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.