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.

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11 replies
  1. Deb says:

    Thank you for your artical on how to protect yourself from untrustworthy coworkers assitised me to refocuse on me. As I was starting to use all my energy on protecting myself but now I will just get on with my work and the boss will see in time.

  2. Brandon Smith says:

    My pleasure. Feel free to drop me a note directly if I can help in any other way. Just go to the home page and click on the link on the right-hand column that says “Ask the Therapist.” That will go directly to me. Hang in there!

  3. nicole says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I was starting to feel like I was trapped in a lion’s cage. I feel like I now have some strategies that just might work.

  4. Kathie says:

    There was a employee who got removed from my site, and her friend that still works at the site think I have something to do with her been removed , so they are causing problem for me. How can I handle this situation.

  5. AK says:

    Well, I have actually seen coworkers fake a personal relationship with another coworker to gain personal information they can twist and use to their advantage to make their coworker look bad and themselves look better. It is amazing how they can continue manipulate in this way and keep their hands clean. Be very careful with trying to be too friendly with a insecure coworker.

  6. Stacy P. says:

    My colleague likes to talk horribly about everyone and then smiles to their face and acts like they’re her bff. We have a new manager but they seem to go to her for all the answers since she is a lead. She constantly states she hates so and so and is “playing the game”. Trying to determine if I should pretend I like her to keep her close and go along with her whole persona or ignore her. I feel like I may burn bridges if I ignore her. I may also be left out of the click. Suggestions?!

  7. Goldy singh says:

    Thanks so much for this article of yours,now I feel confident enough to face office politics as I always had been a timid employee.I have never been able to build allies at work because of anxiety and went under depression. Quitting job was no option as I belong to lower middle class family.Perhaps,now I see some ray of hope



  9. Mary says:

    I had colleague resign when false incident report filed against her. I KNOW this incident didn’t happen. Another had same persin report on him and he chose not to resign. Nothing else came of it. Now i have taken the resigned woman’s place. How to avoid taking this person with me while taking special needa kids to the toilet? I don’t trust her. She may decide to falsely report me next! What to do?

  10. Scarlet says:

    A ‘Top Notch” Article….. At the current time I’m employed in a low trust enviornment. it’s fortunate I’ve a Criminal Justice Background, Paralegal Background and an INFJ. If the background wasnt there I wouldnt see ahead of time the schemes that are making the way through my Workplace. the Triggers that are tossed my way are seen before the intended destination….”ME” LOL… I’ve reason to believe one or more of my Co-Workers is displaying Sociopathic Behavior Patterns. Between the Boss that screams and the Co-Workers that gossip and undermine, one could say its a bit of a low trust enviornment.. Here’s the kicker…. “It is a PreSchool… As I said my Background and Typology is keeping me Emotionally Healthy and thriving. It goes to show that Sociopathic Behavior isn’t confined to Correction Facilities and Youth Facilities.

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