The Annoying, Go-Getting Colleague: Beat Her or Emulate Her?

Send questions about the office, money, careers and work-life balance to Include your name and location, or a request to remain anonymous. Letters may be edited.

I am one of three senior managers within a “highly matrixed organization.” I am very close with Manager 1, but she and I constantly raise our eyebrows at Manager 3, who is excellent at creating opportunities for visibility. In meetings with middle management, she finds ways to keep the attention of management for longer, sometimes by interjecting when we’re speaking with unrelated but attention-grabbing points. She regularly finds time to take on projects beyond the scope of our work. For example, she started a learning series for the younger associate managers. This is great for the team, and Manager 1 and I have participated, but Manager 3 went out of her way to brand the series as HERS. Manager 1 and I frequently host trainings, too, but we never thought to brand them and tell the entire organization. Most recently, Manager 3 announced that she was starting a “Get to know our executives” series and would be interviewing them herself for the whole organization.

Though I am angry she is playing the game better than I am, I don’t want my job to be a game! I prefer to come in and do a good job at my actual job description! When you look at the numbers, my brands are actually outperforming hers. But, with all the visibility she earns, I am beginning to feel like the work of my actual job isn’t what matters. If these attention-seeking endeavors were actually part of the job, I could take them on. When Manager 1 or I try something new or host a training, we loop each other in. We are in lock step and want each other to succeed. We both feel that the goal of Manager 3 is to bury us, and it’s making both of us miserable (and nervous for the next time a promotion opens up). What would you do in our shoes?

— Anonymous

Manager 3 is clearly willing to take initiative. I can see why that could be grating, but instead of becoming frustrated, perhaps you should adopt some of the strategies that serve her so well. You say that she’s going beyond the “actual job description,” but that is, generally, what it takes to succeed in almost any endeavor. You want your professional life to arrange itself according to your preferences, but the only way to achieve that is to be self-employed. If you simply want to work to the job description, as is your right, that’s fine! But you can’t do that and resent people who choose to do more.

Now, the most interesting part of your letter is that you have better numbers. Find ways to highlight that! You don’t even need to bring Manager 3 into that conversation. You’re succeeding — let it be known! When you carry out interesting ideas, take credit. Your colleague is really good at self-promotion. Instead of being angry with her, consider which of her strategies you can adopt. There are ways of “playing the game” that don’t feel like you’re playing the game.

I was nominated to receive an industry recognition award, but I declined. This is the first year for the award, which is for “an assistant the lead has worked with who went above and beyond for a project.” There is also a list of technical, problem solving and creative skills to be included for consideration. I declined because of the wording “above and beyond.” One cannot be nominated because they did a good or even great job, or accomplished all the skills on the list. One had to have done even more than was ever expected. Who could ever live up to that expectation? The people who nominated me are upset I declined. They nominated me to show their appreciation for my work. This award is being given to a number of recipients. I wasn’t the only nominee. The group has other project-based awards decided by a jury. Should I change my answer and accept the nomination?

— Anonymous

I warmly encourage you to stop overthinking a recognition you’ve clearly earned. I don’t really understand why you took yourself out of consideration based on semantics. The people who nominated you believe that you went above and beyond, and that’s all you need to know. Yes, you should let the appropriate people know that you’ve changed your mind, and are grateful for the consideration.

I was disturbed to hear my ad agency owner speak disparagingly of a potential client who told him she moved out of Florida because of the political environment. In recounting her story, the owner said multiple times that clients should not mix politics and work. He felt like she wildly overstepped for even mentioning that she moved for political reasons and would not take on her project.

In this time of extreme partisan beliefs — but high stakes for democracy — what are the new rules for discussing politics (which seems to be affecting everything, including our business and our clients) in the workplace?

— Anonymous

When someone becomes upset about political conversations, it’s because they have political stances that they aren’t comfortable sharing. Your company’s owner clearly values his stances over making money, which is … interesting. It’s great when people have the courage of their convictions. I find it nearly impossible to separate politics from work, education and our daily lives because everything is, in fact, connected. We cannot abandon who we are and how we are affected by politics when we clock in and then pick our identity back up at the end of the workday. Anyone who asks that of their colleagues is asking the impossible.

Now, this doesn’t mean that people should spend their work life foisting their politics on their co-workers. Common sense should dictate how and when we discuss politics in any environment. That said, I have no idea what the new rules are, but unfortunately, I am guessing that they are exactly the same as the old rules, and the old rules only ever served people who wanted to hoard power and never be challenged.

I’ve had a cubicle in a small shared work space for about a year. There are several offices on either side. Most people go into their offices and close the door, but there is one older gentleman who has an office right across from my desk and never shuts his door. I hear every detail of his phone calls. Sometimes, he falls asleep and snores, but the really obnoxious part is that he burps, loudly and often. It’s disgusting. Quiet is not to be expected in a shared office space, but personal noises should either be kept to a minimum or done behind closed doors. I talked to management and they said they would speak to him, but I don’t know if they did. I talked to him myself after a few weeks and asked him, politely, if he would mind closing his door at least sometimes. He sort of mumbled and after that stopped saying hello. I don’t care, but he still doesn’t close his door. I use headphones a lot of the time, but that is uncomfortable all day. Do I have to suck it up?

— Anonymous

You’ve done everything that I would suggest in your position. I can imagine how unbearable it must be to have to listen to someone burping all day. Maybe he has a medical condition. Maybe he is unaware that he is so gassy. Who knows? Other than an excellent pair of noise canceling headphones, requesting a new cubicle is going to be your best bet for finding some peace.

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Roy Walsh

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