Marissa Taffer
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Sabotage in the workplace can come in many forms. It might start as some harmless jealousy but can easily turn toxic if it's left unchecked. Sabotage can not only make it difficult to achieve in your role, but can also have negative emotional effects on your work relationships and mental health. If you think you’re being sabotaged by a coworker, you’re not alone — here’s how to tell if you are and how to fight back. 

How do you tell if someone is sabotaging you?

1. They make you jump through hoops others don’t have to.

Does a colleague make it harder or more time consuming to do your job then it needs to be? If so, they might be trying to sabotage you. If you’ve noticed certain rules apply to you but no one else, ask your boss or HR why that might be. It could be because your colleague is making the rules up for you so that you fall behind on your work.  

2. They talk about you behind your back.

Even if your colleague is sneaky, gossip usually gets back to the person being gossiped about. Otherwise, you may notice it gets very quiet when you walk into a common area like a breakroom or conference room, or join a Zoom call before a meeting. This one is more annoying than harmful, but try to nip it in the bud and make it stop if you can. Let the gossipers know you know they’re talking about you and end it there. You don’t want them to see you get upset, or you may add some fuel to their fire. 

3. They tell lies to your boss or your colleagues about your work.

If someone is actively trying to sabotage you, they might lie to your boss or colleagues about your work. If you head out for lunch with a client and your colleague tells your boss it’s social, be wary. What else might they be lying about? If you’re getting questions about your whereabouts or performance, try to dig in and see where the questions are coming from. You may find that a colleague is telling your boss things that are less than truthful. 

4. They steal your ideas or try to take credit for your work.

If you find your coworker is claiming your ideas as their  own or taking credit for the overtime you pulled last week, it could be another way they're trying to sabotage you. By taking credit for your work, they're making people wonder what exactly it is you do all day.  If a colleague repeatedly asks to meet with you before a big meeting, it might be a sign they’re trying to pump you for information. If they are, you might want to avoid sharing ideas or information before a meeting and ask your colleague to prepare on their own. 

5. They leave you off important emails or forget to invite you to meetings.

People can be forgetful. It’s not necessarily intentional if you're left off of a CC or meeting invite. But if it’s happening consistently, it may be more than just a case of forgetfulness. Being intentionally left out of key meetings can hurt both your performance and your professional image — something your colleague likely knows. 

6. They’re two-faced. 

Is your coworker kind to your face but then cruel behind your back? These kinds of coworkers may try to get close to you when you’re around, then sabotage you behind your back — using information they might have gained while they pretended to be your friend.  

7. Your colleague has outwardly or passive-aggressively told you (or other team members) they’re gunning for you. 

This could be because you were promoted over them, they’re jealous of your relationship with your boss or another team member or they just think they could do your job better than you. No matter the reason, it's a pretty obvious way to tell that your coworker is sabotaging you every chance she gets. 

What to do when your coworker is sabotaging you?

1. Try to stay calm.

This is probably the hardest part. Try not to engage with the person sabotaging you, and don’t let them bully you into quitting a job you otherwise enjoy. If someone is so miserable that they need to stoop to such a level, let them. Try to keep calm and rise above what's going on. Be polite and professional, and stick to the facts. 

2. Do damage control.

If someone is trying to damage your reputation, do some damage control. Make sure to get some face time with company leadership, your boss and your boss’ boss. If someone is telling stories about you or trying to make you look incompetent, make sure these leaders know you and your work, so at the very least, they'll have a lot of questions about what they’re hearing from the saboteur.

3. Save emails and files.

This tip goes hand in hand with doing damage control. Keep emails and files, and take screenshots of calendar invites you’re missing from. Ask colleagues you trust to back you up too if you need to. Make sure there’s a paper trail so you can show you’re being excluded or having your ideas stolen. 

4. Enlist allies.

If one person or a team is trying to take you down, try to build up your own network of allies. These could be colleagues or even peers in your industry outside of your company or role. Find support; being sabotaged can be mentally and emotionally draining. You’ll need people to support you and make sure your worth is being seen, whether at your current company or more broadly in your profession or industry. 

If you’re a manager and you see sabotage happening in your workplace, use your position of power to stop it. Before leaping in, seek to understand what's going on. This may mean having several conversations with all parties involved. Once you understand why the sabotage started in the first place, you can work with other company leaders to stop it. That could mean better supporting an employee who feels undervalued or even terminating an employee who's simply a jerk to all colleagues. You won’t know what to do until you understand why it's happening, so avoid making snap judgments.

5. Have a conversation with this coworker.

Direct confrontation can be scary and difficult, but if this coworker continues to sabotage you after you’ve taken every other step to stop them, it may be time to address them head-on. Set up a conversation and have other parties, like HR, present if needed. Remain calm and stick to the facts. You don’t need to be friends by the end of the discussion — you just need to be able to work together efficiently. 


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Marissa Taffer is the President of M Taffer Consulting.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for dealing with a coworker who’s sabotaging you? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!