Eliminating workplace enemies

I won’t sugarcoat it – having “enemies” in the workplace sucks.  It takes our focus away from doing our jobs and throws us into a world of gossip and politics.  We all could do without agents of sabotage like Dwight Schrute in our work lives (for the majority of us who have watched The Office before).

Often times a co-worker becomes an enemy because of jealously.  You are great at something that she is bad at, or she is used to being the person that is at the top of the rankings and you are a threat. She then embarks on a campaign to make you look bad at every turn.

Even when you avoid the person completely or double and triple check your work to make sure it is perfect, your “enemy” finds a way to confront you or taint your great work. She talks about you behind your back and make up lies that are hard to refute. Finally you get to the end of your rope. You feel like you have to do something…but what is the best strategy to get rid of this pesky nemesis? Ignoring the situation is just not an option anymore.

While tempting (depending on your personality), confrontation is NOT always the best option. It can lead to an even more brutal fight and possibly a code of conduct violation and disciplinary action (if things get out of hand). Your company will go on record saying that the best course of action is to go and tell your boss about the situation or report the incident to HR.  There are certain benefits to this but it can often lead to resentment among your co-workers or you being labeled as a tattle-tail.

Then there is always the “fight fire with fire” approach where you start to fight back in your own way by starting rumors about your “enemy” while finding ways to make them look bad. This may be the most gratifying response but ultimately less than ideal because if you mess up in your “counter-espionage” then it will look like you fell flat on your face and you could get in trouble.

Sometimes one of the actions above is the right way to go, but often times there is a higher risk that it won’t foster the results you want.

One of the best responses is counter-intuitive.  It also takes a great deal of humility and pride-swallowing. Often times, the best choice is to ask your enemy for advice. I know this is MUCH easier said than done, but it has it’s benefits.

Initially your enemy will be completely disarmed.  She will see you coming up to them and will pull out her weapons, ready to attack, only to be completely deflated… most of us have learned that it is really hard to argue with yourself. If you are nice to them and approach her with the right tone, she will literally not know what to do.

Out of college I was part of a leadership program that offered recent grads great management experience from day one.  In that first job, I had one peer manager that really hated me!  She wanted to see me fail because she used to managing the #1 team and my team was starting to improve dramatically. Even worse, she didn’t treat me like a peer, talking to me and interacting with me as if I worked for her.  I despised how she acted toward me! She even got to the point of blaming some of her mistakes on me, even when I had helped her, just to be friendly.

After seriously thinking about “fighting fire with fire” I took a step back and looked at the motivation behind her actions. I was a young kid right out of college and she had been working in her job for almost 10 years. She was good at it but lacked some of the creativity and energy I had. This often happens when you are new to a role and there is a person with more experience than you that is threatened.

What I decided to do was go up to her (one-on-one, not in front of a group) and ask her for help.  She was really great at tracking the performance of her team and had criticized me for not doing a good enough job at it. Over the years she had created many systems and processes to make sure they were performing at the top of their game.

In talking her I said, “Sandy, I am really struggling with monitoring my team’s performance AND my team doesn’t really respect me. I see how your team respects you so much and how you have been absolutely amazing at tracking your team’s performance and making sure they are doing their best. Can you offer me any advice on how I can become better at being a manager in these areas like you are?” I still remember the blank stare she initially gave me. Then she actually started to offer me advice. And she kept going on and on, talking about all sorts of ways I could get better.  Even when her comments were incorrect or condescending I bit my tongue. Then, I thanked her for the feedback.

But the process does not end here. It is ESSENTIAL to actually implement at least one (if not a few) of the pieces of advice your enemy gives you. I started using some of her techniques and then I came back and told her that I implemented her advice and that it made things better (even if it didn’t improve things all that much), thanking her again for the advice.

Something amazing happened after this.  Sandy started treating me like a peer and stopped criticizing things I did to our other peers.  She even asked me for advice on how I did a couple things I was really good at doing!  In a nutshell, your mother was right, “kill them with kindness.”

Have you ever had any workplace drama or enemies? What has worked for you? And what hasn’t worked? What do you think about this counter intuitive method?


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