Friend or Foe? Do Your Colleagues Try to Make You Look Bad on the Job?

Most people have friends at work, but foes could be more prevalent than you might think. Half of advertising and marketing executives surveyed in a recent poll said a colleague has tried to make them look bad on the job.

Professionals who are sabotaged by a coworker shouldn’t let the situation slide, according to respondents: Seven out of 10 said it’s best to confront the offender directly.

The national survey, developed by the Creative Group, a specialized staffing service providing marketing, advertising, creative and web professionals on a project basis, asked 250 people: “In the course of your career, has a current or former colleague ever tried to make you look bad on the job?” One half of the respondents said that yes, a colleague tried to make them look bad.

Respondents also were asked: “In general, what do you think is the best response when a colleague tries to make you look bad on the job?” They responded:

  • Confront the person directly – 70%
  • Notify the person’s manager – 10%
  • Alert your colleagues to the situation – 5%
  • Do nothing – 5%
  • Other/don ’t know – 10%

“In advertising or marketing – as with any competitive field – it’s not uncommon for people to promote themselves at the expense of others,æ said Megan Slabinski, executive director of the Creative Group. “How professionals handle these situations can affect their career prospects. While you don’t want to come across as a pushover, you also don’t want to overreact.”

Slabinski noted that mentors can provide valuable advice for addressing sticky workplace situations. “Professionals should heed the voice of experience, especially when they are early in their careers,” she said. “Saying the wrong thing can make a bad situation worse.”

The Creative Group offers these six tips for discussing sensitive issues with coworkers, which apply to many workplace situations:

  • Give yourself time to cool down. Don’t respond in the heat of the moment. Instead, wait until you are calm to start a discussion.
  • Look at the situation from every angle. What were your colleague’s intentions? Did you play a role in the problem? Before you confront someone, try to identify his or her motives, as well as any steps you could have taken to avoid the situation.
  • Chat in person, if possible. E-mailing about a sensitive situation can lead to misinterpretation, since you don’t have the benefit of body language or vocal inflection.
  • Explain the impact. Rather than hurling accusations, calmly explain how your colleague’s actions have made you feel. Then give him or her a chance to respond.
  • Listen actively. Pay close attention to what your coworker has to say. Even if you disagree, you’ll get a better sense of how that person thinks, which can help you predict future behavior.
  • Know when to get help. Immediately alert your manager and human resources department to situations that appear serious.


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