You may have heard the term ‘breadcrumbing’ used about romantic relationships; it’s the act of leading someone on by sporadically putting in the minimal amount of effort to keep someone interested and finds its origin in the story of Hansel and Gretel.
Can it also happen at work? You bet!
Workplace breadcrumbers operate in the same way. Whilst the ‘promise’ they lure you with is not one of romance, it is to give false hope of a relationship that you believe to be beneficial or desirable for your career. Breadcrumbers, bluntly, are users. It may be that they just enjoy the attention you give them, they might do it because they like the feeling of control they have over you, or it may be that they are just basically flaky. It could be a combination of all of these. Their reasons are not that important; their impact on you is the same regardless of why. Typically their false promises, lack of follow-though and the way they dip in & out of contact can leave you confused, frustrated and full of self-doubt.
So what can you do? Carolyn Hobdey explains.
Trust your gut
If it looks like a turd and smells like a turd, it probably is a turd. Our gut instincts are rarely wrong, so if you feel like you’re being played or mistreated, then chances are you’re right. Breadcrumbers are great at sowing the seeds of doubt in you, so step back from the situation and listen to the signals your body is sending you.
If your own logic feels tipped on its head by the breadcrumber, ask around about what others think of them. In the workplace this can be tricky – you don’t want to get a reputation as a gossip or for being nasty. Instead, get curious by asking others questions about the breadcrumber’s work, what it’s like to be in their team and share that they have sought you out to work together – observe and listen to what reactions you get.
Match their investment
If you find someone has a pattern of being unreliable, disingenuous and/or making excuses, don’t match their behaviours, but do match their level of investment in you. If they ask for a meeting and you send dates over but they don’t come back to you, don’t chase. If they fail to show up for a pre-arranged meeting/call, drop them a polite note to say you were there, but then leave it for them to come back. Don’t look desperate, do look like you have dignity.
If meeting or working with this person is the only thing that is exciting you about your job or making you feel good enough, then it’s time to take back control; you don’t need them to validate you. Write a list of all the skills you already have as well as all the key experiences you’ve had at work. Remind yourself about how capable and successful you have been without them.
Check your boundaries
The way they behave is not your fault, but the way you respond is your responsibility. If you’ve been breadcrumbed more than once – either by the same person or others – then it’s important that you check your boundaries. Are you being too forgiving? Do you set low expectations for how you should be treated? Do you act or tell someone when your boundaries have been breached? It’s time for some home truths and to make different choices.
Cut off their source
Breadcrumbers are attention seekers – frequently with low self-esteem. If you feel constantly fobbed off, let down or plans don’t come to fruition, then cut off being the source of their validation. Sever the bond with them by finding new projects to get involved in, letting those you do respect how that you’d like to work with them, and if the breadcrumber comes back prepare what you will say to them (politely) about how the way they treated you isn’t acceptable – and stand firm!
Breadcrumbers will get found out – it won’t take long for their flaky reputation to catch up with them. They will be left playing by themselves before long!