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How to Survive a Character Assassination

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If you are a dynamic, successful individual, a born leader, highly charismatic, popular, attractive, or all of these things, then at some point you are guaranteed to be the target of character assassination.

At best, the things said about you -- while unflattering -- may simply be uncomplimentary or cast you in a bad light (like fluorescent); at worst, they can damage your reputation, ruin your relationships, cost you opportunities both personal and professional, deal a permanent blow to your self-confidence, and fundamentally alter how you and those around you perceive you and your place in the world. Character assassination is dirty fighting, make no mistake about it. It can be cowardly (like anyone who bad-mouths you behind your back to friends or colleagues), or it can be in-your-face (like politicians who make no secret about their intent to wreck an opponent's reputation). Given how damaging character assassination can be, it's worthwhile having in your toolkit the means to survive one -- and not just survive: PREVAIL.

Before we get started, I need to do a quick check to make sure I'm giving you the right guidance. If you are undergoing a character assassination as we speak, or seem to be cycling through them like Rasputin, it is possible that you are simply an asshole. This is probably the case if: 1) you have a hard time making and keeping friends, and, 2) the negative comments used by those who don't like you are consistent, regardless of circumstance or persons involved (like for example, you've heard the phrase "YOU, sir, are a self-serving little shit" more than once from all kinds of people, including little kids).

If this is in fact the case, then I can't help you. It does no good for me to teach you how to survive the character assassination that your own lousy personality brings on. I suggest picking up a nice Dr. Phil book (I hear that Self Matters is actually quite good for this) and working on not being such a douchebag. If the problem persists despite your new found friends and sunny Oprah-esque outlook, then by all means please do come back here and continue reading.

Moving on:

The very first question that pops into every single person's head who undergoes character assassination is, "WHY?" (the second is often "Where's my gun!?", but that's usually reserved only for men, and pretty much everyone who lives in Texas). The reason for the question above is simple enough: character assassination comes to our attention by the same abrupt mechanism that a slap in the face from a stranger apropos of nothing would -- surprise. That someone's taken an intentional, damaging, and in all cases hurtful shot at you is extremely disquieting; more than anything we want to know why. Covert or not, you're about to be at war with someone, and it's usually nice to know why you're going to war before you actually do (unless like me you're an American, in which case that can be a bit of a grey area). We'll get back to why in the middle of this article; the role it plays might surprise you...

First let's take a quick look at the kinds of people who engage in this sort of bullshit tactic, and what you can learn about them.

The Jealous

You used to be their friend/co-worker, and now it looks like you're moving on socially or professionally. They don't want to be left behind, and so rather than let you go, this idiot is going to try to wreck the place you're going to before you get settled in. They're dangerous because they have perceived credibility ("Yeah, I worked with/have known Jane for years...") due to their previous association with you. This type of person often engages in character assassination as a by-product of regret -- namely, regret about losing control or 'ownership' of you (typically after facilitating your introduction to the very area you're moving on to).

The Angry

Help Desk Supervisors. Just kidding; no, these folks are pissed off at you because you remind them of where they are in the world. Or rather, where they aren't. They're frustrated actors/musicians/writers who are stuck paying the bills doing some job they hate which is unrelated to their passion (probably because they aren't any good at what that is). Don't pay much attention to these people, as 1) they're pretty much angry at everyone equally, and 2) they won't have much ammunition to throw at you because they're too busy being angry all the time, at everyone.

The Devious

These are the most dangerous of the types of people who will try to wreck your character, most of all because they're usually sociopaths. These people don't hate you, these people see the destruction or damage of your character as a means to an end in realizing their own goals. They usually have no conscience or sense of remorse, nor do they care what happens to you after they've destroyed you. They may even commence a clandestine character assassination against you, only to seemingly come to your aide in public to thwart the attempt, for no other reason than to create a perception that they are someone you can trust -- which they'll later use to their advantage.

The Envious

This one here's usually at the root of nearly all character assassinations, and the one I'll spend the most time on.

What happens to the envious is that you (or whatever it is that you've done to piss them off) acts like a giant mirror, reflecting back their own perceived inadequacies and lame excuses for not getting on with their lives. See, if you're doing or achieving something they believe inside themselves that they should be doing or achieving -- and they're not -- it forces them to ask themselves WHY (see, I told you we'd get back to that). And the answer to that question is not one that the person trying to screw you over wants to hear, because it is painful to realize. So what do they do? They tell themselves that they could be doing or achieving whatever you're doing or achieving IF...they were willing to be as big of an A-hole as you are. Yeah, that's it... You're not special or talented; you're willing to do things and make compromises that they're not. You're a fake and a phony, and THAT'S why you're getting what you're getting and they're not.

Thin? HELL yeah. But that's where the character assassination comes in: if they can convince others to see you the way they now do -- if the common elements surrounding you both see their invented truth rather than your projected truth -- then their logic holds. Then they're right. And you, my friend, are friggin' assassinated.

Salvation:

But here's the problem that faces every would-be character assassin, and the one thing that will save you in the end: the double-check. Very few people will simply take whatever crazy slanderous thing someone says at face value, without doing their own version of the double-check (and if they do, then you didn't need them in your damned tent in the first place). Some will become more observant, some will ask some subtle questions, and some will ask some not-so-subtle questions. How you handle the attempted character assassination at this point -- this first realization that it's occurring -- is critical. How do you prevail?

The Solution:

Don't fight back. At least, don't lower yourself to use the tools the would-be character assassin has inarguably lowered themselves by using. The best defence against any character assassination is to maintain your integrity and take pride in what you do, whatever that may be. Fighting back just feeds the fire, and clouds the issue.

Someone says, "You know, Bob was saying some pretty unflattering things about you..."

You say: "Really? I'm disappointed to hear that." And carry on with whatever actual business you have in your life; don't give Bob another minute.

See what happened there? See what you did? Let me break it down:

  1. No emotion. Why? Because Bob doesn't matter. At all. Ever. To anyone, least of all you.
  2. You used the word "disappointed," and not the more typical "sorry." Why would you be sorry? What've you got to be sorry about? F Bob; you're disappointed. Immediately Bob appears childish and petty to the double-checker, and you (inexplicably, which is the cool part of this bit) appear as someone whose approval actually matters and is something to be desired.
  3. You continue on with your business. Why? See point one about Bob, above. Because you're above it. Because you're important. Because you've got shit to do. And because what Bob says has no bearing on your life.

You take that route consistently, and Bob's toast -- at least, with respect to you and your character. Think it matters who Bob is? Nope. Think it matters that you're an IT Manager and Bob's the CEO? Nope. And here's why: because integrity cannot be bound by any means. By handling yourself in this way you've highlighted that you've got it, and Bob doesn't. Fight over. Sure, old Bob may go about trying to pull more people out of your tent and into his, but in the end if you keep your integrity, no one will want to go into Bob's tent.

Ultimately, character assassination has absolutely nothing to do with YOU; it has everything to do with the person who's engaging in it. And THAT, should make you feel better and allow you to leave it behind you, where it belongs.