What to do when your co-worker throws you under the bus

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You will encounter many different types of conflict in the workplace throughout your career. At any moment, you could become the victim of a co-worker waiting to stab you in the back, steal your award-winning idea, and then when you least expect it, throw you under the bus.

Some employees will go to great lengths to sacrifice a co-worker so they can look good in front of management. It’s a dirty game and it’s often played by the very team members you thought had your back. When it comes down to possibly getting fired or reprimanded, office alliances are quickly forgotten.

Read more: How much notice should you give when quitting a job?

How to handle a backstabbing co-worker

Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop an underhanded co-worker, according to Brian de Haff, CEO of Aha! Labs Inc. “No matter who you are, you will get steamrolled by a bus or two in your career. It’s an inevitable part of working with groups of people,” de Haff wrote in a LinkedIn article.

No matter how talented or nice you are, you can’t stop the bus. The good news is you can do something about how you respond when you find yourself underneath it. How can you protect yourself? Here’s what to do if you find yourself in any of the following three situations.

1. You weren’t there

You can’t be in every place at once, so your name may come up when you aren’t there — and it may not always be done in the best light. Career expert and therapist Brandon Smith said it’s a good idea to be proactive and make a habit of documenting everything. This is because you never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll need to defend yourself. All it takes is one desperate co-worker to put you in a situation where you’re unfairly forced to fight for your job. “A critical way to protect yourself is to have a paper trail regarding your exchanges with untrustworthy or suspicious co-workers. Save those emails,” Smith wrote.

2. You’re blamed during a meeting

It’s never fun to be accused of incompetence in front of an audience. Your first instinct might be to take your co-worker down with you, but that will just make you look even worse. Do your best to stay calm and not make a scene during the meeting. “Yelling and screaming will not get your point across or finally get them to understand you,” Smith said. “All it will do is make you appear as though you are a part of the problem.”

Taking the emotion out of the situation will help you see the situation clearly. Letting the anger fester will just make you bitter, and this bitterness will sour your attitude. “Sometimes it helps to view a problem from a new perspective. Your co-worker is providing you with feedback. Be willing to try it on,” Forbes columnist David K. Williams wrote. “It’s like trying on a pair of pants. If they don’t fit, don’t get emotional (that is throwing yourself under the bus). Just take them off and return them properly folded with no added emotion to the original owner.”

3. Your boss used you as a scapegoat

This is a tricky situation, particularly because not only is your boss involved but potentially so is your boss’s supervisor. Greg Baker, president and CEO of Advance Consulting Inc., suggested seeing what you can learn from the situation. Whether or not you had some responsibility in what happened, take steps to understand what went wrong, address the problem and do what you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“The better you understand why your boss threw you under the bus, the more informed your decisions will be regarding what to do about it. What problem or responsibility is your boss avoiding? How credible does your boss’s story sound to others? Why did you become the target? Why now?,” Baker wrote on the Advance Consulting website.


Baker said you can attempt to make sure you don’t run into a similar issue by anticipating and recognizing circumstances that breed conflict. “I have never seen someone get thrown under the bus when everything was going well. So as you develop your radar for potential conflict, let this be your guidepost. When things go wrong, some people tend to blame in order to protect themselves,” Baker said.

Read more: The one thing managers say will get you promoted

[Editor’s Note: Many employers review a version of your credit report as part of the application process, so it’s a good idea to know where your credit currently stands. You can see your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.]

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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