At the beginning of April, I wrote about the idea of an organizational dysfunction premium. I wanted to understand how much more pay people would need to work in a dysfunctional organization. That article included a short survey and the results show that dysfunctional organizations may have to pay 11-14% more. But what was more striking was that the results also showed that people despise backstabbing coworkers more than poor leadership.
In the workplace, backstabbing is one of the most common forms of covert aggression. (Pathdoc/Shutterstock.com)
The survey didn’t have the rigour or response rate to be scientific, but there was an obvious trend: people would rather work for a bad boss or with checked-out coworkers than be at the mercy of backstabbers.
survey says . . .
People wanted the highest raise (14%) to work for a checked-out boss and with checked-out coworkers. To work for a jerk boss, but with great coworkers, people needed an average pay increase of 13%. To work for a great boss, but with a bunch of backstabbing coworkers, people only needed a raise of 11%. But 25% of respondents said they’d never work on the backstabbing team and 58% of respondents said the backstabbing team was the worst of all the teams.
here’s my bloody wound
At one company, I had someone from our process improvement team contact me and tell me that I needed to follow a new business process. I explained that the program I managed likely fell outside of the scope of the new process, but, to confirm this, he was welcome to contact my own leader. When he did so, he told my leader that I was disrespectful and aggressive. Luckily my leader knew I’d never cross that line and the accuser backed down when the complaint was investigated. But, by the time the investigation was completed, I’d already lost the trust of a few people on the accuser’s team. The injury caused by the behind-my-back lies lasted for years.
research says . . .
In 2012, Patty Malone and Javette Hayes completed a comprehensive study to carefully define backstabbing. People’s perceptions of what it meant to be stabbed in the back ranged widely. Therefore, Malone and Hayes developed this broad definition: backstabbing occurs when the target believes they’ve been intentionally stabbed in the back and believes they have suffered personal or vocational harm. They found these top five categories of backstabbing: talked about behind your back, being sabotaged, being lied about, someone steals credit, and being falsely blamed or accused. In the workplace, backstabbing is one of the most common forms of covert aggression.
dealing with the backstabber
There’s a lot of good advice out there on how to deal with a workplace backstabber. Here’s what most people recommend.
- Once burnt, twice shy: It’s often hard to spot the backstabbers until they strike. But if you get stabbed once, don’t let it happen again. Avoid them or withhold any information they might use against you in the future. Be careful around them.
- The best defence is a strong offence: The American author, John Steinbeck, said, “If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck.” Build your own team of likeminded supporters against the backstabber. When the backstabber strikes again, your army will protect you.
- People don’t change that much: It’s a waste of time confronting the backstabber or trying to get them to change their ways. Anything you say is probably going to be used against you.
- Maintain your own credibility: Backstabbers destroy trust in all their relationships. Even if someone hasn’t been stabbed by them, they’ve likely seen the pain the backstabber has caused others. If you try to stab the backstabber, you’ll become mistrusted.
- Wait it out or get out: Most problem employees, like backstabbers, eventually get discovered and dismissed. Hopefully they will leave before you have to. But if your organization is supporting the backstabber, maybe it’s time to get a new job.