Share on Google+

The Value of Throwing Someone "Under the Bus"

How to Lose Friends and Clients FAST

The value of “throwing someone under the bus.”

There is none. It DOESN'T work...

So why do we see this behavior happening, repeatedly, in most business and professional organizations? And especially, I wonder why I see it more on the island than other places... More on this later.

First of all let’s define “throwing someone under the bus.” This is when one individual publicly puts another in a corner, without an escape route. It is when a worker or volunteer is embarrassed because of something they did or did not do. It is calling someone on a mistake.

I think every one of us can remember the times that this happened to us. It is memorable, because it is hurtful. It is memorable because a mistake you made was not only highlighted, but because someone else felt they had the right to publicly embarrass you. It is also memorable, because you may have been blindsided, and had difficulty crafting a response.

The other thing you can most likely remember is how you felt about the person who “threw you under the bus.” It is not positive, that’s for sure. People respond in many different ways. Their reactions can range from hurt and shame, to anger, to retaliation. They are rarely neutral, and most likely negative.

Most people, when put in a corner, will find a way to retaliate, either directly or indirectly. And it may not be immediate, these feelings and actions can last a long time.

So why do people do this? Some may do it in order to exercise power… some may do it because they feel they are in competition with the other person… some may do it because they think that is what the company expects. I have actually spoken with people who believe that this kind of behavior is motivational. Not.

Whatever the reason, these poor people who do it must not have an understanding of how bad it makes them look. Although I have seen it happen in the higher levels of organizations, I believe it is more common in the middle to lower-level ranks. And that is why you see more of it in the lower levels, because those people are the ones not being promoted or whose businesses are just plain stagnant.

And this happens most likely for two reasons.

  • One, and the more obvious, is because most people recognize when this kind of behavior is happening, and it is not valued as being respectful, productive, or promotable.
  • The second, and more subtle, is that the person who exhibits this behavior has lost supporters and allies with every instance of putting someone in a corner. Overtime, this person can be feared and avoided, and may have to work in a vacuum.

We all know that it is difficult to get ahead in business, working alone, and this is a classic case of how you can derail your own success.

We are not talking just about peer to peer relationships. There are a number of bosses out there who believe that it is okay to publicly humiliate their subordinates. Someone once advised me to praise in public, correct in private. I think that is great advice to those bosses who use meetings and public forums to point out others’ mistakes. Regardless of position in the organization, people will do favors for and work harder for people who respect them, and “throwing someone under the bus” does just the opposite.

The solution is simple. Just don’t do it!

No matter what your feelings are towards your associates and coworkers, public humiliation makes you look much worse than your subject.

The appropriate career strategy is to build alliances, and to be seen as someone who can be trusted, all the time. It is important to recognize that no one is perfect, and mistakes will be made. Helping people find solutions rather than find blame is very productive, and will build you an arsenal of people who are helping to move you forward. Bailing someone out of a jam can bring you years of loyalty.

We are not saying that a mistake should not be called the attention of the person making the mistake. Doing it in a constructive way will help that person improve. (See our post, "Change the Behavior" for more information.) We are talking about the way the mistakes are pointed out. To do it publicly and embarrassingly only creates stress in the organization, and hurts your career. Doing it privately and helpfully will gain you an ally.

So the next time you even think about throwing someone under that bus – just don’t!

And back to my first thought... Why does it seem to happen more here on Nantucket? My guess is that people just don't know the alternative... With so many small businesses on the island, most of whom have had no corporate experience, they do what seems to work. One of the benefits of working in a large orgainzation is that most workers do learn the value of positive politicking - which means avoiding the toss under the bus at all costs. The other reason might be that old expression, "familiarity breeds contempt" and we have alot of that going on here, estpecially in the winter.

What do you think?