Dear Bob ...
I need advice on how to deal with backstabbers at work. Here goes (this is really long, sorry).
At one time in the very recent past, my boss relied on my opinions related to work because of my experience.
She told me many negative things about certain people in our staff (I assumed in confidence, of course). She said some staff were being underhanded toward her (a backstabbing story of its own) -- the outcome of which would have caused serious questions about her credibility, resulting in major ramifications for her. At the time, I was most curious why she was not discussing this matter with someone at her level, given its seriousness. I have never broken that confidence and will not.
Presently, I'm out, and she has developed confidences with those same individuals (backstabbers-by her definition), assigning them choice and confidential projects. I found this out -- inadvertently, not directly -- from an employee who has recently transferred out of our unit.
I sent the boss a brief and non-threatening e-mail inquiring about one of the assignments. Her answer was indirect and reassuring -- and later I found out it was an untruth. Now I am questioning everything. I must surely be in the Twilight Zone.
I'm also feeling passed over and left out, the rug pulled out from under me. Are there now three backstabbers?
My plans for handling this sitution: Lay low, try to smile, don't show emotion or hurt feelings, and don't be surprised by anything. Maybe my boss lacks confidence in her abilities, maybe subconsciously her decisions, maybe does not want to take responsibility and somehow has connected with something the trouble-making individuals have offered.
I also feel when she confided in me, she should not have and that she should not be making unit decisions with those particular staff members. I don't and won't get involved in gossip or office politics and don't promote religion at work (the three of them discuss religion frequently, e-mailing the entire staff verses and quotes).
I truly feel you cannot outsmart a backstabber. This is how they have maneuvered in their world from the first time they discovered they could get what they wanted. Their behavior is very destructive, not only to them, but to everyone they are in contact with. Personally, I feel it cannot possibly work for them each time they use it, but they have been rewarded enough to have developed a lifestyle of it and are very seasoned, and a novice cannot beat them at it.
I feel greatly disappointed in my boss. I really liked her, or I guess I liked the person I thought she was. Disappointment stinks.
Dear Stilettoed ...
Your first clue should have been that your boss was confiding in you. Nothing has changed except who is in the confidant's seat.
Managers shouldn't play favorites. Those who do inadvertently encourage backstabbing. Those who do and who aren't a good judge of character pretty much ensure it.
And, at the risk of getting a lot of people mad ad me, those who use religion or religiousity as a way of determining who is most worthy of their confidences are among the most likely to be poor judges of character. That someone quotes verses of the Bible, the Koran, or the Bhagavat Ghita says nothing at all about how they behave in the workplace.
Now that you know, your choices are simple: Leave your department, leave the company, or wait it out. Leaving the department is probably the best of them.
In a large company it's actually quite likely that those in charge have no idea something like this is going on - they rely on people reporting to people reporting to them to keep this sort of thing under control. The bad news is, it happens. The good news is, it probably isn't happening everywhere. Somewhere in the company you'll find opportunities without having to to change employers.
What's probably the losing strategy is to wait it out. Unless your boss isn't delivering results, that is. You can infer this from knowing, first-hand, that this is how your boss has been managing all along.