Bullies and Saboteurs
I think we all have those moments in our careers when we feel vulnerable because there is someone who is doing things to undermine our credibility.
I break this type of negative, damaging behavior into 2 groups.
1. Bully’s: People who are aggressive, dismissive, and attacking you to your face
2. Saboteurs: People who do their work to undermine you behind your back
Today I want to talk about saboteurs.
Saboteurs are the people for example, who in a management review meeting (when you are not there) will say things like:
“I noticed that people in [your organization] are not motivated.”
“I don’t understand these numbers coming from [your organization], it seems like they are underperforming”
I’m not sure we need to be making such a big investment in [your area]
Or, a direct personal attack,
[Your name here], is hard to work with, and is causing problems in our organization.
It’s not about you
It’s important to realize that when people try to put you down it is never about you — it is always about them and their insecurity.
If they were really competent, secure people who are trying to improve the business they would not use this approach.
They would instead come to you directly and say, “I’m concerned about something. Could we talk so I can understand it better? Maybe I can help.”
The bad-mouthing behind your back does nothing to move the business forward. It only serves to feed something in their insecurity.
The dangerous issue happens when over busy executives “hear things” and don’t have the time to get the real story. Your brand can be damaged by saboteurs because people in the power structure simply don’t have the time to sort it all out.
So you have to deal with it. You need to make it stop.
Silencing your detractors
So how do you stop saboteurs? How do you shut down the negative publicity?
After you remember that it is not about you — it is always about them, the next thing you need to realize is that saboteurs only have power if they work in secret and in the shadows, behind the scenes.
Because what they are saying is not grounded in reality — it needs the shadows to strengthen it and to make it seem more exclusive and important.
So what you need to do, is to simply shine a giant spotlight on them.
Take away the safety and the power of their shadows
In a meeting where everyone is present, say, “I heard you have a concern about the numbers my group is delivering. I’d be happy to clarify, can you give me a specific example of what you are concerned about?”
Or, walk right up to them and say, “I heard that you are seeing a motivation issue in my team. This is very concerning and important to me. So let’s schedule a meeting in two days where you can present to me your detailed findings. I’ve already raised your concern with our boss, because this is so important, so I’m anxious to resolve it and I need your inputs.”
When you call them on it, you’ll find that they’ve got nothing real, and they’ll realize that they’ve got nothing real.
And they will also realize that they won’t be able to work in the shadows when it comes to you. You are going to call them on it. You are going to shine the spotlight into the darkness that they need to sustain their power, and force them to produce real data which they do not have.
They will back off because now you’ve made it no fun. You’ve taken away their strongest tool: the shadows where non-specific, negative talk like this thrives.
If they were talking about real data to improve the business, they wouldn’t need shadows and secrecy to do that. They could and would be straightforward about it.
This negative sabotage behavior is not about you. It’s only about their insecurity, or dubious motives.
Take them seriously
When you take the high ground and behave as though you take a saboteur seriously because you are serious about improving the business, you will find that they will very quickly be out of moves. They will be reluctant to attack you again because it’s too hard, it doesn’t work, and they run the risk of looking bad themselves when you ask them to get specific and they can’t.
What do you think?
How have you handled difficult situations with saboteurs?
Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)