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Power struggle with coworker

Dear Office-Politics,

I work with a woman who is threatened by me, therefore, she regularly tries to take over some of my responsibilities to make herself look good. She is the Chief’s assistant and I am the Deputy Chiefs’ assistant, so she thinks that I am beneath her. When I was promoted to my position, I think she believed that I was her assistant as well. She constantly has to remind me how important her boss is, and she uses his title to “get things done”. If her boss praises me for something, she will try and diminish my accomplishment by saying she could have done the same thing.

I am amazed that she is in her position, as her clerical skills leave a lot to be desired. She is the type of person who can take a half-hour task and spend an entire day on it. Late last year, she was out on family medical leave for two months. I took over her job on top of my own, and had no problems whatsoever, yet she claims that she is just so busy she doesn’t have time to do everything she is supposed to do. When she came back, she spent several days double-checking everything I had done and, again, diminishing my efforts (although her boss was happy with my work).

She is also a horrible listener. She will talk and talk, but if you try to add something to the conversation she either ignores what you say or talks over you. When you talk to her you can just see it in her face that she is busy formulating what she is going to say next, and not even listening to what you are saying. She is so bad at listening that I have reminded her days later that I did tell her something important. I have told her things in confidence (clearly expressed) that she eagerly shares with others.

She insists that I copy her on things, such as meeting minutes or emails that have nothing to do with her. Recently, I personally worked out a deal for our organization to receive discounted event tickets to the local event center. I worked directly with a coordinator from that group to get this done. My co-worker took it upon herself to call my contact and tell her that she needs to be included in any correspondence regarding this. I can’t say anything to my boss about this, because one of his biggest things is that I get along with her. There are days that I just cringe when I see her coming my way. She has no intention of promoting out of her position, so she is here to stay. I have one co-worker/friend that I can vent to, but otherwise I have to keep quiet. How should I handle this?

Please advise.

Overpowered by incompetence


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Overpowered by incompetence,

Your letter is extremely clear and conveys a lot of useful information. Let us summarize what we think are the key points and then we will give you our recommendations.

1. Overly political co-worker

Overly political people put their self-interest over the organization’s interests, do what they can get away with, and often rely on using power vs. competence to maintain their careers.

Your co-worker exhibits many of the typical behaviors of this type of person including. Learn to recognize the Seven Sins:

1. Taking undeserved credit
2. Demeaning perceived competitors
3. Name dropping
4. Using power instead of competence
5. Attempting to marginalize you
6. Self-focus
7. Overly controlling information

Please don’t underestimate her just because her lack of competence and work ethic is obvious to you. In order for her to get away with her current behavior her boss has a blind spot about her abilities.

2. It may be undeserved but everything points to her having a lot of power

One of the most important comments you made is about your boss. You said that “one of his biggest things is that I get along with her.” This tells us, and it should indicate to you, that even your boss is somewhat afraid of her. This fear can only originate from access to and influence with her boss, who of course is your boss’ boss.


~ Avoid overt confrontations with her. She will perceive you as even more of a threat and you may give her “ammunition” to use against you if you get too angry.
~ If you have a difference with her, use firm, respectful language but don’t get emotional.
~ Document, document, document. She will take credit for what she can and also blame you for what she can. Document your work. Document agreements and communications. You will probably need them at some point.
~ If you find yourself at odds with her and can’t come up with a win-win solution, make sure your boss knows the facts and that you worked hard to come up with a solution.

If you follow these recommendations you probably will be able to maintain your integrity, self-esteem and your job. However, her behavior will still continue. At some point you may need to decide, based on your circumstances and options, whether you want to make a change to a different role.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Warm regards,

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.

  1. 3 Answers to “Power struggle with coworker”

  2. Feedback from Overpowered by incompetence:

    Thank you very much for your feedback. Yes, it is helpful, and I currently do some of the things you suggested. This is definitely a case of office politics, where my boss does not want to upset his boss, which is understandable.

    Since I sent you my original letter, this coworker sent me a nasty email which basically chastised me for doing something she should have done (but wasn’t here to do). She copied both of our bosses, as well as the Human Resources manager. I was initially quite offended, but then laughed at her ridiculous attempt to make me look bad. I did not give her the satisfaction of responding, or being sucked into her childish behavior.

    I understand that she will not change her behavior, and as soon as I get my degree I will be looking at getting a promotion. I have no intention of leaving my organization, but I don’t plan on being this person’s ‘co-worker’ forever. Thanks again.

    By Letter Writer on Apr 24, 2007

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