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Doing water ballet in the shark tank

Dear Office-Politics,

I find my “non political, good work ethics-self” in the bad position of working with a woman who manages to do nothing, take credit for my successes and blames me for “our” mistakes.

I’ve had this job for a few months and have not had a good nights sleep since. She pushes me to do more and when I say I can’t she wants to know why… Or if I can, later she demands to know why not now!

Whether I do what she wants or not, I will be found at fault. No matter what I do, right or wrong, I am criticized. I am under tremendous stress while trying to learn her job and mine so I can do her job because she demands it (she is my superior). She patronizes me publicly. I know an emotional outburst is about to explode from me and I know it will be the wrong thing to do. I like work but not my hands shaking. I’ve tried every tact I know to get along and develop a good working relationship but it all backfires on me.

Got any advice on how to reduce my stress and get a good nights sleep? By the way, this woman is nothing but political which seems to be admired by the bosses.



dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Sleepless,

At least we know you are NOT living on that river called De-Nile, since the clues of an overly political superior are obvious: fixing blame, taking credit, sabotage through patronization. You sound clearly as less political, self-described as having high ethics and a non-political mentality. This is all fine as long as you are not going beyond being “less political” to become “under political” with a target on your back you are so naive or perceived as having a weak image, knowing no one in power, or doing water ballet in the shark tank.

Clearly, your stress level means you’re hurting yourself with taking your boss’ behavior so personally that your stomach is keeping score. Please consider changing how you talk to yourself from phrases like: “What an idiotic, pompous SOB, how can she do this?” to “OK, this is who she is and it must mean she has a pretty lousy life and lacks integrity. I don’t need to stoop to her level, and I can win by being more politically savvy and protecting myself from her tactics. I won’t let her beat me twice, first by stealing my ideas and then by ruining my home life. I can rise above this.”

Also, we do recommend using “Verbal Discipline,” because your anger might hook you into putting your foot in your mouth and contracting “athlete’s tongue,” committing a career-limiting move. Sometimes being right gets the booby prize if you wind up getting sucked into saying or writing something with language your boss can just use as ammunition to pass on and saying, “See the lack of professionalism?”

So, you must respect her turf and ego gland and fly under the radar of her ego, not taking her behavior personally. Sometimes, even with less political superiors the “pioneers are the ones with the arrows sticking out,” so think how true it can be with an Overly Political boss like yours. We hunch with your level of upset you might be “using every tactic to get along and develop a good relationship” but you might be screaming with your mouth shut.Tread lightly. Finally, if “nothing will work” with the person truly, you would benefit by building strong alliances with other peers and seniors who will know your work, loyalty, and integrity.

We feel your pain and wish you well! 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

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 2005. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.

  1. 3 Answers to “Doing water ballet in the shark tank”


    Thanks. I have been developing alliances, I just wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. After a couple of meetings with her bosses, who agreed with me, I am afraid this will come back to haunt me even though I didn’t initiate the meetings. Yes, I do feel like I’m doing water ballet in the shark tank. And I do feel like I’m screaming with my mouth shut. I like the visual humor of both these sentences and will keep them mentally handy to keep my spirits up. Thank you again.

    By Letter-writer on Sep 11, 2007

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