Don’t be shocked the next time someone you work with says something nasty about you. You might hear it in front of other people who are important to you. You might learn about what was said behind your back. Don’t be surprised. Why shouldn’t you be? You missed some very important signals that the person was giving you about his character. People you work with that that say nasty things about you are snakes. You’ve probably heard the saying, “leopards don’t change their spots.” Neither do snakes with or without spots. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself when you work with a snake.
How to spot the snake at work.
It shouldn’t be hard for you to spot the snakes at work. One of the most obvious behaviors is that they constantly talk about other people. What they say aren’t compliments either. They’re either criticizing other people for their supposed deficiencies or they are damning them with faint praise. It’s common to hear some people talking negatively about others. Just remember, when they’re talking about others to you they are probably talking about you with others.
It’s very important to preserve your reputation that you don’t get caught up in the conversation. Piling on with additional information is hazardous to your career! Do not participate in an informal conversation that criticizes another person. Others will think you are just like the snake and be less likely to confide in you. Instead, try to change the subject. You can reply, “I’m unaware of that.” Then change the subject.
Other snake behavior is more subtle. That’s what happens with damning with faint praise. When someone says, “You would expect much higher sales from someone as smart as he is.” You might not think that is an insulting comment, but it is because his poor sales results are the point, not that he’s smart. People who consistently make critical comments with faint praise are insecure and are snakes. Watch out for them.
What can you do?
It is a big deal if you know that someone is talking ill of you behind your back. That’s when you have a private conversation and address the bad behavior. One insecure salesman told another salesman about the behavior of a third salesman. He said, “I can’t talk to him about the strategy. He gets angry with me when we discuss it.” This referenced a conversation between the two salespeople about a sales strategy. When neither would agree to the other’s plan, the conclusion was to agree to disagree. There was no anger. To characterize the conversation as angry was an attempt by the insecure salesperson to make the third salesperson look bad. The third salesman learned of the negative comment and called the salesman who made it.
He simply said, “John, I learned that you said I get angry when we disagree on strategy. That’s not true. You and I agreed to disagree. I thought it was insulting to me to characterize it that way. And if you have issues with me, please come to me directly.” The salesman quickly apologized. The benefit of quickly addressing the negative behavior is that the snake at work is now on notice that you won’t tolerate their bad behavior. Even better is that he knows you have a network of supporters who will protect you when they hear destructive comments about you.
Don’t antagonize troublemakers, but be on alert.
You might think it is a good strategy to confront the snake at work about his destructive behavior with other people. Don’t do it. You’re not the hall monitor responsible for other people. You are only responsible for yourself. You really don’t have anything to gain when you call someone else out for their bad behavior to a third person. Of course this doesn’t apply if you are managing the trouble maker. You’ve got to stop their bad behavior because that reflects on your management ability.
There are snakes at work. You may not be working with them now, but at some point these snakes will slither on the scene. Don’t get caught up in their bad behavior and don’t let them hurt you and your career.