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Overly-Political coworker is making me look bad

Dear Office-Politics,

I work in a relatively small three-person company. My coworker Doug and myself are on the same level, although he has more experience than I do.

Here is my perception of Doug
– He spends a lot of time chatting with the bosses and other coworkers
– He is a brownnoser, helping our boss put together his workout machine
– He does not get along often with other secretaries or assistants. They complain that he tells them what to do, or has a bad attitude towards them.
– He is the type of person who knows everyone and everything, or at least thinks he does.
– He is arrogant, a womanizer, loves to chat and joke around, but at the same time, he is smart, and has relevant experience.

My problem recently is that he has been asking me to “help” him do things, which turn out to be just me doing all the work.

For example, he asked me to “help” him draft this letter, which is fine, but when he reviews it, he does it in a very demeaning manner, and it makes asking him questions difficult. He claims he is so busy or too good to do administrative work, but then he just spends time walking around, talking, and chatting.

He also asks me to help him out with his “Pet Project”…why should I help him with his pet project? Plus, it seems like he wants me to do some work for him.. not like I have nothing else to do (sarcastically).

Our boss asked us to work on this presentation (mainly me), which I did with no input or help from Doug at all. Then when I went to present to the boss, Doug joined the meeting and tried to point out everything that was wrong with the presentation. Keep in mind that the presentation was largely based on Doug’s work before I took it over. He pointed out that I missed something, and tried to make me look bad. I pointed out that I may have missed it, but it was never in the original presentation that he made either.

Point is is that I think he is trying to make himself look better to the bosses, by making me look bad. Either saying that I don’t work on anything, or refusing to help him. I would have no problem helping him, if he wasn’t difficult to work with.

I don’t want to create a bad working relationship with him, and create office tension because we sit literally two feet back to back from each other. But I also don’t want him to think that I’m going to do all the work for him, so that he can look good in front of the bosses and get ahead.

How do you suggest I handle the situation?

Should I approach our boss and ask what my position is in the company, and what my role is? Should I tell them the frustration I am going through? My boss and Doug always talk to each other, mainly because Doug is always talking to him, joking, telling him his great ideas, and telling him all the great stuff he’s doing…and I think my boss is biting into it because he says “Good job, wonderful, etc.”.

I am very hard working, I have integrity, and earn my promotions or raises. I don’t know if my boss will realize my hard work ethics and consider me for promotions or at least think positively about me, because I am not always in his face, or telling him my success blatantly, or criticizing everybody else.


Hard working


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Hard working,

In our Organizational Savvy workshops and book, Survival of the Savvy, we describe two primary Political Styles:

1. Power of Ideas style (less political, defines power as substance and work results or ideas, meritocracy of performance being the sole criteria for promotions and decisions, focus on feedback and learning, highlights integrity, has open agendas, believes work should speak for itself)

2. Power of Person style (more political like Doug: defines power as position power, into relationships or connections being a primary criterion for awarding bonus or selection, focus on image and perception he has versus learning and feedback, highlights success and advancement as well as achievement, has more private or even hidden agendas, and believes in selling oneself boldly).

Beyond the initial Political Style assessment we conduct (you are obviously Power of Ideas and Doug is Power of Person), we then explore whether the extreme of the less political has turned it into being Under-political (UP). We’re not convinced you are UP, rather just less political in a healthy zone since you ARE aware of political dynamics or would not be even writing us your letter. The other weakness to consider is whether the more political pollutes into being distastefully OP — an Overly-political animal (ding-ding-ding, hello Doug!!).

You surely are messing with what we label an OP with all the traits of over-promoting, knowing where to be at the start of a project to take credit or blame others depending upon outcome, treating people only according to how much power they have such as Doug’s kissing up to your boss while dumping on worker bees, possessing questionable ethics and self-interest driven agendas, and being on a power/ego trip. The problem is that OP’s are very good at what they do, taking the admirable political astuteness we can all use and abusing it for wrong reasons. This is evident in Doug’s verbal mastery, knowing all the hot buttons for the boss, being good at reading others’ image and agendas and manipulating these, adroitly maneuvering to fix blame without getting dirty himself, and cultivating his image at the expense of others’ well-being.

The challenge is that many leaders and top managers who are not Overly Political themselves may have “blind spots” to such OP’s, as your boss seems to show. This can also be due to their being Under-political and therefore a bit naive that they are being “played.” Your boss may be afflicted with what we call “CEO Disease”–– he is not as smart, funny, or good looking as he thinks because he’s believing the ration of brown-nosing BS he’s being dished. He seems blind to seeing the reality of what Doug is doing in terms of avoiding work and taking credit, such as with your presentation. Therefore:

1) Be very careful about making the issue with your boss about Doug personally, since he already seems to have your boss in his hip pocket. If you DO take him on, you might want to learn how to assemble work-out machines. While you’re at it, slip him a Christmas present of Survival of the Savvy (but sign it from Doug… just kidding).

2) Realize that to some extent you need to live with this situation, so work on getting your emotions vented somewhere else so that they do not leak out in ways you cannot control. After all, “sarcasm” is another term for “side-ways anger” in our view, and you could end up looking less than mature in how you express it.

3) Don’t take it personally, as you are one in a cast of thousands who are dumped on.

4) That doesn’t mean to surrender all control and just be a weakling. Take care of your needs without retaliating. We describe Conversational Aikido in which you utilize “Put Aside” tactics versus “Put Down” or “Putting Up With” reactions to handling verbal attacks such as occurred during the presentation discussion. You can non-defensively and neutrally active listen Doug’s attacks (“Wow, you sound upset about this part of the presentation…”, and respond firmly versus harshly or weakly and apologetically so that your image is not further tarnished by how you react. He might even come across as childish. Of course, there is the choice to tactfully reveal that perhaps if you could have received his input and feedback during the preparation phase, he would not be so surprised. Somehow, can you find ways to expose his lack of participation without appearing defensive?

5) We DO think it wise to have clear boundaries and roles, not so much on your macro-position overall (you’ve already said that is clear that you and Doug are equals but he has an intangible experience edge on you), rather more with each new task or assignment. Request clarity on how the boss wants jobs divvied up or the degree of job-sharing desired, but don’t get blameful. It’s more to ensure that the boss gets what he really wants, so your tone of voice is critical. Mention perhaps that it’s sometimes tough to have access to Doug’s mindshare and time given his admirable workload (and because he’s usually busy with exercise machines!), but that access might have prevented his dissatisfaction at the last meeting with one element of your work product (opening the door for the boss to realize Doug was a slacker). Don’t belabor the point, staying more subtle.

6) We do suggest standing your ground and stating your working needs to Doug but not getting into a big archeological rehash of all his patterns so you can “improve the relationship” since Doug won’t care. Instead, without being inflammatory, show that you cannot be bullied. Phrases like, “that won’t work for me, any other ideas?” and “The boss is clear he wanted collaboration on this project, so we need to establish set meetings times, which I’ve promised the boss we’ll do. When works for you, so you can keep proper written records of our joint work. I am eager to have your input and expertise, and with your handprint being on this project. That means what I need from you is…” (You can send the message you’re not going to have his non-participation be invisible).

There are never easy answers with OP’s but hopefully having a validation that you are not nuts, as well as possessing a cognitive framework for understanding the behaviors of each Political Style will help you protect yourself and not be thrown off balance.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics. Let us know how you fare!


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.

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