How to “neutralise”* an enemy at work.

Posted on March 23, 2011


We all know the importance of having or working in a great team. The problem is that you can’t always  choose your team and can end up stuck with a team member who undermines your team/work performance. The “enemy” can vary from someone who is annoying and negative to someone who, although very pleasant, is just plain incompetent. The bad news for you if you can’t get rid of them, is that you will have to deal with them and the best way to do that is by being a good team player.  This is what I suggest:

1) Identify what the real problem is.

If the person who works for or with you is unreliable it is important that you find out what the problem is so you can be prepared.

While studying for my MBA we did lots of assessed work in small groups.  One of the guys there had both a very busy job and frantic family life with 5 kids so he didn’t really have the time to make much of a contribution. As soon as we found out what his problem was we often covered his share of the work; this involved a bit of extra work but at least we got the work done and it was much less stressful than getting together just prior to handing the work in only to find out that his part hadn’t been done and our mark would be adversely affected. I am not saying you should do someone else’s work but, by being aware of what their issues are, you are more likely to find a workaround.  You might find that by being flexible you can get more out of them – perhaps they are good at having ideas, but don’t have the time to develop them into workable solutions or perhaps they can contribute in a different way.

If you have a person in your team who is competent but disruptive or annoying, it is worth asking why as it might have been something you did in the past that upset them. If this turns out to be the case, at least by knowing you have an opportunity to deal with the issue, set the record straight and, ideally make friends (or at least build a better relationship) with the “enemy”.

2) Beware of people’s strengths and weaknesses and use them in your favor.

I had someone doing occasional work for me who I find very unreliable, as he quite often takes 2-3 times longer to complete work than he promises and even then only gets half the work done if not carefully supervised. I truly wish I could fire him, but I can’t, as not only is he highly regarded by my Boss, but he also comes in very handy when something truly horrible goes wrong as one thing he is good at is dealing with emergencies and will often show up to fix the problem, or find someone who can, on a Bank Holiday or late at night when it would be difficult to find anyone else.

Because I already know he takes a lot longer to do things I take that into account when planning my timescales.  For him, it is always 2-3 weeks before anyone else, but he does not know that.

Knowing his weakness helps me to be prepared so I can plan to have time to check what he has done and get him to come back to complete the job if necessary.

3) Make emotional payments.

If you do have something the “enemy” wants and you can give it to them, do so as one day they will feel obliged to return the favour somehow or at least they may feel bad when thinking of undermining you. It can be a day off on his/her birthday, a football ticket you won’t use, making a powerpoint presentation to help them sell something. If you can help, do it and you might find your “enemy” finds a new level of respect for you.

4) Be straight, honest and respectful.

You might have tried all of the above but for some reason the “enemy” is still a pain, oh well, you should break their legs and tell them to walk home right? Perhaps you have felt like that but it would not help you much at work, so my advice is to be straight.

I used to work with an assistant manager years back and for some reason he didn’t like me but we had to work together. After a few weeks of an almost unbearable work environment I was honest and said “look, you don’t like me, I don’t like you. But, you are not going to get me fired and you are not going to leave. So we can either make our lives miserable or just get on with it and do the work. I leave you alone, you leave me alone and we can both be happy. What do you think”.

We didn’t become best friends after that but it made going to work a lot easier.

5) Do not undermine them.

Whatever you do, never EVER undermine the people who you work with as not only does ‘what goes around comes around’ but also, it will make your other colleagues suspicious of your character.  Instead of concentrating on what the “enemy” does or doesn’t do, concentrate on what YOU can do to make things better.  This will make your colleagues admire and support you leaving no chance for the “enemy” to win them over and get them to side against you.

* not to kill as even the most despicable creatures on Earth deserve to be alive and are important for the food chain 🙂