Don’t Throw Colleagues Under the Bus


Throwing a colleague or employee under the bus is one of the best ways to destroy a team’s resilience. By doing so, you demonstrate a lack of consideration by sacrificing a loyal teammate for a temporary and often minor advantage. While we all may know this, sometimes we act out of fear and later regret rash behavior.

If your resilience is low, you are more likely to make emotional decisions that undermine the team. Maintaining high resilience will help you manage your actions and stop you from sacrificing colleagues out of fear. To learn more about improving your personal resilience, read my blog on the subject here.

Being thrown under the bus by a supervisor or colleague can also be traumatic, particularly if you trusted the person doing the throwing. It destroys trust and can turn a work unit against each other, with staff focusing on avoiding rather than encouraging risk and innovation.

Making a commitment to yourself and your teammates to “keep each other out from under the bus” will build the resilience of your team. If you are a supervisor, manager or executive, don’t tolerate bus throwing among your staff. For everyone else, you can also be a leader by showing people a different way and take measures to avoid being thrown under the bus.

Here are some tips to help you avoid throwing others and being thrown under the bus:

  • Know your “throw” triggers. Often, people throw someone under the bus and then quickly regret it. Watch the things that trigger your impulse to throw someone under the bus and then practice not responding to the triggers with bus throwing behavior. Hint: Whenever you are sure you are justified in throwing someone under the bus, don’t do it.
  • Build relationships. One way you can partially guard against getting thrown under the bus is to build relationships with people before any bus throwing begins. People are less likely to betray a friend, but don’t take that as a guarantee.
  • Get others to share risks. We all must take calculated risks, but when you take one as a team member, make sure the team understands the risk and decides as a group if you should take that particular course of action. Discuss contingency plans with the team if the worst happens. Then the team is a part of the risk, not the victim of it.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities. Some people are artists at leveraging unclear roles and responsibilities to throw others under the bus. This gives them the ability to shirk responsibility and say it was someone else’s job when things go wrong. Avoid that bus by clarifying roles and responsibilities, getting agreement among those involved and documenting the result before trouble begins.
  • Admit your mistakes. While it can be hard to admit your mistakes, particularly in a public setting, your colleagues will trust and respect you more if you do. The more comfortable you are making and acknowledging your mistakes, the less likely you will blame others when you do.

What helps you avoid being thrown or throwing others under the bus?

This blog does not represent official policies of the Department of State or those of the U.S. Government.


Beth Payne is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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