How can I stay above the fray?
September 9, 2010 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Good news: it looks like I'm being groomed for a new position at work, one I really want. Yay! Bad news: there's rumors that the person who currently has the position is getting fired. I'd like advice on how to deal with this gracefully.

I have a particular skill set that is required for this job, and the person who currently holds it does not. They were given time and training to get up to speed, but so far they have struggled to learn what they need to learn. I don't want to give too much info, but this is a technical field and having current skills is very important. Their manager was fired, and the new one likes me and has been asking me questions about what I know and giving me advice and opportunities to prove what I can do. I am really excited and happy about this, however the rumors are starting to go around, and people are starting to take sides and give me the cold shoulder when I don't want to participate in the gossip and speculation. I also feel terribly about my good fortune coming as the result of someone else's bad fortune, but on the other hand, I haven't been deliberately trying to take this person's job, although I can see how it probably looks that way. I should also mention that this is all part of a general departmental 'cleanup' so there is a lot of fear and bad feelings going around.

I've never really been in this situation before. I've had mostly dead-end jobs up until now--this will only be the second time I've ever gotten a promotion, and the first time I had no competition. What is the best way to handle this? Is there anything I can do to minimize the hard feelings? Or is this just a case of "haters gonna hate"?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Head down. Move forward.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:22 PM on September 9, 2010

Yeah. Seriously, it's a myth that everything has to be fronted up to. Avoidance isn't just cowardly, sometimes it's the nicest and most diplomatic thing to do. if you're uncomfortable, shut up and nod mild sympathetic agreement with whatever general point someone is making about how it's all unfair and awful.
posted by wilful at 4:31 PM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Agreed. And if anyone gives you shit, a response along the lines of "If he had the skills, he'd still be here" or "I had nothing to do with it" or "here are some of the resources I used to learn these skills, would you like to borrow mine?" would help to remind people that you shouldn't be the target of their ire.

Or tell them the same thing Ironmouth said.
posted by gjc at 4:31 PM on September 9, 2010

Just keep doing your job to the best of your ability, taking on opportunities to demonstrate and develop your skills and talents. That's all anyone can ever do. And doing this doesn't make you a bad person, even if this person gets fired and you get their job. Hey, if they were good at their job in the first place, then this situation wouldn't have arisen. Too many companies keep people on who don't pull their weight or aren't capable of doing what their job requires them to do. It can be tough, but any company trying to survive needs to get rid of dead wood and nurture talent.

Don't feel you need to justify why you're being asked to take on these pieces of work, or try and point out that you're not trying to take this person's job. Don't get involved in the gossip and speculation. Ride it out - it will pass. Good luck.
posted by finding.perdita at 4:38 PM on September 9, 2010

I am being groomed for IT management. From the management standpoint, if a person has been given time and training to get up to speed and can't or won't, the situation rapidly becomes about filling the position with someone competent to do the work.

This is not a personal thing, but an organizational efficiency thing. Please do not spend a lot of time or angst on the person you think you may be replacing. If you can demonstrate a capacity and desire to get the work done and the person you'd be replacing can't, then from a management and human resources standpoint, the choice is clear.

Personally I have seen folks come and go for what seems to me a lack of a trivial skill set (to me, acquiring that skill set would be trivial). I do not know what causes folks to fail to come up to that bar, especially if given training and time.

Management has tools it deploys to try to get folks up to speed, and eventually to get folks warned and given ample time to come up with the will to do the work assigned to them. Assuming the management who's eyeballing you to do the work is good, they've already done all they can to nofity and motivate the current holder of the job.

Also, you may want to think about an optimistic future where the person you are most likely replacing was actually overwhelmed and intimidated by the job you want to do. After the organization readjusts, they may note that you doing the job do it better and may thank you for stepping up to do it. Having the wrong person stuck in a job that's too much for them can be horrible, not just for the person who's stuck but also for the people who depend on that job getting done. When folks realize how much better their job is because you are doing that job well, they may choose to forgive you for replacing the one who's on the way out. Also, the person who's leaving may find a job that's a much better fit for them. Possibly within the same compay, possibly not.

Finally, I would take everyone else's advice here too. Until this reorganization settles out, unless you're really close friends with the person who's on the way out, it would be best to be as uninvolved as possible. Not only would it possibly raise uncomfortable questions for your future manager and possibly HR to be too involved in the process, but it might help the one who's on the way out to know that you're not gunning for them personally, just interested in the job.

Folks who want to gossip with you and find that you won't: If they're taking that personally, then they really are not being professional.
posted by kalessin at 4:42 PM on September 9, 2010

All I can tell you is to keep smiling and being nice to everyone, while following all the advice above. People want to like cheerful people; this instinct counteracts "but he's the guy who processes disciplinary actions" and "she's the one who told me I have to increase my speed by 10% and take down the photos of my cat" unpleasantness. I've been shocked how little resentment I get from people I've had to advise are going to be heading straight for a disciplinary hearing or owe the company hundreds of dollars in tuition reimbursement refunds, for instance.
posted by SMPA at 4:47 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not your problem - you didn't make the guy bad at his job, and you're not the one making the decision to get rid of him.

If you get the promotion, it sounds like it will be on your own merits (Good for you, by the way!).

Do your job, do it well and cheerfully, and try to ignore the morons who resent you and snipe (if there are any - there may very well not be). Your detractors will settle down once you prove that you can do the job and do it better than your precedessor.

Also, SMPA has it. Be nice to people. It's a good general office rule in any case.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:47 PM on September 9, 2010

From what you've written, you haven't actually been offered the position anyway, nor has the other person been fired at this point, so there's your response. "Last I heard that was still Kevin's job. I haven't been given any job. I'm still doing mine."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:52 PM on September 9, 2010

It's not fortune nor karma nor luck. It's business. You have the skills. Someone else doesn't for whatever reason.

Do your job really, really well, so that any casual observer can see why you got the promotion, and be nice, and all that stuff.

Never explain. Have no opinion about the previous person's work.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:31 PM on September 9, 2010

Don't count your chickens until the eggs are hatched. Keep your mouth shut and worry about your current job and doing whatever the boss asks. No more, no less.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:44 PM on September 9, 2010

Take care of yourself, look out for your best interests, and ignore the rumors. If someone asks you if you "think" you're being groomed for the position, or they're being fired, or whatever, say "Oh, I haven't heard anything about that" or "You're not the first person to mention that rumor, but I really have no idea" and change the subject.

Beyond that, the other person getting fired has nothing to do with you, and it's also possible that tomorrow you'll be in the same position you were today and that other person will be your boss, so just stay out of it and keep giving your boss what your boss wants.
posted by davejay at 11:36 PM on September 9, 2010

Oh, and if you really want to take the high road? If someone says something like "I hear so-and-so's being fired" say "Wow, I hope not. I think so-and-so's a real asset to this company."
posted by davejay at 11:38 PM on September 9, 2010

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