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We’ve all heard the term “backstabbing,” but what does it really mean? It’s defined as the practice of criticizing someone while at the same time acting like a friend. In business, it looks like co-workers where one is undermining the other. Or a team where one person is spreading negative comments about another team member.

Some would say that backstabbing might be considered all a part of office politics. And that’s true. But it doesn’t mean that backstabbing isn’t detrimental to the workplace. It can damage workplace relationships, personal credibility, and individual trust. These are key components to building successful teams.
When it’s apparent that backstabbing is taking place, the situation needs to be addressed. There are three strategies for handling the matter:

1.    The manager can handle it with the people involved. The advantage to this is the manager is aware and can monitor the situation. Unfortunately, it can look like “tattling” and possibly intensify the matter.

2.    The employees can handle it on their own. For the employee who is being maligned, this can result in tremendous credibility for standing up to the situation. The downside is that management isn’t aware there’s a backstabbing employee.

3.    The manager can conduct employee coaching to help the individuals involved handle it among themselves. This combines the best of the two previous options. The manager can offer guidance and support to the person who was backstabbed on how to confront their co-worker and move forward. They can also hold the person who did the backstabbing accountable for their actions.

It’s a tricky situation for the manager. And it might be in their best interest to get their own coaching from a human resources professional prior to speaking with the employees involved. The last thing a manager should do is ignore the situation hoping it will go away on its own. Disregarding the matter will only make the situation worse. It will also hurt the credibility of the manager for allowing such behavior to happen in the first place.