Throwing a colleague or peer under the bus, no matter how much they deserve it, is often political suicide in an organization or team. When we trash a colleague, we actually undermine our credibility in the eyes of others. As U.S. President Lyndon Johnson once exclaimed, “Never tell someone to go to hell unless you can send them there.”
The truth is, we can rarely force a peer or colleague out of an organization or team. What occurs instead is a long-standing dispute with enemies who line up colleagues to support their views. This is a highly dysfunctional fight for teams to endure for obvious reasons.
When asked about a colleague or peer that you do not respect, distrust, or find distasteful for some past action, take the high road and emphasize what they do well before raising a question about what might concern you. In this way, you can be honest without undermining the ability to work with this colleague in the future.
The conversation might sound like this:
A leader asks, “Do you think Jackie is ready to lead the new initiative?”
Your response can be candid without throwing Jackie to the wolves: “Jackie is decisive and brings people along with those decisions. Moreover, Jackie tries to do the right thing and land on the best outcome for the team. My concern is whether Jackie has the experience and aptitude necessary for leading this or any new initiative. I’m not sure Jackie is up to this assignment given this lack of depth.”
We all take issue and have problems with some of our colleagues and peers. When asked about their abilities, it is essential to be honest and candid. But this does not require we demean this colleague with others. The better choice is to emphasize the objective positive qualities of this colleague and then raise a question or concern. You’ll make fewer enemies this way and earn the respect of those who ask for your opinion. Always remember, sending someone to purgatory is not a likely outcome. When you throw a colleague under the bus, creating your own hell is almost guaranteed.