“Absolutely!” this coworker will tell you to your face, “I agree with you entirely!” As soon as you’re out of earshot, however, he (she) begins to sing a different tune. The two-faced coworker is tough to work with because you are never quite sure if you can trust him or where he stands. He most certainly is not an ally you can count on to watch your back. What do you do?
To begin with, it’s important to understand that these individuals are probably not the devious, scheming people they appear to be. They are far more likely to be fundamentally insecure people who are in survival mode – trying to avoid conflict at all costs. They don’t see their behavior as a lack of integrity. They see it as a positive interaction skill. They are trying to do whatever it takes to be everyone’s friend, not realizing their actions are having quite the opposite effect.
The best way to deal with a two-faced coworker is to gently confront them with their behavior. Don’t make a big deal of it, just take a moment when you’re alone together to say something like, “Hey – I thought you agreed with me about that idea I had. But I understand that you told Susan in accounting you thought it wasn’t so good…” He will inevitably seek a non-confrontational middle ground, with something like, “No, no – Susan and I were talking about aspecific application of the idea – one where it might not work so well. I still think it’s a great idea…” Even though you know he’s scrambling, the key now is to completely accept his answer. Don’t pursue it. Drop it and move on. Your coworker, having just created the very confrontation he was trying to avoid, will start to think twice before doing this sort of thing again.
You may have to repeat this process a few times before he actually changes his behavior. If the behavior persists, you also may have to increase the pressure a little bit by not fully accepting his explanations (“What was the specific application you were talking about?”). You may not be able to cure him completely, but you can at least cure him from doing it when you’re around!