Workfilter: How to be professional in the face of major disappointment
August 12, 2013 5:22 PM   Subscribe

I've been at my job for the past five years and have had a lot of success, and have won a lot of awards for my work. However the folks that have seen my work and recognized my work have either left the organization or are on leave this summer. I interviewed for a position that I was qualified for and was not hired. A person that joined my team a year ago, Sally, spent the summer sucking up to the person who was tapped to be the hiring manager, Harry, who is a man that was newly hired in May, right before the person who would have been the hiring manager (my current boss) left on three months of leave. Sally got the job over six other applicants (including myself) that were more qualified. Everyone on the team is upset/angry at this situation, and we are worried about what this woman will do with this new power. Looking for guidance on how to proceed.

i had been friendly with this woman before i realized that she was spending the summer hoarding information, work trips, and cultivating this relationship with the hiring manager at the expense of our team and projects. I know that she is a pretty nasty, vindictive person and am pretty scared about how she will exercise her "power" when she moves into this position of authority. Do I have to congratulate her even though my stomach is turning and I'd rather punch her? Please help me face her, the office, my colleagues who will be really surprised, and advise on how to deal with her on a day to day basis. How not to feel like an incredible loser when most people on the team thought the job should be mine? Timing is not ideal for finding another job, so I am looking for guidance on how to deal with this situation without becoming emotional (unfortunately I can become emotional at work) and maintaining dignity.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like she has some pretty good political skills. And to a certain extent, aspiring to be a middle manager is all about political skills, one of which is getting along with (and congratulating, if need be) someone you can't stand.

It ain't the end of the world, and if you go into work feeling like you want to punch a person, especially one person in particular, it's going to be pretty damn obvious to that person. Perhaps you should take a 3-month leave.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:27 PM on August 12, 2013

Polish your networking and political skills.

Never, ever lose your cool in front of her. Never make snarky remarks behind her back.

Give her the benefit of the doubt. She didn't "beat" you - the hiring people picked her. If you're going to be mad, be mad at them.

Update your resume and start putting out feelers. Just because there are no jobs right this second doesn't mean you shouldn't be on the starting blocks when one comes along.

It sucks and I'm sorry you feel so bad.
posted by rtha at 5:38 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you should congratulate her. Anything else will make you look bitter.

I think your best bet is to focus on how you are going to advance your career, not on who deserved the promotion more -- promotions are so often a matter of being in the right place at the right time rather than being a matter of intrinsic merit. And maybe Harry and possibly the old hiring manager see qualities in her that they feel the role needs. So focus on what you need to do to move up--look at other jobs and/or do some internal networking yourself.

And don't convince yourself that she's an awful manager ahead of time! Be aware, but give her a chance--if you start off resenting her things will definitely be bad, but give her a shot (or, if you prefer, "enough rope to hang herself") and see what happens.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 5:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

i had been friendly with this woman before i realized that she was spending the summer hoarding information, work trips, and cultivating this relationship with the hiring manager...

Isn't this what most competitive folks with excellent people skills normally do?

I know that she is a pretty nasty, vindictive person and am pretty scared about how she will exercise her "power" when she moves into this position of authority.

And if it were a man, would you still be "scared" of the newly acquired "power"? Or would you congratulate the man regardless, keep your chin up and move on faster than you are now?

Its very interesting that you have absolutely nothing negative to say about anything in this situation but the woman. You sound like this has seriously shot your ego. And a big part of it is because its a woman.

Be a sport and take this as a learning opportunity- possibly more about yourself than others. This won't be the last promotion up and there will be enough chances to exercise your strengths to play the game, if you are indeed as qualified as you describe yourself.
posted by xm at 6:17 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Keep your head down and keep at work. In the end, the politics will resolve. If the person hired over you truly is not qualified, it will show. Of course, she may be qualified or may grow into the position.

I felt a terrible injustice for several years because a peer of mine always seemed to find himself in the right place at the right time while I did the dirty work that (at times) made him look good. It really pissed me off. I finally let it go and feel much better about things. I look at the awards he got, and the advancement, and I can honestly feel good about his good fortune; if I were in his situation I would probably have done the same thing and handled myself the same way he did.

I still work for the same company, but in a different department. Whether he gets awards or promotions is totally irrelevant to me now. Then again, it was irrelevant when we worked in the same department. He has his career and I have mine and just because he got recognition over me (perhaps unjustly) doesn't mean I suck at my job. I just had to get over it.
posted by Doohickie at 6:26 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry. It sucks to feel unrecognized and embarrassed, and it's obvious that you're angry.

The way to maintain your dignity is by handling yourself with grace. Don't bitch or gossip about this person, don't undermine her, don't try to whip up dissent against her. Congratulate her as warmly and sincerely as you can, and do your best to support her in the new role. If it helps, think about yourself as supporting the organization (of which you're a loyal and competent employee), rather than supporting her personally.

And, try to use this experience as a growth opportunity, so you're better positioned for the next promotion that comes open. Honestly, the way you paint this situation is really black-and-white, presumably because you're mad right now -- but real life is never that simple. I'm guessing your boss (the one on a three-month leave) knew the organization was planning to promote Sally -- it would be pretty unusual, in my experience, for him or her to not be consulted, despite being on leave. So maybe take the opportunity when he or she comes back to check in, and ask why you can do to position yourself to be successful next time.

Because I am guessing Sally didn't get the promotion because she's political, or at least, not solely or mainly for that reason. That's the kind of explanation (sorry!) that naive people give, because they're not seeing the whole picture so they're filling in the blanks with "politics." Maybe she works super hard. Maybe she has expertise that you're lacking. Maybe you are too emotionally close to the team, and they were looking for someone who would be more challenging. Maybe she is fun to be around -- that can matter a lot, when the position is customer or client-facing. Point is, you don't know why she beat you, and you should try to investigate what you could do now, that would make you a better candidate next time.

One last word of advice: when your colleagues sympathize with you and extoll your virtues, take it with a big grain of salt. It's rare for colleagues to be completely candid with each other about performance issues --- there is practically no reason to be, and lots of reasons not to be.
posted by Susan PG at 6:38 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've been there, and god does it suck. In my case, I made a point of congratulating the bastard (who was then my boss - not clear if this is the situation for you). He was ok but not stellar in the role, but he did have good people skills. In that organization, my excellence was kind of intimidating people.

I have since moved on to another organization where the bar is higher and lots of people are really excellent. I feel out of my depth a lot of the time, but I got promoted less than a year after being there. Sometimes being the best at a place means you need to go to a place that will be more challenging.

On preview - In my case I think the person got promoted because he made everyone feel more comfortable. I was well-respected, but I was young and female and not always very warm. I think the other person just fit the mental model better - male, a little older, not challenging or intimidating. It is hard when you feel like, "BUT I'M BETTER!" but ultimately that doesn't matter.
posted by jeoc at 6:44 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

What everyone said about keeping a stiff upper lip and taking the high road, yes, but also develop the habit of documenting things and making sure you have a clear email trail when working on projects for this work-hoarding woman.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:45 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Beware of all of these people here giving you advice based on the Just World Hypothesis that somehow this outmaneuvering of you is the way things were supposed to be because of your supposed shortcomings. Be careful. What matters is your career and protecting yourself while working for an organization that's trying to avoid paying you a single dollar more than they have to. It may be that your organization has a certain amount of dysfunction that makes it a bad bet over the long term. Alternately, it may well be a perfectly functional organization, but you just don't fit into the overall culture.

In the short term, yes, take the high road, use this as a learning experience, and keep doing good work. In the long term, find out what it takes to be valued and appreciated in your current organization or someplace else.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 6:59 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

I've been there. DO NOT say anything negative about her. Ever. To anyone.

Learn to see when the wind changes direction. If your mentors leave, dust off your resume.

You will be disappointed in life. Sometimes the suck up gets the job. File it away and get your resume out there.

The best revenge is a great new job some other place.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:12 PM on August 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

In the short term: acting, acting, acting.

Congratulate her. Tell her you're looking forward to working with her. There are people watching how you will react, and judging you. Give them only positive appearances. This is going to rankle like hell, but you can do this. You can.

Plan to take a lot of walks at lunch to burn off the emotional energy. Try to avoid foods that you know push you over the edge (I know for me, if I eat too much sugar, it aggrevates my anxiety issues. You may have something that you know will make you irritable, cranky, anxious - avoid it if you do).

As for the coworkers, here are some scripts:

Coworker: Wow, I can't believe they promoted Sally! All she's been doing this summer is sucking up the good projects and taking the boss out to lunch!
You: Well, she did do a really good job with the MegaCorp account. I'm interested in seeing how she fits into the new role.

Coworker: It's a bunch of bullshit, and she's just going to drag the department down with her power hungry crap. I was totally rooting for you.
You: There may be some things that went into the decision that we can't see. I think the rest of the year will be pretty interesting - I'm curious as to the new direction she'll take the department.

Find something, anything that you can say that's positive about her. When I had to deal with crappy, horrible, dysfunctional politics in my last job, I found something positive to say about anyone, because saying negative things invariably came back and bit me in the ass. The project manager who literally stood in my cube to watch me code? "She has an interesting work method, but she's very detail oriented." The manager who was a complete suck up? "He has really great networking skills, I've learned a lot from watching him."

Those were things that made me crazy, but I found ways to turn them around, so whenever someone made a comment to me ("Doesn't it make you crazy when she just stands in your cube?!?"), I could just come back with some bland thing and not take the bait. OF COURSE it made me crazy! But I wasn't in a position where I could enforce my boundaries, which was a big reason I left that job. So instead, I just gave a bland response.

Here are some scripts for you:

"She's too new" becomes "She's bringing some different energy to the team"
"She's too power hungry" becomes "She seems pretty driven"
"This is the stupidest decision ever" becomes "I think it was an interesting choice, and look forward to seeing the changes in the department"

And as Ruthless Bunny said: when your mentors leave, the wind is changing. Dust off your resume and start casually looking to see what's out there. It's entirely possible that your colleagues who have moved on would be glad to bring you on to their teams.
posted by RogueTech at 7:58 PM on August 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

I’ll preface this by saying that I’m coming to all of this from a particular angle: I very strongly believe that the success of any organisation lies not only in how good and efficient it is at what it does, but also in how it treats its stakeholders – employees and customers alike, how well it manages to create a fair and respectful environment allowing all its employees (with exceptions which serve to confirm the rule) to flourish both as people and in their chosen work. I’ve seen this happen, and, by the sounds of it, your organisation offered such an environment until not long ago.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen the opposite, too, so I have to agree with bright colored sock puppet: to me thinking that situations similar to the one you describe don’t exist strikes me as naïve, or just incredibly lucky. Maybe my life has been blighted by shitty situations to an unusual extent, but I’ve seen several such situations, or heard of them from sources and via narratives which are reliable (though I’ve never personally been a victim myself, as it were).

It tends to go – person who is more qualified/ has similar qualifications AND a track record of having added value to the organisations to an exceptional degree/ similar qualifications and good track record, without being exceptional, but with long-term loyalty to the organisation, is passed over in favour of a less qualified/ similarly qualified but new/ similarly qualified, unexceptional results etc person, but who knows how to flatter and create the impression of competence (not always entirely unjustified) and alacrity.

So my opinion/experience is that this kind of thing happens quite a lot, and that it frequently happens to the detriment of team cohesion and team efficiency, sometimes even organisation efficiency. This isn’t always apparent right off the bat: sometimes inertia carries things forward, performance tends to deteriorate slowly, so it’s not very noticeable on a day by day basis, or else the organisation is big and resilient enough to take a hit in one department, or there are other factors keeping good people there, such as unusually generous financial perks (or a shitty job market!). But it begins to show little by little, and I’ve seen (smaller) organisations go out of activity because of the causes that this kind of thing is a symptom of.

I also think you’re right to be apprehensive – people who, in the kind of contexts such as the one you are describing, and for their own benefit, brown-nose upwards frequently shit downwards, and they can get particularly ferocious with others they perceive as a threat. Here’s what I’d do:

1. Agree with Ruthless Bunny, RogueTech & al: be extra-gracious with her. This is not only pragmatically sound, it also allows you to keep your dignity – the whole “being the bigger person” thing. Even try to wish her the best in your heart of hearts.

2. At the same time, don’t try to force yourself to see her promotion as something just. If you are aggrieved and hurt, allow yourself those feelings. This is why I recommended compartmentalising – that way, you can do both 1 and 2. Your loyalty to the company will be in abeyance for a time, as it should be – I don’t think you owe anything to someone who has treated you in a rather cavalier fashion, if your current judgement of the situation is correct. At the same time, you may be wrong/ not have all the information, but you will never know if that is the case if you supress your feelings – allow them to be dissolved by your new assessment of the situation, if Sally reveals herself as a good/ the best choice. Your acceptance of her promotion as the right choice (if that turns out to be the case) will be more whole-hearted if you are convinced by future developments rather than if you contort yourself into accepting it.

3. Start preparing exit strategies. Brush up your CV. Work out which of your skills can be transferred elsewhere (different type of role, for example), work this out in detail and in writing. If nothing else, this will serve to bolster your self-esteem and your self-confidence which must have taken a hit. Objective (rather than defensive) self-appreciation is important.

Another thing you could do – move the focus of your excellence outside your workplace. This doesn’t mean “Stop being good/ efficient at work”, it means you continue to do what you have done so far at work (turning in excellent work), but orient yourself, your energies and ingenuity towards a hobby or a community activity, both to find a place where you are more appreciated, and to potentially diversify your CV for the future.

I’m saying this because there is a non-zero chance things will deteriorate with the new management and, whilst right now you don’t/ can’t consider leaving the job, you may find that the situation becomes intolerable in the future.

4. Do some self-pampering things for a couple of weeks, whatever makes you feel good, cherished and takes your mind off the work situation. Make sure that there is always something you look forward to when you get off from work, even if it’s just a delicious cake or a nice book, to remind you that life is also elsewhere.

Above I’m not talking about situations which can look similar to the one you are describing, but are not, such as the promoted person having some skills or experience which genuinely lead to them being better qualified (but even if this were the case, I think hiring managers messed up, tbh). Reading your post though, I see zero reason to suspect that this is what might be happening here. Of course, both our readings might be off, like some others suggested above, but I wouldn’t hold my breath (obviously, given what I wrote!)

Good luck
posted by miorita at 2:31 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Life and work aren't fair. Most of us have been there. I can't remember how many times I've seen this, but it's common.

Folks who gravitate upward are often political in the worst sense, and folks who choose and promote them often build organizations that are less effective than they could be. One thing about management, though, is that they pay you to make decisions. Even lousy and unpopular decisions. Often, someone disagrees, and in fact, almost always.

Sadly, work just isn't at all about fairness. We try to make it so, legislate it so, and hope it so, but fallible folks make those choices. On the other hand, the arrival at a workplace is kind of random, too. Promotions based on longevity give priority to age factors and the random date someone got there. Sometimes, a personal match to work demands is so good, you don't want to disturb it by promoting someone out of a position of effectiveness. People seemingly content doing their function aren't those you are going to displace into a new one.

"Sucking up" is sometimes also a euphemism for explaining away a choice that may have been made on the basis of expressed desire, concealed capabilities, other legitimate factors. If you are in the middle or the bottom, it's irrelevant. Waiting around for 'fairness' as you define it is no where near as effective as leaving for better opportunities. Otherwise, a long career trapped in the same place may be your 'reward'.

Workplace dynamics are as strife-free as family dynamics. Sometimes, the grass really is greener elsewhere. Moving on usually means moving up, and before you know it, YOU are pissing off your subordinates with your lousy ass personnel decisions based on flattery. And so it goes.

Frankly, I've found the most rewarding work where the organization is closest to disaster. Emergencies generate opportunity. The quiet pond of a stable workplace breeds discontent like mosquitos. The fast water is where the beautiful trout live and where all the action happens.
posted by FauxScot at 4:03 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you've gotten some solid advice about how to navigate the now. Listen to what these wise people have said. Dignity and grace.

But once you've made it through the coming weeks, it might help to pull apart the situation and consider your circumstances in a deeper way. I would like to see more Ask Me questions where people ask how to build a career or how to position themselves for a promotion. There is some real advice to be given, much of it relatively minor adjustments, but I realize this is the wrong time for such commentary.

One of those people who usually gets the promotion/opportunity
posted by 99percentfake at 8:48 AM on August 13, 2013

I'd follow all the advice above about how to act and react, but i'd be 100% dead set on finding a new job and getting the fuck out as soon as i saw this happen.

Like, polish your resume, get any free training or certifications you can out of your current job if that's applicable to your line of work, and bail. I think it's absolutely legitimate to feel that this is incredibly unfair and not some kind of bitter childish thing to not be ok with it.

bright colored sock puppet is on the right track here. I'd take this the same way i'd take an organization hiring someone new to do the same job at much higher pay(and there's been asks on that too!): As a sign of deep seated serious institutional rot and management that doesn't understand retaining good people or maintaining morale.

But unlike the pay scenario, there isn't really a fix to this. There's no real option to go to your immediate boss and say "hey, i really think i should be moving up here and this is why". That's not going to happen because they already picked someone. The question isn't what should i do if i want to get a promotion, it's what do i do now that someone else got promoted. And the answer is not much.

The writings on the wall, bail.

Also, unlike 99percentfake i seem to be the guy who always gets passed over for the raise or the promotion. Pretty much every single damn time. I've never regretted leaving and have always ended up somewhere better, even when i was just working crappy retail jobs.
posted by emptythought at 4:24 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

One more thing.... (am I channelling Steve Jobs?!)

How is it that you DO get ahead?

Make the boss look good. Make sure he/she knows it when you do it.

Think ahead. Work harder when it's needed. Do the stuff he/she doesn't want to do FOR A WHILE until you master it, then lobby to get it assigned to someone else.

Work to make your group more effective. Make sure to publicize modestly what you do and how it's working out. Share your thoughts on it.

Add to your skill set where you are. The more valuable where you are, the more valuable you will be elsewhere and the more of a loss your departure will seem. Nothing says 'crap manager' more than losing good people.

Don't make your group petty. Work to make it effective and professional. That will serve you well wherever you are. Petty people are cheap for good reason. They are also poison for organizations.

Give the process a year or two, and if it doesn't work out, move on quickly.. 6 months or so. Hint that you are leaving for more responsibility or whatever your motivations are but don't belabor it. You need to have a year or two to show your stuff, figure out the lay of the land, and determine what role you want to fill in an organization. No one will do that for you. People are seldom 'discovered'. Occasionally, they are recognized and once in a blue moon, catastrophic change visits and you need to be the logical leader if the boss gets murdered (don't do it!), dies in a plane crash, or gets fired for sexting nuns, or finally scores his own promotion by blackmailing his manager. Gotta be there and ready.

If you just do a good job as a functionary, you'll rot in place. That's the minimum expected.

One wise boss/co-worker told me once..."You miss all the good stuff when you leave early. Lots goes on after hours when we're chewing over the day. You need to hang around and join in." He was dead on target. I did fine at that job, but I would have ruled the world at that particular company (or at least my tiny part of its 100,000 employees) had I hung around and participated in the after-party every day. (I had a 3 hour drive if i left at rush hour and a 1 hour drive if I shifted my time to avoid it. I did the latter and the cost was career progression, which I managed to do anyway by being out front with the tech of my work and promoting myself outside the group.)
posted by FauxScot at 11:41 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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