How to handle a colleague trying to sabotage your career

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You are happy in your role and your company. You are making progress and are well respected.  You can see a good future ahead of you. And then, you hit a bump in the road.

A colleague of yours that you thought you got on well with is getting in the way of your progress.  Suddenly the bright future you had expected is looking less likely and they are in the limelight.

This is a really difficult position to be in.  Do you fight back, crawl under a rock and hope it goes away, or even leave?

It is very easy to get emotional about what seems unfair, but it is very important to get an understanding of what is really under the surface, otherwise unhelpful patterns of behaviour may repeat themselves.

Here are some important questions to enable you to get real clarity:

Are you sure?

  • Are they really trying to sabotage your career or are they on a different journey to you at a different pace?
  • Is it possible that they are better than you at certain things or have a boss who they are better aligned with?
  • Has your performance gone downhill, or the needs of the company changed?
  • Have you done anything to upset them, or have they done something to upset you? If so, was this deliberate or could it have been accidental? This could be creating an emotional shadow on your relationship.
  • Has your relationship with them changed over time or has it always been difficult?
  • If it has changed, what was the trigger for this?
  • Do you have objective evidence of sabotage; have they said or done things to put you in a bad light?
  • Which of your colleagues can you talk to and get their perspective on your performance and the other person?
  • Question whether what you see in the saboteur are attributes that you dislike in yourself.
  • Put yourself in the position of a wise observer who was watching and listening to the two of you, what would they see and advise?

Remember that in relationships there is no reality, there is only perception.  You can see the same situation in very different ways, but both are equally right.

What is the underlying need?

Conflict comes where there is an unmet need in both of you. What do you think their need is and is this different or in direct conflict with your needs? Is there a way of you both getting what you want without conflict? Can you get your ‘enemy’ onside? Could you join forces and create a powerful synergy?

Have an open conversation

It is easy to get trapped in assumptions and mind reading.  You will only get clarity if you can both have a truly open and honest conversation.  Try and create the time and space where you can both talk. The conversation must be about feelings rather than what you are thinking.

For example, “You are trying to sabotage my career because you did x” will not be helpful.  Try instead the frame of ‘I feel’. Something like “I am really worried that my career prospects are being limited. What advice could you give as you seem to be doing well?”

If they dismiss your concerns, then that gives you strong clues. If they listen and offer to help, then maybe your fears are groundless.

Talk to your boss as well and have a progress check in.  Avoid blaming the other person and being seen as a victim. Instead summarise your career desires and ask for their advice to achieve those.

What do you want to have happen?

It is easy to get stuck in the ‘problem’ mode of ‘my career is being sabotaged’ or the remedy mode of ‘if only they would leave then life would go back to normal’. Instead ask yourself the very specific question of “What would you like to have happen?” and keep asking this until you have absolute clarity. This is a situation that you need to fully understand and take control of.

Neil WilkieAbout the author

Neil Wilkie is a Psychotherapist working with business leaders to help them calibrate, understand and rapidly change the dynamics of business relationships. Find out more:  www.relationshipsinbusiness.com. He’s also author of the Relationship Paradigm Series and creator of online couples therapy platform The Relationship Paradigm®.

 

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