Backstabbers are challenging people to work with. When you are at work, the last thing you want to deal with are people who threaten your peace of mind. The thought of having to watch your back all the time fills you with a sense of dread. Yet, no matter how much we prepare for the inevitable engagement with backstabbers at work, one thing is clear: how you discover and deal with backstabbers will determine the speed at which your career will grow.

One of the hardest things that we face is identifying and dealing with backstabbers at an early stage. The way we combat this is through noticing red flags.

Red flags are the types of behaviors that cause us to pause and say, “something isn’t right with this situation. Maybe I should stop and take a better look.” If we can catch red flags early, we can mitigate the potential damage backstabbers at work can cause.

5 Red Flags to Look for When Identifying Backstabbers

Over the years, I have come across many backstabbers. Each backstabber was different in their unique way. Yet, we can categorize them in a way that helps us quickly recognize them.

As you circumvent the office, these are five types of people who are highly likely to be the backstabber within your work environment.

1. The Gossip

Pay attention to who is at the center of the office gossip. Who gathers around the proverbial water cooler to talk? Who stands off in the corner chit-chatting about what happened in the office?

When you become aware of who is having these conversations, you will become aware of who you should avoid.

Backstabbers are at the center of office gossip. They need to be in control. To them, knowledge is power. And if they can be at the center of the flow of knowledge, they can control what happens within the office.

2. The Whisperer

Who are the whisperers in your work environment? Who hides in the shadows talking low to another only to stop the conversation as someone approaches?

Backstabbers cannot live in the open. They need the shadow and dark to hide their intentions. Whispers in the dark are the communication channel of the backstabber.

Take notice of who is whispering in the corner. That is an excellent indication that you are dealing with a backstabber. However, realize that not all whisperers are backstabbers, but all backstabbers whisper. You will have to use caution and wisdom before declaring someone an actual backstabber.

3. The Flatterer

Everyone loves it when someone says nice things about us. We love the encouragement. The fact that someone noticed anything good about us and dared to share makes us feel fantastic. Then, there is flattery.

Flattery is the insincere inflation of someone’s ego to manipulate the person into a false sense of security. Flattery is the strategy most often used by a backstabber.

Flattery will open you up so that the backstabber can strategically gather information or make a request. Be careful when someone flatters you—they are after something. In the case of the backstabber, they are after credit for your success or transforming you into the fall guy if everything goes wrong.

4. The Cutter

One of the best things a mentor of mine said was, “If people talk to you about other people behind their back, they will talk about you to other people behind yours.” When you realize that the goal of a backstabber is to cut people off at the knees so that they can get what they want, you will start to recognize the cutter.

The power of life and death are in our words. With words, we can bring life through encouragement and uplifting statements. However, we can cause death with words. We can destroy someone’s spirit, cause them to lose hope, and force them to give up with the right words.

The backstabber’s goal is to cut to attain their desired object with their words. If they cut others with their words, they will cut you to others with their words.

Pay attention to what people say about others. A vital warning sign is when people continually tear down someone else. The odds are they will backstab you.

5. The Blamer

Accepting blame is the bedrock foundation of mature leaders. If a leader cannot accept responsibility for their actions, there will be a point when they can no longer lead.

With that said, be watchful of who is continually passing the blame onto everyone else but themselves. Never accepting fault is a good indicator—a red flag—that the person you are engaging with is not to be trusted.

As with the whisperer, not all blamers are backstabbers. But generally, all backstabbers fall into the category of the blamer.

How To Tell If Someone Is Backstabbing You at Work?

You may be saying, “the types of people are great to know, but how do you practically tell someone is backstabbing you at work? What are some real tangible signs that I can see?”

Below are some indicators:

  • They use statements like, “I was only trying to help.”
  • You have to jump through different hurdles that others don’t have to.
  • The person regularly talks behind your back.
  • You catch them in lie after lie.
  • The person steals others’ ideas and passes them off as their own.
  • They avoid you unless they want something from you.
  • You are excluded from anything they do.
  • They spread rumors (lots of rumors).
  • Your intuition (gut) tells you so.
  • They are consistently trying to buddy up to the supervisor.

It is not enough to be aware of the backstabber. No, being mindful doesn’t fix the problem. Knowing how to deal with a backstabber at work is only part of the challenge. Knowing what to do about the backstabber at work is the other part of the challenge.

How To Deal With Backstabbers at Work?

Now that you’re aware of who the backstabbers at work might be, here are some things that you can do to deal with them.

1. Become a Detective and Get the Facts

Misunderstanding is commonplace in the workplace. Misreading a situation, misunderstanding an action, or misjudging a person happens regularly. Just as much as we have misunderstood someone else, someone has misunderstood us. The same goes for our thoughts about the person we have identified as the backstabber at work.

This is where we put on our detective hats. Like a detective would read a crime scene and gather the facts, we must do the same. When a situation arises, we have to become that detective.

Instead of jumping to conclusions, we must gather all the evidence and make an informed decision about the backstabber. Emotion can get us in trouble, but facts tell what is happening. Find the facts and proceed according to your discovery.

2. Maintain a Paper Trail of the Growing Situation

A backstabber won’t just hit you once. If the backstabber believes you are someone who they can gain an advantage over, then they will continually try to get what they can from you. At this point, is when a paper trail becomes your best asset.

A paper trail is simply a roadmap of documentation that tells the picture of your interactions with the unsavory backstabber. The paper trail can be a simple logbook, an excel sheet, or a piece of paper with anecdotal notes. A paper trail can include reports to the supervisor or any other person in authority.

The point of a paper trail is to cover your back by documenting the continuing challenges that the backstabber poses at work.

3. Be Aware, Even in Relaxed Settings

While you are on the job, you know that this will arise with the backstabber. At work, it is easy to be aware and guarded. But what if you weren’t at work? What work had a party, and you were forced to interact with the backstabber in a more relaxed environment?

My best piece of wisdom is for you not to let your guard down. It is easy to feel more at ease with your fellow workers in informal settings. However, the backstabber doesn’t stop backstabbing because you are in a different environment. No, what a person does somewhere, they will do everywhere.

Every time you interact with a known backstabber, be on your guard. The environment of interaction doesn’t matter. What matters is that this person has a plan and will do whatever they can to accomplish their agenda regardless of location.

4. Set Proper Boundaries

I can’t stress the need for proper boundaries enough. Backstabbers are master manipulators. They know how to navigate a situation to get what they want at work. Appropriate boundaries are a must! You have to be the one in control of how someone is allowed to interact with you.

Determining how someone can interact with you is one of a person’s healthiest actions. It is saying to others, “I won’t allow you to talk to me or treat me like this.”

Sadly, too many people do not have boundaries. If they do, the boundaries will most likely not be enforced. Setting proper boundaries means that you have to determine how someone can interact with you and implement it.

A backstabber preys on people with weak boundaries. The better you get at setting proper boundaries, the less likely a backstabber will engage with you. The backstabber wants an easy target, not one they have to work hard to manipulate.

5. Maintain Your Integrity and Avoid Falling Down the Same Hole

Revenge is a slippery slope. It creates a vicious downward spiral where we stop at nothing to get back at the person who hurt us. You have to be the bigger person, or the cycle will never end.

Maintain your integrity by not becoming the very thing that is causing you pain. Going down the same path will cause you to become the exact person you are trying to stop. You can’t stop a backstabber by becoming one. The only thing that can come from this is chaos and confusion. The goal should not be causing more challenges but alleviating your given challenges.

The moment you cross the line and enter into the same mental space that the backstabber lives is the exact moment you will be willing to do whatever it takes to stop them. It is in this place where you stop recognizing yourself. The loss of integrity is not worth the feeling of one-upping the backstabber. Be a person who calls others to live at your level instead of you going down to their level.

6. Confront Them or Ignore Them

When facing off against a backstabber at work, you have options.

Confront Them

Confrontation is the obvious choice. If the backstabber takes advantage of us, our first response is to fight back. Wanting to confront is a normal response to someone we feel is trying to take advantage of us.

This option isn’t for everyone. A high percentage of the population hates confrontation, so this option will not be a right fit. However, I highly recommend this being a primary option for you. If you see something, say something. Calling the backstabber out is one of the best ways to deter their behavior.

Remember, this won’t change their behavior, but it may cause them to think twice before they do it again to you.

Ignore Them

If confrontation is not an option for you, you can ignore them. Ignoring is the second option that is available to you. This option allows you to distance yourself from the backstabber.

Ignoring someone means turning a blind eye to their shenanigans. When I ignore, I am conscious not to allow their actions or words to affect me. It is the proverbial kids’ statement of, “Talk to the hand, because the face isn’t listening.”

I find this option difficult to maintain. There will be a moment where you will hit the tipping point when you can no longer turn a blind eye. If the backstabber maintains their persistent need to take advantage of others, there will be a time when you can no longer take it.

Ignoring someone long enough causes you to either become indifferent to their manipulation or push you to the point where a major confrontation is imminent.

7. Don’t Judge Them Too Quickly or Harshly

People judge actions but fail to recognize motive. We find it easier to understand why backstabbers do what they do when acknowledging reason. It doesn’t make it easier to accept or deal with, but it allows us to humanize the person and see the pain they are expressing.

Let’s take a moment to see possibilities of what drives the backstabber to a place where they find it acceptable to gain their desires no matter who they hurt.

Possible Motives of Backstabbers at Work

Understanding where the backstabber is coming from can help you transverse the workplace with greater ability. Here’re some possible motives of a backstabber at work.

1. Unresolved Issues

Unresolved issues create insecurity, resentment, confusion, anger, pain, and fear. People who struggle with unresolved issues will struggle with rigidity, legalism, intolerance, perfectionism, and the inability to make decisions.

2. Unmet Needs

Unmet needs create wrong desires, inferiority, lust, fear, neediness, wrong understanding, and hopelessness. People who struggle with unmet needs will struggle with overeating, sexual gratification, fornication, bad relationships, backbiting, sarcasm, and cruel jokes.

3. Unhealed Hurts

Unhealed hurts create fear, pain, distrust, doubt, unforgiveness, and hidden agendas. People who struggle with unhealed hurts will struggle with drugs, alcohol, denial, suspicion, and the victim mentality.

Navigating trauma is a complex process. However, it is a needed one. Typically, I have found that backstabbers are hurt people trying to keep others from hurting them.

This overdeveloped sense of self-preservation is what keeps the backstabber locked in a vicious cycle. They hurt others because they have been hurt. The backstabber will always make sure they are ok no matter the cost it exhumes on others.

Final Thoughts

You will run into numerous backstabbers both in and out of the workplace. Their motives may differ, but the underlying trauma will be similar. Our job is not to help the backstabber be better. No, our job is to navigate the workplace in a healthy manner.

As we discover the office backstabbers, we must be equipped to maintain our personal mental and emotional health while doing the work. It won’t be easy, but you got this.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via

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