Success Sucks! If you let Backstabbers kill your dreams

I continue to get emails about Toxic People and especially Backstabbers.

We have all encountered Backstabbers at work. (Remember the song about Backstabbers?) They are gossips, mean spirited and hurtful. In my research for the Toxic People book, one in every 30 people in high-performing business situations has been identified as a Backstabber. This rate is several times higher than that of the general population. Are you surprised? These people have little conscience or ability to change because their antics get them what they want. Their only goals seem to be power and personal gain. Pay attention to these people because they can tear up your road to success and kill your dreams.

Stop the Mental Terrorism!
So what can you do to manage these emotional vampires and your mental terrorism caused by these nasty people? How do you take personal responsibility for sharpening your skills, not your tongue?

1. Identify the behavior: Taking credit for others’ work and finding reasons to place blame whenever anything goes wrong are typical of their malicious approach. Understand that their undermining ugliness often pushes you into toxic behavior. Pay attention to how you handle their attacks and what kind of behavior you exhibit.
2. Never overlook the damage Backstabbers can do. Don’t laugh at them or shrug off their behavior. If you do, it just reinforces their control and their negative positioning. They won’t change, because this approach has worked for them in the past.
3. Listen for the messages they send and how you interpret their vicious banter: Do you hear, “Be careful what you say about me, or I’ll say something that will embarrass you in front of others” or “There is nothing you can do to stop me; I’m more clever than you?”
Sometimes Backstabbers will even send another kind of message, such as, “I’m only trying to be helpful. Maybe you don’t see the weakness in yourself. It’s lucky for you I’m honest. Listen to my feedback if you want to succeed.” Yeah right!
4. Learn survival tactics: One approach is to build a positive relationship with Backstabbers and anyone they have enlisted. This is tricky but remember that the more your coworkers like you, the less they will side with them. Never say anything negative about the Backstabbers. If they find out, they will turn you into the troublemaker. Their cleverness is well honed.
If a Backstabber tells you that someone else in the office doesn’t like you or has it in for you, go to the person directly and ask if it’s true. The Backstabber has probably relayed a similar story about you. These lies can be exposed when there is good communication in your workplace. And yes, it is your job to start the process of clarification. Don’t wait for it to improve on its own because it won’t! Take personal responsibility for your outcomes.
5. Use specific language: In testing language for my book, Toxic People, I’ve found the following to work most effectively. “That did sound like you were serious. Do the rest of you feel that way? Is this becoming a problem?” Or, “I understand that you’re unhappy with the plan. Your feedback is important. I want to hear what you think.” The secret here is to practice several times what you will say. Learn your responses as well as you know your own name and don’t laugh during your delivery.

Remember this bad behavior can suck the life out of you. Never take it personally because it’s not about you! This is exactly the mental response they want you to take so don’t give in. Staying strong and confident is critical, without getting sarcastic and bitter.

Maintain a strong belief in your own competencies to stop the thoughts of vulnerability. Take personal responsibility in building you. Check your weaknesses and if they are the problem, learn to change them. The Back Stabber is just one of six Toxic People that I have identified. Get ready to also handle the Whine and Cheeser, the Know-it-all, the Steamroller, the Zipper Lip and the Needy Weenie. Using the same approach for all of them just forces you into your own mode of Toxic behavior!

Above all, stay pleasant and focus on the positive intent of the interaction. A positive attitude won’t solve all your problems, but it will tick off enough people to make it work the effort! And the real key in dealing with Backstabbers at work — don’t become one.

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One Comment

  1. Noel Posus says:

    Hi Marsha, and another great blog entry.

    One additional thing I have noted about coaching people on how to address backstabbers is to keep the conversation at “adult” level, versus approaching it from either a “child” or “parent” framework, voice and tone.

    This comes out of Transactional Analysis and the PAC Model of Communication (Parent-Adult-Child) refers to the various “ego states” we speak from in certain situations.

    When people gossip for example, they’re often doing “child to child” communication.

    When people backstab, they are often speaking from their own “child” or “parent” tone and want you to respond accordingly. They may speak as a “parent” to you, hoping you’ll respond as a “child”.

    It’s very difficult for anyone to keep up the “child” or “parent” approach when they only get the “Adult” in response.

    All of your tips on what to say and how to say it are fantastic, and I’d simply add for the readers (as I know I have your permission to do so) to remember to be an adult when you have those critical conversations with backstabbers.

    Thanks as always for the amazing wisdom you share with us all.


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