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A Twisted Tornado of Office Politics

Tornado and type effect by Franke James, MFA.; Men in field with paper ©istockphoto.com/ urbancow

Dear Office-Politics,

I was recently involved in a TWISTED TORNADO of office politics.

At the time, I had no clue I was actually in the “clique”. I got close to a fellow employee who knew everyone… talked to everyone and talked about EVERYONE! She was promoted (although unqualified) because of her “personal” relationships with upper management. I work for a HUGE Corp. and this is completely unacceptable to me. She has NO IDEA what she is doing now that she’s leading a team, she’s rude, obnoxious and no one REALLY likes her…. I think they’re scared of what could happen if they chose not to associate with her.

I, however, am not that kind of person. I spoke-up about everything I knew about her and advised my upper management this was a TERRIBLE mistake. They still promoted her because the news was already released and there was no way they could get back on their decision. Is this how promotions work? Do you have to get in with all of the people who can help you climb the ladder to success? I am a very well respected employee and honestly the best in our department.

Am I at risk? Can I be at risk since I am doing the best work? How does this happen when others have all of the qualifications and the person who is promoted does not??? WHAT DO I DO? I do NOT want to stay in this HELLHOLE forever.. should I get out? She is a gossipmonger and tells everyone everything… I can’t take this much longer…. but we have an internal freeze….




timothy johnson


The first three universal rules about dealing with office politics:
1) inhale
2) exhale
3) repeat

OK, now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s deal with your problem head on. Yes, bad people do get promoted because of their upward relationships. It’s an unfortunate and sometimes unfair fact of life. Wounding the king is generally not a good strategy unless you have the ammo to go all the way (i.e., getting the person fired or removed from your career path).

Another reality you may have to deal with is that you are at risk, if your voicing of displeasure about this person is public (I’m guessing from the tone of your letter that you’re a very expressive individual, so this may have already happened). Another unfortunate fact is that it doesn’t matter how great of a performer you are. If your boss perceives you as a threat, you could very well be eliminated.

Be mindful of your focus
My advice is fairly simple in dealing with the boss. Do your best work and keep your conversations with this individual very cordial yet professional. Assuming your description of her is accurate, she may try to get under your skin. You still control the power of what you allow to bother you and unnerve you. If your focus is on her behavior, you will be bothered by her behavior. If your focus is on doing your job, then you will not be bothered by her. You may still have to face the fallout from your earlier damaging comments. Whether you stay or leave is ultimately up to you. In this economy, it is a tough decision to stick it out in a miserable workplace for a certain paycheck.

Emulate parts of her behavior
Another thing to consider is how to emulate parts of her behavior. You may need to network to build your own level of support. While you don’t like her personally, she should not be faulted for her upward mobility. She has learned how to make herself positively visible to senior management in a way that makes her promotable. Your approach to refuting this sounds like you are the lone voice crying in the wilderness, especially if your coworkers are too frightened by her. They may have just set you up to be the sacrificial burnt offering by allowing you to vent to upper management. Every professional in every job has to learn how to read those around him or her to distinguish their allies and their enemies. That’s why I generally advise people to lay low when they first enter a job and watch how the others interact among themselves… who gossips, who backstabs, who avoids whom. By channeling your inner-Jane-Goodall, you can see which apes behave well and which ones to avoid.

Information is fuel to a gossip
Finally, in handling a gossip (be it a boss, coworker, or subordinate), remember that information is their fuel. While some people like to plant false stories with a rabid gossip in hopes that he or she will hang themselves, I prefer to just snuff out their fuel source and not give them anything… no information and no feedback on information they give me. If she is gossiping about you, and it gets back to you, and you have sufficient evidence to show that it is she who is perpetuating the gossip, take it to HR. Continue documenting this behavior and encourage others to do the same. There is always safety in numbers, and Human Resources (in most larger corporations) will generally work to prevent a public relations and/or legal nightmare.

I wish you the best, and I’m confident you will make the right decisions for yourself.

Thank you for writing to OfficePolitics.com


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.

  1. 3 Answers to “A Twisted Tornado of Office Politics”

  2. Thank you soooo much for your response. Since I wrote this, I have tried to lay low. She just keeps backstabbing people and that really bothers me. I have started gathering a group to back me (silently) and we are going to address this the right way at the right time in a professional manner… maybe… 🙂
    Things are going better for me now, but I HATE to see other innocent people suffer from her evil and manipulative ways!!!

    Keeping my head and guard up until the time feels right… I have good relationships with our upper management and they know I’m trustworthy. The “Office-crab” has already been caught in several lies by upper management….. it’s only a matter of time … she is a dog with rabies on the loose and I don’t feel that she will survive forever…

    By AAAAARRRGGG on Jan 24, 2009

  3. Dear AAARRRGG,

    not sure if now you are not now playing politics. Going behind your new manager’s back to find support for your viewpoint is a dangerous game. It will end in tears – YOURS. Perhaps you have to accept that she is now your manager and make a difficult situation better.

    Why not suggest a ‘New Manager Assimilation’ session. Will need a strong facililitator.

    The facilitator conducts an anonymous session via post-it notes by asking the team to write down their key questions and concerns e.g. What do we know about the new boss? What do we want to know? What should he/she know about us? What are our hopes? What are our fears? etc etc

    The line manager is then bought into the room, given time to study the questions & comments. Then the manager is asked by the facilitator to respond to the questions and comments.

    This approach will lead to a more open discussion with the new manager about the issues the team members have. If she is rude and obnoxious as you state then this message should be communicated to her via the new manager assimilation. Hope this helps.

    By Ranjit on Feb 15, 2009

  4. This sounds a little immature on my part – but the workplace won’t change. If management is aware and willing to change the culture then it can change but it only happens through leadership.

    Go out on your own. Do something you want. Wake up every day and love going to work. Shame on something (like an organisation) for making you feel bad for a whilst… shame on you for putting up with it any longer than that!!

    By Veronica Hope on Feb 23, 2009

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