Prescription – Overcoming untrustworthy co-workers

Are you dealing with an untrustworthy co-worker? Maybe you are certain they are after your job, throwing you under the bus every chance they can get. Or perhaps you simply think they are behind your disappearing lunch from the break room. Either way, looking over our shoulder daily takes a mental and emotional toll that can have significant consequences. In best cases, it leads to added stress and burn-out. In worst cases, it promotes paranoia and soon we are plotting ways to either trap the culprit in the act or eat his or her lunch before they get to ours. Not a pretty sight.

So what can you do? Here’s your prescription:

Your Daily Regimen for Protecting Yourself From Your Co-Worker

So you think you might not be able to trust your co-workers? What can you do to protect yourself? There are a few helpful strategies that can mean the difference between getting blindsided by a untrustworthy colleague versus stopping him or her in their collective tracks. Consider the following:

Make it personal – You’ve heard the old adage “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Keep your work enemies close.

Build your allies – You need allies at work. They lobby on your behalf and shut down those untrustworthy co-workers when you aren’t around.

Document everything – A critical way to protect yourself is to have a “paper trail” regarding your exchanges with untrustworthy or suspicious co-workers. Save those e-mails.

Get close to your boss –If you want to protect yourself from co-workers, you need to make sure your boss is on your side.

Do your job –It’s hard to argue against great performance so be sure that you outperform your workplace enemies.

For more on protecting yourself from your co-worker, click here.

When Surgery is Required

What if you’ve come to the point that your daily regimen isn’t enough and you need to confront the problem head-on. You need to conduct surgery. Confronting a co-worker is a tricky and stressful situation. What matters most is if you think your co-worker is “malignant” or “benign.” In other words, deep down are they a “good” or “bad” person? Consider these steps when approaching surgery (click here).

What is equally important is that the patient doesn’t die on the table (that’s you by the way). So, be sure not to do any of the following when confronting your co-worker. Any of these lower your probability of survival (and we know what that means):

Don’t lose your temper – Yelling and screaming will not get your point across or finally get them to understand you. All it will do is make you appear as though you are a part of the problem.

Don’t confront over e-mail – This approach ALWAYS spirals out of control. Soon you areengaged in a word-smithing battle over a period of days / weeks with the “cc” list increasing witheach additional “reply all.”

Don’t go to the boss first – Your boss does not want to be mom or dad. Think of them as the expensive specialist from out of town. They only want to brought in when all other efforts have failed. You need to have the conversation first.

Don’t do it in public – An audience will only complicate the message and cause the reaction of your co-worker to be extremely unpredictable. Find a private place.

There you have it. Ways to protect yourself from a sneaky and untrustworthy co-worker. When done well, the problem can be easily isolated and recovery to full-health is in your near future. The trick is to not slip and inadvertently kill the patient in the process. In other words, “guns blazing” is a sure-fire way to end up on your way out, and nobody wants that… well except maybe your sneaky co-worker.

We can’t have that.

 

How to confront untrustworthy co-workers

Yuck. Can you feel your stomach tightening just thinking about the prospect of confronting an untrustworthy co-worker? Not fun for anyone. But there comes a time when the only way forward, the only way to resolve the issues you’ve been dealing with and stop the emotional and mental energy that is being exhausted is to confront the situation head on… to have the confrontation… to have the conversation.

But not all situations warrant the same approach. Here are two very different approaches depending on what you believe is at the core of your colleague’s actions. So consider the following:

Approach 1: You think, deep down, your co-worker is a GOOD person

This isn’t my first rodeo. My guess is that if you believe you can’t trust your co-worker, you will naturally believe they are a “bad” person. Their heart is “black as night” and all they really want to do is punish you for no good reason. Not so fast. More often than not, when others act in ways that we see as not trustworthy, they are scared. They may either see you as a direct threat to them personally or they may see you as representing the change the organization is going through. In either case, it is actually not about you. It is more about them and their fear of losing what they have. So, how can you tell? Consider the following characteristics that indicate they may actually not be “all that bad” after all.

  • They have “lots” of friends at the office – and not just surface friends. They seem to actually know other people on a semi-personal basis
  • They have displayed “random acts of kindness.” They have given gifts, written thank you notes, or other acts of thoughtfulness to others in the office going through a tough time
  • They have been married / in a long-term relationship for some extended period of time (10+ years minimum). Don’t underestimate this important piece of information
  • You hear positive comments about him or her from people you like

If you checked off the majority of the above, you’ve got a good person who is frankly scared – and you represent what he / she is afraid of. You are a scary monster to him or her. Time to make you less ferocious.

Before we jump in, let me take a moment to clarify what it takes to develop trust. Trust is a simple equation. Here it is:

TRUST = CREDIBILITY + AUTHENTICITY / VULNERABILITY

In this case, you are likely seen as intimidating to your co-worker (hence the untrustworthy behavior they exhibit towards you). They see you as having too much credibility – more than they have. So, you need to balance the equation. Add more authenticity / vulnerability to the mix.

  1. Make yourself vulnerable / not a threat – Back in my graduate school days, I did an internship with an organization that had a very strong culture – a culture not conducive to trusting outsiders – particularly one’s coming from a fancy graduate school. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get anyone to trust me. I smiled. I was friendly. I listened more than I did anything else. It just didn’t seem to matter. They refused to invite me to anything, they were resistant to sharing any information with me and they largely acted as though they were ready to see me go. As one member of the organization said during one of my first few weeks “you weren’t my first choice.” Always a heart-warming welcome. It wasn’t until I participated in the department golf outing and proceeded to play the worst round in my life that they decided I was o.k. Believe me, there wasn’t anything scary about me that day. In their minds, if anyone can be that bad, how could there be anything scary about him / her.
  2. Be transparent – sometimes others don’t trust you because they don’t know what your intentions are. Share what you hope to accomplish, what you are thinking / feeling and in general try to be an open book. If they know where you are coming from, they may realize, you aren’t looking to get them.
  3. Be complimentary – don’t overdo it, but a well placed compliment about your colleague’s skills, accomplishments or general approach can go a long way. If they see you as a supporter and a teammate, they may just soften their stance.

 

Approach 2: You think, deep down, your co-worker is a BAD person

Then there are those individuals that are just difficult to work with. They just don’t seem to play well with others – period. They cause trouble and havoc wherever they go, spending more time back-stabbing and manipulating than actually doing productive work. Note what I just said, they spend “more time back-stabbing and manipulating than actually doing productive work.” In other words, they have honed their craft. You will not be able to beat them at their own game. So how can you tell if you are dealing with one of these co-workers? Consider the opposite of the above:

  • They have no friends at work
  • They rarely act in ways that are kind… and when they do, it feels manipulative
  • They don’t appear to have a pattern of long-term relationships outside of work (revolving partners, rocky personal relationship, few friends, etc…)
  • You hear bad things about him or her from just about everyone you talk to

In these cases, you need to walk carefully. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Keep your distance – The further you can get from him / her, the better. In cases like these, they are on the edge of being terminated so no need to have them drag you down with them.
  2. Document everything – keep meticulous records on your interactions so if you need to confront him / her, you have facts to lean on. These folks tend to be master manipulators, so without facts, you are sunk.
  3. Confront them in person – if it comes to the point you need to confront him / her, do it in private and do it in person (e-mail will spin out of control). Simply state what you’ve observed, your concerns and what your expectations are going forward. Ex: “Katie, we’ve had multiple conversations over the last month in which you have promised to get me the information I need each week. I still have yet to get that information. My concern is that you are intentionally not helping me. Is that the case? Can you commit to getting me the information I need this week?” They will not like it and they likely will not respond well (it might even get worse), but you need to do this in order to move to #4.
  4. Get your boss involved – If you’ve done everything listed above, it should be a simple conversation. Your boss will ask: “have you talked to him / her directly?” “Do you have any examples / proof?” With answers to those, you are set. Without those, you look just as bad as your untrustworthy co-worker does.

Whew! That was a long post this week… but an important one. Before you wring the neck of your co-worker or go at him / her “guns blazing,” assess the situation, see if it really is them or the context you are in and proceed accordingly. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up with an ally in the end? Or perhaps your co-worker will be “invited to leave.” Either way, you win!

 

Ways to protect yourself from untrustworthy co-workers

So you think you might not be able to trust your co-workers? What can you do to protect yourself? There are a few helpful strategies that can mean the difference between getting blindsided by a untrustworthy colleague versus stopping him or her in their collective tracks.

Consider the following:

Make it personal You’ve heard the old adage “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Keep your work enemies close. Specifically, this means going out of your way to say hello to him or her every day. Throw them a compliment every once and a while and if you have to make a request of them, do it in person. The more personal you make your interactions with them, the harder it will be for them to back-stab you. Only the truly devious won’t care. The other 95% of untrustworthy co-workers will actually start to like you… or at least won’t think you are “all that bad” after all.

Build your allies You need allies at work. Here’s why. Your allies serve two very important purposes. First, they lobby on your behalf when you aren’t around. So when that untrustworthy colleague tries to do or say something that would be detrimental to you, your allies will often thwart their efforts. Second, your allies will tell you what’s going on. It’s too much effort to be looking over your shoulder all day long. This is what allies are for. They serve as your eyes and ears when you aren’t around. How do you get more allies? The best way to begin to build allies is to start “lunching” with others in the office and get to know them on a personal level. Trust comes when others know your intentions. Letting them get to know you on a semi-personal basis fosters trust and moves them into the ally category. That’s step one towards building your ally pool.

 

Document everything A critical way to protect yourself is to have a “paper trail” regarding your exchanges with untrustworthy or suspicious co-workers. The trick is to not make it obvious. Here’s what I mean. E-mail is a fantastic tool that is often misused. What most people do when they don’t trust a co-worker is they e-mail the co-worker with the request and then they “cc” their boss. Wrong. This creates a firestorm. In essence, you are telling your co-worker, “I don’t trust you and I’m telling the boss on you.” A snippy response is sent back from the untrustworthy co-worker (also with the boss “cc’d”) and as the exchange continues, the boss sees both of you as “players on the team that don’t play well with others and may need to be replaced.” Instead, use e-mail to follow up with your co-worker after you have asked him or her for the request in person (or over the phone… the key is they need to hear your voice). In the e-mail, thank them for agreeing to help you (subtly include the details of their commitment) and offer any assistance in case they get stuck or need your help. “Cc” no one. Remember that the e-mail itself is a form of documentation so print it or save it. You can always forward it on later if necessary.

 

Get close to your boss Does your boss see you as a trusted “go to person” on the team? If you want to protect yourself from co-workers, you need to make sure your boss is on your side. After all, in the end, your boss will decide who “wins.” How do you do it? A few ways:

  • Give your boss frequent status updates on your work (without being asked). This promotes trust quicker than you could possibly imagine.
  • Treat your boss like a customer. Check in with your boss periodically and ask how things are going, if they need any extra help and if anything has changed. If they see you as someone who cares about him / her and thinks “bigger picture,” your stock will shoot up in their mind.
  • Fill your boss’ “tank.” Give your boss the occasional compliment or thank you for the work he / she does. Don’t overdo it and be sure it’s authentic. Done well, your boss sees you as someone who appreciates him / her, naturally resulting in he or she appreciating you more. Funny how that works.

 

Do your job If you’ve done all of the above, then simply sit back, let your system work for you and do your job. It’s hard to argue against great performance so be sure that you outperform your workplace enemies. Don’t waste time tracking him / her, looking over your shoulder, setting traps, etc… It takes your eye of the ball and in the end, could result in less-than-stellar work performance.

There you have it. Some of the best ways to block your workplace enemies from back-stabbing you without sinking to their level. Soften them up, have your allies watching your back, document everything, get your boss on your side and do a bang-up job at work and you’ve got very little to worry about. Who knows, maybe your enemies will one day become friends. Crazier things have happened.

Signs you can’t trust your co-worker(s)

Wondering if you can trust your co-worker(s)? An important question and an equally tricky one to answer. Why you might ask? What makes this question so challenging to answer? The difficulty is that the answer to this question can come from two different sources. The first and most obvious source for the answer is your co-worker’s personality. Perhaps they are simply not a trustworthy person. He or she see everyone else as a threat to what he or she wants so they lie, cheat, manipulate and back-stab to get what they want. Pretty simple. The second source is a bit less obvious – your work environment. A highly competitive work environment and / or a highly stressful work environment (understaffed, high pressure, “do more with less,” threats of a layoff looming, etc…) can turn the sweetest of colleagues into a manipulative cut-throat competitor virtually overnight. So, in order to answer the question “can I trust my co-worker(s),” we’ve got to take into consideration both personality and context. Consider the following tell-tale signs of distrust at work:

Signs you might not be able to trust your co-worker

  • You don’t believe a word your co-worker says. He / she rarely appears honest, authentic or vulnerable.
  • Your co-worker is all talk and no action.
  • Your co-worker rarely shares critical information with you proactively. If you want it, you have to ask for it.
  • Your co-worker becomes very territorial when you work in his / her “space.”
  • Your co-worker sees you as a threat and does everything he /she can to weaken your credibility.
  • Your co-worker wants your current job and /or you are both competing for the same next job.
  • You are convinced your co-worker has sabotaged you in the past.

Signs you might be working in a low-trust environment (you can’t trust any of your co-workers)

  • Everyone locks their desks / offices when they aren’t around.
  • Food is routinely stolen from the break room.
  • You worry about what others say about you when you turn you back.
  • Praise is a “scarce resource” at work. No one praises each other, ever.
  • No one helps if someone is struggling. It’s an “everyone for his / herself” mantra at work.
  • You are encouraged to compete and beat your co-workers at all costs.
  • Your boss plays favorites.
  • You are in a high pressure sales environment where everyone is competing for the same business.

No surprise if you check off a few of the signs from the lists above. All working environments have some level of distrust. However, if you found yourself nodding in agreement more than not, you might have a serious problem on your hands. I’ll end with this story from a friend of mine. We were having breakfast recently he told me this story:

“There was always a level of distrust at work. We are in a sales business so it is natural that everyone is looking out for their own commissions. At the same time, we had been recognized as a ‘Great Place to Work’ organization in the past so things were not all bad. As soon as the economy turned and we began to feel the strain on our incomes, it really brought out the worst in everyone. Some people chose not to help others who were struggling. Others became snippy and defensive if anyone got too close to their ‘business’ (leads, customers, etc…). Leads were not getting shared and it was an ‘everybody for him/herself’ environment. People stopped talking all together. What had been a ‘high trust’ environment turned sour quickly. Things are better now but the damage is done. We lost several good people along the way.”

With the strain on all of us today, mistrust is creeping into even the healthiest of organizations. The good news is that in many organizations, trust can improve as fortunes improve. The question for you is twofold:

  1. How long can you hold out?
  2. What can you do to strengthen trust today?

Stay tuned. I’ll be tackling how to build trust with some of the most challenging co-workers in the next post. Help is on the way!

“I don’t trust my co-worker”

Have you ever had the experience of not trusting a co-worker? Maybe you thought he or she was out for your job, throwing you under the bus every chance he or she had. Or perhaps you simply thought they were behind your disappearing lunch from the break room. Either way, looking over our shoulder daily takes a mental and emotional toll that can have significant consequences. In best cases, it leads to added stress and burn-out. In worst cases, it promotes paranoia and soon we are plotting ways to either trap the culprit in the act or eat his or her lunch before they get to ours. Not a pretty sight.

This month we’ll be tackling this all-too-real dysfunction: “I don’t trust my co-worker.” We’ll be tackling the following questions throughout the month:

  • What are the signs that I can’t trust my co-worker?
  • What are the best ways to protect ourselves in these situations?
  • What is the role that bosses play in promoting distrust amongst co-workers and if we are the boss, what can we do to eliminate this dysfunction in the office?
  • What can we do to recognize distrustful co-workers and avoid those environments from the beginning before it’s too late?

Every week, I’ll kick off our conversation by addressing one of these big questions. Throughout the week I’ll collect and share stories, examples and other opinions as we dig in. By the end of the month, if we haven’t cured this dysfunction, we’ll do a darn good job treating it!

Write to me with your stories, examples or opinions on the subject. I promise to protect the innocent (and guilty!).

So, can you trust your co-workers? Before you plot your counter-terrorist strategies and booby trap your lunch, make sure there aren’t any easier (and more productive) approaches to stopping distrustful co-workers in their tracks.

Speaking of stolen lunches, I think this commercial sums it up nicely!