Smiling Tigers

I used to think that working hard and being competent at your job was enough to succeed in the corporate world. Not anymore. I’ve seen loads of incompetent workers filling positions ahead of efficient and reliable people, and I’ve always wondered why.

The savvy corporate jockey has many tricks up his sleeve, he is wise to internal politics, understands and befriends the people with any real influence, he also has strategies to increase his profile and can identify and avoid the pitfalls, saving precious energy. The one to watch out for however, is the Smiling Tiger.

The Smiling Tiger is not necessarily smart, but they are cunning. They are not afraid to sabotage their colleagues to further there own agenda and typically do it in a passive aggressive manner. They will pretend to be your best friend to your face then work behind the scene to undermine you and destroy your credibility.

Not long ago, I started a contract as a trainer for a contact centre. I joined a team of 4 other trainers who all – bar one – had just started and were also on contracts, we all also knew that come the end of the contract that there was a possibility of being made permanent. However out of a wider training team of 15 contractors, only 3 would be kept on. I didn’t really care because I will probably be moving on regardless at the end of the contract; however this fact was not enough to stop me being thrust into a rollercoaster ride of hidden agenda’s, passive aggression and clique-like-behaviour.

Thankfully I have managed to ride out the storm and am at a point where I can just do my job and concentrate on having fun, however it was an emotional and frustrating 2 months in which I observed and thought a lot about the prominence of passive aggression in the workplace. I write this now with the intent of sharing my observations and strategies on how to deal with it.

Identify the Tigers

The first and most crucial step to dealing with passive aggression in the workplace is identifying it. Once you identify someone’s true colours you may act accordingly. This then begs the question, how do you identify someone that may act in a passive aggressive manner?

The instant best friend – Have you ever met someone that instantly acts like your best friend? It can be hard to spot, because it feeds your ego and you may be tempted to overlook it. If a charming person is smiling at you warmly and calling you babe, it may make you feel good, you may feel like this person fully appreciates or admires you. Don’t be naive and think this is truly the case; a relationship of mutual respect takes time to build and cannot be shortcut. If someone is showing you an unusual amount of respect or familiarity too quickly, it is likely that it is false.

The Pot Stirrer – snitching on someone will often have nasty repercussions, if someone learns they have been snitched on, their first reaction will be to find out who has dropped them in it and why. This is likely to illicit a negative emotional response and foster feelings of resentment, anger and revenge. The Pot Stirrer knows this, this is why he will develop strategies for snitching in a cunning or round-about way that will not lead directly back to him. If you ever notice someone dropping ‘innocent’ comments to someone that will then pass on that information be aware. If they have no qualms about doing it, would they really worry about doing it to you?

Incongruent Behaviour – less easily spotted is incongruent behaviour. Examples of this include people stealing your credit for work you have done, or even more cunning; volunteering to do something for you and intentionally neglecting to do it or doing it poorly. If the ultimate responsibility rests with you, be aware of situations when you are dependent on a Smiling Tiger. Micromanaging them through it or always chasing them to do it can be time consuming and emotionally exhausting. Always consider alternatives; can someone else do it for you? Can you engineer it so they are directly responsible for the quality of work? If not, perhaps it might be easier in the long run to just do the work yourself.

The Back Stabber – the most easily spotted is the backstabber, if someone is chatting amicably with their colleague and being friendly or familiar, watch their actions once that person has left. If they immediately turn to you or someone else and make snide comments it is obvious that they have no problems engaging in passive aggressive behaviour. Also pay particular attention to their facial expression, once the colleague has left, does their smile instantly turn into a scowl? Was the smile even genuine in the first place?

This leads onto the next strategy, once identified you can now…..

Avoid them like the plague – the easiest way to deal with a Smiling Tiger is to simply identify, then avoid them. Usually motivated by their own ambition they will only seek to undermine you once they perceive you as a threat. By avoiding them, you run less risk of provoking their envy. A smaller moving target is a less attractive target, by avoiding you are giving them less ammunition to fuel their fires with, they may leave you alone to pay more attention to people they perceive as bigger threats. However, you may sometimes be forced to interact with these people and avoidance is not an option. In this case you will need to …..

Seem to submit to their will – on the surface you submissive and non-confrontational. Understand: a Smiling Tiger cannot be influenced by logic or reason, attempting to argue with them will only exhaust and frustrate you. Better to work behind the scenes and appeal to their self-interest. Arguing also has the unwanted affect of making them defensive; unwittingly you will be encouraging them to spend more time and energy devising ways to undermine you. Let them have their little victories, you may feel like you are swallowing your pride, but you can see the bigger picture. If you really feel the need to resist, then you must….

Fight fire with fire – passive aggression is best fought with passive aggression. Use the above strategies to retaliate and do exactly what they sought to do to you. Remember to always keep your cool, if done correctly you may cause them to react emotionally. If they have an outburst, then it is time to rejoice. By simply remaining calm and detached you will be highlighting their childish behaviour, use your own detached reaction to contrast just how ridiculous their actions are.