I work for state government in a bureau of about 20 people. Prior to my maternity leave about 3 years ago, there was a woman I was “friends” with up until the time I returned from my leave. She enjoys gossip (I really don’t, but I used to vent to her – probably a BIG mistake), but she has a way of sounding very sincere when she speaks, so she comes off as being really caring and fun. In other words, she is very good at trashing someone, but then when she realizes that she is looking bad, she’ll make a comment like, oh, well…God love her.
The reason I’ve distanced myself from her is that I’ve heard her say some pretty mean things about people to the point where she seems to really despise the person. Later, when she is around that person, you would never know how she really felt about the person if you didn’t hear it from her yourself. If I was one of those people who ran back and told the person what she thought of the him/her, the person would probably look at me and think I was crazy. She once told me that her section chief (who is above her in title) was an idiot who didn’t know what he was doing, but then when she had to speak to him later, she couldn’t have been sweeter to him. I think the reason she gets away with her behavior is because she’s bold enough to state how she feels when she knows her audience is agreeable. She’s really two-faced, but she’s so good at sounding like she likes you that you don’t question her sincerity. At least I didn’t until I started to really take a good look at her personality. As a result I have distanced myself from her, which I know confused her because she confided in another co-work about it. Since then, she floats around to different cubes now and then whispering for up to an hour or more and using her influence (she’s in a supervisor title) to keep her alliances (bees) in check. She is very saavy at office politics and even mentioned to me once that she would be good at “Survivor.” Actually, I think she missed her calling as an actress.
I heard from a fellow co-worker that it’s been noticed that she goes into certain people’s cubes and stays there for a long time whispering. She knows how to completely change the subject and the pitch of her voice when another co-worker comes into the cube she’s in, in an effort to try to make it seem as though she’s not talking trash, but I’ve overheard her on the other side of my cube talking to another co-worker that she is friendly with and her true colors really show sometimes.
I’ve heard her compare me to someone she absolutely hates, and others don’t like as well…I don’t know how many people she’s told her comparison to, but I’m sure it’s more than one. She’s also undermined me when I showed interest in a particular new project that our bureau was reviewing. My supervisor told me to talk to her about it, so I sent and e-mail to her copying him. When asked if I could be involved, she went to my supervisor and made it sound as if I couldn’t handle it because it was new and there was a lot of politics involved and it wouldn’t be a “fun” project (as if I was looking for something childish and cute to do). These are only a few things that she’s capable of and I’ll admit, I think she’d be good at the game, Survivor, too.
Can you give me any advice on how to deal with this type of co-worker, who is very good at changing her colors to match someone elses for the sake of making her look sincere to the person? I know she likes to feel in control (hence the term Queen Bee). What do you do when someone is both a Queen Bee and a chameleon? (Where’s the “Colony Collapse Disorder” when we need it?)
Anyway…that’s it in a rather large nutshell. What advice do you have for someone this good at being a creep?
Keeping my distance
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN
Dear Keeping my distance,
You are dealing with one of the hardest challenges in business, how do you deal day to day with someone you don’t trust. If this was your personal life and you didn’t trust a neighbor or a brother in law you can find ways to avoid them.
In an office you may have to interact with people on a regular basis that are untrustworthy. The woman you describe exactly fits our definition of an overly political person. We wouldn’t call her savvy because we use that word to describe someone who has learned to combine political skill and awareness with integrity. What she is doing is working for now because she is a good actress and she has probably ingratiated herself with people in power. In any case they are the recepients of her flattery and probably don’t see the two faced, sabotaging behavior. There are people who can effectively deceive like this. In fact some of them can fool lie detector tests. Like the old adage says, “Sincerity is the key to success. If you can fake that you have it made”.
So even though her behavior is obvious don’t underestimate her. She is dangerous when threatened. How should you proceed?
- Don’t signal that you are on to her unless you have powerful people to back you up. If you do you will become her main target.
- Keep a professional relationship. Be polite and don’t avoid her altogether because that would be a strong signal.
- When you have plans for projects, etc. keep everything close to the vest until your plans are complete. Don’t give her the extra opportunity to interfere.
She is excellent at “managing the airwaves”. You need to do that too and if at all possible get there first. Of course when you do this you will be giving accurate information. Document all agreements, discussions and your ideas. Be patient and there is a reasonable chance that she will make a mistake and attack the wrong person or senior management will become aware of how her gossip is hurting the team.
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success
Rick 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.