My advice was asked on this situation on condition that the author remains anonymous. What would you do if you faced a two-faced coworker or teammate who treated you civilly in public but attacked you when you were alone? And no one else in the office knew or would believe you. In public, Bart (fictitious name) smiled and seemed helpful to Fran (fictitious name). Even though he didn’t know her specialty, he started offering polite, detailed suggestions in an authoritative and convincing way about how she could improve her performance. Fran felt like she was being micro-managed in a way she couldn’t resist or argue back. It would take too long to show why his suggestions wouldn’t work and she didn’t think everyone else was really interested. Other members of the team started to think she was pretty incompetent since Bart knew so much more.
In private, Fran asked Bart to stop being so controlling and making her look bad. He agreed to, but then he continued to subtly demean her in public. In addition, he started ignoring her, leaving her out of the information loop, and putting her down subtly in front of others. Fran again asked him to stop. Bart said he wanted them to have a good working relationship and suggested a meeting to clear the air. Fran was initially wary, but he persisted and she agreed.
At the private meeting, Bart told Fran she was the worst person he'd ever worked with. She wasn’t completely bad professionally, but she had the worst personality he’d ever seen. He wanted her to treat him with as much friendliness as she treated other people in public. Fran was mystified because he didn't say who these other people were and she thought she already treated everyone politely and professionally.
He said Fran was bullying him, he couldn't sleep at night because of her, she was just as hostile and nasty as another girl he used to work with and his girlfriend agreed that Fran was bullying him, even though Fran had never met her. He said he’d been verbally cruel to people in the past, but he didn't want to be with her. He said Fran was the worst person he'd ever worked with and the worst thing about his otherwise perfect job.
Fran felt scared because nothing like this had ever happened to her before and because Bart said everything very quietly and calmly with a twisted look of pure hate on his face. He seemed to be enjoying it. Fran had never seen him look or act this particular way before, so she thought others wouldn't believe her.
He carried on this way for an hour and Fran felt like she was in the presence of a psycho. She apologized profusely. He kept twisting the knife. She said she was sorry for “bullying” him. He kept twisting the knife. She asked how she could make things better between them. He kept twisting the knife.
Since she had to work with him closely, Fran pretended to be his friend from that day on. She followed up two weeks later to see if he was happier. He said he no longer thought of her at night, but added that he hated her because of the way she treated him. He didn’t stop correcting her in public and he continued to sabotage her work.
Don’t waste time psychoanalyzing Bart and Fran or thinking that some trust building exercises, communication techniques or skillful conflict resolution will bring them together. Fran should realize that she and Bart live on different planets. She thinks she’s okay and he’s a scary psycho. He hates her guts, thinks she bullies him and that professional behavior allows him to vent his feelings and hatred.
In her world, she’s faced with a relentless, crazy person who blames everything on her and is out to get her. In that office, she’ll always feel his hatred shooting into her back. She’s also afraid he might blow and physically harm her. She must be willing to skillfully fight a work war against a fanatic or have her credibility and reputation destroyed. Or leave. For example; see my article in the Denver Business Journal on winning a work-war.
Notice that every time she tried to please him by taking the blame or being nice, he only twisted the knife more. Fran’s comment that she never met his girlfriend probably shows that she thinks she can prove her case with reasoning, logic and good will because everyone will listen and be objective.
There are many other variants of the two-faced, bullying colleague. Some stealth bullies spread rumors and lies behind your back. Some cut you down behind your back. Some drive a wedge between you and other people by telling them that you said bad things about them. These back-stabbers always work in the dark and can’t be pinned down
What did Fran do? Fran secretly hated Bart for what he had put her through. She didn’t want to become buddies with him. Also, she didn’t want to waste her time proving to everyone how mean and crazy he was. Three month's later, she secured another job and left. Since then, she’s been happy at the new job.
That’s one effective solution to deal with people like Bart, but what will Fran do if she encounters another one. For example, if she’s highly skilled and competent, she’ll make someone else jealous, scared and angry. If she’s beautiful, she’ll arouse these same feelings in some other women.
What would you do if you were Fran?