CAREER DEVELOPMENT / NOV. 22, 2015
version 16, draft 16

The 10 Office Enemies That Can Help Your Career

We all have enemies. Tweety has Sylvester. White Spy has Black Spy. Maggie Simpson has the Unibrow baby. Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty. Batman has the Joker. Jerry has Tom. Pepsi has Coke. Bert has Ernie (don’t kid yourself...there’s a lot of passive aggressive tension just under the surface with those two).

You have enemies, too. You do. You might not know they’re your enemy, but everyone has at least one. Maybe it’s a relative. Or a former classmate. Or a current colleague at work. But you definitely have an enemy, rival, or arch-nemesis lurking somewhere in the shadows...or out in the open. Those are the worst ones.

In fact, you probably have more than one enemy at work because there are so many different types. Coworkers don’t just fall into either “friend” or “enemy”. Oh no, there are many sublevels and subcategories. And colleagues can migrate from one to another depending on the day of the week (maybe you have a Friday friend), current task, or moon phase. It’s a very fluid and evolving dynamic. A friend today, enemy tomorrow, and back again.

It can be exhausting to keep track of the migrations and current categories for everyone.    

A quick tip for you: make friends with support and behind-the-scenes personnel in the office. Executive assistants, secretaries, janitorial staff, interns...these people are in the loop, but frequently blend into the background with certain office individuals. They have the scoop on who doesn’t like you, and who’s badmouthing you to others.

Marie McIntyre, in her book “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work”, says there are three types of workplace enemies:

  1. emotional (they only care about themselves and their emotional needs, so don’t let them get to you)
  2. focused (they have their own goals and agenda, and consider you as standing in their way, so convince them you’re in this together and not at odds)
  3. vengeful (they have something against you personally, so find out what it is and address it)

But within those three main categories, there are many subtle variations. And enemies aren’t always bad for you, either (kind of like bacon). They can help you if you know how to utilize them.

See Also: 7 Reasons Why Your Colleagues Secretly Hate You at the Office

1. The Frenemy

A frenemy is someone you’re friendly towards (or at least cordial), despite the fact that you don’t really like each other. A frenemy-ship is typically mutually beneficial in some way...otherwise, why bother? Perhaps it’s a ceasefire partnership so you can work together and “take down” a common enemy or rival.   

Remember, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Find them. Identify them. And broker a partnership that serves you both.

2. The Gatekeeper

The gatekeeper’s position allows them to block you from certain resources or individuals. Maybe they’re a department head, executive assistant, in charge of assigning new accounts, or whatever. They have decided they don’t like or trust you for some reason and go out of their way to hinder and impede you at every opportunity.

So use that to think outside the box. Get creative. If they’re blocking your access to X, then consider alternative ways to get by without it. Gatekeepers can force innovation, and innovation makes you look good.

3. The Credit Thief

These people suck. There’s no sugar-coating it. A credit stealer either explicitly or implicitly takes credit for the work of others. They might not be so brazen as to shout “Me! I did this!”, but they can find other ways to shine praise and attention on themselves through willful omission (i.e. letting people assume, or not correcting people, when they mistakenly give them credit).  

Stop them dead in their tracks by keeping higher-ups and need-to-knows in the loop while you’re working on a big project, account, or task. Send brief daily check-ins and status updates. Let them know exactly what stage or step you’re working on. That way, they see who’s doing the actual work, they quickly learn you can be trusted to work hard and diligently, and there is never any question as to proper credit and acclaim. Win-win-win.

4. The Two-Faced "Buddy"

This office enemy behaves like the Batman villain of the same name. They’re all smiles, laughs, good feelings, and “how can I help?” to your face, but are quick to betray and slander you when you’re not around.

So pick your friends wisely. Be careful who you confide in, and ensure you can trust someone completely before revealing anything that can be used against you. Sincerity is easy to identify if you just take the time to look.

5. The Backstabber

The backstabber may pretend to be your friend, or they may be indifferent to you (and you to them). But that’s only when you’re around. As soon as your back is turned, they won’t hesitate to act in their own interests, regardless of its effect on you. They are concerned only with making themselves look good to their superiors. Like Brutus did to Caesar, they will smile to your face and then attack when you’re not looking.

So, cultivate strong relationships with your colleagues. All of them. Always conduct yourself with integrity and morality. Do that, and a) backstabbers may think twice before plunging that dagger into your flesh, and b) other colleagues will be quick to come to your “rescue” if and when they do so.

6. The Liar

They lie. About anything and everything. You. Your work. Your personal life. Your abilities. Your past. They preface everything with “you didn’t hear this from me, but I heard…” or “a friend of mine told me that…”. Nothing is ever their fault, and even when confronted, they use the excuse that they were just repeating something that someone else told them. They don’t believe it. You can’t be mad. Right?

So, don’t engage in gossip. Demonstrate honesty and approachability with your colleagues and superiors in all things, and they’ll feel comfortable coming to you when they hear something concerning or damning from someone else. That’s the quickest way to deal with a lie at work. Otherwise, it festers and grows in the dark. If you’re closed and withdrawn, your coworkers won’t feel able to approach and ask, and they’ll likely believe whatever they hear because they don’t really know you.

Be open. Be honest. And let people know the real you.

7. The Underminer

To undermine is to damage or weaken over time. It’s gradual and insidious. The Underminer plays the long game. They don’t make startling and huge accusations against you, but they do plant tiny seeds of mistrust and uncertainty. They say things about you in passing to your coworkers and managers that over time may cause people to question your ability, competence, and professionalism. It’s slow. But it can be effective.

So, don’t give them the chance. Be open and transparent about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and why. Share tips and advice with your colleagues. Turn to others for assistance in their individual areas of expertise. If you constantly demonstrate and share your prowess, and openly recognize your own shortcomings (we all have them) and seek help with them, no one will ever have cause for concern...no matter what anybody says.

8. The Finger-Pointer

They play the blame game. Every screw-up, every mistake, every omission, every miscalculation is someone else’s fault. They’ll blame you, their other colleagues, the ficus plant in the break room. They point fingers in every direction but their own.

So cut them off at the knees. During any interaction, task, or project with a finger pointer, craft explicit responsibilities, and accountability for every action and job that needs to be done. Ensure that everyone recognizes what they have to do, as well as the jobs of everyone else in the group, committee, or department. The benefits are twofold: 1) it erases any overlap or redundancy in assignments, and 2) there is no one to blame for any mistake, but the one person that everybody knows was responsible.

9. The Nitpicker

This might be a superior or a colleague. Doesn’t matter. The nitpicker likes to criticize and pull apart everything you do. Nothing will ever be good enough. And while that can wear anyone down, you can’t let it.

Instead, reframe the situation as an opportunity. Look at everything you do through the nitpicker’s eyes. What sections of that report will they find lacking? How will they interpret the account analysis? Nitpickers give you the chance to complete and do everything to the best of your ability. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but we can all identify weaker sections, paragraphs, and activities if we bother to look. Many colleagues are too nice to point them out, and we know that. We might know that this could be better, or that could be stronger, but we also know the majority of coworkers won’t highlight it, so we leave it alone. Not so with a nitpicker. Seize the chance to put your best work out there all the time.

10. The Screamer

Hopefully, you never encounter a screamer at work. They’re loud, obnoxious, rude and frightening. They have anger management issues. The screamer gets right up in your business and screams about mistakes, perceived slights, petty problems, and basically anything that sets them off.

There’s not a whole lot you can do. You could complain to a higher-up, but that could exasperate the situation. You could try and calm them down, but that often backfires. At worst, you may have to stand there and take it.

But know this: everyone else in the office now likes you a little bit more. Call it sympathy or pity if you want, but being liked can and does help your career.

See Also: 5 Benefits of Having a Best Friend at the Office

There are enemies waiting behind every desk. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Try and reduce or eliminate the tension if possible. Find common ground. Look for the good - any good - in everyone. Express complaints and issues with others using “I” rather than “you” (your feelings rather than accusing them). Look for the kernel of truth to their accusations and criticisms, and use it to your advantage. Look to others and how they deal with that person. Get to know them. Don’t engage.

Office enemies usually give us an opportunity to do something we should have been doing all along. They make us better workers, employees, and colleagues. Seize the chances they provide, and you’ll go far.

Anything you’d add to this list? What other enemies exist, and how do they help our careers? Leave your comments below...  

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