An enemy is someone whose objectives could place you in harm’s way. They either don’t know or don’t care that their decisions could cause irreparable harm to your career.
Enemies are never immediately recognizable – they always hide under the cloak of agreeableness until they show their true colors.
No matter how pure your intentions or how innocent your heart, you cannot avoid their mandatory presence in your professional life.
The good news is that you always have control over how much anyone’s misguided antagonism can interfere with your future.
If you ever find yourself in the face of an enemy in the workplace, don’t panic. Keep the following 5 tips in mind:
1. Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Words are cheap. Actions are evidence.
In the face of lies about our character or history, our immediate instinct is to address the lies head on. We rush to show as much evidence as we can to anyone who will listen. This strategy is sure to backfire.
Saying “I would never do this ” will make you look guilty. No one would expect a liar to handle things any differently.
Get in front of the people who matter and be a model employee. Work harder and later. Beat deadlines and come up with your own projects. Offer free help. Turn the dial from great employee to model employee. No matter how good you are, there is always something more you could be doing.
Soon the lies will lose their power. Anyone who hears them will know they’re untrue, because they’ve seen the evidence with their own eyes.
Don’t engage – just work harder.
2. Get to Know Everyone in Your Organization
Everyone in your office will play a role in your career at some point in your future. The more friends you make, the more reaping you will sow.
If you get to know the janitor, he will one day say something nice about you when someone important is listening.
If you spend a Friday afternoon helping the office manager, she will help remove obstacles from your path the next time you have to navigate bureaucracy.
If you take the IT guy out for a beer, he will give you important insider information that will help you kill it on your next presentation.
The senior staff member who acts and seems unapproachable would be more than happy to go to lunch and get to know you outside of the office.
Turn cultivation into a daily habit that becomes second nature. Within a year, you will be shielded from any and all enemies, and might even start to notice other incredible side-effects.
I learned this valuable lesson completely by accident (simply because I like to get to know the people around me and hear their stories). After a year in my first job, I was shocked to realize that I had inadvertently developed a strong reputation that was rare for my age and position level.
It had nothing to do with the quality of my work – it was just a side-effect of taking the time to get to know everyone.
Senior staff would say “I’ve heard about you” when I first met them. I was able fix organizational miscommunications through the power of my own relationships. I had close friends in opposing sides of historical departmental rifts, and was often placed in a quasi-mediator position.
I had never been strategic about it, but somehow my incessant need to get to know everyone had led me to coast above the fray of office politics (as much as was possible, anyway).
Over my four years in a large and complex organization, I learned a great deal about the power of relationships, the value of helping others before asking for help, and the inner workings of professional karma.
If you invest valuable time getting to know everyone around you (and offer help before ever asking for it), you will not just be protected from your enemies, you will also gain lifelong professional allies and plant the seeds of future opportunity.
You may even make a few lifelong friendships.
3. Tactfully Solicit Advice from People Who Can Help You
Do not engage, but DO let others know what is happening. Keeping it to yourself will only raise the stakes of your office rift.
There is a big catch: You must do it tactfully without ever badmouthing or speaking ill of the person in question. Remember this is a game of actions, not words. People need to see that you’re in harm’s way without you having to tell them.
Think of someone you can trust who can do something to help you. Ask them out to lunch with the pretext of soliciting career advice. Make sure to project that you think the world of your enemy, but are confused about one or two things that don’t add up.
Don’t share your conclusions or give any impression that you feel under attack. Sandwich your story with two or three unrelated questions that you would also like their thoughts on (so it’s not clear that your enemy was the sole purpose of the meeting).
In this situation, indirect communication is a MUST. No one believes someone who claims to be ‘under attack’. If you explain the situation through the filter of your own perspective, you will make yourself seem paranoid and evasive (and trigger questions about the parts of the story you’re not sharing).
State the facts without analysis, a proper sense of confusion, and a willingness to resolve the situation constructively.
This is all your ally will need to understand that you are under attack and do something to help you.
4. Never Let Your Enemy Know That You’re ‘onto’ Them
The old adage is old because of its powerful wisdom:
“Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer”
Nothing will escalate the situation faster than trying to engage directly with your enemy (or letting them know that you are ‘onto them’). The trick here is to make them feel like they’re in control (and that you’re oblivious to their attacks).
Treat them like your best friend. Ask them about their weekend as enthusiastically as you would ask someone you are genuinely interested in. Never let them see that you don’t trust them. NEVER confront them.
This has nothing to do with developing trust or an actual friendship. It has everything to do with their perception of your intelligence (and how hard they feel they need to go after you).
If they think you’re ‘onto’ them, they’re more likely to turn up the heat. If they think you’re oblivious and continue to see them as a friend, they will eventually come to a place where they think no further action is required.
The more they think you are “dumb”, the less threatened they will be (and the faster they will stop attacking you).
5. Wait It Out
Here comes some spiritual advice that is also grounded in logic: professional karma exists (and it’s a fickle bitch).
Vicious people are always the architects of their own demise. If you let them do their thing without interfering, they will eventually shoot themselves in the foot and end the rift for you.
You may not be around to see it, but trust me: it will happen.
A sword fight can last for a lifetime, but a lone knight waving a sword at the air will eventually cut himself.
Those who are immature enough to willingly go after someone eventually show their true colors to the world. They harm their own reputations and bring themselves down without you having to get your hands dirty.
If you walk by and see two people screaming at each other, you’re more likely to think that they both have valid perspectives rather than one of them being “right” and the other “wrong”.
If you walk by and see one person screaming while another silently refuses to engage, it will be immediately clear who is right and who is wrong. You will know who the immature one is, and you will immediately decide who to agree with.
Do not waste your time on fighting back or seeking revenge. Do not engage and just act like a friend instead.
Show everyone how much of a model employee you are. Make as many friends as possible. Build a strong reputation. Refuse to engage. Someone is bound to notice eventually.
Andrew Gabelic is the CEO & Founder of Teledipity, a free pocket life coach with an eerie ability to send you the right self-improvement content at the right time (based on your personality and life stage). Check out what it says about you!