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On the outside

Dear Office-Politics,

I’m new in an area with three other women managers. One of the managers has mentored the other two. As I come up with ideas, I review them with our manager and with each of my peers. When it comes time to make decisions on directions I suggest, I find out that the other three have held back office meetings and determined the outcome without including me. I’m told to partner with the other three but I end up being on the outside. What tactics can I take?



dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear On-the-Outside,

Naturally, it’s impossible to know the true scoop without having more detail, since your optimal tactics depend upon what’s really going on: Are the three simply spending more time together due to prior friendships and therefore wind up “talking shop” that more innocently leaves you out, or does the mentor have a bit of an ulterior motive of wanting to see the people she mentors become more successful than others since it makes her look like she cultivates winners, or could there be more under-handed agendas at work in which they are purposely keeping you out of the loop to sabotage you? Why might this be? We suggest that you wrack your brain to find any possible way in which you may have alienated the three, perhaps unknowingly threatening them. If you are newer and come from a prestigious outside organization, they might resent you and feel the need to rise above you.

Regarding steps to take, we suggest you consider the following:
If you’re concerned about ideas that you initiate not getting credited to you as a result, think of ways to “put your hand print on the ideas,” such as documentation, shopping the idea to others outside of the unit so if it flies, your name is associated. This could include emails that suggest that you four meet to discuss your idea. Describe the idea in a nutshell with its potential company benefit and keep these, even considering cc-ing your manager so he/she knows you are reaching out to the team. If there is, in fact, an invisible shield around them, it won’t be so invisible. You are making good faith efforts to partner without running to mommy or daddy to snitch, and without accusing the three of sabotage.

In addition, should you be shopping your proposals more actively to others so that they are not a secret? Drop the names of people in power who like your approach, which might appeal to the clique if “insider appeal” is what attracts their favor.

The quickest path between two points is a straight line, so AFTER the above tactics, consider the potential impact of approaching the three in a non-accusatory manner to express your desire for cooperation in a matter-of-fact way, casually mentioning that your manager has asked you to partner with them so that you love the opportunity to have a team discussion, so that your boss knows you’re not blowing off his request. Try to hint that he/she might even frown upon them if they leave you out, but tread lightly and be extremely subtle versus threatening, especially since you are not sure if their actions are intentional. They just might not realize that you are feeling like you’re in Corporate Siberia. Make a request for an agreement about this aspect of your working relationship.

If the other two, who are mentees to the mentor, is part of the motivation, you might request a mentoring relationship with the one senior manager, hoping that she will then feel compelled to include you. Also, have you been turning down requests to join the three socially? Can you now maneuver into opportunities for collaboration and/or interaction?

Naturally, if this escalates (or festers) into a you or them situation AND you are convinced they do not have your or the company’s interests at heart, you might consider playing hardball, talking to your boss, confronting the blocking behavior and letting them know it’s a fair expectation to be included as a peer. This is extremely risky, so do NOT jump here first and ONLY after building an alternative network to buffer you from their retaliation.

As I read your letter, I’m reminded of a bestselling book by an Oprah-veteran friend, Rachel Simmons. It’s called “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Teenage Girls.” Sound familiar? She writes insightfully about subtle forms of sabotage in schoolgirls and how it turns into workplace saboteurs in adult life. You might find some parallels and helpful “I’m not alone” relief and tips.

Of course, you need to make yourself an indispensable hero within the company to fully buffer yourself. We wish you well and let’s just be glad that they aren’t the ones voting for the Homecoming Queen. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


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. One Answer to “On the outside”

  2. Feedback from On-the-Outside

    The advice was very helpful. It made me reflect and change a few things I was doing. Thank you very much.

    By Letter-writer: on Oct 26, 2007

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