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How to Handle Backstabbing Subordinates

by Stan Mack, studioD

Untrustworthy employees can destroy your career. Backstabbing subordinates might sabotage your work by revealing proprietary secrets to competitors, for example, or by spreading lies about you. While you can’t always prevent such unethical behavior, acting quickly and decisively will let other employees know you mean business.

Confronting the Backstabbers

Ask the backstabbing subordinates to meet privately with you. Explain that you're aware of what they've done and that you’re disappointed with how they've treated you. Also explain what consequences their behavior had on your career. Be polite and respectful, but don’t pull your punches. Open and honest confrontation is the only way to handle deceptive behavior. Backstabbers thrive when nobody stands up to them, so a direct confrontation might be all that's needed to stop the problem, according to the book “Career Building,” by the editors of CareerBuilder.com.

Consider Their Reasons

Listen to your subordinates’ side of the story and consider the reasoning behind their actions. For example, maybe they were pressured to betray you by someone in your organization who had more power than them. Or maybe they failed to apprehend the negative consequences their behavior would have on your life.


If you can understand why your employees did what they did, and you don’t believe they’ll do it again, find a workable compromise and move on. For example, ask them to make amends by apologizing to everyone they hurt with their actions and by righting the wrong to whatever degree possible.


If your employees behaved unethically for selfish or inconsiderate reasons, and you don’t believe you can trust them again, review your company’s policies to determine if you can fire or transfer them. For less severe infractions, offer verbal warnings and follow up to ensure your subordinates comply with your expectations.


If you have no administrative options for dealing with the backstabbing subordinates, protect yourself from future attacks. Don’t leave private information out where your employees can see it, for example, and document your projects to ensure you can defend yourself from disparaging attacks. Keep your ear to the ground so you know when you’re being undermined. For example, an effective precaution is to build an informal alliance with others the backstabbers have victimized. That allows you to keep tabs on what's being said about you, according to the book, “The Road to Career Success and Happiness,” by Yehia El-Ibiary.

About the Author

Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.

Photo Credits

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