Conquer Conflict At Work/How to Deal with Workplace Sabotage

Thursday, May 11, 2023

How to Deal with Workplace Sabotage

Courageous Conversations around Offensive Behaviors, When you feel someone is trying to sabotage your career

How to Deal with Workplace Sabotage

You are sitting in your office, working diligently on the priority task your supervisor just assigned to you when you hear a knock at the door. You look up and see your supervisor standing there with a smirk on their face and another priority project - oh, and by the way, both need to be done by the end of the day.

You feel like they are intentionally trying to drive you crazy with all the work expectations. They feel so unreasonable considering how much time they give you. It's impossible for anyone to succeed in this environment.


You begin to second guess yourself ...

Is it me?

Am I a slow worker?

Am I not capable of doing this job?

It's not you.

You are in a conflict.

There are many reasons why this could be happening right now, and we will need to engage with the situation to figure out the answer. Here are three potential scenarios (there will be others):

  • ​It is possible the person making the requests is oblivious to the work involved. They come to you because they trust you, know you will complete the tasks and perhaps you always say yes, making you a sure bet.
  • ​It is possible that they are under pressure themselves and not thinking about anyone else in the moment. They just know the job has to get done and you are the first person they see
  • ​It is also possible that they are intentionally setting you up to look like a failure or incompetent as a means of improving their own status in the company.

In all of these scenarios, the requests feel unfair and unreasonable and you need to speak with the person in a way that keeps your career and reputation intact.

What is Sabotage?

Sabotage is an intentional act to try and stop someone from achieving something, and by extension, makes the person appear incompetent. It can look like unreasonable work demands, impossible deadlines, blocking applications, and unfair assignments. It is also one of the most offensive workplace behaviors that I talk about in the 50 Powerful Scripts.

So how do you bring up this sensitive topic without looking like you are complaining or blaming?

If left unchecked, the feeling that one is being sabotaged by a colleague or a leader will create a hostile environment where resentment festers. When someone feels they cannot speak with their leader about an issue, the frustration and anger is often projected onto colleagues and employees, creating talksick workplaces. This is known as lateral violence in nursing.

Recall when you were a child and your parents grounded you, took away your cell phone, cancelled plans, etc. Pretty upsetting stuff. But you knew that if you talked back or complained, things would get worse. So instead you were short tempered with your siblings or friends. This is what lateral violence or horizontal violence is in the workplace. It is talksick.

It is easy to see how the unexplored situation will create resentment in the workplace and creep into other relationships.
So let's commit to staying in conversation with the person who our frustration, confusion, or disappointment is with.

The next time you are wondering if you are a target of intentional sabotage, try this script:

You've asked me to do two things this morning. And I can only accomplish one of these within the timeline. Can you tell me which one is a priority for you?

Why Do I Love this Script?

1. First of all, it demonstrates that you are listening, and are aware that more the one priority exists. It shows the leader that you recognize the importance. It also gives the leader an opportunity to pause and reflect on their own actions.
Watch for their response. If they listen to you and engage in a conversation, it is not likely sabatoge. If they snap back with a snide remark "what, you can't handle the workload here?", it is pointing more towards sabotage. If this is the case, stay focused on the topic at hand and restate the phrase.

2. Second, it allows us to say yes while saying no in a professional manner while allowing the leader who is making the unreasonable request some time to consider their priorities. We are saying yes to completing the priority task and to being a team player. We are saying no to half assed jobs and unreasonable expectations.

It is possible that the leader is not aware how much work is being requested and this script can lead into a more robust conversation around resources, manpower, skillset, etc.
If the leader is intentionally trying to sabotage you, this script clearly communicates your boundaries around workload, again, without having to say "I have a boundary and you are crossing it"

It's a non defensive way of bringing up your observation without feeling the need to tell them that they're sabotaging you without calling them a bully without setting up more defensive conversations.

3. Lastly, it puts the decision back on the person who you feel is trying to set you up to look incompetent. They now have to prioritize the work, establish reasonable goals, and ensure you have the resources to be successful
If your leader insists both are a priority, open the conversation up to ask which they want you to work on first. From there, discuss the expected outcomes, goals, impact, resources, etc.

You will need to also know if they are willing to compromise on quality to get both tasks done. When you are done, send an email summarizing what you have talked about so both parties are on the same page.

When you both have a clear idea as to the work involved, your leader may naturally opt to take the second task to someone else.

Have you dealt with these types of situations in the past? What did you notice about how you felt? How you responded? The outcomes you achieved?

If you want some help learning how to navigate this and other challenges in the workplace, I am a leadership and communication coach and work both in group and 1:1 settings. Reach out, you don't have to feel alone.


Experience Coaching with the 1st Annual May Days Coach-A-thon.

I am standing by to coach you today

Book a session and all the proceeds from May Coaching sessions will be put into a Thrive Scholarship to help targets of workplace bullying return to a meaningful and productive life.

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