A woman and a man wearing all black seated by a wall of windows

A couple of years ago, I’d been working with a company for about three months when I started to feel uncomfortable about a colleague’s behavior. We shared an office, and I’d often talk about my ideas or try and spitball potential new organizations that we could partner with. Any new client I suggested he’d “been there and tried that.” When I tried to push for more information about when he spoke to an organization or who he spoke with, he’d clam up and get annoyed. He’d leave me out of relevant meetings and “forget” to introduce me to important staff.

He’d leave me out of relevant meetings and “forget” to introduce me to important staff.

In our weekly team meetings, we discussed what we were working on and the partnerships we were pursuing. This is when he would announce he was speaking to organizations I’d suggested but that he’d previously told me weren’t interested. The ideas he’d rolled his eyes at, he suddenly presented as his own. One time, as our boss gave him the go-ahead to pursue one of my ideas that he’d spent the day before shooting down, he looked at me, grinned and gave me the thumbs up.

I felt like I was stuck in the opening chapters of a cheesy rom-com novel, where two colleagues start off as professional enemies before a romantic discourse develops and all the back-stabbing is forgotten. That was never going to happen with this individual, and I knew I needed to do something for my own sanity, if nothing else. I decided to focus on what I had control over.

When this male colleague’s behaviors and attitudes directly began to upend my workflow, here’s what I turned my focus to:

Interactions

I started by limiting my interactions with this colleague. I’m used to working collaboratively, so at first, this was difficult. Still, this person had proven he only wanted to take advantage of our collaboration for his own benefit. I saved my new partnershipideas to present as my own in team meetings.

Relationships

My colleague wasn’t the only person in the office. Instead of giving him undue energy, I redirected it toward building positive relationships with my team and management. This helped in the long run, as the more connected I felt within the organization, the happier I was and the less my undermining colleague impacted me.

Communication

I started to question his toxic behaviors without accusing him of wrongdoing. When he didn’t invite me to meetings, I’d ask when the next meeting was and get him to send me a calendar invite. When he started talking about an idea that was a repeat of one of mine he’d shot down, I’d make the connection out loud and suggest we share potential resources.

I started to question his toxic behaviors without accusing him of wrongdoing.

Leading by Example

Ultimately, it would have been so easy to get annoyed and angry at my colleague, but I had to reflect on what I really wanted my working relationship with him to look like. I didn’t think he was a bad person, but he’d just been allowed to get away with some poor behavior for too long. Even if I couldn’t trust him to work collaboratively in the ways I wanted, I didn’t want to make an enemy.

I avoided any gossiping or complaining about him at work and remained positive but firm in all our conversations. I still asked him about his weekend and invited him to get coffee with other colleagues and me. Mostly, I indicated I would not accept his behavior, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t create a healthy, professional relationship.

Over time, he came to see me not as someone he was in competition with, but as a colleague to be respected. For me, that was the best possible outcome.

Have you ever worked with a colleague who undermined you? How did you respond?

Image via We Are the Rhoads, Darling Issue No. 13

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