The office can be a very dangerous place. At some places of employment, going to work is more dangerous than walking down a dimly lit alley after midnight. At any moment, you could become the victim of a co-worker waiting to stab you in the back, steal your award-winning idea, and then when you least expect it, throw you under the bus. Some employees will go to great lengths to sacrifice a co-worker so they can look good in front of management. It’s a dirty game and it’s often played by the very team members you thought had your back. When it comes down to possibly getting fired or reprimanded, office alliances are quickly forgotten.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop an underhanded co-worker, said Brian de Haff, CEO of Aha! Labs Inc. “No matter who you are, you will get steamrolled by a bus or two in your career. It’s an inevitable part of working with groups of people,” said de Haff in a LinkedIn article.
No matter how talented or nice you are, you can’t stop the bus. The good news is you can do something about how you respond when you find yourself underneath it. How can you protect yourself? Here’s what to do in these three situations.
1. You weren’t present when your name was dragged through the mud
One of the worst forms of being thrown under the bus is when you aren’t there to defend yourself. This is often done by the sneakiest of co-workers. Once you’re made aware of the situation, gather any documentation that can prove you were not responsible for whatever it is you’re being blamed for. It could be an email or copies of a relevant report. If you have another co-worker or manager who is willing to back you up, that can also help bolster your case.
Career expert and therapist Brandon Smith said it’s a good idea to be proactive and make a habit of documenting everything. This is because you never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll need to defend yourself. All it takes is one desperate co-worker to put you in a situation where you’re unfairly forced to fight for your job. “A critical way to protect yourself is to have a paper trail regarding your exchanges with untrustworthy or suspicious co-workers. Save those e-mails,” warned Smith on his website.
2. You’re blamed during an important meeting
This is the most common way you can be thrown under the bus. It’s never fun to be accused of incompetence in front of an audience. Your first instinct might be to take your co-worker down with you, but that will just make you look even worse. Do your best to stay calm and not make a scene during the meeting. “Yelling and screaming will not get your point across or finally get them to understand you. All it will do is make you appear as though you are a part of the problem,” advised Smith.
Taking the emotion out of the situation will help you see the situation clearly. Letting the anger fester will just make you bitter, and this bitterness will sour your attitude. “Sometimes it helps to view a problem from a new perspective. Your co-worker is providing you with feedback. Be willing to try it on,” advised Forbes columnist David K. Williams. “It’s like trying on a pair of pants. If they don’t fit, don’t get emotional (that is throwing yourself under the bus). Just take them off and return them properly folded with no added emotion to the original owner.”
3. Your boss used you as a scapegoat
Even if you’re on good terms with your supervisor, you could still be used as a scapegoat during a tense moment. Sometimes bosses can be just as conniving as your peers. In fact, de Haff said you should remember that your boss has a boss, and some bosses will do whatever it takes to impress their manager. “Some leaders are happy to push employees down — especially if their subordinate’s mistakes make them look bad to their own boss. And sometimes fearful managers worry that something will go wrong before it actually does. When they do, they preemptively strike out and seek a victim,” de Haaff said.
This is a tricky situation, particularly because not only is your boss involved but also your boss’s supervisor. Greg Baker, president and CEO of Advance Consulting Inc., suggests learning what you can from the situation. Whether you had some responsibility in what happened, take steps to understand what went wrong, address the problem, and then make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“The better you understand why your boss threw you under the bus, the more informed your decisions will be regarding what to do about it. What problem or responsibility is your boss avoiding? How credible does your boss’s story sound to others? Why did you become the target? Why now?,” said Baker on the Advance Consulting website.
Baker says you can attempt to make sure you don’t run into a similar issue by anticipating and recognizing circumstances that breed conflict. “I have never seen someone get thrown under the bus when everything was going well. So as you develop your radar for potential conflict, let this be your guidepost. When things go wrong, some people tend to blame in order to protect themselves,” said Baker.
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