Is someone trying to make you look bad at work or in your personal life?
It’s easy to lash out and respond aggressively and instinctively, but I want to suggest a smarter approach.
Here’s how to take someone’s efforts to sabotage you and turn it right back on them without any of the vindictiveness or mess.
What to do when someone tries to make you look bad
There are a variety of situations where others may try to make us look bad, especially at work or in social situations.
When it happens, resist the urge to lash out or take revenge.
At the same time, take into account these 8 important tips about how to respond.
1) Don’t just laugh it off
I dealt with bullying growing up and social exclusion later in life, including in work and social contexts.
My reaction used to be generally mild. I would dismiss comments putting me down or mocking me and laugh at my own expense.
What harm can it do? I thought…
The harm it can do is actually a lot. If you don’t respect and stand up for yourself, nobody else will either.
If you want to know what to do when someone tries to make you look bad, step one is to take it seriously.
As much as this individual might try to convince you it’s just for fun, sabotaging somebody and making them feel awful is not a joke.
I like Stephanie Vozza’s advice on this:
“If you do find evidence of sabotage, take it seriously.
“Gather evidence to support your belief that you are being undermined and sabotaged.”
2) Tackle the roots
If you lash out right away at someone who is trying to spoil your image and make you feel crappy, you run the risk of it happening again in an even worse way.
Instead, it’s important to tackle the roots of why this person is trying to ruin your reputation.
The reason could be for monetary gain, a promotion, respect and attention or even just out of spite.
But at the root of all of these motivations is generally one main issue: intense insecurity.
People who are secure in their own abilities and selves don’t bother trying to cut others down because they’re too busy building themselves up.
Whoever is doing this to you likely has some serious self-esteem and self-confidence issues.
I’m not saying to feel sorry for them, but I am saying to communicate with them one-on-one.
Which brings me to tip three.
3) Talk to them one-on-one
Often in social situations or work, a bad apple may try to make you look bad by relying on the power of group pressure.
In other words, they will try to show you up as incompetent, ill-intentioned or weak in front of the group as a whole.
They then sit back with arms folded as the concern and mockery of the group begins to escalate at the rumors being spread about you.
“Oh my God, did Bob seriously tell the CEO he needs another extension? The guy is so f*cking lazy…”
You, Bob, hear them talking about you like this and are torn between responding to defend yourself or staying quiet.
Little do people know that your wife is gravely ill and you’ve been completely distracted from work due to that.
You want to tell all your coworkers to shut the hell up…
Instead, go find the source of this nasty gossip and confront him or her.
Talk to them one-on-one. Let them know that if they have concerns about you or a problem they can come talk to you personally rather than behind-your-back.
Avoid anger or accusation. Just ask them how they would like it if you began spreading inaccurate or unfair rumors about them behind their back.
4) Cut through the lies
As I said, in many situations it doesn’t work to confront a group that’s been infected by someone’s lies or rumors about you.
But if somebody is trying to make you look bad in front of a group including friends, a loved one or even in front of strangers, it’s important to protect yourself as well.
Take a common but seemingly trivial example:
You are out having dinner with a potential business contact. You work in the real estate field and this person is a major developer who you really want to work with.
He will be coming with his associate, another high-up developer.
You meet at a restaurant and immediately notice this person’s judgmental glance at your non-expensive clothing.
Then, while scanning the menu, the guy makes disparaging comments about how maybe the prices are too high for you. His female colleague laughs.
You feel emasculated and angry, but don’t want to snap back with something rude in case it ruins your opportunity.
Being overly defensive is insecure, but saying nothing or storming out makes you look like a drip. The best response is something like:
“I came here to help make money and help us all get richer, not to act like I already have it.”
You cut through the bullsh*t attitude they’re giving you and likely get a laugh and some newfound respect as well.
5) Dial down the niceness
Emotional manipulators, narcissists, and psychologically abusive people can be a bit like spiritual sharks.
They seek out someone who is nice, kind, or forgiving and then prey on them.
It’s horrific to watch, and it’s not much fun to experience either.
If you tend to be the “nice guy” or “super chill girl,” try to dial down the niceness a bit.
Be nice to those who treat you well and respect you.
Don’t give your time, energy, compassion, and help away.
You have no obligation to empower toxic and manipulative people.
Plus, think of it this way:
The more you let yourself be used, put down or shamed by others the more chance they’ll gain momentum and mistreat other people after you.
End the cycle. Be less nice.
6) Don’t let it go to your head
A popular saying has it that you shouldn’t let praise go to your head. The meaning is that you shouldn’t think you’re so great that you get sloppy and start taking success for granted.
The same goes in the reverse:
You shouldn’t let the criticisms and toxic behavior of others go to your head.
You can defend yourself, confront them one-on-one, empower yourself and be clear on your boundaries, but you don’t need to take it personally.
The harder someone tries to make you look bad, the more pathetic of a person they are.
Who does that? Really…
Be secure as much as possible in yourself and know that if others are trying to actively sabotage you then they’re scared or threatened by you in some way.
Remember what trade union leader Nicholas Klein famously said:
“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”
(The quote is often falsely attributed to Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi but was originally spoken by Klein).
7) Make them look desperate
I’ve emphasized here that tit-for-tat responses when someone tries to make you look bad are generally not the way to go.
This is true.
However, in some cases, you can hit back a little by making them look desperate.
Somebody who’s trying to ruin your reputation or gaslight you can often be easily taken down by simply pointing out how obsessed they are with you.
“Thanks for worrying so much about me and for the free psychological analysis, man. I’ll be OK. Take care of yourself, OK?” is an example of an effective comeback.
It also shows the people around this toxic person how odd their obsession with you is.
8) Completely ignore their hijinks
If you’re in a position to do so, one of the best responses for what to do when someone tries to make you look bad is to completely ignore them.
If their behavior is immature, stupid or irrelevant to your life, do your best to just let it float on by.
Don’t even dignify it with any response.
Continue on your business and let the idiocy pass you by.
Take the high road?
When it comes to what to do when someone tries to make you look bad, don’t worry about taking the high road or the low road.
Instead, take the effective road.
And here’s the truth:
To be effective you need to develop your own power, stick to your boundaries and give your attention to those who deserve it.