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Trumped by a very competent brown-noser

Dear Office-Politics,

I’ve seen lots of complaints about the co-worker who is the ‘incompetent’ brown-noser. My dilemma is about the ‘very competent’ brown-noser. What do you do about him?

Yes, he’s competent, but not quite as competent as he makes himself out to be. He’s no more competent than the rest of his co-workers, depending on who you ask. Ask him and he’ll be happy to tell you he’s the only one who REALLY knows what he’s doing, cleverly using every opportunity to make his co-workers look bad and make himself out to be the hero.

Teamwork means nothing to him. The rest of us have been letting him get away with it, because to do otherwise sounds like sour grapes. A common phrase heard is “what goes around comes around”. But it’s been a while and we’ve yet to see it happen.

How can we bring it to this person’s attention (and failing that, to the attention of others with influence) that he could be a benefit to the entire team, but instead he uses very specific techniques to elevate himself while the rest of us more humble individuals are left in his shadow? How do you do it while still maintaining the higher ground?


Trumped by a Brown-noser

jennifer glueck bezoza

Dear Trumped by a Brown-noser,

I understand your frustration that the brown-noser’s behavior has seemed to go unnoticed by leadership. It shouldn’t be that the humble, team players, such as yourself, get trumped by the individual who puts others down and raises himself up at every opportunity.

In addition to self-promoting, your colleague sounds insecure and immature. If he were “wiser” in the ways of work, he would realize that success need not be a scarce resource. In other words, his or your success need not come at the expense of the other, especially if you operate as teammates.

Let me offer a couple of options for dealing with this individual in the immediate future, based on the facts you have provided.

1.) Work with your fellow colleagues to promote and support one another. The good news is that the number of humble, competent individuals far outnumbers the self-promoting individual on your team. You may look to leverage this alignment by promoting one another’s’ contributions with the next level of management. Perhaps you request a regular meeting or phone call where team members have the opportunity to report and discuss their individual contributions with the appropriate level of management. With all team members in the room (or on the phone), the brown noser won’t be able to manipulate the perceptions in his favor.

2.) Accept this individual’s immaturity and turn your focus elsewhere. Reading between the lines, it sounds like you are an idealistic individual, and want to see “justice” come to pass with this individual who is only out for himself and hasn’t yet gotten “caught.” Likelier than not, management has noticed his self-congratulatory ways. From the way you describe him, it likely shows up every day in both subtle and not so subtle ways. As you have experienced, this is a tiresome persona to be around. My prediction is that eventually the “karma” will catch up with him. Even if he hypothetically got promoted, he would have a difficult time garnering the respect, loyalty and commitment that he would need to lead a team. You serve yourself much better to focus on your own performance, building relationships and making a difference for the organization. If you focus on this colleague at all, maybe it’s to learn how you might be less humble when it’s appropriate to speak of your contributions and value to the team.

If I had more information on your seniority on the team and the relationship you have with this colleague, I might advise that it’s possible you could have a productive one-on-one conversation with the brown noser. From what details you have shared, however, I don’t know that this individual would be open to your feedback. A formal method, such as a 360-degree feedback survey, would probably be the safest and most effective way for this individual to take in and “hear” how his behavior impacts others.

You ask about how you might bring these issues to the attention of others without influence. Without understanding your relationship with your supervisor and/or other leaders, it’s hard to evaluate how this might benefit or backfire on you. I think your intuition might be right; it might be construed as “sour grapes.”

I hope some of these other thoughts prove useful. My prediction is that he will sink his own boat. Thank you for writing to Office Politics.


Jennifer Glueck Bezoza, MA

Jennifer Glueck Bezoza has an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University and a BA in psychology and humanities from Stanford University. She currently works in Organizational Development for the largest not-for-profit home health organization in the country where she focuses on succession planning, leadership development and coaching. Previously, she worked for GE Commercial Finance and HR consultant, Towers Perrin.

  1. 12 Answers to “Trumped by a very competent brown-noser”

  2. Jennifer presents a range of excellent tactics to deal with the ‘competent’ brown-noser, and encourage more team-spirit. I’d like to add one comment. In life, everyone has to deal with feelings of envy, jealousy and unfairness. There is an insightful new book out called, “Stupid, Ugly, Unlucky and Rich: Spike’s Guide to Success” by Richard St. John. It addresses those unspoken questions we all have, “How come this guy is getting ahead, while I’m toiling, unnoticed in the trenches? What am I doing wrong?” When those feelings of insecurity and doubt crop up we have to analyze them carefully. They point to opportunities for tremendous personal and career growth. Hopefully Jennifer’s advice will guide ‘Trumped’ to rise above those feelings and turn his focus to achieving the goals in his life that will make him successful.~ Franke James, Editor and Founder, Office-Politics.com

    By Franke James on Mar 10, 2007

  3. Feedback from Trumped by a competent brown-noser:

    Thank you very much for your advice. I’ve heard others say that this brown nosing individual is insecure, but it’s hard to see that when he is puffed up like a peacock and he is perceived as the “go to” person in the department. Recently I’ve determined to be less complacent about his one-upmanship and call him and our superiors on it when he makes an attempt to control the situation, stepping on toes to elevate himself. And to my surprise I have actually met some resistance from some of my co-workers and even our supervisor. It seems they don’t mind sitting in the background letting him take the glory if it means that he also takes on their work.

    Regarding our working relationship, I have seniority. Our immediate supervisor recognizes the problem but is near retirement and doesn’t want to rock the boat. Next up the chain also recognizes the problem but knows that the brown noser does good work and perhaps doesn’t recognize how the morale of the rest of the department is diminished, and would likely tell us to ‘buck up’ if he did. In fact, all of the people who work inside the office with us do recognize the problem with the brown noser but it’s our outside sales staff that have been snowed, and their opinions are very important to management. It’s easy for him to practice his self aggrandizement tactics on the phone with people who don’t sit next to him hour after hour, day after day. It’s very common for him to use the words “me, mine, I” instead of “us, ours, we”.

    The brown-noser and I have a civil and friendly working relationship but I am adverse to conflict and confronting him about his behavior doesn’t feel comfortable. And as you suggest, I’m not sure he would care. Recently he said to me, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness later than ask for permission before”, (specifically referring to a situation where he was doing something that should have been someone else’s responsibility but he wanted the recognition for it) leading me to believe that he doesn’t particularly care if others in our department have a problem with him as long as he looks good to management.

    I have begun to encourage my co-workers to take initiative that they might otherwise have left to our brown-noser and feel that it might be starting to work, giving all of us a feeling of empowerment that we’ve been sorely missing. I don’t know how committed they are to it, but I am very committed to it and am trying now to navigate the waters without coming off as envious or pushy.

    Again, thank you for your advice and I will take it and put it into practice as much as possible.

    By Letter-writer on Mar 12, 2007

  4. I would appreciate it if anyone cares to comment on my situation.

    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.

    By Dana on Mar 18, 2007

  5. I have seen a person like this in action. I learned quickly to cover my butt like mad using voice recorders, getting everything in writing…etc…

    I saw this person promoted, with only a highschool education, from customer service all the way up to Vice President of the most important area of our company.


    1. This person does their job well.
    2. This person is effective at making friends in high places.
    3. This person has learned that stomping on people is like laying steps to a higher position.

    On my exit interview, yes I left, they asked me why…I burned my bridge…I let them know precisely why…they agreed…they knew…and yet…they promoted her to VP.

    So don’t get your hopes up…if management hasn’t seen fit to bring this person down a notch…it isn’t going to happen.

    BUT, do cover yourself. Do your job with excellence. Have customers send letters of approval to your CEO.

    Life isn’t fair…but life is short and it is a huge waste of time to work for/with people like this.

    By ER Dude on Nov 2, 2007

  6. We have much the same problem at our office, but it’s a woman.
    Whatever this woman wants, she gets. And she sucks up to the male supervisors, they fall for it hook, line and sinker.
    Everyone else takes second fiddle to her. Now she’s just gotten a position that should have gone to someone else, but she has sucked up so much in the past few months that there was never any question as to who would get the position, she is not qualified for it and will not be willing to do the job the way she is supposed to. And no it was not me who should have received the position.

    There is no more respect for my supervisors,if they fall for that, they will fall for anything, I’m going to move on.

    By Suzie on Jan 16, 2008

  7. I’m disapointed that managers can be so clueless.

    By guinevere on Jan 31, 2008

  8. I have also experienced working with a brown-noser. I realize that there are many types of workplace personalities, but brown-nosers are sometimes the worst of the lost. The one I worked with was atrocious. I didn’t realize that he was a brown-noser at first but then I started to observe him in action and that’s when I saw what he was up to. He was always in the process of trying to self-aggrandize and suck up to the managers. And he was always trying to play the “hero”. I’ve never seen someone so adept at manipulation in all my life. I hate to say it but this person was evil to the core. Just very all for himself while masking his selfishness with insincere acts of helpfulness. These are the kinds of people whom you end up wanting to run away from and you don’t want them to help you because it becomes more and more obvious that they are doing things to be in control even while seeming sincere.

    By Also had experience with a brown-noser on Sep 29, 2008

  9. I am currently suffering from much stress and insomnia due to being brown-noser’s first victim, almost 2 years now. Being the most senior and closest to our boss, she view this as a threat and constantly attacking me in any way possible, with backstabbing being her favorite. She is the newest addition to our group and will do anything to claw her way up. It must’ve worked because my boss doesn’t seem to mind her behaving this way and she received a recent promotion. I love my job, my boss and other co-workers, could not imagine not to work with them again. Unfortunately, this is a possibility and I’m working on accepting the fact. It will be very hard for me, we have such close working relationships that I consider them my family. But, I need to watch my declining health and make the right decision. Sometimes, I think to myself that it doesn’t pay to be an honest, hard-working, dedicated employee. I’m feeling hopeless. I hope everybody else is having better luck.

    By Brown-Noser's first victim on Oct 27, 2008

  10. The company I work for likes to “keep it in the family” even though they don’t own the establishment. All the high-up people are directly related.
    I keep things in line when the boss is away, thats what I got for my seniority.
    We have had this brown-noser (we’ll call her Shay) even before the new boss. Thinking the new boss is intellengent and would see through it, it ended up that she seems to like it. Shay brings up everything to the boss her co-workers have done wrong (even about co-workers that are her friends) example: “Judy booked this appointment wrong, do you want me to fix it?” In my experience you say nothing and fix it. If it continues you take the problem to the person that did it, as they may not be aware they booked it incorrectly. Shay is a literally a “what can I do for you now and do you want me to pick you up some lunch?” kind of person. Even someone outside of our dept flat out called her a brown-noser to her face. I personally have found that doing my best does not work. I am moving on when I can find another job. Time and time again my boss gives my responsibilities to Shay. It just burns me up because I won’t lower myself to Shay’s standards and that there are supervisors that indulge in this behavior. It says a lot about a person – supervisors take note!

    By Rachel on Jul 28, 2009

  11. I recruit for a living and situations like these open the door for headhunters like myself. Managers take note: If you ignore these situations and even worse, welcome them, your non-brown-nosing employees would love to hear from me. And they will. Companies that succeed value their employees, companies that look the other way and allow this clearly don’t. All the better for me.

    By Headhunter on Feb 15, 2013

  12. I am also in this situation, but am 58 years old, working close to home, and have only seen much lower paying or temp to hire or temp jobs available. I am the brown noser / backstabber’s only victim. Her family member has been working at our company for many years & so she feels that she would not get fired. I had not been aware that she had been discrediting me for a long time behind my back. I am a good employee of 6 years, but somehow she convinced my boss and some management that I was not. My boss will not tell me why, or what it is he feels I did wrong. I spoke to him about her trying to get into my files, and was told it would be taken care of, but it was not. I may be paranoid, but I actually feel that they are allowing her (encouraging) her? to try to find errors in my work, so they have a reason to fire me. My mental and physical health are greatly affected by this, and I don’t know what to do. I feel very bad for all that are in these situations. It is not fair. I am keeping copies of any evidence I have. I started too late in doing that. So if you are in this situation, make sure you document everything with dates.

    By Carolann on Jun 7, 2015

  13. I’m the departmental manager but answer to a director and have a senior member of staff (the brown noser) just beneath me in terms of hierarchy. What he tends to do is in team meetings without the director their he will take part in discussions and have opinions on things and share opinions with me, in emails he will agree with me and in one on one conversations. However in meetings with the director he will wait until you have brought things up and suggested things (that he may have brought to you or agreed with) then wait until the director has agreed or disagreed with what you or others have to say and then nod approvingly and then voice his opinion based on what the director said, “ooh yes director” then almost argue against you. What I’m going to do is ask for his view point about topic of discussion first or before director has spoken.

    By James on Aug 24, 2016

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