We all have that person in the office—the co-worker who never reads the agenda and then tries to dominate meetings, the person who steals your ideas and presents them to the team as her own, or the boss who’ll throw you under the bus whenever necessary. When you’re dealing with a difficult colleague, it’s hard to see any upside to his or her antics.

However, it turns out that science says there’s a huge advantage for you when you have an untrustworthy person on your team.

Last year, researchers published work in Group Decision and Negotiation that showed how distrust within a team can actually make you work harder to overcompensate for your co-workers. To illustrate this, researchers had students virtually complete “routine” homework (material they’d learned before) and “non-routine” homework (which covered new topics) in groups.

Within these groups, some students received a warning before starting that another member was purposely trying to slow down everyone’s progress and was attempting to make them put down the wrong answers.

What were the findings?

It turned out that students taking on non-routine work actually performed better after viewing the warning. It makes sense—when you don’t trust your team to make up for your mistakes, you’re a lot more careful when completing an assignment.

So, what does this mean for you?

Dealing with someone who’s trying to undermine your work actually forces you to concentrate on your task more. It makes you rely on your own abilities rather than defer to other people for guidance—and it leads you to check your work more thoroughly because there’s not always an extra set of eyes you can trust. While this isn’t the best workplace environment long-term, it definitely has some clear short-term benefits when it comes to personal growth.

Now, obviously you don’t want to intentionally create distrust among your team members by running a similar experiment. But the next time someone goes behind your back or shoots down your idea in a meeting, remember that he or she is making you better at your job—and this will lead to awesome opportunities down the road for you.


Photo of office courtesy of Shutterstock.