Back Stabbing Co-Worker: 6 Ways to Protect Yourself

As you move along your career path you will discover that the majority of your peers are good up-standing individuals.  Like you, they work hard and care about the work they do.  Unfortunately, you will also probably run across co-workers who are less than stellar for a variety of reasons.  But the worst you will encounter is the back stabber.

The back stabber is the kind of person who will overtly do things to undermine, embarrass or place you in potentially career-damaging situations. Clearly, you can’t trust this person to have your best interest in mind, because they are working too hard to promote their own interests.  It’s important to know a couple of things about this person:

- They are uber-ambitious.
- They have some level of insecurity about themselves.

This is a lethal combination of characteristics.  I know it may seem like they are anything but insecure, but if they were merely ambitious and confident about what they were doing, they would feel no need to attack you.  They see that their path to greatness includes taking the competition down a peg or two, which could artificially cause them to look better.  An interesting thing about this type of person is they may not be fully aware of their behavior – many people aren’t.

Despite the causes for the career assassin’s behavior, you need to safeguard yourself.  Never trust this person.  This may be tough because we inherently like to endow all relationships with trust – trust makes working with others easier.  Once you identify a back stabber, understand that you cannot expect them to do what they say they will or expect that they will work well within a team.  Also, do not trust them with any of the following:

- your personal business or opinions of anything, especially things at work
- your super ideas
- inside information
- what to expect from them
- how things are going with you professionally, be it projects, bosses input, etc

What does this mean in terms of your interactions with them and your behavior?  Here are six great tactics you can use to protect yourself from their maliciousness.

  1. Learn the art of “non-answers.”  On all matters related directly to you, professionally or personally, keep it vague and superficial.
  2. Be astute.  Anything that you rely upon them for always follow up, ask questions and look deeper than you would otherwise.
  3. Be on the defensive.  I know that isn’t fun, but you never know when or where this person is going to strike.  If you can stay alert, you may be able to head something off before it becomes an issue.
  4. Document and communicate.  It is hard for a back stabber to “get cha” when you are open and transparent in your communication and updates to all the key stakeholders of your work.  Also, when communicating with them, email-document your requests and correspondence.  You will want to retain these communications in the event you need to defend yourself.
  5. Be ready to confront.  This is the area where most people fail.  Part of the reason why this person resorts to backstabbing as their growth strategy is because it can work to some degree.  Most people are loath to get into a confrontation with others, especially publicly.  The back stabbers count on this. If you teach them that you won’t allow bad behavior directed at you, they may relent and back down.
  6. Be prepared to take this to the boss.  If your attempts fail, you may need to take this to the boss for a remedy.  By this point, you’ve documented what has transpired; so making a case should be easy enough to do.  You may also need to give the boss a “heads up” that this is taking place to simply raise their awareness.  Keep in mind that back stabbers will seek to garner favor of the boss by busting others and pointing out failures.  Part of your defensive posture should be to assume that this is taking place.  Some managers are bright enough to judge matters without the help of the back stabber, but you can’t count on it.  Just to set your expectations correctly, don’t count on the boss to fix this person.  They might be able or willing to, but managers are people too and may want to avoid this viper as much as you do.

If you’re lucky you may never encounter a back stabber, but sooner or later most people do.  In order for you to know you have a back stabber co-worker, you will probably have to be the recipient of their behavior a few times before you understand what you’re dealing with.  When that realization occurs, you don’t have to just grin and bear it.

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran is a certified life and career coach. She works with aspiring professionals who are looking for career growth, advancement and entry into the “C” suite. As well, she works with people to overcome the sometimes daunting task of changing careers. With over 21 years in management, Dorothy has coached, trained and guided other professionals who have gone on to impressive and fulfilling careers. Her personal philosophy about careers is: “It’s not JUST a job; it’s half your life – so love your career”. You can check out her resources, blog and services at Next Chapter New Life and MBA Highway.

Need a boost for your job search and career?

Subscribe today ► and get our latest blog posts and other top tips, tools and resources emailed right to your inbox!

Get Your Copy of LinkedUp!

LinkedUp shows you how to leverage LinkedIn to build an online presence, establish industry credibility and find your next job. Learn more ►

>Career Studios Backstage Mega Pass

Want access to over 25+ hours of job search and career seminars?! Get your Backstage MEGA PASS! Learn more ►


  1. stephen q shannon says:

    DTM is on target after 41 years in harness!
    Let’s add an Internet favorite number ” #7″ – Never (ever) leave anything on your unoccupied desk you don’t want published on the company bulletin board (FB or Twitter) or front page of a former daily newspaper. That’s the advice I received from the Professor of MBAs at Rockhurst College, Kansas City, MO. Nuff said?

Speak Your Mind