group survey of more than 400 advertising and marketing hiring decision makers in the United States

© 2019 The Creative Group. A Robert Half Company. An Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans.