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Ex-team member has my boss in his pocket

Dear Office-Politics,

I am in a real mess at work. I am having a lot of trouble getting along with an incredibly popular ex-team member.

There are a number of personal reasons for this (he takes everyone to the pub every lunchtime and stifles other people’s attempts to arrange things socially, and bullies and picks on people outside of his clique).

When he was in my team I clarified my position as being responsible for the particular part of work that I do because he was interfering with it. I was relieved when he left our group because other than his continued monopoly on my group’s social life, I didn’t have to deal with him anymore.

Now he is bombarding my team with 3 to 4 emails a day about issues and telling us to take responsibility for our work. Two days ago he set up an emergency meeting with my boss, her boss, my team and someone from another affected group. The thing that I was supposed to have done actually is not my responsibility. It was the responsibility of someone from a group not even invited to the meeting.

My boss however, thanked him emphatically for ‘watching out for our group’ and told me how great it is that he is so clever. I also heard her on the phone telling an unknown person that I had messed up because I wasn’t as experienced as this man. I cannot believe he raised this meeting without speaking to me first. (He and I aren’t speaking at all, apart from the very basic niceties of ‘excuse me may I get past?’ etc.

I am very bad at ‘playing the game’. He has my boss in his pocket. She instant messages him behind my back to explain things to her because she doesn’t understand the work we do and she trusts his competence more than mine. This is something of a pattern of behavior for her because she has done it to others in the past.

I am no good at game playing, and unfortunately have so far made a spectacularly bad go of not letting people around me know how much I dislike him both professionally and personally. I am learning the hard way not to wear your heart on your sleeve but it’s a difficult lesson.

I am leaving my job as soon as I find another. Not just for this reason but it is a motivating factor. I just don’t know if I can go the rest of the time I am here without doing something stupid like getting very angry and saying something I shouldn’t. He upsets me so much. I am very confused.



dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Bad-at-playing-office-politics,

Confused? I do not think you are confused at all. You seem to have analyzed the situation, the players and yourself very well. This has been a costly lesson in organizational politics so I hope that you can at least gather the learnings and apply them in your next job.

The classic mistake you made was what we refer here to in “Survival of the Savvy” as “wounding the king”. Anytime that you criticize, confront or badmouth an overly political person with more power than you, they make it a high priority to hurt you. In this situation he can hurt you and there is little you can do to him. He has access, credibility, a network and the “halo effect”.

In the future, to avoid being in this situation again, you need to develop certain savvy skills.

1) Learn to recognize quickly when you are dealing with an overly political person
2) Always assess who has more power before you confront someone.
3) Develop verbal discipline. You are too open about your negative feelings.
4) Create a network as soon as you can in your new role.

Best wishes for a savvy future. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Warmest regards,

Rick and Marty

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. 2 Answers to “Ex-team member has my boss in his pocket”

  2. Feedback from Bad-at-playing-office-politics

    Thank you for your response to my email. It helped a lot to get some perspective.

    I think I was doubting my own judgement in the situation because I felt on some level that if none of this person’s ‘loyal subjects’ could see my point of view then perhaps I was the one in the wrong. I certainly am half of the people who contributed to the situation in the first place by being too open and trying to force my opinions on others, even if I’m not the one who tried to hurt anyone else deliberately.

    I just got some replies from jobs I have applied for, so maybe this person has done me a favour by getting me motivated enough to move on to something more challenging!!!! And as far as little kings out there go, “what goes around, comes around”. It’s not worth my while right now but one day he is going to get his.

    Best Regards and Thanks a Bunch. Not So Confused Any More.

    By Letter writer on Feb 15, 2008

  3. Hi,

    I have the similar situation in my workplace. This new girl who joined the company with no prior experience just started playing the political game and now has my boss in her pocket. This person has known me for several years and had a lot of trust in me. Now, even my boss is now more interested in taking this new girl for all the meetings and avoiding me and wants to tell me what I need to know.

    This new girl has gone around studying everybody and has studied my weakness and front of me she talks nice and behind me she goes and gossips. People like her because she gossips and she tells what others what they want to hear. This has been a frustrating time for me in my career as I am not young to move around and I have been moving around from job to job because of this kind of office politics and backstabbing.

    I once really bad mouthed about this person to my boss and I think my boss took it personal and was defensive about her. This person was taught on the job by me and now she thinks that by having the boss in her hand she can even spoil the friendship I have had several years.

    Any input would be appreciated!

    By Gary on Feb 24, 2008

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