Leading Yourself when you're Thrown Under the Bus

It is very painful to be thrown under the bus. Don’t stay there too long, courageously dust yourself off and lean into this difficult experience as there are valuable lessons to glean about yourself, your colleagues and your work culture.

Why did this happen and where does this behaviour stem from? There can be several reasons why this happens but to simplify the matter, the reasons could be listed under two headings: poor communication and poor motives. Throwing someone under the bus can reveal that there has been insufficient communication with respect to expectations, deadlines, roles, responsibility and where accountability ultimately lies. It can be a terrible way to express frustration, give feedback and apportion the blame. Or it might originate in the realm of the motives of your colleague. They could be jealous, insecure or they could be ruthlessly ambitions and have no problem in climbing to the top over the corpses of others.

What should I do when this happens?

  1. Be proactive. Make a time to meet with your colleague as soon as possible. It is essential that that you adopt an assertive stance as opposed to an aggressive stance. Being proactive can trigger a solution and demonstrates self-awareness and sensitivity to your working relationships.
  2. Seek clarity. Begin by describing how you felt about the incident but reach out to ask ‘why’ they acted in that way. Setting this tone in the meeting can help clarify whether you are dealing with poor communication or your colleague’s motives. If it is poor communication and execution, seek feedback and accept your portion of the blame and express that going forward you would much prefer to resolve the matter by communicating with each other about the issues at hand.
  3. Be streetwise. If your colleague reacts in a very feisty and defensive manner and you sense that the problem is rooted in the realm of motives you have a much more difficult path to walk. Take time to reflect on the work situation. Does your colleague frequently blame others and throw others under the bus? If possible, seek to move the accountability for their behaviour to the group by being instrumental in helping to set norms of behaviour and communication with regard to deliverables on projects.
  4. Proceed with a new game plan. Whatever the origin of the conflict move forward enlightened by the experience. Establish and entrench your own brand in the team. Always clarify roles, responsibilities, and time lines. Excel at your job, build relationships, anticipate conflict, resolve problems early and be ready to advocate for yourself.
  5. Ask yourself a few courageous questions. Do I throw others under the bus? Do I deliver, can people depend on me? Am I proactive, do I anticipate issues and seek to resolve them? Do I talk directly to people or about people to others?

What do I do if this happens again?

If you have sincerely followed the above steps it is a serious matter if it happens again. It is very likely that you have been thrown into a position where you are now managing your reputation in the organisation. It is essential that you include your team leader or line manager in the solution. When meeting with the person in authority demonstrate how you have attempted to resolve the matter before escalating it to this level. Seek to remain proactive and solution orientated.

The workplace is a pressured world where people’s stuff is on display. It is realistic to anticipate that there are going to be difficult matters to resolve. Seek to use these tough moments as an opportunity to grow as an individual and understand how to work, survive and thrive in a team context.

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