There will be various times throughout your career during which you’ll encounter others who feel threatened by you as a working professional – be it your role, skill set, performance or work ethic. Identifying the underlying issues and effectively dealing with these situations is crucial in preventing your career path from being negatively influenced.
To understand the ‘why’ component of a colleague who sees you as a threat, you must look at your role in the organisation, how long you’ve been there in comparison to the individual as well as your working and/or personal relationship with them. In quite a number of instances, fear is the culprit behind their insecurity. The fear of losing their job or their work to you, the fear of having to compete for a promotion or the added pressure to work harder to meet the quality of your work are all possible reasons colleagues feel threatened.
A combination of the various factors above can cause others to act in a hostile manner toward you. Jealously can also rear its ugly head, particularly when colleagues are uncomfortable with strong women leaders and perceive themselves a better fit in those positions. Threatened colleagues are likely to wait for opportunities to make you look bad in front of others, particularly senior management.
So how best can you deal with these individuals?
Have The Tough Conversation
If you are aware that a colleague sees you as a threat, reach out to them in an attempt to create a camaraderie type of relationship. Make them your ‘new best friend’. If you feel a colleague is attempting to sabotage your work efforts, be prepared to speak directly with them in a professional manner, call the poor behaviour and suggest that you both resolve any differences. This allows you to convey that you’re not going to accept the behaviour as well as call them out on their tactics. It’s best to avoid involving management unless there is a risk to the business if the adverse behaviour continues.
Colleagues and even senior managers can also feel threatened by your skill level or ability to climb the corporate ladder and may use their power to attempt to control your work life, lower your confidence and self-esteem and make you believe that your job is tied to their relationship with you. The best strategy to deal with a difficult manager is to have an open discussion concerning their behaviour. There are instances where the person feeling threatened is ‘protected’ by the CEO or Board and you may elect to look for alternative employment to remain true to your values.
It is critical to take emotion out of the equation when having ‘the tough conversation’, as reacting to verbal abuse or harsh criticism personally only leads to a negative outcome. If the conversation turns hostile, simply acknowledge the attack and walk away without reacting emotionally. This will strip all the power behind the attack, forcing your colleague to reconvene without the anger and abuse.
While the above methods suggest how you can deal with individuals in the workplace who feel threatened by your presence, it is also important to ensure that your behaviour and workplace interactions are not contributing to the problem.
Don’t Take Things Personally
It’s easy to assume that there is something wrong with you when a person reacts negatively toward you. However, overly competitive individuals will often feel threatened by you – and this is about their issues as a worker or their lack of confidence and is not a reflection on you. Don’t get sucked into the drama created by these individuals by taking it personally. Instead, if you’re feeling insecure, have the courage to address it by seeking a mentor and/or personal development.
If you’ve been rewarded for doing a good job or recently promoted, keep it graceful. A little humility goes a long way.
Don’t apologise for your accomplishments either. If you’ve done a great job, colleagues’ jealously shouldn’t prevent you from being confident and proud of your work. Others will appreciate that you’re setting a good example and threatened colleagues will learn to respect you.
Work With, Not Against
When you encounter openly competitive colleagues, it’s easy to assume there will be conflict. An effective tactic is to ask them for advice and ideas, which provides you an opportunity to learn from them and harness their ambitious energy while encouraging them to work with you.
Behave Like a Leader Before You Are One
Dress like a leader, add value, help others including management succeed, work effectively in teams and create and seize opportunities. By demonstrating that you take the initiative, deal with conflict and achieve outcomes, you will gain respect from colleagues and management.
Remember, it’s more important your colleagues respect you, not that they like you. If they like and respect you, consider it a bonus.
Tell us about your experience dealing with people threatened by you. What tips and tools can you share? We look forward to your feedback.