How to Handle Enemies at Work

Last night I dreamed that I was walking along the side of a cliff on my way to the top of a mountain. I noticed bugs scurrying into a hole in the earth, forcing out a thin, slimy gray snake. Without thinking, I reached down and grabbed it by its head, but quickly realizing I'd made a mistake, I released it. The snake stared at me with its tiny black eyes and slithered, in its crooked fashion, closer towards my foot. I held my breath tightly, fearing the snake would pounce. The presence of the snake in my dream was so intense that I actually yanked my leg, kicking it into the mattress, trying to get the snake off of me. That was the moment that I awoke, and of course the snake wasn't even there.

Remember, we're all susceptible to quickly drawing inaccurate and permanent conclusions about other people. We know this is true when it comes to stereotypes and assumptions that are based on gender, disability, race, education level, rank and culture. We assume that people are feeling well when they might sick. We assume, from a two-page resume and an hour-long interview, that we might prefer to work with one job candidate over another. Millions of people get fired, so we're all guilty of hiring mistakes. Sometimes, we draw unfounded conclusions about others, and are slow to reconsider our views once the case is closed and our beliefs are set.

Is Your Co-Worker An Enemy?

So we should be more careful about drawing conclusions. Be slow to conclude that a co-worker is an enemy. Remember, sometimes what you think you see might not be there, like my imaginary snake. Try assuming the best of your co-worker rather than the worst. Try practicing the 50% Rule: accept that 50% of the wrongs you think you've endured might actually have been misunderstandings. What if you accept that only 50% of your beliefs about the way you've been treated are true? Draw your conclusions solely on one-half of what you've experienced with that individual. Don't put yourself in harm's way, but be open to changing your view about that individual if shown the evidence.

Don't take things that aren't personal too personally. People who treat others poorly in the office are likely unhappy or experiencing high levels of stress themselves. Their nastiness or aggressive behavior is likely inflicted on other people too. Do you ever witness how they interact with others? Spend some time observing.

What Do You Call An Enemy At Work?

It's undeniable that you'll occasionally bump into a co-worker who is super competitive (or even envious). This type of co-worker doesn't want to play nice, rather he/she wants to cut down the competition and win. A friend told me that he invited a new co-worker to lunch, and she gruffly replied, "I'm not here to make friends." Sometimes you find out quickly when a co-worker isn't "there to make friends" similar to when I reached down to grab the snake but immediately released it. I knew it wasn't there to turn me into a friend, but I tried!

Remember: you don't have to turn the super competitive, unhappy or aggressive co-worker into your friend. You can engage with him/her as little as possible to perform your job to the best of your ability.

If you're dealing with a snake, don't inflate its size or power. As the saying goes, what you focus on will grow larger. So, focus on your performance, your skills and your growth. While snake bites hurt, the vast majority of them are not lethal anyway.

Seek positive connections with other people in the office to counterbalance the negative ones.

So How Do You Handle Enemies at Work?

No one wants to encounter a snake, but sometimes you get unlucky on a trail and he/she appears. If you've measured twice and concluded that a co-worker is behaving like a little copperhead, then remember: snakes don't get anywhere fast by going straight. Snakes are usually on the move. You must anticipate its serpentine movement and stay out of its path. You cannot change its nature, and its nature is not because of you nor does it have anything to do with you, at the core. Of course, returning the venom is an option, but the last one I'd ever recommend.

How to Handle A Snake in the Office

Here are three things you can do:

  1. Realize that you don't have to draw any conclusions or label anyone a snake. Be grateful for the good things in your life and acknowledge that not everyone has what they want, be it a supportive family, loving spouse or friend, stable income, solid sense of self worth, good health, or peace. The "snake" in the office might be deeply hurt over regret or lack and simply spread their unhappiness or self-judgment to others. Some people are too self-absorbed to care about their behavior towards others.

  2. Mediate on positive things each day: peace, faith, hope, friendship, and a happy vision for a bright future. This person won't be in your life forever. That unbearable meeting might last one hour, but that doesn't mean you need to rehearse every offense for the entire forty-eight hours after that. Hear the offense, but try not to receive it.

  3. Reject negativity and aggression by moving away from it emotionally and, if possible, physically. Prepare for when you will encounter your meanie co-worker by trying to see past his/her aggression, unhappiness, competitiveness or anger. You won't be around that person forever, and you can choose to move on if you need to do so.

  4. Know when enough is enough and it's time to either speak up or seek a different position.

Don't let your fear of snakes keep you from your A-game. Your trajectory depends on it.

What if the "enemy" at work is your manager? Subscribe to the blog for a helpful upcoming post. Don't miss it!

Privacy & Cookie Policy

© 2020 by Shai Littlejohn

  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Instagram