Q: We recently got a new manager, “Damien,” who is the poster child for bad bosses: incompetent, lazy and immature. After six weeks, when he started feeling heat from his superiors regarding his poor performance, he offered my co-worker and close friend, “Tabitha,” a promotion and a raise to be his assistant. I told her that while she would be awesome at the job, I thought he would pass his work onto her. I was right. At first, Tabitha complained to me about how Damien treated her, saying she was going to try to get him to quit or be fired. She asked if I would apply for his job if he left, saying she knew I would be great at it. I hadn’t considered it before then, but it seemed like a no-brainer. About a month ago, however, Tabitha stopped speaking about Damien entirely. When I would ask how things were, she would be oddly vague and noncommittal. Then I learned that Tabitha has been spending almost all of her free time hanging out with Damien after work, and he has told people in other departments that he is “grooming” her to take his place someday. Am I wrong to feel betrayed? Tabitha’s ideas about me being promoted kept me here longer than I normally would have stayed. Should I say something to her?A: This has the makings of a TV drama, right down to the soap-opera pseudonyms. Perhaps Tabitha and Damien are more than after-hours friends. Maybe she’s come to believe everyone has him pegged wrong. Maybe she still hopes to get rid of him but no longer needs you now that his seat seems within her reach. Then again, maybe Damien, whatever his other failings, at least excels at co-opting loyalties and quashing conspiracies.
While it’s intriguing to speculate about reasons, however, the bottom line for you is this: Tabitha has joined Team Damien. Her sense of allegiance is as predictable as a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel. You need to assume you won’t be promoted anytime soon and rejigger your plans accordingly.
As for feeling betrayed, I think you need to view this experience as the built-in risk of dirty dealings. Someone who gossips or conspires with you against others is just as likely to do the reverse—even a close friend.
Finally, as long as you and Tabitha work in the same office, there’s a risk she might try to use your prior machinations as leverage against you. You could try defusing your and Tabitha’s explosive secret by conceding that you may have misjudged Damien—but a delicate feat of social engineering like that might just blow up in your face. So I wouldn’t say anything further to her about Damien, unless you want to congratulate her sincerely on thriving in her role as his assistant. Your energy would probably be better spent seeking opportunities elsewhere.