How to Be the Good Villain at Work … And Get Thanked For It

With a handful of exceptions (we’re looking at you, Hannibal Lecter!), whether it’s a movie, TV show, or book, you don’t root for the villain to succeed (and we’re definitely looking at you, King Joffrey!). But unlike fictional tales of good vs. evil, villains are sometimes necessary in the real world—especially in the workplace. By villain, we’re not talking about the guy in accounting that steals office supplies or the lady in customer service who is rude to all her co-workers. No … we’re talking about being a good villain.

The good villain of the workplace is the one who is willing to take a very unpopular stance, but does it for the good of the company. He is the one willing to tell the new boss that his new plan to generate more customers is the same one that didn’t work three other times for three other supervisors in the past and probably won’t work again this time.

Or, when the department manager is totally ineffective and can’t be bothered to actually, you know, manage, she is the villain that steps up and tells a popular co-worker that his behavior is damaging the reputation of the team. Often, she makes more enemies than friends and she might—ironically—be seen as not a “team player”.

Being the office villain is often a thankless and lonely role. When it’s the manager who has to be the villain, it’s often worse. Managers have the power to fire and lay people off, axe projects before they get off the ground, or deliver negative feedback. Villains often get uncomplimentary nicknames that stick forever.

So whether you’re the CEO or an administrative assistant, if you’re the villain there are ways to do it that can mitigate some of the bad karma you’ll engender among your co-workers and peers.  Here how:

Be a good villain

When approaching a coworker, make sure to do so with respect. For instance, in our “3-time loser plan” scenario above, you should highlight the aspects of the plan that you like first, and then express your concerns. Make a case for why you think the plan will be unsuccessful and try to get your coworker on the same page as you. Discuss why people believed the plan didn’t work before and let the new boss try to come up with ways to overcome the obstacles to success.

Focus on the company

When you take an unpopular stance for the good of the company, your coworkers may think you’re doing so to benefit yourself. Make sure to present your idea as the best option for the company. Explain how your idea will benefit everyone and how the popular decision could be detrimental to everyone.

Don’t throw anyone under the bus

Any plan or idea in the workplace originated from one of your coworkers. Even though you know a popular idea could hurt the company, whoever came up with the plan thinks it is pure genius. So, when criticizing the plan by taking the unpopular stance, you’re ultimately criticizing them.

Be careful not to lay blame on any one person. If you’re quick to throw someone under the bus, you’ll be seen as a traitor by your coworkers — and that’s not the type of workplace villain you want to be. Instead, give ownership of the plan to everyone, highlighting your concerns and providing suggestions on how to improve it.

Any time you take on the villain role, you’re taking a risk. But, as long as your unpopular stance saves the company from costly mistakes, or saves people’s jobs, your peers and co-workers will ultimately appreciate you and thank you in the end. You know … just like that Darth guy!

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