There are always people in organizations who are nasty and talk behind your back, and there always will be. Learning how to manage them is worthwhile.

There are always people in organizations who are nasty and talk behind your back, and there always will be. Learning how to manage them is worthwhile.

I have worked within a number of organizations and I have worked with many different people. Why is it that there is always one person in the workplace, often a woman, who is nasty – the sort who will make a sarcastic remark or undermine people behind their backs? How is it best to deal with this type of person?

There are “nasty” people everywhere, not just in the workplace. We will all encounter people like this. When we do, some of us are going to ignore them; some of us will confront them; and some of us will respond as you have, by feeling offended.

Those who make sarcastic remarks and talk about people behind their backs are unhappy, critical people with low self-esteem. In terms of workplace politics, these critical people are relatively harmless. They are easy to identify and easy to disarm. Most of their colleagues take no notice of them and avoid getting involved in their negativity.

The real question is why these people evoke a reaction in you. How do you know this woman undermines people behind their backs? Are you talking to others about her behind her back? And although you might not be sarcastic, you are being critical of her.

What you hate in others is what you disown in yourself. An extreme example would be our hatred for a murderer. We don’t like to admit it but, but we all have murderous thoughts at one time or another. What we hate in the murderer is what we hate in ourselves. In fact, we despise and fear this part of ourself so completely that we deny its existence. We refuse to believe we could be anything like that and so we project our self-hatred onto another.

You are likely to have some of the characteristics of these “nasty” people buried in your psyche. Are you courageous and determined enough to seek this out? If you are, you could free yourself of these “nasty” people once and for all. It doesn’t mean these people won’t still be around. It just means they won’t bother you anymore. And you will know how to respond to them instinctively.

Start by thinking of all the “nasty” people you have encountered. Now ask yourself what exactly it is about them that bothers you. When this is identified, assume that you do have these characteristics to some degree and, with ruthless honesty, look at your own attitudes and behaviour. When you realise the truth, that, for example, you have been critical and that you have spoken about others behind their back, forgive yourself.

This last step is crucial. No one lives up to his or her own expectations. You need to let yourself off the hook. Each person is doing the best they can with what they have got. And yes, that includes those “nasty” people who bothered you so much.

In undertaking this self-exploration, you begin to understand why some people are sarcastic and why they talk about people behind their backs. With this knowledge, you will be determined to never exhibit these characteristics. And you will become more compassionate and more confrontational towards people who display these characteristics.

Then when someone makes a sarcastic remark, you will kindly and firmly ask him or her what they mean. When they undermine someone to you, you will tell them you are not interested and suggest they take it up with the person in question.

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