How to respond when you’re thrown under the bus

Work relationships, like any relationship, can be difficult. Unlike our friends, we can’t pick our coworkers, and sometimes we simply don’t like the people we have to work with. People can be petty, mean, undermining and challenging. Case in point, a friend of mine shared with me that a coworker of hers criticized her and her work in an email to her boss and a colleague. She was very upset and wanted to know how to handle the situation.

When faced with challenging coworkers, it is incumbent on us to be the better person; to be civil in the face of incivility. Here are the steps I shared with my friend for handling being thrown under the bus by her associate.

Don’t react. Often our first impulse is to respond in an angry and/or defensive way to explain our side of things. Instead, take time to breath, calm down and think through the problem.

Consider your part. It usually takes two people to create friction. Ask yourself if you did anything to contribute to the situation. Did you exclude her from a meeting or work function? Did you ignore his requests for information or assistance on a project? Are you rude or unfriendly to this person? Is there any truth to what the complainer is saying? Thinking through how you may have contributed to the circumstance is probably one of the hardest steps to take when you have been wronged. But, it will help you get perspective and might lead to making some changes in how you interact with this person.

Talk to the offender. Often having a face to face conversation can help you reach a resolution or at least an understanding of why your coworker did what she did. When you do meet, don’t attack. Instead, seek first to understand. For example: “I am upset you sent that email and didn’t talk to me first. Is there a reason you choose to do that?” Try to listen with your full attention and don’t interrupt. Use I statements versus blaming or attacking – “I am angry you said those things about me” instead of “You’re such a jerk for sending that email.”

Be a team player. Don’t attack this person or get defensive when you respond to the allegations whether via email or in person. If there is any truth to what the person said own it and apologize. Promise you will remedy the situation or do better in the future. If there isn’t any validity to what was said, state that there seems to be some miscommunication and suggest a meeting with the offender and your manager. Stay positive in the meeting and address anything that isn’t true without making the other person wrong. For example: “I disagree with what you said about… My experience was this…”

It’s challenging dealing with difficult coworkers, but avoid stooping to their level. Stay calm and be kind and courteous even when they aren’t. In the end you’ll be the better employee.

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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