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I don’t want to kiss ass to succeed…

Dear Office-Politics,

I work in a research institution where the attitude of many is that if you don’t have a PhD, you are basically worthless. I don’t have a PhD, and what I do doesn’t require one. I have built a highly visible community program with little or no help from my organization.

There is one person who wants all the glory, but doesn’t want to do any of the work. She has a horrible reputation among her peers and outside of our organization. Nobody wants to work with her who has experienced her in the past. They consider her incompetent.

However, she has ingratiated herself to my supervisor and wants to become my supervisor. She and her husband have become very close socially, with our boss’s wife.

I don’t want to kiss ass to succeed.

Should I just accept the fact that I may have to work for her, and keep my mouth shut (which is very hard for me), or let her know, and my boss, how I feel. I know I would have the support of the other faculty, but am not sure if it would do any good under these circumstances.

Change in Power

franke james

Dear Change in Power,

You’ve written in to Office-Politics to express your disgust about a change in power that threatens your satisfaction with your job. Sometimes the problems that come our way are opportunities for growth. Let me tell you the messages I’m getting from your letter, and then offer you some advice.

1. You’re undervaluing yourself

Read your sentence over again, “I have built a highly visible community program with little or no help from my organization.” That is a significant achievement that has value in the marketplace. Do you know how hard companies are working these days to build communities — both in the real world and online? You should research what other jobs are out there, and what people with your skills are getting paid. Do not do this in a haphazard way. Make a project of it. Do research. Read books. Consult with HR firms. Be thorough. If you really have built a ‘highly visible community program with little or no help from an organization’, then you have a great skill set. This may be your opportunity to move to a much better position.

2. Your coworker is good at networking. You have to get better!

Your coworker has the advantage over you on this. She is schmoozing the Boss’s wife socially to get ahead. This is a powerful play. Is it unethical for her to be friends with your Boss’ wife? No. Your coworker may (and this could be hard to believe) genuinely enjoy the company of your Boss and his wife. Whatever the true basis of their friendship should be of no concern to you. You can’t regulate who makes friends with whom. But as you’ve noted, it threatens your position. ‘Whom you know’ can be more powerful than ‘what you know’. It’s not nice. It’s not fair. But it’s office politics.

3. Is being friendly with the Boss, ‘kissing ass’?

Read your sentence again, “I don’t want to kiss ass to succeed.” That statement carries a lot of contempt. You’re saying that being friendly with the Boss is false. If I was your Boss, I’d be insulted. Your Boss is a human being. Is it really ‘kissing ass’ to be nice to him and his wife? Business is not just work. Business is about human relationships. All of us like to do business with people we like and trust. That often results in friendships outside of work. You should look for opportunities to connect outside of work with coworkers.

4. Should you speak up?
Returning now to your big question, “Should I just accept the fact that I may have to work for her, and keep my mouth shut, or let her know, and my boss, how I feel?” Your coworker is more skilled than you at playing the office politics game. Revealing your true feelings about the coworker is unlikely to achieve anything other than stirring up bad feelings.

My advice to you is to do two things:

    1. Research other job opportunities and understand your market value

    2. Apply for the job of Supervisor yourself. Be ready to blow your own horn about your achievements. Think from his perspective. What are your assets? Why are you the better person to be the Supervisor? Be armed with the research stats to show your Boss the value that you have in the marketplace, and a well-organized written list of your strengths and achievements.

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.

  1. 4 Answers to “I don’t want to kiss ass to succeed…”

  2. Feedback from Change in Power:

    Franke, your advice was helpful. I’ve been pondering your comments over the last day or so. I agree. Crises are often opportunities for growth. I have experienced that in the past, and know that whatever happens, it will be an opportunity for me to grow.

    You are right. I think I have undervalued myself. I have always felt that if I waited patiently, someone would notice that I have done a good job, and support the work I have done. I need to promote my accomplishments more. I also need to stand up for myself. Sometimes I’m just too damned nice…

    I can see what you’re saying about the other person being a better networker. I have a lot of contacts, and I need to learn how to utilize these relationships better. I know that they support me and the work that I do. One person on the Board of Visitors said that he can see that I have support from the “outside, but not the “inside”.

    By Letter Writer on Apr 3, 2007

  3. Kiss ass coworker is noticeable after you associate with such person for a while.

    Usually, such person talks nice to others, but not genuinely, kiss ass coworker talks bad behind. All of laughter, attitude is fake.

    Be cautious what you talk about when you talk to kiss ass coworker, as this coworker is acting like chameleon and can back stab you.

    By Imelda Teague on Dec 31, 2011

  4. Be careful in the workplace! I am facing a similar situation but even more difficult in some ways. You see, I got the degree, the experience and know-how to be a Team Manager. However, I am not in anyone’s radar for a promotion into a team management job. On the contrary, co woerks that have no degree and no experience and can’t even spell properly, are the ones being considered and tracked into a promotion purely because they network much better than I do and yes.. are experts at ass kissing (using company reward system to nominate their manager and other key people for awards in order to get ahead). It is a sad reality that the more you “ass kiss” the more likely you are to get a promotion. However, the advice given above about networking is a valid one. Sometimes you don’t need a degree to be able to network much more efficiently than others.

    Another thing to watch out for: It is true that you have to sell yourself more efficiently at times but careful of sounding selfish. I am a hard worker and a perfectionist, I leave a project in much better shape than what I found it, all the time. However, I was always very humble and never advertised my achievements so to speak. A day came when I realized that I should speak up about it more but when I did that, my manager (who is the focus of ass kissing by my co workers) though I sounded selfish and did not want to hear about any of my past achievements. So it is a tricky game in the office, where street smarts and strategic power plays count more than doing a good,or even a great job in order to obtain promotions.

    By Ben on Aug 11, 2016

  5. Thank you very much for answering this person’s letter. I see much of myself here and by reading your advice I have thwarted some potential poor ideas I had in discussing favoritism, that according to what you’ve written would have gone off badly.

    I had never realized how much MORE relationship is important than compared to experience and knowledge — it took me years to learn this … and unfortunately, what feels too late. It is honestly, and I say this without bitterness, WHO knows you that is more important in work success and relations, rather than who you know or what you know. And of course, it is the who who has to like you … simply them knowing you isn’t enough either.

    It’s too late for me to start cultivating some friendship with my boss because my co-worker is in too deep, too long and too thick in comparison. I can still be friendly. The only real lesson I get is to be more vocally outspoken in pointing out genuine positive things I notice that “may” help me to be more liked, while promotability is quite unlikely due to a long history of the up and down relationship with said boss.

    I don’t exactly dread my peer becoming my eventual boss but I will always feel like I wish I could have acted differently much sooner. I’ve always been outspoken and truthful about my feelings. It’s difficult for me to simply do what I feel is to shut down, be seemingly 100% agreeable, go with the flow, and acquiesce while giving what feels like blind trust to a superior. I watch as my co-worker does this and how she is my boss’ favorite. I ask myself why can’t I be like her?

    While you talk about how you can’t control who likes who in the office environment, you have also dismissed how the author of that letter feels at an intrinsic level. Perhaps you don’t think those feelings of being left out are useful and the person should just get over them … but I will tell you from experience that being excluded from conversations and other events is sometimes very emotionally painful.

    By Melissa Smith on Jan 21, 2017

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