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What to Do When a Colleague Throws You under the Bus

What to Do When a Colleague Throws You under the Bus

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By Glynn Cosker
Special Contributor, Online Career Tips

To throw (someone) under the bus” is a phrase that is now commonplace in American English. In basic terms, it is usually defined as the act of betraying a friend or colleague (often they are both) for selfish reasons or personal gain.

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Eye-Opening Experience

Getting thrown under the bus is no fun. It’s often an eye-opening experience that highlights a personality trait in the “throwing party” that you never realized existed.

In a professional setting, the process is personified by a colleague who criticizes you to your mutual supervisor – usually in an effort to deflect attention from his or her own shortcomings or mistakes.

Essentially, this is blaming something on someone without getting that person’s take on the situation. Additionally, a common trait in those individuals is that they vehemently believe they can do no wrong in their own eyes.

Pointing the Finger

Throwing a person under the bus is a means to provide an excuse – to point the finger away from you or your interests – either reactively or proactively. Of course, the proactive type is ultimately a lot more calculated and upsetting to the receiving party. It hurts to be the person under the bus for multiple reasons.

Of course, unpleasant and unjustified criticism always hurts. It demolishes trust between people, causes major chasms to develop in relationships with friends and colleagues, and – of extreme importance for the workplace – it often causes strife within teams.

Nobody is able to predict when or how he or she gets thrown under the bus, but you can choose how to react. Here are a few valuable tips on how to respond and face that speeding bus head-on!

1. Take the High Road

There are a number of ways to respond to a friend or colleague throwing you under the bus. The negative ways are all bad and nearly always breed contempt.

By taking the high road and responding with integrity and professionalism, you let your supervisor know that you are above it. Conversely, saying “I’ll get back at that person” or responding in kind is not advisable. Don’t let another person’s weaknesses and unprofessional behavior tempt you into letting rip with a tirade. If your supervisor is a sensible person, he or she will take everything on face value and will know exactly how to handle it – effectively taking you and your feelings out of it.

2. Acknowledge Any Truth That Is Present

Take the distress of the situation and channel it into positive thoughts. The experience might be a perfect reason to learn something new about yourself. Did you do what your colleague who went to your boss behind your back said you did?

If you did, tell your boss that it is all true, but make it clear that you feel the situation might have been tackled within the team; there was no need for that colleague to go to your mutual supervisor before coming to you first. That said, if any part of the criticism is positively not true, state your case in a professional, respectful manner without starting a lengthy debate and going down the proverbial rabbit hole.

3. Consider the Source’s Reputation

This is the most important element of all when it comes to getting thrown under the bus. Does the “throwing party” have a preexisting, well-known reputation for being that one person in the office who gains some major traction each year, but also loses friends each year in the process? Is there a pattern of evident behavior that shows that person loves to put down a third party while speaking to you, only to bring on the charm and smiles when that third party is nearby? If so, then what more evidence do you need to discredit his or her feedback about you?

However, if the person throwing you under the bus is known as a steady, integral, stable, upstanding and honest professional – who has been supportive in years past – it might be time to take a look in the mirror and perhaps take stock of the criticism. Take your time to ponder it, and learn and grow.

Ultimately, in this type of awkward situation, you should stay focused on all the positive aspects in your life – inside and outside work. In the big picture, “this too shall pass” – stay focused on your successes and not on other people’s deficiencies.

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