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I am terribly inept when it comes to office politics

Dear Office-Politics,

Let me first start by saying that I am terribly inept when it comes to office politics. I never seem to know the proper thing to do. Here is my situation…

A department head was hired to replace the previous person who was promoted. He brought his assistant along with him, who at the time appeared to be very nice. Shortly after her arrival she started inviting me and a friend of mine to lunch with her and her friends. Now, I cannot always have lunch with them and it seems like they expect me to do so even though my boss sometimes needs me to complete tasks during the usual lunch hour. My response to them is usually that I am here for my boss and whatever she needs is what I will do. This does not always seem to fly with them and I know that on these days I am the topic of conversation as this is what usually happens when someone is not able to join them for lunch — I have seen it firsthand and it makes me uncomfortable. These women have power and connections – they never seem to let me forget it and that I am only a guest to their group. When the assistant is not able to go to lunch with them or is on vacation/ill, I do not receive an invitation to lunch. I attend college and used to use my lunch hour to study or read. Should I just stop going to lunch altogether, go occasionally, or stick with it?

As an aside, the assistant wrote a nasty email about my friend and mistakenly sent it to my friend instead of one of her cronies – my friend chose to ignore it but she hasn’t forgotten about it – she no longer joins the group for lunch so I am on my own completely. HELP!!!


franke james

Dear No-Office-Politician,

Your situation sounds like the stuff of grade school playgrounds, but it’s all too common in the workplace. Let’s pull this problem apart and see if we can find a solution…

First off, it appears that you care what these gossiping ladies think of you because you see them as power-brokers. Your letter indicates that they are the key to good favour with the department head, and other powerful people in your company. So, to be ‘out-of-favour’ with them could cause you to be overlooked for a promotion, or worse — demoted or fired. Your motivation to lunch with them seems fueled by your ambition and fear, and not genuine friendship. It doesn’t sound very pleasant does it? It also doesn’t sound realistic. Incompetent people do get promoted thanks to influence, but you have a much better chance of doing ‘well at work’, if you do your ‘job well’.

Realize that you can’t change these ladies behavior, but you can make some clear decisions on what kind of employee you will be, and career you want to have.

Let’s imagine a workplace where your productivity, the excellence of your work, and your personable nature is what fuels your rise. But to get to that ‘dream’ job you need to change your focus to how you can make a positive impact within your office, your company and even your industry. (Skipping lunch to meet your Boss’ deadlines shows a good sense of responsibility and respect for deadlines so I think you’ve got a good start.)

Here’s my suggestion: Draw up a list of goals for yourself that will make a difference in your work, your career and your industry. What can you do better tomorrow than you did last week? What can you learn that will make you a better and more valued employee? When you’ve got that list of goals written, ask your Boss to review it with you. I bet you’ll get some constructive feedback on your goals, and how you can move up in your career. (Ideally you’ll find a company mentor to bounce things off of.) Those gossiping ‘ladies’ can still throw a wrench into your life but at least you’ll have a more concrete action plan that you can have some control over.

As for missing lunch with them, I would attend only when it’s convenient. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to join them. Seek out more positive people that can help you to grow, and make the best contribution to your company and industry.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics. Let me know if this helps.


Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com


Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.

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. One Answer to “I am terribly inept when it comes to office politics”

  2. Feedback from No-office-politician

    Thank you so much for your wise words of advice! I realize now that I do seem to care what these people think of me (I have a tendency to want everyone to like me and when they don’t it really bothers me) but I also realize that it is inhibiting my professional growth. Ever hear of the phrase “keep your friends close your enemies closer”? That’s basically how I feel about this situation. I don’t really care for these individuals but sometimes find it a necessary evil to maintain a good working environment. The goal setting suggestions sounds like it would work so I will begin to outline one immediately.

    By Letter Writer on Apr 18, 2007

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