In John Le Carre’s classic spy novel “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” British agent George Smiley becomes convinced that someone in his agency is a Soviet mole.
The outcome of your office gripe probably won’t determine the fate of a wide network of secret agents. You also probably can’t use Cold War spycraft to deal with potentially treacherous coworkers (probably, I don’t know your life).
Still, it’s crucial that you identify and recognise duplicitous individuals in your workplace, as they have the potential to wreak damage on your career.
You’re particularly at risk if you work in a low-trust environment.
According to Brandon Smith, a workplace therapist, consultant, and professor, such work climates are distinguished by high pressure competition between employees, bosses that play favourites, rampant gossip, and a lack of cooperation, and frequent instances of food being stolen from the break room fridge (no, seriously).
Any of that sound familiar? Well here are some clear warning signs you can’t trust your coworkers, along with some tips on how to deal with such individuals:
Watch out for anyone displaying signs of what's been called the least fun of the seven deadly sins, writes Dr. Neel Burton in Psychology Today.
Envy is a universal trait. However, if left unchecked in the workplace, it leads to problems. Envious people desire what their successful colleagues have, leading to resentment, shortsightedness, and toxic relationships.
'... People who fear being envied tend to behave in ways that are pro-social -- helping others who might envy them. They speculate that people who are better off might use such an appeasement strategy to dampen the destructive effects of envy, and it can help to improve the situation of those who are worse off.'
Run screaming from coworkers that constantly gripe about others' accomplishments. When you achieve success, their inner green-eyed monster will turn on you too.
Here's a shocker: You can't trust dishonest coworkers.
If you regularly catch a coworker lying, or they steal credit for your work, they're probably a dishonest person.
Keep in mind, even if their lies don't directly effect you, they have already proven themselves untrustworthy. You can't depend on liars to keep your best interests at heart.
If you've been impacted by a dishonest coworker, Forbes contributor Scott Edinger recommended confronting the person's behaviour in this 2012 article:
'Notice I did not say the person, though the two are linked. When dealing with a transgression of nearly any kind, it is always best to focus on the situation or behaviour, and not the person.'
In 'The Picture of Dorian Grey,' Oscar Wilde writes '... there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.'
That quote may sound like a ringing endorsement of gossip, but consider that it's from a novel about a guy who's so shallow that he sells his soul to look hot (also, there's a crazy, creepy painting involved).
A little bit of workplace gossip among friends is normal. But it's a bad sign when a colleague seems overly preoccupied with gossiping. Rumours can harm reputations and others' feelings, so steer clear.
Plus, the old middle school adage applies here. If the gossip is talking about other people behind their backs to you, they're probably also bashing you to other people.
In his 2015 Inc. article, John Boitnott highlighted the dangers of rampant office scandal-mongering.
'It can be tempting to listen in on office gossip but to do so puts your career at risk. Although work may be frustrating for you at times, it's best not to indulge in the exchange of incendiary workplace stories, even if it helps you cope with your frustrations. The best thing to do is disassociate yourself from the person and try to defuse any gossip when you find yourself unable to get away.'
Boitnott recommends avoiding the rumour mill altogether and being firm and direct with colleagues who insist on spreading hearsay.
They undermine people
Watch out for the conniving, undermining people in your office.
Writing for Salary.com, Aaron Gouveia notes that these types tend to start small:
'Did you discuss a great idea with a coworker only to see that person steal it and use it as their own? Are you missing meetings because your coworker leading a project keeps 'forgetting' to email you the invites?'
Maybe they have started messing with your work. Maybe you've noticed them taking credit for others' ideas. Either way, you'll want to stop them from bringing you down.
First off, know that they're acting this way because they're scared of you. You're a genuine threat to them. Note this and watch your back. Ignore their attempts to be pals and don't share crucial information with them, when possible. And report any serious duplicity to your boss.
They suck up
A good relationship with your boss is crucial. However, some people take that too far, focusing on impressing the higher ups rather than working hard and achieving results.
Even if they're a favourite among the higher ups, don't trust this kind of colleague to lift you up with them. The boss's pet will do anything -- other than work hard at their job -- to maintain their top spot.
According to Jappreet Sethi writing for LinkedIn, it's best just to ignore the bootlickers in your office and hope your boss is smart enough to determine which employees are truly valuable.
'Yes, such behaviour in others is disturbing at the workplace,' Sethi explains. 'However, you would do well to remember that they rarely get the results they want. Most managers do not mistake subservience for effectiveness. In fact, you should train yourself to ignore the bootlickers. Many enlightened employees have found that getting to know the brown-noser better on a personal basis can defuse the situation entirely.'
They're overly dramatic
You've probably met someone who acts like they just stormed off the set of a reality TV show. In your personal life, drama kings and queens might be somewhat amusing in small doses (if you're a fan of reality TV and human disasters).
At work, though, they're toxic. You don't have time for their complaining, oversharing, and general victimhood. It's best to avoid getting wrapped up in their manufactured drama.
If you confront an office prima donna (or ... male prima donna), you risk landing a leading role in their office drama. It's more important to understand where they're coming from, writes Donna Flagg in Psychology Today:
'Drama persons thrive on attention, but that's because they learned to feel invisible and unimportant. This is where the drama comes from. They are merely trying to convince themselves, by trying to convince you, that they matter. They are blind to the feelings of others and have failed to develop the coping skills necessary for an adult life.'
The best thing you can do to avoid getting embroiled in their nonsense is to set up firm boundaries and wait for them to find someone else to gripe at.
They don't care about your work-life balance
This type of untrustworthy colleague may not be gunning for your career, but they're bad news nonetheless. This is the boss or coworker that always expects you to drop everything else in your life to accommodate work.
Of course, sometimes work will take precedence. This post just refers to the unyielding people in your office who do not respect your work-life balance. Such people rarely have your personal or professional well being in mind.
In a US News and World Report article, Alison Green broke down how to deal with a boss or an organisation that's overworking you:
'Pick a time when your manager isn't rushed and ask to talk about your workload,' she wrote. 'Explain that it has become unmanageable and why (for instance, that you've taken on the responsibilities of someone who left without anything being removed from your plate, or that a particular account has doubled in size in the last year). Explaining what's behind the workload increase can help because your manager may not be focused on the facts as you.'
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