Emotional Vampires: Liars, Backstabbers & Other Unpleasant Characters

Last week I spoke at two events in Oklahoma City.  Thanks to Shannon Warren of the Oklahoma Ethics Consortium for writing the following article to accompany my presentation. Of course, as always, my focus is personal responsibility for our choices!

Liars, Backstabbers& Other Unpleasant Characters

It’s almost as if an honest person doesn’t have a chance in business any more.  According to Marsha Petrie Sue in her book Toxic People: Decontaminate Difficult People at Work without Using Weapons or Duct Tape:
·     4% of the population are accomplished liars – well over a million people;
·     1 out of every 30 people in high-performing business situations have been identified as a Backstabber.  That’s way higher than what you’d normally encounter.

Not surprising, employers are encountering deceit on a massive scale.  The Society for Human Resources reports that:

  • 11% of applicants don’t tell the real reason why they left a past job.
  • A huge percentage of job applications contain untrue information.
  • 1% of applicants completely falsify their identity.

At some point in our careers, we will likely meet some unpleasant characters in the dark corners of the workplace.  It’s important to develop survival skills before these emotional vampires drive us batty.

Dealing with a liar? Ms. Petrie Sue suggests that you start paying less attention to what you’re going to say and focus more on what they are actually saying.  Look for inconsistencies in words as well as actions.  Also, train yourself to be attentive to microexpressions, those telltale emotions that flash on a person’s face in a nanosecond.

The author has not provided advice for reading people with botox injections, the miracle drug that enables them to keep a straight face – literally.  However, I think many of her applications may be useful in detecting deceit.  For instance, watch for contradictions between an individual’s body language and words. Is he shaking his head no while saying yes?  That might mean he’s not totally committed to what he’s telling you.

Got a Backstabber making your blood boil? First, don’t be stupid.  Ms. Petrie Sue recommends that you don’t play the same game. That means never say anything bad about them to other colleagues.    Don’t like that idea?  Then, you won’t be wild about these either, but I believe they’re worth pursuing:

  • Be friendly, but not bosom buddies.  Stay close enough so they like you and are willing to share information.
  • Be gracious when exposing lies.  First, you might be dead wrong in your assumptions, so it’s best to seek a gentler clarification rather than using confrontation to get at the truth.
  • Document your moves.  Note your conversations and write down outcomes of interactions with the Backstabber.
  • Don’t think they’ll just magically vanish.  These folks are dangerous to your career, your culture and your company.  Take responsibility for initiating damage control.

There are lots more vampires that can drain the lifeblood out of you and your organization.   Ms. Petrie Sue covers all of these, including Steamrollers, Zipper Lips, and Know-It-Alls, with comprehensive strategies for each one.  What was her best advice?  It was for each of us to take a good long look at ourselves to be sure we don’t become a pain-in-the-neck to others.

Comments?  Would love to hear them!

Shannon Warren, OK Ethics Consortium

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