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Backstabbing in the Workplace: Beware the Ides of March

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Annually on March 15 (the “Ides of March”) we are reminded of the betrayal suffered by Julius Caesar at the hands of Brutus. But backstabbing didn’t end with the fall of the Roman Empire. Less dramatic (and less fatal) versions of betrayal play out in workplaces across the country everyday.

In fact, more than 80% of U.S. workers say they’ve been lied to, stolen from, cheated or treated dishonestly by a supervisor or a co-worker, according to a Hogan Assessment Systems survey of 700 people.

On the flip side, when people were asked about the most important qualities of their all-time favorite boss, the number one characteristic (cited by 81% of people) was trustworthiness. Conversely, 50% described their worst boss as manipulative.

Does backstabbing pay off at work? Unfortunately, some of the same characteristics that typify the ideal betrayer are the same ones that propel many up the corporate ladder. The book, Citizen Espionage: Studies in Trust and Betrayal, outlined four characteristics that typified the common betrayer:

Charisma: There are three ways to influence others: force, reason, or charm, says Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, vice president of research and innovation at Hogan. Force and reason are rational – even when people are forced to do something, they obey for a good reason. Charm, on the other hand, is based on emotional manipulation and has the ability to trump rational assessments.

Self-absorption, or, more to the point, a relentless drive for self-advancement.

Self-Deception. The Hogan report says people are prone to deceive themselves about the reasons for their actions. Self-deception – lying to oneself – often carries with it the tendency to lie to others.

“Hollow Core” Syndrome. a pattern of personality characteristics refers to people who are overtly self-confident, who meet the public well, who are charming and socially poised, and who expect others  to like them, but who are privately self-doubting and unhappy.

“Having a betrayer in the office does more than just damage interpersonal relationships; such individuals can also hinder employee morale, engagement and productivity,” said Chamorro-Premuzic.

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