Find out whether your colleagues are playing it cool or playing the game

Ever wondered why some people at work seem to downplay their skills or achievements? You might be witnessing a sneaky strategy called sandbagging.

In the world of professional settings, sandbagging refers to the intentional act of understating abilities or performance to gain certain advantages. It's like putting on a disguise and surprising everyone when the moment is right. 

But is sandbagging a clever tactic or just a recipe for trouble? Let's dive in and explore the ins and outs of sandbagging in the workplace.

What does sandbagging mean?

Sandbagging is a deceptive strategy people use to intentionally downplay their abilities, performance, or a potential order to gain an advantage over others. The term comes from using sandbags to build barriers or defences, like in floods or wars.

In business, sales, and the workplace, sandbagging is a tactic where someone conceals their true capabilities, resources, or intentions on purpose. For example, in sales, they might downplay their resources or act weaker than they are. This can make the other party underestimate them and give them the upper hand in negotiations or deals. 

Sandbaggers can be considered glorified con artists and sandbagging is generally seen as unethical because it involves deceiving others. In short, it's a hustle.

What are examples of sandbagging?

Sandbagging can happen in a variety of contexts. Here are a few from within the workplace:


Imagine a salesperson who intentionally downplays the features and benefits of their product during a sales presentation. They might emphasise the limitations or focus on the less impressive aspects. By doing this, they create lower expectations in the customer's mind. Then, when they finally reveal the full capabilities and advantages of the product, it's like a pleasant surprise that can lead to a successful sale.

Business negotiations

Let's say a company wants to buy another company. During the negotiation process, the buying company acts like they're not as strong as they really are. They downplay their financial power and market potential, to convince the other company to agree to a lower price for the acquisition. Sneaky, right? They're trying to get a better deal by making themselves seem less valuable.

Workplace projects

In a team setting, a team member might purposely undersell their abilities or knowledge when assigned to a project. They might act like they're not as skilled or experienced as they truly are. By doing this, they lower the expectations of their teammates and the Project Manager. Then, when they deliver exceptional results or demonstrate their expertise, it can exceed everyone's expectations and make them shine.

Job interviews

Someone interviewing for a job may downplay their skills and achievements in an attempt to come across as modest. By underselling themselves, they might create lower expectations and then exceed them when they actually do the job, impressing management as soon as they step into role.

Why do people in the workplace sandbag?

There are plenty of reasons that individuals in the workplace may sandbag. Here are a few:

To exceed expectations

Sandbagging can be used as a tactic to exceed your manager's expectations by suggesting you are less capable or experienced than you are. Setting lower expectations means you can then surprise your manager with better-than-expected results, which can create a strong positive impression and may result in other advantageous gains.

To gain a competitive advantage

Sandbagging can provide a strategic advantage in a competitive environment. In the workplace, this is likely to be more common among salespeople than anyone else. If you downplay value or resources, you can catch the competition off guard with false perceptions, induce overconfidence in the competition which can lead to complacency, or gain leverage in negotiations by suggesting weakness.

To manage perceptions

One of the more legitimate ways to sandbag is by maintaining a sense of humility and managing expectations. You may deliberately downplay some of your achievements or skills to avoid being arrogant or boastful, which can be helpful in the workplace when you're trying to build trust and relationships.

Advantages of sandbagging

While sandbagging is generally considered unethical and can have negative consequences, some individuals may perceive certain advantages in the workplace, including:

  • Impressing management: Sandbagging can help you to impress your manager if you exceed expectations - it can result in a pay rise, bonus, or promotion

  • Maximising certainty: If you aren't confident in the potential outcome of a task, project, or sale, sandbagging can offer you extra time before you need to report back

  • Reducing scrutiny or attention: Intentionally downplaying the work you're doing might result in less oversight or attention from managers or colleagues

However, it's important to note that these advantages may be short-lived and often come at the expense of trust and team dynamics. 

Disadvantages of sandbagging

There are far more disadvantages than advantages to sandbagging in the workplace, which can severely impact individuals and the overall work environment. Notable disadvantages include:

  • Eroding trust: Intentionally deceiving colleagues and managers about your abilities undermines trust and creates a culture of dishonesty

  • Damaging reputation: There is a risk of damaging your professional reputation too, as it's challenging to rebuild trust and credibility once it's lost

  • Missing development opportunities: You may miss out on professional development opportunities by downplaying your abilities, preventing your professional growth

  • Breaching values: Deliberately misleading others is dishonest and is likely to be a violation of an organisation's values and ethical code of conduct

  • Stunting projects: An ineffective distribution of budget, staff, or resources may be the result of falsifying your abilities, which can negatively impact projects or initiatives

  • Damaging teamwork: When team members lie about their skills or contributions, it can lead to imbalances in workload, decreased efficiency, and hindered progress on projects or goals

It's important to foster a culture of openness, transparency, and trust in the workplace. Encouraging people to showcase their genuine abilities, collaborate effectively, and pursue growth opportunities honestly and ethically promotes a healthier work environment for all.

When it comes to applying for jobs, you need to put your best foot forward. Never undersell yourself on your CV, cover letter, or in an interview, because it will likely result in the job slipping through your fingers. Enlist the help of the experts and submit your CV for a free review to ensure it's ready to wow the recruiters. 

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