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Fear that new promotion sets me up as target

Dear Office-Politics,

I am hoping you can offer some advice for my situation.

I have been at my current job for a year. I previously worked in the same field using the same software. This was a big advantage for me since there was not much need for training. I am a hard working employee and consider myself a team player. I work with an attitude of what is best for the company. If the company does not do well then I will be out of a job.

Recently I was told by my boss that he is planning on switching my job duties with another employee which in turn will make me her boss. My boss feels I am better qualified and has made comments about the other employee being in over her head. I do not have a problem with the switch in duties, I am however concerned about the fallout.

As I said I have been here one year, the other employee has been here 13 years. I have been told “stories” about her past behavior, tantrums, door slamming, you get the picture. She is also very chummy with another employee and the two of them like to talk down about other employees. I need advice on how to best avoid becoming a target.

I did not ask for this change but will honor what my boss thinks best for his company.

Thanks for your help,

Wary of Promotion

dr. gregory ketchum

Dear New Boss (Wary of Promotion),

My, my, this is a bit of a sticky wicket. My guess is that no matter what you do or how graciously you handle the situation you will become a target of wagging tongues. So in order to not set ourselves up for failure (thus making me look bad for going along with this impossible goal!) let’s put that one aside, shall we? If these gals are tongue-waggers, they will “wag-away” no matter what you do. Better to follow that old advice. You know the one, “better to let wagging tongues lie” or something like that. The point I’m trying to make here is let’s focus on what we can control in the situation.

First, let’s look at the nature of your relationship with her. So that we don’t have to keep referring to “her” let’s call her Sybil. You’ve been there a year already, but you only reference stories that you’ve “heard” about her past behavior. You don’t mention any of your own interactions or observations and whether they match the “grape vine intelligence” that you’ve gotten. As you know, grape vine intelligence can be notoriously wrong, full of biased perceptions or just flat out of date.

So my first questions to you are: Where are you in this? What do you think of Sybil? How have your interactions with her been?

If you’re prepared to craft a strategy for how to deal with her based primarily on the word on the company grape-vine, then I’d say that you are showing a lapse in judgment. I don’t mean to be judgmental about this, and perhaps you just overlooked saying what your observations and interactions have been. However, I can only go on what you tell me, so I’ve got to assume that you are acting on the grape-vine, which is never, ever where you want to find yourself.

First things first:

Engage Sybil, get to know her, test out the word of the grape-vine and come to your own conclusions. Only then will you be able to craft a strategy to gracefully manage your way through this transition, which you sound fully capable of doing.

One more thing:
Much of your success hinges on how your boss sets up the situation and how s/he communicates the change to all involved, especially Sybil and her fellow wager, who we’ll call Little Sybil. The heaving lifting for navigating this transition successfully is really on your boss’s shoulders. That is your first point of attack. Get in there and share your concerns with your boss and take an active role in planning the transition. No letting your boss off the hook by shoving the responsibility for planning and executing this transition solely onto you. My credo is to always help my boss by making sure that they take the responsibility of their role. Hey, I don’t want to make my boss look bad, just because I’m so darned competent and willing to take on responsibility! Help your boss figure it out so that s/he will be so successful at handling this that s/he will even think it was their idea! Now, that’s what I call success!

Bottom line is that you can never successfully navigate any work situation like this, nor any life situation for that matter, without getting actively ENGAGED. No standing around operating on what other’s say or you will fail every time. Sybil may not be the monster that you fear she is, but you’ll never know until you really engage her. Take the initiative and get engaged and you’ll know what to do.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.com,

Dr. Greg

Dr. Greg Ketchum, dubbed the “Frasier of the Cubicles” by the San Francisco Chronicle, is a former clinical psychologist-turned CEO and media career coach. He presides over an executive talent firm, providing coaching and recruiting for executives and Fortune 500 companies. A unique mix of psychology and coaching expertise gives Dr. Greg a great understanding of people and what it takes for career success. Combined with his keen insight into today’s job market, and infused with his trademark quick wit, Dr. Greg challenges Office-Politics readers to reach for career success on their own terms — and to have a good time doing it.

  1. One Answer to “Fear that new promotion sets me up as target”

  2. Feedback from Wary:

    Dr. Ketchum

    Thank you for your advice on my situation. As you stated I neglected to offer information on my interactions with “Sybil”. As to date I get along with her fine but then that is generally my personality. I agree with you that I should not let the grapevine gossip dictate my concerns or actions. Always a good reminder to be on our guard against gossip because when we let it down it is so easy to get sucked in. I have shared with my boss the concerns I have in how he will not only tell her but the other employees. I stressed to him that I want it made very clear that this choice was his and that I was not out for her job.He assured me that he will handle it with care. All in all time will tell the tale.

    I do thank you again for your advice as I now feel more confident in how I will handle the change.

    By Letter Writer on Jun 4, 2007

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