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Sweet Sammy — the ambitious backstabber

Colorization and Text by Franke James, MFA.; Backstabber ©istockphoto.com/William Voon

Dear Office-Politics,

I need your expertise in dealing with what I believe to be an overly ambitious backstabber. I am my boss’ longest employee, love my job, very loyal, dedicated, and love my co-workers. My boss and co-workers are like extended family to me. Almost 2 years ago, a woman (I’ll call her Sammy) joined our team without team members’ consent and she has been a problem for me ever since. The team members were not consulted on our opinions, Sammy was hired by my boss without us ever interviewing her.

Sammy acts very sweet in front of everybody, but most importantly to my boss, then she backstabs them. She is very ambitious and will destroy anything that stands in her way. That first thing in her way, is me. I am more of a body language and facial expression reader than pure listener, so when she is emotional or lies about anything, I know.

She did things like claiming that a project is done all by herself, rewording other people’s idea to be her own, pushing her way through force and childishness to gain my boss’ attention, gets upset (facial expression and verbal) when she finds me helping my boss, forcefully steals a task that was assigned to me but didn’t do it (when I take it over and complete the task, then she will claim that she did it), she keeps valuable information to herself even though my boss had told her to share it with me and other co-workers, say hurtful things, belittling me in front of other people (I confronted her about this once but she does noʼt seem to care nor say that she’s sorry), always demand more than others, and I suspect says untrue bad things about me in front of my boss.

My boss and I used to be very close, but I realized that she is getting closer and closer to Sammy. On some occasions, Sammy messed up my project, I fixed my project without blaming it on her or explaining why it took me so long and go on to my next project. Bad move, maybe I should have reported her early destructive behavior because it had gotten much worse since then?

Recently, she got promoted at the same time as me, to the same job title. I do not understand and am very much hurt by this. How come she advanced much faster me? Sammy had also started bossing us around and yet she is the most junior. This is scaring me. I saw what happened to people that reported to her. They all turned out to be bad fruits and she blamed it on them (Oh, they’re of lower intelligence). If so, how come when they start reporting to me, they are able to do what I told them to do correctly? What is going to happen to our department should she ever take it over? The whole department might fall very quickly. I cannot let this happen, I LOVE my department. I truly care for my boss, co-workers (except for Sammy), and our cause. I do not necessarily want to be my boss’ replacement unless I still get to report to her, but if this is what it takes to stop Sammy from destroying our team, then I will do it.

Please tell me if I should speak to my boss about this issue or not. If so, how? What should I say and what I should NOT say? I am afraid that if I open my mouth, it will make me look bad and make everything worse. My boss seems to like her a lot, that she had forgotten who sticks with her all along, almost like she is under Sammy’s evil spell. Sammy had betrayed my boss before she betrayed me, but I closed my mouth to that as well. Since then, I have lost my trust on her. The tongue biting, emotion holding, and scars from Sammy’s attacks causes me much stress, depression, lack of focus at work and home, fatigue, many nights without sleep, unhealthy physical state, marital strive for almost 2 years. I tried my best to brush the problem aside, and be friends with her but she only sees me as an enemy/ obstacle to her goal (be my boss). I know this because when she started, she enthusiastically told me that she wants to be just like my boss. Translation = she wants my boss’ job, then my boss’ boss’ job, and so on. There is no end to her goal. Through all the pain, I still keep myself calm and treated her as friendly as I do other co-workers.

The reason I do not share her destructive behaviors is because I am the peacekeeper in my team and I carry possibly the most workload out of all team members and I frankly do not have time for childish game she played. This costs me more than I could have imagined. I kept on hoping that my boss will eventually open her eyes and see the evil side of this woman (without me having to tell her), but it never happened. I am suffering a great deal of pain and unsure how much longer I can hold up.

Please help me and tell me what to do. Thank you for all your help.

The lost warrior

OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
timothy johnson

Dear Lost Warrior

If you were playing a sporting event, would you be the type of person who just stood on the field and watched the scoreboard the whole game, or would you be actively engaged and playing? My guess is you would fall into the latter category, although in this sports analogy, you have become the stand-on-the-field individual. You’ve allowed this behavior to go on for two years without challenging your boss in any way? You may have already squandered some valuable credibility capital by allowing Sammy to go unchecked for so long.

One other observation is that you may be asking the wrong questions. Your boss hired Sammy for a reason, and I think it would be (or should have been) to your advantage to find out what the relationship is there. The boss is turning a blind eye to Sammy’s antics, so there is something going on between the two of them. It’s your job to figure out the nature of their relationship. Are they sisters? College best friends? Does Sammy have embarrassing photos of your boss? Before you take any action against Sammy, you need to do some investigative work to find out why your boss has put stock in such an obvious underperformer. To neglect this step could be equal to “wounding the king” as your boss may not like to have her judgment questioned.

The other thing I noticed from your note is the lack of a paper trail. If you are to beat Sammy at her own game, you must begin getting task assignments, status reports, and checkpoints in writing. Sammy continues to have the luxury of “deniability” because you don’t have proof that she committed to doing Task A or that she really completed Task B. After having a verbal conversation with her, send her a pleasant email to the tone of “Sammy, great chatting with you a few moments ago. Just so I’m clear on our conversation, you agreed to complete the audit report by close of business on December 1st. If I misunderstood you in anyway, would you please email me in the next day or so to correct any facts I got wrong? Also, please feel free to let me know if you have any challenges completing this task. Thank you!” When she doesn’t follow through, you now have a paper trail to take to your boss. Right now, what you have is a bunch of hearsay and innuendo. Bosses don’t tend to respond well to those things, and you will have more credibility if you have documentation.

Before we talk about addressing your boss, let’s cover a couple of other points you brought up in your letter are your dedication and your love for the job. It’s OK to have passion and love for your job, your team, your employer, and your career path. I encourage my clients and students alike to pursue this passion. It’s important to remember that it is still a job, and there may come a time where walking away is necessary. (It doesn’t sound like it’s quite reached this point for you yet.) However, by classifying yourself as the peace-keeper does not mean that you can’t point out Sammy’s faults and try to bring about her downfall if she does indeed deserve to meet her career demise. I’m friends with a lot of police officers. Being a peacekeeper sometimes means you have to bust a few heads.

Now, to approach your boss, let’s assume you’ve figured out the relationship between Sammy and your boss. Let’s also assume you’ve kept a paper trail. Approach the meeting as a problem solving opportunity, not as a witch hunt. The idea here is to fix a problem of behavior. Also, if your company has an HR department, you may want to consider circling the wagons before approaching your boss. Some HR departments will coach employees on how to provide feedback upward, which gets the Sammy issue on their radar screen. You will look like an employee who cares (which you obviously do). On another note, you might wan to partner with some allies who can help you in this quest. If this degree of conflict is going on, you’re probably going to need help. It sounds like your colleagues may have some of the same concerns you do. Ask them to help you with the paper trail or with finding out about Sammy’s past with your boss. See if they’ll help you figure out some ways of solving the problem.

And finally, don’t take a promotion just to prevent somebody else from getting it. You will only end up hurting yourself and ultimately your team if you’re not following your true passions.

I hope this helps

Thank you for writing to OfficePolitics.com

Regards,

Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant

Timothy Johnson is the Chief Accomplishment Officer of Carpe Factum, Inc. His company is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations “seize the accomplishment” through effective project management, strategic facilitation, and business process improvement. His clients have included Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Wells Fargo, ING, Principal Financial Group, and Teva Neuroscience. Timothy has managed projects ranging from a $14 billion class action lawsuit settlement to HIPAA compliance, from software conversion to process reengineering, from strategic IT alignment to automated decisioning, from producing a training video to creating a project office environment. He is currently an adjunct professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching MBA classes in Leadership, Managing Office Politics, Creativity for Business, and Project Management.

An accomplished speaker, Timothy has enthusiastically informed and entertained audiences across the nation on the topics of project communication, office politics, creativity, and meeting management. He has written two books, both business fables: Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable and GUST – The Tale Wind of Office Politics.

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  1. 5 Answers to “Sweet Sammy — the ambitious backstabber”

  2. What if the so called “Sammy” is the HR department?

    By JC on Nov 9, 2008

  3. Timothy,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my questions. And fortunately for me, Sweet Sammy is not the HR department. I took your advice, and finally spoke to my boss about the issue with a level head and not pointing fingers. The result was surprising. My boss is not aware that Sammy is behaving very negatively in many aspects, maybe because she is such a sweet talker to my boss all the time (evil spell begone!). Although I have NEVER discussed Sammy’s behavior with other employees, one of my co-workers that doesn’t know Sammy very well, decided to open his mouth in front of my boss about her bossing him around and forcing him to do projects that supposedly belongs to her. What an odd concidence. This happened just one day after I spoke to my boss, boy I think she’s in trouble. My boss looked back and realizes all the improper things Sammy did to her and other team members. I guess, when you’re busy you tend to overlook annoying things. I have no one but myself to blame and the same with my boss. Not hoping that Sammy gets fired or anything, but I do hope she grows up a bit, especially if she’s staying with us. Again, I thank you for all your help in this tough situation, it is much appreciated. Finally, I can get reasonable amount of sleep at night.
    Lost Warrior

    By LW on Nov 10, 2008

  4. Hello,

    I have been with my company for over 5 years. During this time frame I have been teated poorly. There have been many employess stand 2 feet away with other employeesand say I am going to get fired. My boss has yelled at me over the phone stating. I want you to do your job. prestnly I work in outside sales. My supervisor has told my customers to threat me by saying I am going to fired.Now my sales manger is standing 3 feet away from me with another superviosr saying ” There is something wrong with me. Friday, our warehouse man yelled and said that he did not recieve an inventory form. I told him I would re email it to him. He then followed me out to the Van and said: Open up your van in a harsh way. He would not leave so I immeditaley walked outside into the street to avoid this man.At present I have not be written up. After this last incident I called the union. I have been taking abuse for the longest time. Do you think by going to the union I can get all of this stopped? Or do you think I just need to find anothr job?I think this treatment is coming from upper management. 1 month ago we had our last sales meeting that included upper managemnet. I just happeend to sit by them. It was appauling when the Director said to a collegue of mine. “Is that the one” My collegue replied yes she is the one. Then 5 minutes later the Directores boss raised his voice to the director and said If you do not want her here why don’t you fire her? She was stunnded and looked at me and did not say anything. That tday I wil never foreget. Even though I work for the State a person still can be terminated. If they do not want me working theeir why don’t they terminsate me?

    Thanks for your advise,

    Tammy

    By Tammy on Nov 29, 2008

  5. Tammy,

    To have an Office-Politics adviser answer your letter, please read the submission terms here:

    http://www.officepolitics.com/advice/?page_id=2

    Thanks,

    Franke James
    Editor & Founder
    http://www.officepolitics.com

    By Franke James on Dec 5, 2008

  6. How do you deal with employees forming cliques within the workplace.

    By Barry on Feb 1, 2009

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