Life is like a movie, and the workplace a film set where leading actors and actresses perform with personal scripts and hidden agenda. Every day brings a new episode of suspense, deceit, and betrayal. Many of these characters weave seamlessly between truths and lies, flipping effortlessly between their two contradictory faces.
At work, I had two very capable direct reports. I first met them during their job interviews. They were pillars that supported my career for well over a decade. Alas, while they were both highly proficient, their character couldn’t be further apart. One was an upright and honest gentleman. The other turned out to be a two-faced conspirator who said one thing and meant quite another.
You can spot clues that reveal a fellow worker’s character. And I would advise extreme caution when dealing with the following three types: First, self-centred people who cannot avoid using the words “I” and “me” if their lives depended on it. Second, control freaks who use the word “you” in every other sentence, because they have this insatiable need to order and command others. And third, yes, suck-ups who are addicted to words like “excellent” and “awesome” as brown-nosing proclamations . Those with this last trait are likely to be flip-flopping, ‘two-faced’ individuals. They flatter when asked for their opinion, never taking a firm position because they don’t really have one. Taking a stand risks offending their superior. So, they sway and “flip flop” with the prevailing thought; go with the flow; avoid trouble. Even if raising an objection benefits the organization as a whole, they dodge. Why, they ask, should they stick their necks out?
Occasionally, I would hear through the grapevine what my two-faced colleague said behind my back. For example, when a business strategy failed to meet our expectation, I heard that he shook his head, looked discontented, and told others: “I knew this wouldn’t work. I had advised her repeatedly. But she insisted. What can I do? After all, she’s the boss. And I feel bad.” Except: I distinctly remember his reaction when we first discussed that strategy face to face. His profuse compliments on my insight and leadership then were enough to put me in seventh heaven!
Of course, rumours are not always true. Nevertheless, it’s wise to be suspicious of such a person’s character, even though you may not have directly witnessed both of his ‘faces’. Remember, a two-faced person is skilled at the art of camouflage. Like the fabled three-headed snake—one hears about it, but never actually sees one.
But, on your lucky day, you may witness this astounding facial transformation…right before your eyes. I did.
There was once when the three of us were discussing an important plan, which we all agreed was unlikely to work. We were flushing out the reasons we thought so, and brainstorming alternative solutions that we could propose to our boss.
My two-faced colleague was particularly vocal that day. “What a Stupid Idea!” he said. “Only those who have no experience can come up with a plan like this. Trouble is…they don’t even realise how stupid they are. I completely oppose this dumb proposal.”
I said, “So, let’s play it by ear at the meeting. When the opportunity arises, let’s work as a team, take turns to explain our position.”
At the meeting, the boss picked Mr. Two-Face to kick off the discussion. Norms dictate that the most senior not to speak first, to avoid limiting the scope of the dialogue. I was delighted, anticipating him to put forward our suggestions for the team to consider. But what followed blew my mind…
“Wow! This is such a great idea!” were the first words that tumbled out of his mouth, his tone enthusiastic. I was stunned—his earlier “Stupid Idea!” proclamation still ringing in my ears. (Of course, I will never expect him to say it’s a stupid idea! )
And he continued with gusto. “This plan will definitely work. With you leading us, and our global teams working together, success is almost guaranteed.”
I could hardly hold back my smirk. I’d always guessed he’s two-faced. But never had I imagined I would have the honour of witnessing a superstar’s Oscar-worthy act. It was only an hour ago that I sat through his epic dissertation. Now, he’s done a 180° face-switch…without a trace of shame or awkwardness. He was absolutely certain, positively confident, and so supportive you feel he’d walk through a brick wall to make the plan work.
So, I sat and listened, hoping no one noticed my eye-rolls. What an eye-opener! I never realised there was a master in my midst. Pardon my lack of deference.
Oh, my despicable two-faced hypocrite, which of your cheeks should I slap first?
Since that moment, I was on high alert whenever he’s around. If he could abandon his position and betray me in front of witnesses, who knows how many times he has back-stabbed me before this. His words are, well, practically worthless!
They say the workplace is chock full of killer dragons and venomous snakes. Interpersonal relationships make for complex office dynamics. You and I may have, ourselves, been guilty of being two-faced too, though to different degrees. Some two-faced individuals make our stomach churn with their comments. Others create misunderstanding through half-truths and conspiracy theories. But masters of this dark art are so vicious, they can cost you your job and your reputation, leaving you oblivious and baffled.
So, it’s best you start by assuming that everyone is two-faced. Protect yourself, while you acquire the skill of reading people’s character. As to who’s the angel and who’s the devil, time and experience will eventually lift the fog.
You may wonder why I do not simply rid myself of this two-faced colleague. Naturally, I have my reasons…
(To Be Continued)