People Who Don't Play Fair in the Sandbox -
How to Keep Them From Throwing Sand at You
You recognize them… Folks at work who spend their time manipulating circumstances and people to promote their own interest usually at the expense of someone else. I call them folks who don't play fair in the Sandbox. Sandbox saboteurs are easily recognized because they thrive to appear more important, knowledgeable, and necessary then anyone else. They float from office to office spreading half truths about others, discrediting their coworkers, and even attacking you in an effort to promote opportunity and recognition for themselves. Sandbox bullies don't have any authentic credibility. They are typically not well liked but their behavior is tolerated and even at times subtly supported either through silence or participation by the best of us. They work very hard to destroy the reputation of others to enhance their own status. Sound like anyone you know?
Unfortunately in the twenty plus years that I was in management, I have witnessed this behavior more times than I care to think about. In talking to my professional colleagues over the years apparently my company was not special. The workplace saboteurs have found their place in companies across the country.
Sandbox saboteurs are typically folks who seek the limelight they want attention, recognition, and favorable reviews. Isn't that what we all want to some extent? However the difference is most of us would not seek this recognition at the expense of others. Psychologists attribute their choice of behavior to low self esteem. "I feel better if you feel worse." In order to be successful at their games saboteurs need willing participation from others. The key to diffusing this form of workplace terrorism is not to participate.
So how does an individual keep their career on track and not get derailed or distracted by the antics of these workplace saboteurs who haven't found good therapists. Here are some methods that will artfully diffuse the manipulators and to keep them from throwing anymore sand at you.
The next time the manipulation begins in the form of a discrediting remark or gossip refuse to fuel the fire. No matter how tempting it is to fan the flames. Remember their interests are self centered and mean spirited they tear others down and then go to others and tear you down. They are equal opportunity terrorists. One way to discourage this behavior that works is to turn every comment they make about someone else into something positive. For example the saboteur may say: "Well as usual Geri could not complete the project so I had to do it." A good response for this is "That's great I'm sure she appreciates it and will do the same for you in the future." Putting a positive spin on the saboteur's negative comments works to send a message that you don't choose to engage in negative talk about someone who is not there to provide a defense.
Another way to diffuse the power of workplace manipulators is "to get the devil with his own pitchfork." I am not recommending resorting to their tactics but putting the pressure back on them to stop the behavior is appropriate. For example the work place saboteur approaches you and says "I heard that Sabrina is on the company's hit list, they are getting rid of her it's just a matter of time." Once they drop the bomb respond with a question. "By telling me how is that helping her situation?" I assure you they will refocus their energy by trying to explain, apologize, or quickly excuse themselves because of embarrassment.
What about statements they make that are derogatory aimed at you or someone else? I am glad you asked that question. A statement like "I know you meant that to be helpful," or asking them what value they get out of making derogatory comments about others would discourage future comments. A way to pose this would be "I am curious why you feel it's necessary to share that with me?" "Or what would you like me to do with that information?" All or these comments will give the saboteur a polite yet sharp reminder that their game is not appreciated by you and you don't want to play.
Your unwilling participation in their efforts to promote their own agenda makes sure the undesirable behavior is short-lived. It does not stop them from moving on to someone else who is not as savvy and aware; but it does allow you to keep your distance from negative influences in a professional manner. The workplace is filled with professional pitfalls this one easily and wisely avoided
Depending on your style one of these statements may be more acceptable for you than the other. These tactics have discouraged workplace manipulators and sand box saboteurs from creating sandstorms in my life. Although it may take a few times and some subsequent reinforcement they eventually get the message and leave you out of the mix because they see you as not playing fair in their sandbox
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