11 smart steps to deal with a coworker who throws you under the bus
A coworker throwing you under the bus at work is a very unpleasant situation. A negative reaction to this type of behavior is completely normal and there could be serious consequences for you to deal with. This situation can lead to:
- Termination of employees
- Lowered workplace morale
- Serious workplace conflicts
- Loss of trust between coworkers
- Communication and productivity issues
Understanding why your coworker stabbed you in the back like this can help you deal with the situation and mitigate the consequences.
So let’s take a look at what this all means, and I will give you my best advice on how to deal with a coworker who throws you under the bus.
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What does it mean to be thrown under the bus at work?
When a coworker throws you under the bus, it means that they are fully blaming you for some kind of failure at work.
But in reality, some or all of the responsibility is theirs. However, their position in front of your colleagues and boss is that you are solely responsible for said failure.
This can have serious implications and lead to all sorts of negative consequences for you.
- You might start thinking that you are incompetent.
- You can begin to doubt your professional skills.
- Your coworkers might lose their trust in you.
- You might be put on workplace probation.
- You might end up losing your job.
Getting thrown under the bus at work is never fun, and the worst thing about it is that you may not know exactly who is blaming you for the failure so you're not able to confront the offender during the resolution process.
Have you considered this scenario: perhaps your coworker is throwing you under the bus like this because they think that you are a threat to them at work?
Why do coworkers throw you under the bus?
So why do coworkers throw you under the bus? Let’s take a look at some common reasons that might be behind this treacherous act.
1. They need a scapegoat
In this case, it is not personal. But they messed up and they don't want to suffer the consequences. You just happen to be a convenient sacrificial lamb.
2. They are jealous of you
Jealousy in the workplace is not unheard of. Have you recently bragged about your salary or something else? Are you favored by your boss? You might have attracted some unwanted attention from a jealous coworker.
3. They feel intimidated by you
Coworkers who are competitive can be quite toxic. They might feel like you are excelling while they are stuck. So they have decided to undermine you.
4. They are trying to get you fired
It's simple. For one reason or another, they don't like you. They want you gone. So they are trying to get you fired by making it seem that you are incompetent and unreliable.
5. This is their revenge against you
Perhaps you did something in the past and you hurt this person somehow. Now they are exacting their revenge.
Try to backtrack and think about your professional relationship with this person if you know who they are. Perhaps you will be able to remember something that would explain the unfair way they are treating you.
How to deal with a coworker who throws you under the bus
Let’s take a look at some steps that you can take to deal with a backstabbing coworker.
1. Don’t get defensive
When you find out that you are being pointed out as the person to blame for said failure – don’t get defensive.
Hear out the grievances of your boss and/or your colleagues. It is very important to retain your composure.
2. Acknowledge your fault
If you indeed have some fault in this, then acknowledge it. You can say something in the lines of “I am so sorry that this happened – it was never my intention to cause any harm/problem.”
3. Point out why the responsibility is not (entirely) yours
Part of the blame might be yours. But it is not entirely yours. It is time to shift the focus toward the person who is throwing you under the bus.
- What were their responsibilities?
- How did they contribute to the failure?
- How come they are blaming you entirely?
- Don’t they have a part in this, too?
These are questions that you can use to expose your backstabbing coworker.
4. Figure out their problem with you
If you have a chance, talk to the person who threw you under the and ask them what is going on. How come they betrayed you like this?
Don’t expect them to be honest. They will probably come up with all sorts of excuses and try to gaslight you.
The point is to confront them and see how they react. In all cases, you can’t trust this person from now on.
5. Make an appeal to HR
If this behavior continues, and your boss/manager isn’t doing anything about it, then it is time to contact HR.
Part of their job is to protect all staff from harassment and unfair treatment.
Let them know your side of the story. Bring forth any evidence that you may have such as emails and DMs that reveal the truth.
How to respond when someone throws you under the bus at work
When you realize someone has thrown you under the bus in the office, take a deep breath and avoid reacting impulsively.
Maintain your professionalism and keep your emotions in check. Here is how you can respond in this situation.
1. Clarify the situation
Take the opportunity to clarify the facts. For example, you could say, "I believe there has been a misunderstanding. Let me provide some context to the situation."
2. Share your perspective
Offer your side of the story without sounding defensive. For instance, "I understand that it may appear that way, but here's what actually happened."
3. Provide evidence
If you have documentation or evidence to support your claims, mention it. For example, "I have an email thread that clearly shows we agreed on this course of action, and I can share it with everyone."
4. Focus on solutions
Rather than dwelling on the blame, shift the conversation toward finding solutions. You could say, "Now that we're aware of the issue, let's discuss how we can resolve it and move forward as a team."
5. Show accountability
If you genuinely made a mistake, acknowledge it and demonstrate your commitment to fixing it. For example, "I take responsibility for the oversight, and I've already started working on a solution to prevent it from happening again."
6. Address the behavior privately
After the meeting or discussion, approach the person who threw you under the bus and address the issue.
For instance, "I noticed that you mentioned my mistake in front of everyone earlier. In the future, I'd appreciate it if we could discuss any concerns privately before raising them in a group setting."
My experience of being thrown under the bus by a coworker
My years of experience as a project manager in an international tech company had taught me that workplace challenges were inevitable.
However, I never expected that I would encounter a coworker who would betray me and throw me under the bus.
As the events unfolded, I realized the importance of addressing the issue and standing up for myself.
The first time I noticed something was off was when I received an email from my manager, questioning my decision to allocate extra resources to a project.
I was taken aback since the coworker, whom I'll call Sarah, and I had discussed and agreed upon the allocation together.
That was just the beginning of a series of incidents where I found myself being undermined by Sarah, a problematic coworker.
With each incident, I became more aware of the signs and the impact her behavior had on my work. As a seasoned project manager, I knew I needed to address the issue directly.
I scheduled a meeting with Sarah, choosing a neutral location to ensure we both felt comfortable. During our conversation, I used "I" statements to express my concerns and avoid putting her on the defensive.
Despite my attempts at communication, the situation continued to worsen. I began documenting each incident, keeping a record of events, and gathering evidence of Sarah's attempts to sabotage my work.
This documentation helped me identify patterns in her behavior, which became crucial later on.
Feeling overwhelmed, I sought support by discussing the issue with my supervisor.
I also reached out to the Human Resources department and a trusted colleague, maintaining confidentiality and professionalism throughout the process.
They provided guidance on how to proceed and offered their support.
Recognizing that I needed to set boundaries with Sarah, I clearly communicated my limits and expectations.
I stood up for myself, asserting my self-respect and emphasizing the importance of teamwork and collaboration. Although setting boundaries was uncomfortable, it was a necessary step to protect my well-being.
Our team was soon assigned a high-stakes project, and tensions were running high. Sarah and I found ourselves at loggerheads, but the pressure of the project forced us to find common ground and explore solutions together.
We spent long hours working side by side, and despite our differences, we managed to complete the project successfully.
Throughout this ordeal, I focused on personal growth and resilience. I learned valuable lessons from the experience and developed my emotional intelligence.
Additionally, I honed my coping skills, which helped me navigate the ups and downs that came with working alongside a malicious coworker.
However, as time went on, Sarah's behavior escalated to a point where I needed to take further action.
Armed with my documentation and evidence, I filed a formal complaint with HR, knowing my rights in the workplace.
The company conducted a thorough investigation, which ultimately led to Sarah being transferred to another department.
In the end, I emerged from the situation stronger and more resilient. I continued to excel in my role as a project manager, fostering a supportive work environment and maintaining professionalism, despite the challenges I faced.
The experience taught me that even in the face of adversity, it is possible to overcome difficult situations and thrive in one's career.
Frequently asked questions about being thrown under the bus as work
Should I confront the coworker directly or speak to a manager or HR?
Whether to confront the coworker directly or speak to a manager or HR depends on the severity of the situation and your comfort level. If you feel confident and the issue seems resolvable, try addressing it with the coworker first. If the issue persists or is severe, escalate it to a manager or HR.
How can I maintain my professional reputation after being thrown under the bus?
To maintain your professional reputation after being thrown under the bus, focus on consistently delivering high-quality work, addressing any misconceptions calmly and factually, and fostering positive relationships with your colleagues. Demonstrating your competence and commitment to the team will help rebuild your reputation over time.