WWYD: The Underminer
Today on “WWYD,” working with someone who is trying to sabotage you:
About a year ago, I applied for a senior position at work. Along with three others, I was given a position. The kicker is: Someone was already in the job (on contract) and my appointment meant they had to be demoted. The other three were already contracted in the senior job and simply got permanent positions. I’ve been junior to the guy who got demoted since I started working there, and I do think there was a non-merit/political rationale behind choosing me over him (he’s not so popular with upper management). I just applied because it was a great job. He left to work a temporary role elsewhere and has recently come back and has been placed in the same group as me. So what’s happening is when we are in a group and I am giving advice, he jumps in and points out I’m wrong (I’m not), or he acts as if I’m talking nonsense—I guess I’m saying he is kind of undermining me. I don’t engage back. I feel his behavior stems from his unhappiness with what happened but: It’s a bit unsettling and destructive. How should I deal with this? — V.
Yes, you are doing the right thing: Do not engage with the underminer! The underminer is looking for reasons to continue to undermine you, and sparring with him in the slightest will continue to fuel that fire for him. If you are giving advice in a group setting and that advice is smart and reasonable, then there’s nothing to worry about. If he’s jumping in and calling smart and reasonable advice wrong or nonsense, he’ll be the one who looks idiotic. Let him dig his own grave. It can also be pretty clear to a group when there is an underminer present. Letting off some steam to a trusted colleague can help: “Is it just me or does [underminer] do [this undermining thing]?” Wait for the colleague to give you a knowing look. If it’s not there, air your frustrations, and let your colleague share her perspective on the situation.
The best way I’ve dealt with underminers is to be nice to them. Not overly nice—simply in a way that says, “So I understand you have a target on my back for whatever reason, but I’m going to treat you with respect anyway, and hopefully you will see the light one day and treat me with respect too.” Underminers undermine because they feel frustrated. Being demoted is pretty frustrating. But they often come around and can change their ways. And if not, at least you know this particular underminer is on contract and won’t be around forever.