“They smile in your face all the time they want to take your place……. backstabbers” The O’Jays!

A lack of integrity and business betrayal is incredibly costly, not only does it harm you in the short term, but the long-term implications can be catastrophic in nature. I recently experienced an individual I “thought” I knew, he certainly was part of my trusted circle, an extended part of my family. Boy was I ever wrong and did I get enlightened.

When brining people into your inner circle do not just “vet” if they will steal from you, but “vet” if they have character, if they will steal IP, intellectual property, ideas or worse stab you in the back because they think they are actually better than you. Subtle stabbing is what I consider most disturbing.

The co-worker that makes you feel like they connect with you given your similar past experiences or cultural similarities but underlying he has resentments because you are stronger them him. So, he looks to sabotage you with strive and confusion like it was/is someone else leading the charge of division.

Or that boss that lacks the “strength” to stand for what is right and does the Big Bosses bidding. Capable by all outward appearances but so controlled he is almost like a “slave” who is scared to believe in the Emancipation Proclamation, let alone himself. So, he attempts to tell you “I am helping you and looking out for you” when he clearly lacks the foresight to realize you are far too smart to buy in to his weak bullshit. You wonder how he sleeps at night……….

Or it’s that “green” rookie that wants to make a name for himself or quite possibly needs to take care of his Mother so at all costs he will stab you in the back and tell a series of suspect truths until he is exposed and then falls on the sword with an Oscar worthy performance of sorry. We have seen them all and know them all, what is most interesting is they all get exposed in the end. Those that you meet climbing up are those that you watch on the free fall down.

But while you cannot change these unpleasant, unpredictable people, you can build a game plan that will stop them in their tracks. Here are some of the lessons I have learned.

1. Choose Your Words Wisely

This is the lesson I learned the hard way: Don’t give anyone the ammo (or, er, the knife) to stab you in the back. When meeting people for the first time (or, in my case, giving the uninitiated the 411 on the office), do not offer too much information too soon. This is also true in informational interview or networking-type scenarios, where you may feel particularly inclined to be helpful—but where you don’t know much about the person you’re sharing information with. Learn from my mistake and disengage.

And when it comes to the steady pipeline of workplace rumors, you can listen, but don’t perpetuate. Train yourself to save personal assessments of your workplace and colleagues for your inner sanctum: your significant other, parents, and closest friends (who do not work with you). A simple “Hm, that’s interesting,” is a good enough reply for most office gossip. No need to be paranoid—but it is a good idea to make pseudo-guarded your norm.

2. Build an Army

There are countless reasons why having an army of supporters throughout your company is good for your workplace well-being, but in this case, it’s also the best way to counteract a backstabber’s ploys—and even prevent them in the first place. If you have authentic relationships with everyone from your bosses to your peers to the assistants, they’ll defend your reputation, even when you don’t know it’s at stake.

That said, this isn’t just about “be nice to everyone”—keep people in the know about what you’re up to. Take ownership of your work, especially in group settings, and regularly seek advice from and run ideas by your team members and manager. I regularly seek advice from my superiors, share my latest projects, and discuss what I’m excelling in, as well as how I hope to improve. Doing that shows initiative and earns respect.

Then, if Mr. or Ms. Backstabber questions your dedication, “forgets” to put your name on a project, or monopolizes time in the conference room, it won’t sting you—because you’ve already communicated to everyone the awesome work you’re doing. You save face, and you nip the two-timer’s antics in the bud.

Another worthwhile tactic: Be generous when giving others credit, whether those people are bosses, peers, or even backstabbers themselves. This is good for two reasons: First, some backstabbers may back off if you’ve been kind to them in the past. And secondly, if a backstabber targets you nevertheless (like in my case), your boss and co-workers already know about your kindness. So, if a random person tells them something off-color you said (ahem), hopefully they’ll take it with a grain of salt. When the backstabber’s fangs come out, the person they’ll trust is you.

3. Use Confrontation as a Last Resort

Some people will advocate that in a back-stabbing situation, you should go straight to the source, confront his shady dealings, and tell her you’re not going to put up with it anymore. But I’m more inclined to take the non-confrontational route, unless absolutely necessary. For one thing, some people thrive on knowing they stirred the pot and that they could wield power over you with just a few strategic conversations. In my case, I figured I wasn’t going to scare this girl straight. In fact, if I told her that what she said was totally inappropriate and could have cost me big, I’m pretty sure she would have struck again.

But if it does come to confrontation, keep it sterile, void of emotion, and with the goal of problem-solving. A simple, “Hi, I saw my name wasn’t on that presentation. Please send it to me, so I can add it before sending it on.” Or “There must have been some misunderstanding about X, so I wanted to clear the air.”

Unfortunately, the more important you become in the office, the greater target you are for backstabbing. (Just look at Mark Antony and Caesar, one of the greatest backstabbing tales of all time!) So, learn to handle it now. Then as you climb the ladder, your defense will be your best offense.


  • Marietta Colston-Davis

    Mother, Mentor, Technologist, Community Supporter and Philanthrapist

    Mother, Mentor, Technologist, Community Advocate and Philanthropist Marietta Colston-Davis is an accomplished technology sales executive and currently serves as IBM’s Vice President and Managing Director for IBM’s global Coca Cola relationship. She leads a worldwide team growing business in cloud and AI solutions. Prior to IBM, she served as Vice President of U.S. Dynamics at Microsoft. As the highest-ranking African American executive in North America and Latin America, Davis led an organization of more than 400 sales, marketing and technical experts. While at Microsoft, Davis successfully managed and grew multiple businesses to $1B and triple digit growth milestones. She has held high impact positions at Lotus Development, Ameritech, and Tata Consulting. Her diverse leadership portfolio extends to mentoring strong leaders into key roles and acting in an advisory capacity to incubation and small startups. Davis currently sits on the National Board of Youth Villages, a private nonprofit organization dedicated to helping more than 23,000 emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families each year across 20 states and Washington, D.C. She was selected as the first female Board Member of SharpSpring, Inc. (NASDAQ: SHSP) in 2017. Davis was inducted in the Spelman College “Game Changer” Hall of Fame in 2015 for her impact as a technology leader. She is a sought after speaker on leadership topics with appearances at leading colleges and universities and professional organizations, including a keynote address at the 2015 Iowa Women Lead Change conference. A graduate of Bradley University, she also holds an MBA from Loyola University and executive certificates from the Harvard Business School. Joining Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., as a legacy member while at Bradley, she continues to support the organization through mentorship and community activism. A published author, Davis has written for the Huffington Post and Thrive Global.