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Part I: Hell working for Narcissistic Editor

Dear Office-Politics,

I’m hoping you can give me some pointers on how to deal with a situation that has evolved in my work place. I started working for a publishing firm about a year ago as an assistant editor. At that time the editorial department had gone through a lot of employees because the publisher is a very moody and demanding woman who desires complete control and yet drops the ball on getting things done. As a result, those who have stayed learned how to maneuver under the radar, and at first, I liked my job and co-workers and learned how to work under the radar of the publisher as well.

One day, the publisher blew up at the managing editor who then a few days later gave her notice stating she was going back to school. The publisher talked her into staying on but reducing her days to 2 days a week, and she then hired another editor to take the place of the managing editor’s responsibilities.

Here’s where the problem comes in. The new editor has a need to be the center of attention all the time, reading aloud all of her e-mails, drawing attention to herself, particularly when someone writes in praising her or the magazine. She talks in a “little girl” voice to the publisher, being very submissive to her, then behind her back discredits her. She has also spoken against the others in the office behind their backs, always on a one-to-one basis, never in a group. I’ve come to distrust this woman and dislike her, particularly since she has decided that I’m not a “full-blown” story editor, but just a “Calendar of Events” editor. When I have asked her for direction on the recent re-design of my Calendar section, (which needed to be defined) she blew me off and said she didn’t have time for it. She makes it a point to exclude me from conversations and after-hour events that she and the others will go do.

I’m not looking for a social life with my co-workers, however, I don’t like the hostile atmosphere she is creating with me. I find myself being interrupted by her whenever I’m speaking to someone else, and she insists on knowing what we are talking about. I have spoken discreetly to the other two editors (whom I’ve known longer and trust), and they don’t say much about it except that in the publishing world the Editor is the “be-all to end-all”. Regardless, I’m finding it impossible to work in this type of environment.

I recently gave my resignation to the publisher and it prompted her to ask me what she could do to persuade me to stay, as she valued my hard-working attitude and she stated she noticed that I did not engage in all the chatter in the office, that I stayed out of it and continued working. I let her know that I found it difficult to work in the office where so much talking went on constantly despite my requests for her to keep it down, particularly when I’m on the phone and can’t hear the person I’m talking to, and that I felt the editor went out of her way to discredit me at every turn. She acknowledged that the Editor is a loud person and that she is not being respectful, however, at that point she offered to allow me to work from home for 3 days a week and work in the office for two, as she didn’t want me to leave. I agreed and so now I’m in the office only two days a week which I thought would resolve the situation, however, disrespect is disrespect, and this woman makes it a point to show her disrespect at every opportunity. I’ve taken to throwing a comment back in her face, which shuts her up for a while, but to take this to the publisher would be viewed as “petty”, I’m sure, as the publisher has larger problems to deal with. I’m usually a very assertive person, however, this is boiling my blood under my skin, and I fear that I will go for the jugular one day and then I look like the heavy.

Please advise me on what I can do to resolve this. Being friendly with her doesn’t work, this is definitely an issue about being the “center of attention”, which I never considered myself the center of attention, however, everyone has always been very complimentary of my work and team-building efforts. This woman stumps me because I feel like I’m back in junior high school again and the popular girl doesn’t like someone else having the attention, so she will “dis” her at every opportunity. I thought I knew how to deal better with this, but I don’t. Help!

Thanks and regards,

Edit or Exit

timothy johnson

Dear Edit or Exit,

You are dealing with one of the oldest tricks in the book for a snake politician: Divide and Conquer. She derives power by keeping people apart to do her damage, and you have continued to provide her that power by not calling her on it. You noticed that she calmed down when you made comments back to her in public; that’s because you had witnesses to the fact that you were calling her for her bad behavior.

Document many or all of the specific instances you’ve recounted in your letter to me (at least as many as you can recall). Then go to your publisher and to the other managing editor and ask for a “meeting of the minds.” If people in the office are already noticing what is going on, this should not come as a surprise to any of them. If your publisher balks at having a meeting, just share with her my prior paragraph about this person’s mode of operation and tell her that this should help resolve it. With her superior and her peer in the room with you, provide specific examples of what has occurred. Make it very clear that you find this behavior unacceptable. Get your publisher to back you up. Again, be specific about what behaviors you want from her on specific instances.

Be tactful yet firm with your expectations, and don’t pull any punches. You’ve already threatened to resign, and your publisher has demonstrated that you have the power in this situation, so being overly tactful will water down your message. If you want to be invited out with the others (at least giving you the opportunity to decline), then say so. If you don’t want to be interrupted by her reading emails aloud, then say that. If you want your calendar editing to be taken as seriously as other features, then be clear about it. You might give her an “out” by stating, “Sometimes we say things in haste without realizing how we are being perceived by others….” That is about as much latitude you should yield in this case.

I hope this advice helps.

Thank you for writing to Office Politics.

Best of luck,

Timothy Johnson, Author

Timothy Johnson is the author of the newly released Gust: The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007) as well as Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006). As Chief Accomplishment Officer for his company, Carpe Factum, Inc. (Latin for “Seize The Accomplishment”), he also is a dynamic speaker, providing keynotes and workshops on the accomplishment-oriented topics of project management, creativity, process improvement, systems thinking, and (of course) office politics. His consulting clients have crossed multiple industries and have included Wells Fargo, Harley-Davidson, ING, Teva NeuroScience, and Principal Financial Group. In addition to writing, consulting, speaking, and coaching, he is also an adjunct instructor for Drake University’s MBA program in Des Moines Iowa, teaching classes in Project Management, Creativity for Business, and Managing Office Politics.

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