How to Protect Your Career from Those Who Try to Undermine You

How to Protect Your Career from Those Who Try to Undermine You

People come in all forms. Some have pleasant mannerisms while others, not so much. The ones that behave selfishly, rudely, and with ill intent can be found everywhere including the workplace. We are all products of our environment and of the things that have happened and that are happening to us which in turn affect our personalities, characters, etc. Humans are by nature competitive and we see it around us, men competing with each other; women and men competing with each other and of course as society has made us believe, the most intensive competition being the one between women.

It goes without saying that this competition among and between the sexes has spilled over to the workplace. The result of this workplace competition, according to the writer of this article, “is opposition that could come in the form of a direct challenge to your authority or a sneak attack to damage your reputation with your clients, your customers, your bosses and peers.” Let me share some examples and experiences.
  • A woman gets promoted to a different department and her female boss’ inability to handle the “upgrade” and move, attributes this promotion to the fact that this woman that got promoted is having intimate relations with the boss of that department.
  • A female colleague on seeing how a colleague’s performance is making a good impression on the boss tries to sneak an attack in the form of a snide comment to sway the boss’ opinion on this colleague. This woman who is unable to handle another woman’s success will pettily remark something such as, “so and so is so disorganized, don’t you see how they leave things lying around on their desk?” The point is to try and sway the boss’ opinion by shining the spotlight on another’s weaknesses in a condescending way.
  • And there is the more obvious one, the direct challenge to authority by directly refusing to do the work that you have assigned to them
  • Name-calling- In 2002, I worked as a HR officer and chaired a panel interviewing drivers. I presented a report and one of the senior directors undermined the submitted report by saying that he wasn’t sure that the panel was not made up of “charlatans”.
  • Blatant racism- I was once a HR lead in Khartoum. I supervised a staff member, an American who refused to accept that I was her supervisor. She kept undermining me. I went home on leave and when I got back, she had staged a coup with others and declared herself the HR Director and that I should report to her! As you can imagine, I found this to be absolutely unacceptable!
  • Invalidation and bullying- As a female CEO, I worked under a boss who constantly disproved my efforts, wrote rude and condescending emails, constantly tried to create a negative narrative and spoke rudely to me in the presence of others.

How do you deal with opposition in your career? How do you deal with those who are trying to undermine you? According to the author, these are the strategies to use.

1. Maintain constant vigilance. Even the Bible calls for us to “be on our guard”. No one, even the bible champions, remembers King David, are exempt from sneak attacks. It is best not to be naïve, even though I have to admit that sometimes life teaches you the most in the moments when you have been completely caught off guard. Because in life “everybody takes a beating sometimes” as delivered by Henry Hill in “GoodFellas,” the classic tale of mob life in New York City. But still, do your due diligence, be on your guard and learn from those that have come before you to be able to know what to do in the face of those who try to undermine you along with your career. Mentors trusted friends and colleagues can help you when it comes to being vigilant.

2. Build alliances. Bullies and narcissists thrive on isolation. Narcissists love to attack in packs, and it makes sense because they are cowards and usually attack others out of their own insecurities. They capitalize on similar insecurities of their allies to form an alliance against their target. So, your best bet is to also build alliances with those that can vouch for you. Do not isolate yourself. Go out and network. Network with those within and without your organization. Associate with those that you share similar values with. Build your own alliance.

3. Don't let it slide when you are attacked. King snakes, queen bees and mean girls thrive on your silence and struggle with communicating your truth when attacked. I have to admit that it is very hard to have a conversation with a person who is an expert in cutting others off, someone who remains defiant when it comes to getting things done their way. All the things that your “attacker” may be an expert at. I have heard people admit to the harsh reality and seriousness of such attacks by referring to them as “spiritual attacks”. The calculatedness and sheer audacity of people who try to undermine you shows you why people could refer to this as a spiritual attack.

It has been ingrained in some of us to be silent “to not make a fuss”. We confuse peace with silence, we avoid difficult conversations. We believe it is best to avoid conflict, something that can either be attributed to cultural or family conditioning. But conflict is part of life and it is important that we learn how to communicate in the midst of conflict if you are going to be able to face the king snakes, queen bees, mean girls who try to undermine you. Find reporting channels that work and use them if there are any in your workplace. Stand up and speak up. People with ill intent are driven by fear and courage is your best bet against them.

4. Keep it professional. It is so easy to get as petty as your opponents, but you lose your battles when you go low. Remember Michelle Obama’s famous line, “when they go low, we go high?” Your best bet against those that try to undermine you is to maintain your integrity. Your emotions, your own insecurities can be your biggest challenge when it comes to keeping it together. And it is difficult to remain unprovoked in the face of blatant rudeness, invalidation, and blame-shifting. When you get provoked, it is time to introspect. Everything that happens to you is teaching you something. It may be about finding your own voice or about learning to use it. It might be that you need to learn to validate yourself and your efforts. It may be about you believing in your own worth.

To be able to keep things professional, you will need to get a hold of your internal. Find a solid ground in the form of faith and prayer. Seek the services of a therapist. Open up to close and trusted friends.

5. Go above and beyond in proving yourself.. Keep your focus on your work and what it is that you are after. The whole point of those that try to undermine you is to discredit your efforts and get you to feel undeserving, the stress of it all may lead you to give up on your hard-earned efforts entirely. Keep your professionalism and integrity intact and then go above and beyond in your work. Show up daily and give your best. In following the advice of the writer, deploy your talent, grit, emotional intelligence, and strong relationships to build your standing with your organization. This is your armory when it comes to dealing with those that try to undermine you.

I hope you find strength, courage, grace, and support to deal with those that try to undermine you in your pursuit of excellence and success.
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