From time to time, I receive emails and messages from people asking how to deal with workplace situations. Over the last couple months, a theme is emerging around colleagues who try to derail your career and how to respond.
This reminded me of a few years ago, before I moved, when I had moles in my yard. Well, maybe one highly-motivated mole. At any rate, when I stepped outside to walk my dog, I noticed that my entire flowerbed had pockets of earth pushed up. As I walked around, I also noticed that although it was hard to see, portions of the yard had tender spots of earth pushed up. The mole. The mole was managing to dig under what appeared to be a normal surface to create a series of tunnels that would derail my entire yard. It was amazing to me that one small animal could do so much damage, virtually undetected.
Interestingly, the workplace is no different. In every workplace, there are people who behave like moles. They are often quiet about it, but they scurry around derailing your hard work at every turn. They do this using various tactics ranging from non-response to ignoring work assignments to intentionally creating chaos. Having worked in HR most of my career, I have seen all types of workplace moles. The most curious thing is that they go undetected and unchecked, for awhile, just like the mole in my yard. But, if you look close, there are signs. There are cracks in the earth around you.
So, back to some of the questions I received. What do you do if you have a mole impacting your job? There are a few tactics:
- Do nothing- Sometimes, we freeze when faced with danger. Believe me, a mole is one of the most dangerous things to your career if you’re not prepared. Depending on who the mole is, meaning their level in the organization, doing nothing may be your only viable option. And like many types of people who bully others, some are diffused when ignored. So, this tactic can actually work. The issue is if the person gains fuel to their fire by your inaction. If that happens, you may have to up the ante.
- Confront the mole– While most of us think we can do this, at least we can when we’re only facing ourselves in the bathroom mirror, confrontation is difficult for many people. When you confront someone, first, you need to make sure you’re right. Meaning, are you correct that the person is sabotaging your career. Are you just sensitive or paranoid? Maybe. Before confronting the mole, make sure that you have all the facts. Things like time, dates and specifics on things that the person is doing to undermine you. Only then will a confrontation make sense. Also, think ahead to whether it will make a difference. Do you want to take on a battle, because confrontation can lead to one. This leads us to the next tactic.
- Fight the mole– My favorite, but the most difficult, is fighting the mole. I believe in good winning out over evil. I believe in karma and that anyone sabotaging your career is desperate to hid his/her own poor performance, so karma will come back around and hurt their career. That said, if you fight, be prepared for one hell of a battle. Things WILL get ugly. Both of you may look bad to leadership. You may “win” the day, but may still lose in the long run.
- Walk away- Ultimately, this is sometimes the only thing that will work. Consider if this is a person you want to spend a majority of your time with or not. Life is short. Our hours at work are long. Do you really want to spend time thinking about this person and defending yourself and your good name? Maybe. Maybe not. There is no shame in walking away for a better situation.
In the end, it really depends on what your goals are, how the person is viewed, what their goals are, and what is at stake. The message is to weigh all the options calmly before you try to eradicate your moles.
Have you experienced this in the workplace? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments. If they are good, let’s jump on the HR Happy Hour and record an episode about it!