Why do people always sabotage you?

Being betrayed by those around you is just no fun.

I was watching the finale of Bravo’s reality-based TV show, “Top Chef” the other night. The finalists were Tiffany and Harold. Tiffany lost. Her food was good. She took some risks, and some of her dishes paid off. But the other Chefs unanimously said she ran roughshod over them and she was hell to work with. There’s more to the job of running a kitchen than just the technical skill. She was disqualified because of her lack of leadership skills.

They cut to a scene of Tiffany and Harold in the kitchen, waiting for the final decision. At one point, Tiffany says to Harold, “I guess I ran my back into your knife.”

Tiffany has had consistent feedback that she doesn’t work well with others. People don’t like her and have publicly said she’s difficult to work with. In the finale, she even appeared to try to take credit for another Chef’s work. Yet her diagnosis: someone’s stabbing her in the back.

Do you ever find that it seems like people are betraying you? They’re not recognizing your true worth? They’re sabotaging you? Maybe they criticize from time to time… but they’re just jealous? Or small? Or petty?

If so, you might be pulling a Tiffany and fooling yourself. Whether or not it’s true, if you place the responsibility on others, there’s nothing you can do about it except try to sabotage them in return. And once you’re playing mutual sabotage, escalation is natural and everyone may well lose.

Instead, accept that it’s your fault, even if it isn’t. Maybe your true worth isn’t being recognized because you are overvaluing your contribution. Maybe Tiffany’s food really wasn’t as good as she thought it was. We’ve all eaten at restaurants where the Chef’s taste didn’t match our own. Yet to the Chef, the food probably tasted fine. So if you think you aren’t valued, you may be using a different scale than the people evaluating you. And if you’re trying to win their approval, you have to meet them on their scale, not your own. (See my Harvard Business School Working Knowledge article on what motivates your boss for more on this point.)

Also consider that maybe you don’t realize what actually matters. I’ve coached many executives whose technical skills were excellent, and they thought that should be enough. They didn’t realize that being a good team player, helping others, and creating high morale were job requirements, every bit as much as the technical skills. Businesses are communities of humans. If people like you, they’ll help you succeed. If they hate you, they’ll sabotage.

Either way, it’s under your control.

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4 Responses to Why do people always sabotage you?

  1. John says:

    I was just recently sabataged by a group that I work with in graduate school and I don’t think I have to live up to their standards nor try to win their approval since I really don’t like them. When I offered advice, it went ignored. When I asked questioned, they thought I was ignornant. When I attended each meeting wiling to participate it went unacknowledged. The point is – you don’t have to win people’s approval. People are not the end all, be all.

  2. Deirdre says:

    Sometimes people really are jealous, though. I work in a place where my ideas are not valued at all, in fact I am reprimanded if I try to do things differently than “the way its done”. I’m not trying to rock the boat, or show that I’m “better” than them, I’m genuinely trying to come up with good ideas for our business! But some people just can’t tolerate a newcomer with new ideas, and will do whatever they can to sabotage him/her.

  3. Stever says:

    There are certainly situations where you’re genuinely being ignored or belittled because people feel threatened by you, or they just don’t like you, or some other reason. If that’s what’s really going on, it’s worth confronting the real choice here: is it worth “knuckling under” to keep the job?

    My point is that many people fall first into a victim mentality, without considering that they may play a part in what’s happening. I know I do; only recently have I started to realize that when I feel defensive, it’s usually because I *agree* with the criticism and don’t want to admit it.

    So these days, I do my best first to accept the criticism as if it’s true, and only argue if it seems untrue to me.

  4. Heather says:

    Stever, I definitely see your point. I was resistant at first. But I was recently sabotaged, too; and when I looked back, did this person have reason to dislike me? Yes. Had I done anything awful? No. But had I done anything that frustrated this person? Yes, a small thing–most people wouldn’t even care. And based on this alone, was this person going to stick their neck out to help me? Nope.

    Showing people you don’t care what they think will get you #1 position on the “See if I ever do anything for you. . .” list. I see lots of people who argue that “it doesn’t show/they’ll never know” but it does and they do. I think you have to find something to like about everyone, for your own self-preservation.

    And a “newcomer with new ideas” can be interpreted as someone who isn’t respecting the work that has already been done. Of course, a newcomer rarely has this perspective on it, but having been on both sides–it’s true that when someone comes in and basically says, “Why don’t we do it this way?!” one’s first response is, “Oh, like we didn’t think of that before?! What do you think we are, idiots?” Newcomers should tread lightly, ask questions and praise good things before offering new ideas.

    The real world is ALL about relationships. These words are very true: “being a good team player, helping others, and creating high morale were job requirements, every bit as much as the technical skills. Businesses are communities of humans. If people *like* you, they’ll help you succeed.” It’s really that simple. It’s hard for some people to take (myself included sometimes), but it’s true.

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