They call it “getting thrown under the bus” for a reason—because it means you get sacrificed to save someone else’s reputation in front of people who matter.
Unfortunately, this is all too common in the workplace, despite everyone being on the same team.
If you find yourself standing in the road with a big yellow bumper headed your way, there isn’t much you can do to stop the driver. But you can control what you do next.
It’s important to recognize that having your name tossed into traffic rarely has anything to do with you. Instead, it reveals the whistleblower’s conflict management and general communication skills.
Instead of retaliating—which would bring you to their level—identify specific events that led up to the situation. Based on your response, you may end up with a platform to demonstrate your leadership skills and ability to handle pressure.
Here’s how to dust off those tire tracks to stand up looking even stronger.
Here are three things to do when a colleague throws you under the bus:
Turn the Blame Into a Boost
There’s three primary ways being thrown under the bus happens: by a colleague below you, above you, or on your same level. Each case requires a different response but making yourself look stronger is the ultimate objective.
For example, if a co-worker on your team attributes a departmental hiccup to you without your knowledge, the issue is really that this person wasn’t mature enough to discuss the proper workflow with you. It’s much easier to point and move on.
Now that you’ve been tagged with the blame, you’ve got an opportunity to flex your leadership muscles. Can you double-check documentation from the last month to see where things went wrong? Can you draft up a detailed plan to correct the same error in the future?
Whether the fault was actually yours or not, taking the initiative to cut errors will show your competency. Once you’ve done some troubleshooting to work up a solution instead of a defense, communicate it to the team—and your manager—to put your reputation back on top.
Make it a Brainstorming Session
The most painful way to go down is in front of an audience. This most likely happens in meetings or group email threads, and can challenge your ability to think on your feet.
If the jab happens during a meeting, address it immediately so you don’t lose the opportunity. After the person has spoken, pipe in with your two-cents from the angle of clarifying or adding to what they’ve said—not challenging them. Then, pose a question to the room to bring everyone on in on the point. This takes the blame away from one person and turns it into a team issue.
If you catch it before it sinks in, it won’t become a true hit-and-run. The same can be said for emails. Immediately respond (and BCC all the right people). Can you attach time sheets or project pieces to clear up ownership disputes? If no hard proof exists showing that you’re actually the one who wrote the awesome report Corporate praised, share specific details in your response to show you’re also an expert on the work.
Delegate to Mediate
To prepare for the day when you get thrown under the bus, take steps to prevent it completely. Luckily, you can hide preventative measures under the ruse of organization.
For example, before digging into an extensive product update, create a project breakdown for the team. Delegate pieces of the work to specific team members and have everyone acknowledge their place. To be safe, create this digitally or use an electronic project management app. Not only will this make you look like the ultimate project manager, but you’ll also have a record with names attached to milestones.
As a result, everyone from the top down knows who to credit with excellent work; and they know who to meet with for potential improvements. It’s much easier to avoid scapegoating if everyone is on the transparency.
The process of documenting and saving reference materials also comes in handy if you struggle with a boss who only takes credit and no criticism. Sure, he can tell decision-makers he led the team who spearheaded that product roll-out—but hard proof shows he can’t take credit for actually putting the pieces together.
Having someone take your credit or weigh you down with blame is infuriating. But you don’t have to be the victim if you spin the situation to put yourself on top. If you’ve had success implementing a different approach, make sure to let me know on Twitter!