The question: My colleague received a promotion I thought I should have gotten. Frankly, I’m not impressed with his “work ethic,” but he’s good at playing office politics. How can I get over my disappointment and act civilly around him when I feel he’s dogging it?
The answer: Actual or perceived unfairness in the workplace, particularly when it pertains to important outcomes such as a promotion, can have a tremendous impact on your job satisfaction. It is normal to feel disappointed, frustrated and perhaps even angry. What is great is that you seem to have a mature perspective on the situation, and I commend you for wanting to work to overcome your disappointment and also to figure out how to deal civilly with your colleague.
I would suggest a few things. First, think about what it is that your colleague did (or didn’t do) that may have contributed to him getting the promotion. As human beings, we tend to enter a state of cognitive constriction when faced with a stressful situation – we paint the entire situation or object of our discontent with broad strokes. This means that you may be very naturally focusing only on your colleague’s negative attributes. Try to articulate the behaviours and approaches that may have contributed to him obtaining the promotion. Writing these down can help bring some objectivity to the situation. Be precise. I don’t mean to negate the impact of his astuteness in playing office politics, but it may be that there were some things that he was doing that truly did enhance his chances at getting the promotion. This information may equip you to know how to approach your position in future, and may lessen the negative emotions you are feeling toward him.
Request a meeting with your manager/supervisor or the human resources professional that made the hiring decision. Express that you want to determine what you can do differently and which areas you can improve upon. Indicate that you are committed to your job, and that you would like to move ahead in the company. If it seems appropriate given your relationship with the person you are speaking to, you could respectfully convey that you thought you were a strong candidate for the position. Ask what you could have done that would have helped you land the promotion. Avoid bad-mouthing your colleague. Stay focused on your areas of improvement. Ask for actionable feedback, both positive and negative. Then request a follow-up meeting to evaluate how you are doing.
When interacting with your colleague, be very mindful of your internal evaluations about him. It is stunning how powerful our thoughts can be in shaping both our behaviours as well as our emotional reactions to others. For example, if you find you are repeatedly saying things to yourself such as “he’s such a jerk, he didn’t deserve that promotion” when you see him, that will likely shift your demeanour in a more negative direction. Catch those thoughts, and replace them with more objective, non-judgmental ones, such as “I feel strongly that he didn’t deserve the promotion, but he got it and I need to move forward. Rather than focusing on him, I am going to focus on what I can do differently.” This may sound simple, but our thoughts can be very powerful in shifting our mood.
There are a number of workplace-related resources linked on my website ( drjotisamra.com) for employees and organizations that may prove useful.
Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at email@example.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.
The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.