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Be prepared when going up against workplace saboteur

Coach's Corner--November 24, 2008

The Client
Name: Jim
Age: 45
Title: Senior finance manager
Time at company: 2 years
Industry: Manufacturing
Issue: Managing workplace sabateur
Q.  I work with someone who agrees with action items in meetings, but she consistently sabotages them later. What can I do?

A. Clarity, assertiveness and alliances will help you confront this situation.

The inner game
For starters, check out your feelings about the situation. “Sabotage” is a strong word; you may be angry, frustrated, or suspicious. Consider the impact of holding on to these feelings. Be realistic, but don’t let your emotions interfere with working on the issues involved.

Build your resolve. You’ll need to be direct, which could lead to confrontation. If this creates some anxiety, plan ways to manage it.

Consider your colleague’s perspective. Look for explanations that make her behavior understandable. Is she motivated by power? Perhaps she’s holding a grudge. She may be oblivious to her pattern or have fears that cause her to backpedal. 

Find out if others have the same problems. If you’re the only one, get feedback about your interactions with her. If it’s more widespread, ask how they deal with it. Build on these conversations to form alliances that will help you deal with her behavior.

Chart the web of relationships. Who does she involve when sabotaging plans, and what is the effect on you? If she’s consistently going over or around you, prepare to protect your reputation. Take a broader look, too, assessing whether she has connections that enable her to get away with bad behavior. Understand the entire system so you can balance any power differentials with the positive relationships you have in place.

The outer game
You can address the situation, and maybe even prevent it.

Talk with her about the pattern. Take a non-confrontational tone, and hold the meeting at a time when there have been no recent incidents. Focus on understanding her perspective. If she’s just overwhelmed, you can talk about solving that. If you think it’s more of a political issue, you’ll put her on notice that she’ll be called on it.

Document your meetings. In all meetings with her, be specific about decisions, actions, and timetables. Create a habit of prompt and thorough documentation. This may seem like a burden but can be useful for helping people stay on track. It’s valuable when people challenge plans that were made, especially if you’re lower in the hierarchy than she is.

If she undermines the work plan, hold her accountable. Meet with her and other key team members to discuss the situation and get her perspective. If there are valid work reasons for her concerns, you can adjust the work effort. However, if the reasons seem less benign, take a more defensive approach to prevent damage to the project and the people involved in it. If needed, go to people at higher levels. Provide the documented action plan and seek their help in managing the dynamic. And keep your boss up to date. It’s important that any steps you take will be supported, especially if your colleague is well-connected.

The last word
It may be your word against hers, so document agreements, use the relationships you have, and show the leadership courage to hold her accountable.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted November 23, 2008
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