By Mike Hammer
Sometimes, the office can be as treacherous to navigate as the prison yard at San Quentin. You may not wind up with a shank in your side, but there’s a better-than-even chance somebody wants to stab you in the back and use your stinkin’ carcass as a stepping stone for their own advancement.
Office predators are constantly looking for fresh prey to steal credit from, or dump on to cover their own crappy work or simply thin out the herd so they can stand out in a smaller crowd.
Face it, kids: It’s a jungle in there. And short of carrying an elephant gun in your computer case -- which we’re sure is illegal in at least two states -- we’ve got some strategic advice to help you identify office enemies.
Establish Attack Patterns
When you’re dropped in-country on your first day of the job, it’s always smart to start with a fact-finding mission. Figure out who’s armed and who’s dangerous by debriefing office veterans. There’s no use spraying ammo -- unless you know where to aim.
“When you join any company, there is real benefit to identifying the culture,” says Roy Cohen, a former placement counselor for Goldman Sachs and a career coach for the Five O’Clock Club, a professional counseling network. “Ask for full scouting reports about who you can rely on and who to be wary of. But do it in a way that makes it seem like you want to find the best method to work with everybody. You may get surface-y answers at first, but people tend to send signals about people that may indicate where you should place your trust.”
Don’t Play Your Cards Until They Play Theirs
You can ask for advice and talk to people to fit into the office environment, but never share secrets with your co-workers until you’re sure you can trust them. “It’s always best to do substantial research on your colleagues before you reveal too much about yourself,” says Cohen. “If you see them use information against other colleagues, you’ll know not to take them into your circle of trust.”
Make Allies in the Trenches
Sure, it helps to have the boss on your side, but you’ll find your most effective recon outside the executive offices. Secretaries, assistants, even the cleaning staff see how people really act -- and they know where their bodies are buried.
“It’s good to get to know everyone in the office environment,” says Cohen. “People below the management level often have a good perspective on everyone’s true behavior and habits. They’re exposed to people as they really are and can give you good insights into who to trust and who to look out for.”
If There’s Smoke … Let Your Co-workers Help You Find the Fire
Keep your ears open for any bad news that might surface about you. If somebody’s cooking up foul rumors, “ask your co-workers where they heard these rumors, then go to that person directly -- as quickly as possible,” says Holly Green, CEO and managing director of The Human Factor, a management consulting firm. Tell the cook you’d like to help him whip up a better batch with more accurate information.
Green points out that letting rumors run wild is like leaving a fire unattended. Put your enemy at ease by letting them know you’ve come armed with the best intentions. Green suggests saying something like, “I am assuming you had good intentions, but can you help me understand why you said XXX? In the future, if you have any questions about me or something I did, please let me know. I really want to work effectively with you, and that would help a lot.”
Stay Focused on Finger Pointers
Fingers are often loaded … and will eventually point at you! If there’s someone in the office who’s the Babe Ruth of the blame game, get on their team ASAP. “If you see someone deflecting responsibility from themselves by blaming other people, disable their digits by offering to help them solve the problem early in the game,” says Cohen. “Offer to assist them in finding a solution without engaging in a blame game. This will prove you’re task-oriented and someone they can rely on -- plus you’ll build political equity in the office.” Bottom line: You’ve just slipped into a finger-proof vest!
Make Sure You’re Really in the Crosshairs Before Firing Back
Hey, Mr. Sensitive, not everybody’s out to get you! If you think someone’s unnecessarily tearing up you or your work, make sure you’re not just freakin’ paranoid. “Before you do something that might label you a troublemaker in the office place, do a reality check with your colleagues,” says Cohen. “But don’t do it in a way that suggests you have a problem with this person. Ask [a colleague] if they have any recommendations about how you can best develop a successful working relationship with your tormentor (but don’t call them that -- try “co-worker” instead). You may learn that this is just their working style and not a personal vendetta.”
Mike Hammer is a writer and former editor of Maxim, Stuff and Shock. He has proven time and time again that he can ward off enemies in the cutthroat world of magazines.