How to handle colleagues undermining you at work

By Samson Osero
Saturday, August 1st, 2020
Staff at workplace. Photo/Courtesy

The workplace is anchored on the purpose of the organisation, bringing together people who work there, and the workplace process for performance.

People who are dynamic bring to work a plethora of behaviors, which are two-edged swords, some who promote good working relationships while others catalyze unhealthy ones.

Undermining others ranges from speaking behind their back to outright sabotage of work.

It mus be known that when a fellow employee undermines you, it affects work and collectively lowers organisational productivity.

Here are some signs that manifest when a colleague is undermining you and how to deal with the person for the sake of the organisation and your peace of mind.


Malicious gossip

Despite staying on course at work, you are sometimes surprised of malicious gossip being peddled against you.

The gossiper, who may be envious of your great performance, will fabricate stories that question your ability.

They can single out subjective factors to discredit your success despite your hard work, even when you exceed your employer’s expectations.

Unhealthy competition

Some work activities require competition among employees to determine who contributes the most to expected outcomes.

A colleague, who is insecure about performance can engage in unhealthy competitive activities to undermine you.

For example, they can horde and use information you require to achieve your work objectives, against you.

Cause distractions

Employees who undermine others are like “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. One can with subtlety tie you up in discussions or arguments that would distract you from your immediate and important tasks.

If you do not discern their intentions, you might think the conversation is normal; only to discover later that it has occupied the time you had set aside for a particular work assignment.

Intentional exclusions

Underminers are fond of excluding other employees from important company activities.

If you find a colleague is regularly omitting your name from programmes you are eligible to attend, know that they are undermining you, no doubt about it.

They will raise all kinds of excuses to account for your exclusion. Beneath the excuses, they intentionally do not want you to benefit from a particular event, so that you can lose out.

Earn unfair credit

Underminers will look for all opportunities to earn credit even when they do not deserve it.

For example, you may have jointly worked on a project or assignment with a colleague, but he or she goes ahead to claim full personal responsibility.

They can unashamedly do so before other employees in your presence by saying: “when I was carrying out ….” instead of of saying: “when we were …....”

Assumption of powers

A colleague who wants to undermine you would assume powers without authority.

Although they are not your immediate supervisors, they can instruct you to undertake menial tasks.

In ordering you around, they are undermining a co-worker, and they can even do so by invoking the name of feared supervisors.

Feeding falsehoods

Did you know that in peddling falsehood about you in a bid to spur antagonism between you and other employees some people think they have made it in life?

Based on the falsehoods, you would find most of your colleagues responding negatively to your opinions and suggestions for no reason. 

By the time you discover what your colleague had done, you would have experienced untold pains while relating with co-workers.

A colleague who is undermining you, can portray you negatively to your boss or colleagues, for instance, they can claim that your behaviour is responsible for not meeting specific deadlines. 

Yet the real reason for delays was the shortcomings of the underminer.

Break company rules

A work-mate, who poses as a genuine friend, can suggest that you do things which are against company rules.

If you do not sense the trap, you actions will put you in hot soup. Do not be surprised when that colleague becomes the first person to provide evidence against you.

Exercise restraint

When you suspect that a colleague is undermining you, one of your immediate reactions is likely to be anger, listen up, instead of responding with anger, just exercise restraint so that you can focus on the right thing to do.

If you react on the matter under provocation, you may regret later over your bad actions.

However, please note that some attacks can be so trivial, that you need to just ignore them, but be on the look out for any future repeat though.

If you rush to take action when undermined, other employees may perceive you as intolerant.

Take your time before you conclude that your colleague is undermining you to warrant an appropriate response.

Confront underminers

If you have enough evidence that your colleague is undermining you, bite the bullet and confront them.

Arrange for a meeting over the matter in a neutral venue such as a vacant guest room.

Be tactful on how to engage with colleagues so that the meeting does not precipitate into a shouting match or an ugly incident.

Seek for an apology from the underminer and warn them against such unbecoming behaviours.

Tame any urge to retaliate on the colleague because you may become the hunted.

Seek mediation

Seek mediation with the underminer, preferably under a mutually accepted work-mate as a mediator, and table your complaint while allowing the underminer to put up their defense.

This approach will spare both of you from the glaring eyes of management who expect employees to sort out differences among themselves.

Report to administration

When undermining expresses or imputes impropriety relating to your work or job role, do not take it while lying down. Arm yourself with tight evidence and report the matter to the administration for due disciplinary procedures.

Based on your evidence and the defence of your colleage, the administration can amicably address your grievance for a remedy or disciplinary measure.

Elsewhere administration has imposed measures that act as a deterrent to other underminers in the organization. - Samson Osero, HRD Consultant and Author of Transition into Retirement, [email protected]

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