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Coworker from Hell #17: The Saboteur

 

Workplace saboteurs aren’t common, but they are a huge source of frustration when you encounter one. Christine, from Melbourne, Australia, described a classic example:

“I worked for almost four months to get the project organized. We were right on track for our go-live launch date, and there had been plenty of time for everyone to provide us with input and feedback. Suddenly out of the blue – two days before we were to launch – my coworker sends an email with a list of questions about things that had been overlooked. We had to postpone the launch, and revisit the whole project. The frustration was that, not only could she have sent this list two months earlier – when we had asked for feedback, but in her email, she copied the senior executives – making us all look stupid. I can’t count the number of times she’s done this to me…”

Dealing with workplace saboteurs is tricky. They usually position themselves as just ‘looking after the best interests of the company.’ They aren’t always trying to make you look bad but, unfortunately, sometimes they are. There are three things you have to do with workplace saboteurs:

1. Don’t get angry

When she has positioned herself as ‘just doing the right thing’, getting angry only makes you look like you’re not a team player.

2. Reposition their action

You need to subtly point out that the saboteur’s actions, while maybe well-intended, are not entirely productive. In Christine’s case, for example, she could have sent a ‘reply-all’ email back thanking the saboteur for her input – and requesting that, in future, she provide her feedback more expeditiously. Christine could point out how much money could have been saved in person-hours and other costs had the feedback come when requested. She should finish by repeating the thank-you for her efforts. This lets everyone know that she is taking the high road.

3. Have a discussion

It is very important that, emails aside, you have a brief, but pointed discussion with the saboteur. Ask why she chose to take the route she did. Christine, for example, should ask why her coworker chose to copy the executive. These pointed questions will help send the message that, while you welcome feedback, you won’t tolerate being embarrassed.

It is very important that you document as much as you can, in as great detail as you can. That way, if the behavior continues, you have some support if things come to a head.

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