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I want to put an “office princess” in her place…

Dear Office-Politics,

Is there anything I can do to put an “office princess” in her place without hurting my reputation?

I work at a newspaper and work with an “office princess” who really needs to be put in her place. She’s 31, laughs very insincerely at anything people say, says things like “Oh, that’s so GAY!” wonders out loud whether certain people in the community are gay, has made disparaging comments about minorities and men, fusses about how her byline looks, and also talks about people behind their backs, including the editor who thinks she walks on water. She starts talking about herself from the moment she hits the door, blah-blah-blah me. If anyone else pulled some of the same stuff, we’d get reprimanded. This is a person with a pathological ego and narcissism and really needs professional help. She’s clearly out of control.

I just keep my head down and my mouth shut but dang! Sometimes I just want to stand up and say “Shut up!!” But I know that would not seen as being a good “team player.” Any advice to bring her down a few pegs?

Babysitter

OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN

dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Babysitter,

Hopefully, you can see from our salutation that we agree with your description of your “princess” colleague as being fairly immature, and we applaud your positioning the heart of the issue as wanting to approach and handle the situation without damaging your own reputation. There are lots of options and without knowing exactly how supportive your boss is of Princess, it’s impossible to prescribe which route is optimal. Why not ponder the pros and cons of the following and let us know your path? First, of course, really get clear on you true goals. Is it really to bring her down a few notches since her behavior is annoying and she’s too full of herself? Or is it simply to get her to cease the disruptive behavior and talk? If you can focus less on putting her in her place and more upon getting her to change, you have more options and will not harm your own corporate reputation or “buzz” as we call it. Given this organizing goal, consider these approaches:

1) COACH
If you were not annoyed and were the person’s manager, or friend, or mentor, one strategy is to simply HELP the person realize she is probably hurting herself and could get herself into hot water by offending the wrong person, so that you’d suggest monitoring what she says. Winning her confidence and appreciation may gain enough points with her on more obvious issues like the discriminatory comments that could earn a law suit or firing, might then pave the way for you to later approach the more subjective, less intrusive issues like simply being too self-focused.

2) TALK TO A SENIOR OR HUMAN RESOURCES

You might be surprised to learn that the company’s HR department might want and NEED to learn about this behavior, because you are listing comments that can be attacked by anyone as sexual harassment. If managers do not attend to the behavior the company could become liable if people who happen to BE gay or a minority take offense. All it takes is for a claim to be made due to the company’s management not curbing the inappropriate and, increasingly, illegal behavior, and the cost to management could be great. So one approach, after documentation of the offenses, would be to approach HR or a manager that you trust and confidentially share your concerns. Note that you are NOT trying to get anyone in trouble, rather to protect the company. Leave off the insincere laughter, the talking behind the back, etc. and just focus on potential discrimination and harassment danger if unattended. We suggest leaving alone the other annoying actions of immaturity for now.

3) ANONYMOUS WHISTLE BLOWING
Of course, if your goal is to address the other behaviors and push for an overall personality make-over, you are on thinner ice and your own motives are more likely to be called into question, fair or not. People start wondering if you are not the manager, what YOUR motives are. Still, if the behavior is getting in your way and a distraction to your productivity, you might use that as a reason to discuss in a BEHAVIORAL and precise fashion without name-calling, the impact of the princess’ actions on you and others if you know this. Again, if you were manager all of this is straightforward performance feedback material. Since you are not her supervisor, consider approaching someone who is. If you fear reprisal or retribution, you could always protect yourself by writing an anonymous letter. We do NOT generally advocate this route since open candor is of higher integrity and generally respected by superiors. But since we don’t know the motives or professionalism of the people you are approaching or how much (or why) they might be in the princess’ corner, this safer though less bold path might be an option.

4) A MUTUAL FRIEND
We do not know how many others share your perspective, but if this is the overall buzz on the person, consider finding a common associate who you know is bothered, is more professional and mature than Princess, yet who might have a closer relationship with her than you do. Then talk with THAT person about possibly intervening to give her feedback so that she does not hurt herself, others, or the company.

Again, note that all of these paths involve letting go of malice or revenge. You certainly should not be taking it personally since it’s clearly HER problem. We’re reminded of a quote we reference in our book: “Be careful about judging our neighbors, for there may be secrets in their hearts that would make us weep.” So consider that “hurt people hurt people.” If she is so clearly out of control, consider her behavior as a cry for help. A tough paradigm shift but this lens might bring you more peace of mind. Yet you don’t have to keep your head down with some of the alternatives listed above. Good luck and do let us know your decision.

Warm wishes for holiday cheer, even for the princess. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Optimistically,

Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success


cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

Publication note: This letter was originally published in January 2006. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics as we categorize and integrate them with our blog format.

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  1. One Answer to “I want to put an “office princess” in her place…”

  2. Feedback from Babysitter May 1, 2007:

    Dear Office Politics:

    During a routine check of your great site, I notice you resurrected my previous query about dealing with an “office princess” and the excellent tips for doing so.

    I just wanted you all to know we recently completed an employee engagement survey. The results will be discussed May 10. While I gave my employer high marks in nearly all areas, there was a comment area asking what things I would want to change. I answered thus:

    “Here at times, the backbiting is worse than a high school lunchroom. For example, one co-worker says hateful things about other co-workers, supervisors and community members behind their backs. She also spends a great deal of company time on the phone or in person gossiping, discussing all-too-personal affairs, socializing and complaining. I believe it’s unprofessional, immature, toxic and injurious to others, and thus, inconsistent with our core values. It distracts everyone from the goals and mission of the company. I feel it also sets a poor example for new or younger teammates, whom I believe look to co-workers with more than 10 years of experience to set a positive example, and demonstrate a strong work ethic and how to get along with others.”

    We’ll see if I have a job afterward but I tried to stick with the issues that I thought got in the way of making this an even better workplace environment.

    Thanks for the opportunity!

    “Babysitter.”

    By Babysitter on May 1, 2007

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