Switchblades are nearly everywhere these days. Rarely expected and difficult to see coming, Switchblades are tricky. Someone who's always been a friend or ally in the office for a long time might suddenly turn around to have it in for you. Remember, they don't just hate you. They mean to do you harm.
Not physical harm (not usually, anyway) but harm to your image, reputation or ego. The knife might be slipped in subtly, over the course of time, or slammed in abruptly, fueled by a sudden rage in response to some perceived slight. The only thing you can be sure of is that -- except for the habitual Switchblade -- you won't see it until you end up getting shivved from behind. So the key to survival here is to ferret out the Switchblade and figure out what to do about him or her before they strike.
All the Ten Least Wanted have "tells," just as a poker player who unconsciously scratches his nose when he's bluffing. In the parlance of hate, we call them “Black Flags” (think pirate flags and bug spray.) Once you start learning to look for and discern certain tells, you're gaining the power to know what sort of game they might run on you.
What are Switchblades' biggest Black Flags?
• Badmouths other people in the office, friends, etc.
• Helps himself to candy off other people's desks, yet never offers any himself.
• Subtle signs of brown nosing: wearing a new sport jacket that's the same cut as the boss.
• Includes you on confidential messages with a co-worker through blind copies.
Two or more Black Flags and you're looking at an almost certain Switchblade. He may be slamming someone else this week, but next week your head has just as good a chance ending up on the chopping block as everyone else.
What to do? Shrug it off? Maybe. But what if next week's confidante happens to be the boss? Who -- informally, of course -- would love the Switchblade to give his impression of his staff?
What can you do? Many personnel consultants advise doing absolutely nothing, in the vague hope that the corporation will see the truth. Their best advice is that old '50’s atom bomb ruse -– “duck and cover” -- until the smoke clears.
In today’s world the best offense is a good offense.
What can you do? Depending on the threat and your willingness to more openly confront Switchblade, there are three levels of response: Passive, Active and Proactive.
Begin with a simple truth any journalist knows. Ultimately, nothings’ off the record. Reveal as little about your private life and thoughts as possible – in person and e-mail -- and you minimize the damage potential from being Switchbladed.
Beef up your intel and cover your back. Make friends with assistants, admins, interns, etc: The little people. They often have the lowdown – and love to bring down a big blade.
Know your enemy. Positively ID the Switchblade. If you work or partner with a company with more than a few people, carefully gather some intelligence on the people who might be making the jump from mere people-hater to full-blown Switchblade. Now you've got to make a quick decision. If the attack seems minor and ill planned it's often better to let it blow up like gunpowder in the Switchblade's face, preferably in a public place.
A more aggressive play is to "inadvertently" copy the Switchblade on a message about the Switchblade – something trivial or funny that he or she said or did. He may or may not bring the fact he got the email to your attention but, in any event, he’ll have effectively been put on notice that you’re wise to his antics – and have a backbone.
With larger attacks your best strategy is to short-circuit the blade. Cull your evidence. Cook up some routine reason for the likely protagonist (let's call him “Bob”) to meet with you in the conference room for five p.m. Bring an ally along (not unlike a barfight - you're gonna want some back-up). Then tell Bob "something odd is going on." Someone seems to be badmouthing you or your project. When Bob expresses amazement, start play some of your cards. "That's strange," you tell him when he says he's heard nothing. Jim in marketing says it's for real.
Of course, you've got a smoking gun -- an e-mail from Bob to Jim. Whether you ever need to play it, depends on the situation. Your goal may be a full retreat without ever having to lay down your ace.
Let's face it, though. Some companies embrace Switchblades. If that's the lay of the land you're in, make a choice. Does the creative opportunity outweigh the political infighting? If not, consider walking away - and starting something new. You may be surprised at how many people join you.
• Be proactive: Someone's talking crap about you and/your ideas. Turn on your radar. Find out where it's coming from.
• Take it outside: Get the Switchblade on neutral ground, bring some backup and shake the truth out.
• Have a hole card: Be it a damning email or some witness testimony, somehow nail the Switchblade on the record.
• Take the knife: Get cut by the Switchblade and boldly weather the storm --- therein lies corporate greatness.
• Kick loose. Move to a new division or new job with some fresh faces. Be warned: Switchblades are everywhere.
©2007 Jonathan Littman & Marc Hershon