I have had personal experience with colleagues that would throw me under the bus. And I am not proud to admit that I have done it too. It feels awful, on both sides. When I have been thrown under the bus, I have been caught off guard and completely unprepared to defend myself. I don’t operate in a state of explaining-everything-I-do and it is exhausting to feel like playing defense is a new line item on your job description.
I see this at home all of the time. Three kids under one roof means one sibling will sacrifice another sibling for their own selfish reasons, the very definition of throwing someone under the bus. Kids are brilliant at it and they keep their own arsenals of data to fire back at just the right moment. If I ask the children who didn’t clean their dishes, one will answer with the fact that another left their socks in the backyard. And then a third will chime in that another bought cookies with their lunch money. And on and on…
No one wins in this situation and mostly people end up feeling bad. The dilemma is how to address this, how to prevent it and provide an environment, both at work and at home, that does not tolerate running over people:
- Culture: Are your actions supporting a culture that allows self-indulgence at the expense of others? Are you responding to the kids when they manipulate stories and rat out their siblings? If so, plan on the behavior continuing…in spades. Leadership is hard and comes with drama. Face it head on and have discussions that are on point.
- Admit mistakes: It may seem counter-intuitive, but openly admitting mistakes builds credibility. Do this in front of your children and they will be more likely to be authentic workers when they get a job.
- Take one for the team: When an issue is small, like a client claiming you never sent that email, go ahead and agree. Yes it stings a little when you know you did communicate, but is it worth damaging a relationship? The person knows the truth too and will appreciate if you help them save face.
- What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: Did your parent say this? After my experience with a vindictive co-worker, I realized all I could do was work on myself. I had to develop some of my own coping tools. I got the help of a business coach and started to:
- Limit communications to the facts. No editorializing on email.
- Stop feeding the situation. Every time I was thrown under the bus, there would be zero response from me. Think of it like training a dog. Consistency.
- Recognize contentious topics and head them off at the pass. This might mean cc’ing the appropriate people or out lining exactly what I have done on a project so there is no mystification.
- Trust yourself. Trust your boss. Without exception, every time I have experienced time of strife, it eventually worked itself out. It might mean a new, better job. Or, the boss will eventually see the bad behavior and address it. People that spend their efforts to throw others under the bus eventually work themselves out of an organization. The same is true with kids. They have powerful group dynamics and will tire of troublemakers. Reinforce doing the right thing, it pays off.
You can lead by example whether you have the title or not. There is always another path to choose and under the wheels is the least desirable.