Dear Ron, I have a colleague/rival who knows I'm up for a promotion in a few months and has been doing all he can to find fault with my work. Should I just ignore the nit-picking and go with the flow, or do I push back every time and challenge it? Because frankly I am getting really upset and frustrated.
First and foremost, you have to realize this is a mindset issue. Your colleague's constant fault-finding is a game he's playing with you in an attempt to get you off your game and lose your cool. Once you understand it's a game, however, you can figure out how to act pro-actively from a position of strength, rather than simply reacting and getting upset that he's picking on you. The goal is to adopt a mindset of being in control of this cat-and-mouse game, and not simply a victim.
So number one, you have to play things mistake-free and leave no room for criticism. And two, in seeing this as a psychological game, you need to out-think this person and anticipate what he's likely to focus on. Every time he comes up with something, you want to be able to respond by saying "I'm glad you asked that" and having a quick and ready answer -- ideally, in front of your boss. Eventually, your co-worker will come to realize his strategy isn't effective at either exposing your weaknesses or provoking an emotional response from you.
I recently had a client who was a senior manager at a telecommunications company and having similar issues with a nit-picking colleague. She did as I advised, making sure to dot every 'i' and cross every 't' and anticipate all of her peer's questions, and secured a big coup for her group when she got a high-profile CEO to make a special appearance in front of her group when they desperately needed a speaker. After that, her peer was pretty much blown out of the water, with his criticisms becoming almost irrelevant.
The question for you is, do you have the smarts, determination, and emotional strength to win here? It's not going to be easy to produce such immaculate work, but no one ever said getting ahead in your career was going to be a cake walk. Now's the time to rise to the challenge.
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