my friend is sabotaging her career

A reader writes:

Last year, my good friend and colleague was transferred to new position at the same level. She was frustrated by the move and was vocal to just about everyone about it. She didn’t like the position, felt it was beneath her skill set, and believed she was long overdue for a promotion. I encouraged her to embrace the role and was optimistic that in time she would enjoy the position.

Since then, I have been promoted. This level of position in our discipline does not open up very often and I got the job instead of her. She was understandably devastated, but she was still very supportive and congratulative of my promotion. During this time, she continued to express frustration in her position as well as the lack of promotional opportunities. Because she is very well thought of, is highly capable, and performs at a high level, senior management began to make plans to move her into a different position, hoping that a move would help. Unfortunately it took several months to execute this move, and in the meantime my friend has finally started to enjoy her position while still being vocal about the lack of promotional opportunities. So now that they have told her that she is going to be transferred, she is very frustrated again.

I’m afraid that if she continues to express this frustration, she will completely destroy her reputation. For what it is worth, I agree that she is highly capable of performing at a higher level and do believe that she should be considered for a promotion when a position opens up. This concerns me because she is my friend and she really is a talented professional who could do more. It gets a little more complicated because we are known friends, and senior management has repeatedly asked me to coach her. (They wanted me to coach her both on the frustration and on focusing on her job, the value she brings to the role, and how she can be effective. I think the “coaching her on the job” stuff will decrease now that she is going into a new position. I’m an expert in her current job so I know how she can be effective in it. I don’t have the same level of expertise in her new position.)

I want to pull her aside and tell her that she needs to get her emotions in check. While she is frustrated, I think she needs to plaster a smile on her face and focus on knocking everyone’s socks off by how well she does in the new job. But I really don’t think that conversation will go over well. When I have tried to give her some advice on this in the past, she has become defensive and goes back to justifying why she is so upset. And I get it. I would be upset if I was her as well. But being upset won’t fix anything and will most likely make it worse. Can you give me some advice on how to talk to my friend and help her see that she is beginning to hurt her chances of ever getting promoted?

Well, I’m not sure that you can, since when you’ve tried it in the past, she just got defensive. You can’t force her to hear a message she’s not interested in receiving.

But since your company is explicitly asking you to coach her about this, you do have some standing to give it another try. I think the key is not to go in thinking that you need to convince her … because you can’t control that, and if you feel like that’s your objective, it can make you push the matter past the point that makes sense. Instead, I’d go into the conversation seeing it as message delivery, and what she does with is up to her.

I would say it this way: “Jane, I hear your concerns and I think you have grounds for them. You do excellent work, and it’s natural to feel frustrated if it doesn’t feel like it’s being recognized. But I need to tell you both as a friend and as a colleague that I think you are hurting your own cause. Being this vocal about your frustration is going to harm your reputation and make you seem difficult and demanding. It’s going to make you less likely to be promoted, not more. To be clear, I absolutely think you should advocate for yourself, and point out when you think your work has been overlooked. But from there, it’s up to the company to decide how to respond. Continuing to bring it up this frequently is counterproductive, because that much complaining makes you look less equipped for senior roles. I think you’re amazing and I hate to see you doing something that is going to harm you in the long-run.”

You should also point out that if she’s this frustrated, she has the option of looking for a different job somewhere else, and that that’s the normal thing to do when your frustrations go unaddressed, if they’re serious enough.

But after this, it’s really up to her. Don’t let yourself get trapped into feeling like you have to make her see reason or change her behavior, because that’s not your role (both in general and particularly since you don’t have the authority over her behavior that her manager has — and speaking of which, why is her manager not coaching her on this?).

{ 150 comments… read them below }

  1. XStitch

    I’m curious about how Jane is vocalizing her complaints. Is it in talking to herself at her desk in earshot of others? Is it when speaking directly to someone (and who?)? Is she repeatedly emailing supervisors about the lack of opportunity she’s had to move up?

    1. OP - Jane's Friend

      Basically Jane verbally complains to others and makes snarky comments about not getting promoted. Not in group settings or out in the open, but when one-on-one with others.

      1. EddieSherbert

        That still doesn’t sound good… To upper level folks too? Or where it’s easily overheard (like, if I went to someone else’s cube here, I’d be easily overheard by the 4/5 people in surrounding cubes)?

          1. Christopher Tracy

            Yikes. This sounds like someone I work with who not only gripes about lack of advancement, but also talks openly to people in our division about how much she doesn’t like her supervisor, who also happens to be the BFF of an AVP. I told her she needs to stop doing that, but no dice.

  2. qwertyuiop

    I think the friend just needs to find another job elsewhere, and I don’t mean that in a snarky way. The situation with her current employer is just not working for her (it sounds like they are just giving lip service to rewarding her for her hard work) and she may be able to find what she seeks elsewhere and be happier and appreciated at another workplace.

    1. Cookie

      So many companies push the “work hard and you will be rewarded” when it simply isn’t true. OP might be blind because she was (correctly) promoted and thinks her friend just needs to be patient.

      1. Jadelyn

        Or they do reward hard work, but their definition of “reward” doesn’t match with what the employees see as a “reward”.

        1. NotAnotherManager!

          Or the employer’s/employee’s definition of “hard work” doesn’t match.

          The longer I do this, the more I find that the least deserving people are nearly always the ones complaining the loudest. I would be hesitant to promote OP’s friend, too, because if this is how she responds to a personal disappointment/setback, what’s she going to bitch about next? She might be a very competent worker, but it sounds like she’s going overboard expressing her dissatisfaction. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I am really disappointed to have been passed over for promotion. What could I do to be promoted and when is the next opportunity?” and being junior high-ing to everyone in earshot about it.

          And I say this as someone who, early in my career, quit in protest over someone who was an idiot getting promoted to a higher rank in another department before I, a very competent person, did. I am damn lucky I had a good boss who who sat me down for a little chit-chat instead of accepting my resignation.

      2. babblemouth aka One Of The Greatest Minds Of The 21st Century

        Yes to all of this. At Ex-Job I was fed the line “just keep working at it for one more year, we’re sure a position will come up” for years, while I saw people all around me getting promoted. They might have truly meant it, but it still stung. After applying and being turned down for several positions, but advised to make yet another lateral move, I gave up and left.

        Sometimes, despite doing good work and showing commitment, things just don’t work out.

    2. legalchef

      Yup. That’s what happened with me. I found a new job, and I am infinitely happier.

      It sounds like she might just be at the BEC stage where nothing will make her happy there.

      1. qwertyuiop

        lol BEC! Yes it may be too late for her to ever feel positive about this workplace. I have been there myself, thankfully at a past and not a present job.

    3. MK

      I don’t know that it’s fair to say they are stringing her along. The OP says that higher positions don’t open up often in their field; sometimes, especially when you have a team of excellent performers, there is simply not enough places for all the great people to be promoted to.

      Leaving the company might be the solution, assuming opportunities exist elsewhere.

      1. Christopher Tracy

        This. I work with plenty of talented, intelligent people, but no one else in my current division with managerial aspirations will be promoted to one of those positions because we simply have too many managers/supervisors already. Someone will have to leave or die for one of those spots to open up again.

    4. Turtle Candle

      I don’t even think they’re necessarily stringing her along (sometimes there really are long periods of time before certain types of positions open up), but even so, I tend to agree. Sometimes if you’ve gotten sufficiently bitter about a job, even if it’s totally justified (maybe especially then), there’s really no solution but to find someplace you aren’t already predisposed to be cranky about. Sort of like hitting your Bitch Eating Crackers point, but with a whole organization.

    5. Elizabeth West

      I was thinking the same thing–it might be that they’re never going to do anything with her promotion-wise, and if her job keeps changing, that’s a whole other issue in itself. It’s hard to excel when they keep moving the goalposts.

  3. Formerly Jane

    Once upon a time I was Jane. It took decades before I realized how my behavior was a means of self sabotage. But it was what I learned from my frustrated and bitter parents, one an alcoholic and the other a narcissist.

    People tried to help me, but I didn’t listen. It was as though there was an impenetrable wall around me.

    Jane may have to figure this out for herself, as I did, after a few hard knocks.
    I hope this is not the case.

    I’m retired now, and it’s all begun to make sense for me.

    1. AFT123

      I am nodding in agreement here. I almost think this is sort of a ‘right of passage’ in a way – everyone I know has gone through this and had to learn for themselves how to find the right balance in complaining, advocating, and acceptance. It really is a learned skill. That isn’t to say that Jane’s friend can’t be helpful – having that conversation could be a wake up call for Jane and maybe it would at least alert her to the perception, whether she changes or not. What changed for me was that I just got sick of being miserable all the time.

      You’re so right though. It’s an internal thing that we all have to figure out how to navigate.

  4. insert pun here

    Yeah, I’ve been where your friend is, and it’s really hard to pull yourself out of this kind of thought pattern. Not impossible by any means, but waaaaaay harder than just getting a new job, which is what I did. Especially in fields where openings are rare, sometimes you just have to up sticks.

    Framing it as solely a strategic decision might help — you can’t really talk someone out of their feelings. But you can sometimes get them to think about their behavior and change it intentionally to improve the chances of a desired outcome.

  5. HRChick

    Something that frustrates me as a manager and as an HR professional is when we hire someone and they almost immediately turn around and expect to be promoted or given a raise. If we hired you, we hired you because we had a need in the position you are in. We offered you the starting salary we budgeted and you accepted. If the work is beneath you, don’t accept the job!

    This has happened several times. For example, we hired someone as a custodian. Within a couple months, he started complaining to his manager and HR about he made more money at his last job. Then why did he take this job at this salary? We’re not going to raise his salary just because he made an error in judgment in taking the position at this rate when there is no other reason to pay him more at this time.

    We also have an admin person who complains to her manager and HR about how she needs to be promoted. Nothing in her work puts her at a higher position, but she still goes on and on. When a higher position DID open up, the hiring official did not hire her because she had a reputation for being difficult and chronically unhappy in her work.

    1. Mike C.

      As an employee, I absolutely hate it when I come up for a promotion, the manager chooses me for that position, and then HR decides “I haven’t had enough years of experience”.

      If you can do the job, why should it matter how many years of experience you have?

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

        I once had to fight to promote an employee to an internal position because he “only” had 4 years experience to the 5 required.

        Nevermind that he had gone above and beyond in his current position and other team leads went out of their way to send praise filled emails to me, my boss, and my boss’s boss :/

        1. Mike C.

          What made me really angry was that the years of experience wasn’t a requirement, but a “typical value”. If someone can demonstrate that they can perform the job, then the “typical value” doesn’t matter at all.

          1. Pari

            Sometimes the combination of salary and experience can derail things. What HR is trying to do is put folks on a salary/experience curve. And the more one of those numbers puts you outside the curve the more it opens them up to claims of discrimination. and promotions can amplify that sometimes.

      2. HRChick

        But that’s not at all what I’m talking about in my post…

        We promote when (1) the employee’s duties and responsibilities have exceeded the level they are hired under (2) there is a job opening for a position they’re qualified. We don’t often tell our managers that they can’t hire or promote when there is opportunity and need. But we don’t promote where there is not a need, there is no increase and responsibilities, and there is no other legitimate business need.

        In cases where there is a lack of experience, we’d call the hiring manager to double check (because you’d be surprised at how many managers aren’t aware – kind of scary, actually) and it would affect our recommended salary range, but we definitely don’t ban hiring.

        1. BRR

          Yeah I’m not sure how Mike’s reply is related. Although I do agree with it completely because it’s not uncommon for a manager to push for a promotion and others block it. Your post is about people who expect a promotion with zero justification which is hurting their reputations.

          1. Mike C.

            It’s related in that time in seat may not have any practical relationship to how much someone deserves a promotion.

            1. HRChick

              If I had said, “there’s a need for a higher position but they’ve been here less than a year, so screw their promotion”, I could see your point. But, that’s definitely not what my statement was limited to – I addressed their performance and position as well and the organization’s need for higher-level employee. After all, just because an employee CAN do something doesn’t mean the organization must pay them to do that something when it’s not needed.

            2. NotAnotherManager!

              +1,000,000

              I inherited a team that was ruled almost entirely by years of experience, and I have spent the last five years moving it into merit-based system. I lost several really good people because there were no advancement opportunities for them based on butt-in-seat time, and I had mediocre people who kept getting raises and promotions because they managed not to get fired for another year. It sucked.

              The first thing the mediocre people did when I took over was to petition (over my head) for promotions based on years of experience. Fortunately it was denied, and 75% of them are no longer on my team for entirely merit-based reasons.

        2. HR Jeanne

          This. I’ve never worked somewhere that HR had the power to ban managers from hiring someone. We are advisory. We recommend hiring or not hiring, but the decision is made by the hiring manager. Of course, hiring managers sometimes blame HR when they don’t want to be straight with candidates . . .

      3. Koko

        It shouldn’t. In any good company/organization, the hiring manager for the position has the final say. HR is just there to help take some of the logistical work of hiring off the manager’s plate.

        Our HR department does salary research for us, posts the jobs, reviews resumes, schedules interviews, and so on. But the hiring manager is always free to select any candidate they want to interview and/or hire. HR in no way needs to approve a manager’s decision to hire someone for their own team.

        Promotions they can sometimes block if the manager can’t rewrite their job description to justify the higher pay grade and/or can’t get budget approval from the C-suite to add a higher-level position. But that would be based purely on whether the higher level role itself is needed, and would have nothing to do with the skills of the proposed person to hold the role.

        1. HRChick

          That’s pretty much how we operate. We’re here to give advice and do the logistics. Hiring manager’s are responsible for their own hires. There have been rare occasions when we’ve strongly advised against hiring someone, but it’s definitely for reasons other than their experience. Like, say, they want to hire a former employee who was fired for insubordination and who was a poor performer. We make sure the hiring manager is aware of that.

          And when new job descriptions are written, we evaluate the job description and make a recommendation to the committee about the pay band, etc.

          Most people really do want our advice on their hires, but we’re not in the business of directing the managers on who they can or cannot hire.

        2. Jadelyn

          That’s how it works at my org. Our VP can intervene in a hiring decision if it’s a really bad situation or something, but rarely does. For the most part, we’re here to support the hiring manager in their process, not make their decisions for them. Even when it comes to the salary determination – we show hiring managers the approved range for the position, we talk it through with them and advise based on the candidate’s experience and background, but the final decision of what to offer comes down to the hiring manager and their VP’s approval.

          We do occasionally push back on job description issues – in particular, our organization believes very strongly that college is not required unless it’s actually necessary to perform a given role’s function, so any manager who wants to require candidates to have any educational level above high school/GED has to justify it to us as why it’s actually needed, and if they can’t justify it, it doesn’t go in the requirements.

          1. HRChick

            That’s where we need improvement – a lot of times, I see things in job descriptions that I really don’t think should be a requirement at all. Sometimes, I think hiring managers have a particular person in mind when they’re writing it. And we can only push back so much. “Why does your secretary need a college degree? What about equivalent experience? Or an associate’s degree?” We’re not really in a position where we can say, “take that out”.

            1. Red

              My job technically requires an associate’s degree, experience, and a certification. Please note that the certification does not require a degree – just an exam. The certification is definitely important, experience is not because this particular role is only tangentially related to others requiring the same certification so there’s extensive training, and the associates degree is so irrelevant that most people in my department don’t have it. The job requirements are so very out of sync with what we do that I often wonder if we’re missing out on great people because of them.

              Anyway, my point is that your policy is awesome!

    2. Moonsaults

      There’s a personality type that over estimates their contributions and worth, I have to deal with many of them breezing in and out of here. We have a policy of a probationary period and after that, you get your first raise. People will start squawking at us a couple weeks down the road. It’s like they weren’t able to calculate in their heads what they’d be bringing home in the beginning, until they saw their checks and realized what was going on.

      I’ve had people get tired of their positions quickly enough and ask for something different, then throwing a hissy fit when we respond with “I’m sorry, we don’t have any openings.” they want us to just shift one of the guys in that department back to the production floor I guess. It’s a bizarre mindset that I cannot wrap my mind around, that’s for sure.

    3. Gaara

      Is there a lack of opportunity for advancement at your company? If so, are you making that clear to these job applicants?

      1. HRChick

        There is plenty of opportunity for promotion and we do it often as merited. We don’t even require a vacancy to promote.

        In my examples above, both employees have been here a few months, have not exceeded their work in their current positions, and their justification for thinking they deserve a promotion is that they work hard. They’re working hard at what they do, which gets them merit increases every year, not promotions.

        1. Myrin

          Uuuuugh, can I just say that this: and their justification for thinking they deserve a promotion is that they work hard is such a huge pet peeve of mine? I’ve encountered this as early as primary school and continue to see it regularly now that I’m in academia. I mean, I get that it sucks terribly to put a lot of effort into something and then everybody thinks the results aren’t good, I really do. I absolutely sympathise. But people can’t just give a promotion/a raise/a good grade just because you spent a lot of time on something. And really, if you put an enormous amount of sweat and blood into something and it still doesn’t turn out good, it’s probably a sign that you, well, aren’t exactly good at it.

          1. LQ

            I have a coworker who works HARD. But she works so incredibly stupid. I show her the better/easier/faster/more correct/more user friendly way to do it over and over and she keeps going back to the stupid hard way. I don’t care that she works hard when I have to pick up the worst dregs of the work that she can’t finish in time.

            I would rather a coworker who does everything well and is totally lazy about it than someone who works SUPER HARD and just makes everything somehow worse.

            *I may be extra crabby about this because I’m about 3/4 through with fixing a giant issue. She’s going to be moved off these projects in the future but man am I crabby right now. And my arms/wrists/hands hurt from trying to do a couple months worth of work in a few days. I don’t care that you work hard. But FFS say thank you for saving your butt!

            1. HRChick

              That’s the thing about complaining about how hard you work: If you’re working that hard and your work is just marginal, your manager is not going to be looking to promote you. You’re doing an average job and, according to you, having to work harder than anyone else to do it. That does not make you promotable. Might make them wonder if you need to be demoted to an easier job, though, if you’re making everyone else miserable with your complaints.

              All “yous” general, of course.

            2. NJ

              Haha, my mum is like this. She likes to think she’s “careful”. I’m like, you’re not being careless if you chose to Ctrl + C something instead of writing it out again, or using company-accepted acronyms instead of complete words (she worked in accounts payable, so lots of repetitive note taking and such). She’s retired now and can use that “carefulness” for good in her hobbies, but I imagine it frustrated her coworkers quite a bit.

            3. Turtle Candle

              Yeah. I had a coworker who was a really lovely person, friendly, easy to work with, hardworking, very eager, but… just… not very good at the job. It required complex juggling of information that she just could not keep up with. She tried so hard! She came up with tracking systems and spreadsheets and all kinds of notes and things to help her keep up, but it just wasn’t working. And it was super hard for everyone involved, because it’s not like we could just tell her “be smarter” and have that make any meaningful change.

          2. Koko

            It’s also not necessarily enough to just be doing a good job. Promotions aren’t rewards for doing well. They are re-assessments of your contributions. If you’re doing your job very well but you’re not demonstrating that you could be doing more sophisticated work that brings more value than your current job, then you aren’t going to get promoted.

            And that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, except perhaps in the sense that you haven’t found a way to demonstrate that you can do more than your current job and that the company needs someone like you doing those higher-level things.

            It’s especially hard for recent grads, I think, because in school if you complete everything you were supposed to do, correctly, you get a 100%. Then at the end of the year you get “promoted” to the next grade, or you get a diploma or degree. This leads you to believe that if you are doing “100%-quality” work, on time, with no errors, you should be getting your promotion. But that just qualifies you to stay in your current position and (hopefully) earn merit increases each year.

            To be qualified for a promotion, you need to have done something more akin to finding a side project that you voluntarily took on for extra credit, that the teacher may or may not have ever asked you to do. You have to go beyond just doing your own job well.

      2. Myrin

        The problem with the people HRChick talks about doesn’t seem to be that they think there are opportunities for advancement when there aren’t any but rather that they aren’t good enough candidates for a promotion.

    4. Temperance

      On the flip side, I hate when companies keep employees in lower roles because they’re going a good job in the lower work. I left my last company after 3.5 years because they declined to promote me because they thought I was a great admin/CS person. Which I was … but I had other ambitions and was working my tail off to achieve them. Which they encouraged. Like I was a hampster on a wheel.

      1. HRChick

        Ugh that’s the worst! Feeling like there’s no room to grow. Professional growth opportunity is important in retaining your best employees!

      2. Not So NewReader

        You know, she may have seen so many corporate head games that she honestly can’t tell there is no head game here. I think this convo should come from her boss , not OP. I think OP is too close to the situation to be heard. (Friend and already promoted.)

      3. Bigglesworth

        Temperance – I am going through that right now! My boss actually said to me 2-3 weeks ago that, “If you left this role, all of your advisors would quit. You’re so good at what you do and you’re a really big help for them.”

        She said this when I asked about an open position in my department that would have been a slight promotion with a raise. My company doesn’t give out merit raises, so you only get one when you get promoted or find a different job on campus. I’m an admin assistant in higher ed = not well-paid. Frustrating to say the least!

        1. Candi

          …no offense to you, but your boss’ train of logic is incredibly silly to me.

          To my way of thinking, for most people it would take a lot more than a favorite worker being promoted to just up and quit.

          All she’s going to do is unintentionally make you think about transferring to another department.

    5. Willis

      I don’t disagree with this, but these examples don’t really seem analogous to Jane’s situation. It sounds like she’s been there for a few years or so and is a high performer…it’s not unreasonable to be looking for a higher or more interesting role in that case (not that that justifies the whining).

      While companies are obviously not required to create new positions for every high performer, they ought to realize that without a path up, some of their best employees are likely going to leave. It sounds from the OP like promotions are pretty scarce, so it’s probably time for Jane to look elsewhere rather than getting more bitter where she is now.

  6. Ama

    I don’t know that there’s a way to suggest this to Jane, but it sounds to me like maybe she’s hit BEC-levels with this employer and would be better off moving on. When I was at my very dysfunctional last job, I stayed longer than I should have on the promise of promotions and shuffling of job responsibilities that never seemed to materialize. Then one day it suddenly dawned on me — there was no career path at that company (or indeed in that sector) that was actually appealing to me. I was pinning my hopes on minor shifts making my job better — and getting increasingly irritated and frustrated by everything that made my job worse — when what I really needed was to get out and find a career path that fit me better.

    Ironically, right after I made this decision and started applying to jobs, my employer finally started moving forward on all the promises they’d made. But I actually believe my leaving was best for both of us, because instead of me moving into a new position and discovering that it didn’t fix my issues with that job, I got a job that is a much better fit, and they got to fill the new position with someone who truly wanted it.

      1. HRish Dude

        Bitch Eating Crackers: It comes from a meme. Everything frustrates you to the point you start thinking, “Look at this bitch over here eating crackers like she owns the place.”

        1. Cordelia Naismith

          Yes. It basically means that once you really thoroughly dislike someone so much that you’re beyond the point of no return, you end up getting irritated by everything they do, no matter how innocuous.

  7. ChelseaNH

    In the role of coach, you could ask Jane what her career goals are, and what plans she has to pursue them, and how her complaints are intended to help her along that path. Given her defensiveness, questions might be a better way to raise the issue.

    1. Marty Gentillon

      As for her defensiveness, it is best to side step it. Phrase your complaint as follows: when you , I feel , because I need . It can also be helpful to try an phrase her complaints this way, as this phrasing helps people say what they mean clearly, and often suggests otherwise undiscovered solutions.

      Note: “I feel that…” tends not to be followed by a emotion, but instead a judgement or accusation, thereby triggering defensiveness, and defeating the point.

      1. Marty Gentillon

        … I shouldn’t have used angle brackets… Let’s try again. When you [do specific observable thing], I feel [human emotion], because [I need specific actual human need, or it causes specific observable problem].

      2. Marty Gentillon

        An example at a hospital where female doctors don’t like being called by their first names (as opposed to doctor so and so): “when you call me by my first name, I feel worried, because patients assume that I am a nurse.”

    2. Annonymouse

      Also point out the difference between advocating and bitching.

      Advocating. In one on one meetings pointing out:
      high level work you’ve done
      extra projects you’ve completed
      how you can help with A,B and C
      future career goals and things you need to do to get there/demonstrate how your already working towards it.

      In the office:
      Being professional in your interactions with people I.e keeping negativity out of it and trying to be approachable for help or feedback

      If you must complain do it in an actionable manner:
      “Given my high level work I was surprised I was not the one ultimately given the promotion. Can we talk about advancement opportunities and what I need to do to position myself in the best way to get promoted?”

      Bitching;
      “Can you believe those (insert appropriate unflattering word here)? I work SO hard and I’m such a high level performer. I deserve a promotion. I guess it means they’re all a bunch of biased, blind and ignorant (insert appropriate unflattering word here).”

      Also complaining to everyone doesn’t make them go “Well, shucks! I didn’t realise there was a well qualified invisible person we overlooked because we couldn’t hear them.”

      It makes them go “Glad I avoided that mess. And I’ll keep avoiding them because they’re a pain. I’m not inviting that to be closer to me.”

  8. Macedon

    Sounds as if your friend feels confined to the rut of her current role, with company efforts to promote her coming too little, too late. That position isn’t really recoverable. Even if/once accommodated by the company, your friend seems likely to resent them the delay and what she has come to see as their unresponsiveness to an employee’s need to be challenged by her role. I’m not saying she’s necessarily right, just that this appears to be her thinking as per your current description of recent events.

    At the point when an employee no longer trusts her employer to provide for her, the only real option is for her to look at external opportunities. You can only efficiently coach someone to manage their expectations in the early stages of their resentment – this has been going on for too long for that.

    1. Mike C.

      I disagree here. You can recover this position by laying down a path/list of goals towards better qualifying for such a promotion.

      Right now the employee doesn’t see a way forward, so you give them one. Check in from time to time to give feedback about progression and when the next one opens up the candidate is better prepared. In fact, this sort of thing should be done for all employees, with differing goals perhaps.

      1. Macedon

        But the friend already has a promotion in the works and her dissatisfaction continues — it’s not a matter of qualifying her for a promotion anymore. Her way forward is clear, but she has become so used to being dissatisfied with the company that it no longer seems to matter to her that she is getting what she originally wanted, because it took too long (by her standard, which could be right ir wrong relative to her industry, for all we know).

          1. Macedon

            Ah, I see what you mean. I read it as a promotion, since OP stressed management’s good regard of the friend. If the move is a lateral one, can’t see that working well even as a token gesture.

        1. OP - Jane's Friend

          Her move is not a promotion, but a lateral move. She will be at the same level but in a different department & position.

          1. halpful

            ouch. so she’s been moved sideways *twice* when she wants to move up. either she’s not doing as well as she thinks, or she’s hit some kind of glass ceiling? Either way, leaving the company is the best option.

            also, could your advice be coming across as kinda condesplainy? that would explain the defensiveness (although it’s certainly not the only thing that would explain it). I got the impression from the letter that she was having feelings and you were suggesting she not have them, which generally has the opposite effect of what you want.

            1. OP - Jane's Friend

              Thanks. I don’t question her feeling, she can feel however she wants and I understand why she feels the way she does. I question the way she is displaying and sharing her feelings at work. It is ok to be upset. I’ve been upset due to a lack of advancing myself. But I don’t think letting everyone know how upset you are is very professional.

              She has hit a ceiling, although I wouldn’t categorize it as a “glass ceiling”. There just are not very many opportunities for her to advance.

              1. RoseTyler

                If she’s hit a ceiling with this company, she should move on.

                I’ve been in jobs like this, where I knew I was both performing higher and paid much less than the market for my role. I was bringing in crazy value for my boss, who was hugely appreciative, but there was legitimately no path for advancement in the current budget/org chart. I stated my case for a title & pay change and everyone agreed that I deserved it, but it went nowhere so I left (on great terms with boss & org). At some point you have to take charge of your own destiny and not sit around and wait for outside forces to change your circumstances.

              2. Cranston

                I’m in this position at my current company (which only promotes family members and has a culture of making nonexempt salaried employees work for free). I’m actively looking and desperately trying to keep my emotions in check, but it can be extremely difficult, especially when they keep piling on the work and expecting me to go above and beyond. I agree that the OP isn’t handling this in the best way, but I sympathize, and if I were her I wouldn’t go out of my way to please my employer.

      2. LQ

        I agree that this should be done for all employees (at whatever level they are at/want to be at). But I’m not sure that would recover from this. It might all feel too little too late. Like an offer for a raise when you tell them you have a new job. Jane hasn’t actually left, but I think she’d be a lot happier with some place else. Even if this place started doing the right things now.

      3. LBK

        I think she can definitely recover, but she has to want to recover, and she has to do it on her own. There’s nothing anyone other than she can do at this point – the sole solution to the problem is her fixing her attitude, getting over her grudge and going back to being the kind of person who gets promotions and who can enjoy and appreciate those promotions when they come. The OP can certainly point that out to her, but as Alison says, you can’t force someone to change their attitude and you can’t do it for them.

    2. Not So NewReader

      I think trust is the big issue here. Why would she carry a good attitude if her trust for the company is shattered?

      OP this might be an inroad for you. You could ask her if she trusts the company to do right by her. See what she says.

      1. Macedon

        It’s exactly that. I agree with Mike C that there are measures you can take at earlier stages, but it just sounds as if the friend is capital-d Done with her current employer. At which point, you can sustain a collaboration long enough to part ways cordially, but I don’t think you can resuscitate the friend’s genuine commitment for the employer, unless the company does something absolutely earth-shatteringly great for her that could erase previous ‘offences’.

      2. MK

        But what constitutes “do right by her” in this context? They shouldn’t be expected to create a position to promote her to. They might not know when a higher position will be vacant and they can’t promise to give it to her when it does. They seem to be taking her dissatisfaction seriously; they moved her to a different position because she didn’t like the old one and they asked the OP to coach her.

        Maybe it is time for her to leave and maybe they understand they will lose her over not being able to promote her. But it’s really on her to take action in this.

  9. NonProfit Nancy

    Agree with what other commentators have said, but also I wonder if being her friend makes you uniquely UNSUITED to give her career advice, actually. I would rather hear work criticism from a manager than from my recently-promoted friend, it’s just too much crossing-the-streams for me. Also, as someone who was promoted when a friend was not, it’s hard for them to hear anything I say about my new job because they’re a little sad about it still and it can come across as tactless/bragging/being unconscious of how luck played a role in how everything works out. There’s probably nobody she’d less rather be coached by than me … so we stick to going out to margaritas and talking about our cats, and everybody is much happier.

    1. MissGirl

      Very true about the promotion. The relationship has baggage behind it that isn’t condusive to being receptive to advice.

      1. Not So NewReader

        FWIW, I think the company is putting too much on you. They probably thought that you could get the message across in a low key manner and Friend would say, “Oh, okay.” That’s not usually how these conversations go though.

        1. OP - Jane's Friend

          I think that is exactly right. They think because I’m her friend I can get through to her. But that isn’t necessarily the case.

    2. BRR

      I was wondering the same thing. Is it an appropriate reply to say you think it would be better received from someone who isn’t friend or does that damage credibility since there is (hopefully) an expectation that people can separate their work and personal lives?

    3. MW

      I think there’s another element that would make it even harder for Jane to receive advice from the OP. If I had a friend at the same level in the company and thought we were of roughly equal ability, then the friend got promoted, I wouldn’t think “Well, she must be way more experienced and talented than me!” I’d still think of us as equals, just one got rewarded and the other got screwed. If my now-superior tried to give me career advice it’d feel super condescending. In my head I’d think “What the heck! I’m just as good at this as you! Quit acting superior, giving me advice like you’re an expert just because you got a new job title!”

      Now obviously that’s not an entirely rational train of thought, but it’s certainly how I’d feel if I considered us equals. Obviously management thinks that the OP has some skills/qualities that place her above Jane, but there’s a good chance Jane wouldn’t recognise that.

      1. OP - Jane's Friend

        This is one of my fears. I work very hard to make sure I don’t treat her like she is at a lower level but I know that she must be thinking that she should have gotten my job.

  10. MissGirl

    Does Jane know that the company has assigned you to coach her? Her response is coming off as friend to friend not coach to employee. You need to be clear that this is a problem others are seeing not just advice from a well-meaning friend.

    That said, because of your friendship you may be the wrong person to be her coach. It might be more beneficial to have her coach be someone she has only a professional relationship with.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

      That was my thought as well. It seems like this is something more appropriate from a manager or supervisor than a colleague.

      And what an awkward position for the senior manager but the LW in!

    2. SouthernLadybug

      Agreed – this was my concern as well. She may think you are having a friend-to-friend conversation. If you really want to be able to coach her – and I actually agree you may be the wrong person to do so – you may need to be explicit and put it out there that higher management asked you to speak to her about this issue specifically.

    3. Not So NewReader

      I have done this, tried to help a friend and it blew up on me. The friend, in not so nice terms said, “Oh they sent you to talk to me. So now I am so far down the A list that TPTB just send whoever to talk to me?! My situation is even worse than I thought!”

      And the conversation turned to how I am a brown noser and a suck up. Oh yeah, that went well. NOT.

      The problem is that Friend is complaining about lack of opportunities. If management wants her to stop then management needs to say so.

  11. Happy Cynic

    If normal, positive, optimistic routes don’t take root, I’ve had success (in personal areas, not work) referring people to the book “The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking”. Just tossing this out there!

    1. Elizabeth West

      Hmm, interesting–I’ll have to see how that stacks up against Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich. I’ll see if the library has it. :)

  12. animaniactoo

    You know, it also occurs to me that the company is trying to solve her problem without input from her about what will make it better.

    They’re moving her in an attempt to satisfy her, to show that they do value her skills and her work – but if she would rather stay where she is and wait for a promotional opportunity while in that position, then this is counterproductive. It’s making her feel even more unheard and unvalued.

    Is there any room for somebody from her management chain to sit down with her and talk to her about what IS possible and see if there’s a mutually satisfying compromise while waiting for the next promotion opening? So that she feels like she’s being heard and valued vs moved around like furniture?

    1. OP - Jane's Friend

      I believe that senior management and her boss would say that they have done that. The truth is several months ago my friend wanted to change jobs. Those things take time to work out and now that they are ready to execute it, she really does not want to move.

      I do know that they have also talked to her about her strengths, opportunities and the likelihood of (or lack thereof) a promotion.

      1. animaniactoo

        In that case, it occurs to me that she’s gotta put up or shut up. And be told so bluntly and explicitly. She wanted to move, they worked to make that happen. They ARE trying to work with her – and if promotion opportunities are so slim on the ground, then that’s just a fact of life and she needs to stop bitching about it and do something about it. Either accept that’s the way it is in this company and she’ll have to wait for her shot – possibly more than once – or start looking somewhere else.

        If she gets defensive the point is “It’s not that nobody agrees with you about how frustrating it is. We’re just all tired of listening to you complain about it.”

        And then maybe go away and let her be mad. Sometimes, people can’t hear the truth until somebody is blunt and unapologetic but then they need to be mad for awhile before then can get over it.

        Essentially – right now she’s not suffering any real consequences for all the complaining. Even something as small as not having someone want to listen to it not one more time can be enough to “feel it” and not want to deal with other people being annoyed at her.

        1. animaniactoo

          Small but major addendum. Don’t speak for everybody “We’re all…” “I’m just… and I have to think others are too given that I’m your friend and it’s annoying ME this much.”

    2. Mee Too

      This

      It seems like there is a bit of bad communication happening from the company on this one. Why is no one talking to her about career development, promotions and getting input before assigning a move?

      Where is her manager in all of this? Can or have they talked to her about this stuff?

      1. KM

        This x2. Even if she initially requested a move, the original letter reads as if that request was just silently dealt with over the past few months with no further communication about what was happening — so she assumed at first they weren’t going to do anything and then, just as she started to like her job, they transferred her. It’s also not clear whether they talked to her about where she was being transferred or whether that would solve whatever her actual complaint is.

        At the same time, I agree with other comments that this workplace might not be a good fit for her, and she’s going to be constantly annoyed by it no matter what because there are fundamental things about the culture and management that bother her.

  13. Moonsaults

    So they assigned you as the coach but does she understand that, does Jane want a coach that’s also her friend? This is where I’m seeing some murkiness, if someone started coaching me and I didn’t know or didn’t want it from them, that would in turn result in defensiveness for sure. I see where the company and you are coming from but know that Jane has to “want to” in this situation, she has to ask for help and assistance, right now she’s venting and doesn’t seem to care about the consequences. It’s uncomfortable and sad as a friend/colleague to see this self destruction phase kick in but it’s very much like leading a horse to water.

  14. Anon 12

    You can also approach this by asking her if she is open to advice/coaching. Jane, CAN I share something with as both a friend and a work coach? Pause, wait for response. If she says yes, go for it but conclude with “if you want to discuss further or come back to this after you process, please let me know”. If she argues, just say that you’ve shared your POV and it’s up to her if it’s useful or not.

    You can’t make people listen or internalize feedback but sometimes if you get them to give you permission it changes the dynamic ever so slightly so that they listen longer

  15. HRChick

    Is it normal for companies to just go to someone and say “now, you’re working this lateral job! Be happy!” ?

    We offer lateral moves, etc, but if the employee doesn’t want it, we don’t force it.

      1. HRChick

        That’s really rough. Bet it makes employees feel like they have very little control over their own career

    1. Christopher Tracy

      This was how it was at Evil Law Firm – the Operations staff never had a choice about where we worked, and they shuffled people around constantly (because they kept firing everyone and/or people kept quitting). It was so weird for me coming to my new company because this is very much not how it’s done – employees definitely have a say about lateral moves.

    2. KEM11088

      My company too. More often than not, we are supposed to view them as a “promotion” even though there is no pay raise or title change.

      1. HRChick

        I hate when “higher ups” try to wordsmith things into a better light.

        Guess what – employees aren’t stupid. They’re going to know exactly what they’re doing and they’re going to resent that you’re talking to them like they’re stupid!

  16. Lora

    Let me make sure I understand this:
    -Your friend was transferred against her wishes from a job she liked, into a job she really didn’t like or want
    -She has been very clear that she wishes to have a career path upwards, and also management *agrees* that she can and should be promoted…they just never seem to get around to doing it in real life, because of reasons.
    -Now she’s been told she will be transferred again.

    Has she been told that this will be a move up? Have they made any concrete moves towards getting her moved up, and let her know what they were doing to make that a reality? Because in her position I’d definitely think someone was blowing sunshine up my butt so I wouldn’t quit and hurt their employee turnover metrics for the year. Have they offered any formal training, or given her any feedback (other than you) on what she needs to do to be promoted? Because it sure doesn’t sound like her manager has sat her down and said, “listen, I know you are frustrated and want to work at a higher level. I need to see XYZ from you and I will give you additional responsibility on Project A so that I can make the case to my manager about moving you up.” Or whatever needs done. As near as she can tell, she is hearing through the grapevine that she whines/nags too much.

    Agree with other commenters – she’s probably better off looking elsewhere. Mostly because it sounds like her managers need to work on their people skills.

    1. OP - Jane's Friend

      Thanks for your comment. It is very normal at my company to be moved around. It is expected and normal. And this wouldn’t be an issue except my friend Jane is very frustrated already. So these transfers are essentially salt in a wound. A new job at the same level reminds her that she didn’t get promoted.

      And Jane’s manager and others in senior management have talked to her about what the chances are. The reality is there are no jobs to promote her into. You don’t just create higher level jobs around here because someone wants to get promoted. The last time one came open, I got it and she didn’t.

      No one wants Jane to leave the company, but I do think that if she isn’t able to accept and be happy with the fact that she may never get promoted she probably should.

      1. Lora

        Ah, OK, thanks for the clarification – that makes sense. Is this the norm for the industry or just your company? I know in tech based companies there often isn’t a non-people-manager track for people who are great at the technical stuff and ready to work at a higher level, and it results in a lot of churn and frustration. Sometimes companies respond to that by creating new paths upwards, sometimes they just accept the churn. It does sound like you’re going to lose Jane sooner rather than later, though.

      2. Gaara

        It sounds like someone (ideally, her manager) needs to tell her this. Bluntly. “You may never get promoted. If you can’t accept that and aren’t still happy with that fact, then you should look for a job elsewhere.” It sounds like instead she has been getting vague false promises or attempts at appeasing her (again, probably from her manager).

        And, yeah, tell her that her attitude is hurting her chances of getting promoted. But also, you know, be honest about the fact that she very well may not get promoted, period.

      3. Not So NewReader

        Wait. She may never get promoted? So then she is correct. While she is addressing the problem in some of the worst ways possible, she is STILL correct about realizing she may never be promoted.

        Which hat would you like to wear here, OP? The friend hat? Or the coach hat? I am thinking you can only have one.

        The company has put you in a bad spot, just my opinion, though. I would be tempted to go back to the person(s) who told you to talk to her and let them know that I can’t do this because 1) she is less likely to accept the message from someone who she thinks of as a friend AND has been recently promoted; 2) there is not a lot of opportunity for advancement, she is correct on that point, and you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

        Following along with this friend hat, I would go to my friend and say, “It is what you see, all the complaining in the world is not going to change what you see. You have to decide if you want this or if there is some other direction you want to steer your career. And that is nothing anyone can really help you with, because only you know what fulfills you.”

        You can soften the tone of that by saying, “They are trying to help you. They move slowly. They do not realize you have changed your mind. But they are trying to help you within their ability to do so.”

  17. The RO-Cat

    Now, I may be way off base here (and in this case, OP, please ignore), but you say the company asked you to coach Jane, right? Not merely “show her what following our cultural norms means”. The latter is easy: follow Alison’s script and see if it works.

    But proper coaching is a different beast altogether. You have to set firm boundaries (and being friends isn’t going to help, if Jane can’t compartmentalize) and you must know what questions to ask, in what order, in what moment, to achieve maximum transformational effect Jane is able to withstand. Good coaches never offer solutions or ideas (that is a job of the mentor), nor a comforting shoulder (that’s what frends are for). They ask (tough) questions and leave to the coachee to find their own, personal answers.

    If you really, really want to coach Jane and she is open to coaching, you will have to research some coaching models, questioning sequences etc. But unless these two conditions are met simultaneously, you’re better off acting as a friend than as a coach. And Jane too.

    1. OP - Jane's Friend

      Thanks for your post. I am not being asked to be a mentor or an official coach to Jane. But to help her. Maybe I am using the work “coach” differently. They want me to give her advice and help her through this difficult period. Does that make sense?

      1. The RO-Cat

        Yes, that makes perfect sense. It’s the most logical course of action in this situation. Being friends is a double-edged sword, nonetheless, so I’d tread veeery carefully. Even so, some coaching instruments might come in handy, at times (I use them with my adult son, and we have a stormy relationship now and then). Anyway, fingers crossed for you (and for Jane to have an open mind).

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      That’s one definition of coach, certainly, but there are a bunch of different variations. I do management coaching work and with the firm I work with, it very much means “we’re going to tell you our opinion of the situation and give you advice about what we think you should do.”

      1. The RO-Cat

        Yeah, this field really lacks clear definitions and guidelines. I go by the following: coach 1-0-1 = “supports coachee in finding their own answers”; mentor 1-0-1 = “provides a role model, transfers experience, offers solutions for customization”; trainer 1-to-many = “transfers informations and experience for the trainees to apply later”, and I wrote my comment from that perspective. But various people will have their own definitions, I’m sure.

  18. Stellaaaaa

    I would find a way to indicate to Jane that she doesn’t have to change how she feels but she probably should adjust how she’s acting.

    I find that a lot of people don’t take it to heart when they’re told that there’s not a lot of room for advancement in a particular company or even in a whole field (library studies comes to mind). They think they’ll be the exception, or that there still might be some eventual perks that come with seniority. Is there a way to say something like, “No really, we told you it would be like this, so you need to decide whether you should stay or not”?

  19. NW Mossy

    I’ll echo Alison’s question – where on earth is Jane’s actual boss, and why is this person delegating one of their core responsibilities (coaching their reports) to you with permission from senior management?

    I have my suspicions that they’re trying to avoid dealing with Jane on this because they perceive her as difficult, unreceptive to feedback, prickly, or any number of other words one could use to describe someone you just plain don’t care for. And honestly, Jane’s management, tough cookies – this is part of the gig when you manage. The actual real job of being management is to deal with situations like Jane’s constructively, not dump them off on Jane’s friend with the thought that some “friendship is magic” fantasy will occur where Jane has a sudden epiphany about how to be at work without any management effort whatsoever.

    At this point, OP, I’d go back to those that asked you to talk to Jane and say “I’ve done what I can, but it’s not working. We’ll need to come up with another strategy, as this approach is not solving it.”

    1. OP - Jane's Friend

      I would say that Jane’s manager and other senior managers here are not great at dealing with messy emotions. They are great at dealing with business issues but not so much when someone cries. And yes, Jane has cried about this to several people.

      Jane actually really likes her boss and thinks that he is being a good advocate for her. I think he is just telling Jane what she wants to hear in hopes that Jane will “snap out of it” and not be mad at him. I have also heard him describe Jane’s frustration in not too flattering terms to his boss. I have tried to warn Jane about this with little influence.

      1. NW Mossy

        I wish I could say that your comment came as a surprise, but…. nope.

        Sometimes managers have to deal with people when they’re crying. Sometimes that crying is work-related, even. And sometimes managers have to accept that doing their jobs correctly means that their employees may react with anger, sadness, disappointment, or any number of other negative emotions. But they are doing Jane exactly no kindnesses by being unwilling to have the candid conversation where she cries or gets angry.

        I get the impulse to avoid these discussions because it’s genuinely hard when someone is crying because of something their manager said. I went through it myself here not too long ago when I delivered a performance review that had some strongly worded “you need to work on X, Y, and Z” commentary in it. But you know what? I let her experience the emotions, remained calm, and eventually, we got to agreement that X. Y, and Z are issues and set goals to help her improve. She’s made great strides since, and it’s been awesome to watch her growth. None of that could happen if I’d done what literally every other manager in her career must have done, which was say “Eh, I’m not going to bring it up, because she’s really good at A, B, and C.” She’d never heard from a manager that she needed to work on those skills, and hearing that was all she needed to spur her to make changes. I’ll take a couple of hours of tears any day if it means that a decent employee can grow into an excellent one.

  20. Merida May

    Not sure if it’s normal but it did happen to my mother. Her director sat her down out of the blue and told her they were restructuring, she was moved in to a one person unit with a much more demanding set of job duties. When she asked them to move her back, or anywhere else, they refused and said there were no open vacancies. Needless to say, she found a job elsewhere after a while.

  21. TootsNYC

    Jane was frustrated w/ your criticisms, and started talking about WHY she was upset, because you were speaking as her friend, and that sort of honesty is not what she wanted from a friend.
    I have a friend I’ve pulled back from because when I share stuff w/ her, she switches right over into advice mode, or she spends so much time either reassuring me or defending the person I’m worrying about (or complaining about), that it’s not a useful friendship with me. I feel pushed away and bossed around.

    So if you’re going to be successful, you need to find way to speak as a colleague who is not a friend. I don’t know if you can do that, or if she will let you, but it’s what might make her listen.

    Can you say to her, “This message I’m giving you is actually coming from other places; it’s not just me your friend worrying at you. It is me your colleague giving you ‘intel’ that you need.” ?

    Otherwise, I’d say, go to whoever it is that wants you to coach her and say: “Because we are friends, I don’t have the same credibility. It would be better if it were her boss giving her this information.”

    Frankly, it -would- be more appropriate for a boss or mentor–someone who outranks her more thoroughly than you do–to deliver this message, if it’s coming from the management or the company.

  22. OP - Jane's Friend

    I think that is exactly what I’m feeling. I want to help her as a colleague AND be her friend but it may not be possible to be both. Push come to shove, it is more important to me to be her friend. It is so frustrating.

    1. AnonAcademic

      OP, I just wanted to say I’m in a similar situation with a coworker at my level who is struggling. Unfortunately because of insights I gleaned due to our friendship I am pretty sure she lacks the self insight and/or motivation to change, so anything I would try to say to her as a friend OR coworker would probably just make her feel bad. I realized that the respect I lost for her as a colleague also transfers somewhat to how I see her as a friend – for example, her flakiness is hard to still see as an endearing or acceptable quirk since it negatively affected my ability to get work done.

      It really sucks to have friendship and work intersect so uncomfortably, but I would not take a hit to my professional reputation in loyalty to a friendship, personally. Not to be harsh but friendships fade, your professional reputation however is much harder to repair than it is to find a new friend who isn’t so negative about their career prospects.

    2. TootsNYC

      One thing you might be able to do is, give it one more try, with that sort of boundary-defining conversation.

      And then, for your own sake at least, and for the sake of your friendship, tell her you just can’t listen to her complain any more. And therefore her promotion, or lack thereof, is not a topic of conversation anymore.

      She’s a colleague–truly, is she a friend? Would you have other things to talk about if you don’t talk about work?

      1. OP - Jane's Friend

        She is a real friend. We have worked together for years and I believe would remain friends if one of us didn’t work here. We regularly get together outside of work and our kids spend time together as well.

        1. TootsNYC

          All the more reason to try to get her to stop kvetching or whining or kvetching–if that is what she’s doing (there is room for talking about your problems at work that is positive, so you’ll have to judge. Is what she’s talking about leading forward in any way, helping her to understand herself, or helping her to strategize , or helping her to let off steam and then recalibrate in a more positive way? Those are OK. But is she stuck in a loop, and only complaining, with no positive growth coming out of it? That’s not fair to you, actually.)

          (that’s why I pulled back on sharing problems with this friend, actually–she didn’t go with me to the “what is this teaching me about being a mother?” or “What does this tell me about how I handle conflict?” She just immediately had advice, or immediately told me it would all be OK, which made me think she was unwilling to hear anything uncomfortable from me. So, now I don’t tell her that kind of stuff. And our friendship is a lot less rich, to me anyway.)

  23. Gene

    I would start the work part of the conversation with something like, “I’m going to be frank here, please hear me out, then we can talk about it.”

    But I need to tell you both as a friend and as a colleague that I think you are hurting your own cause. Being this vocal about your frustration is going to harm your reputation and make you seem difficult and demanding.

    This part is in present and future tense and I believe it should be in past tense because Jane’s complaining has already done this. Follow this with “If you continue on this path, it’s going to make you less likely to be promoted, not more.”

    Then let her vent, let her justify, let her complain until the sun expands into a Red Dwarf. But don’t buy into the venting, complaining, and justification, even by body language, just listen. When she’s vented out, you move onto the coaching part with, “Are you ready to talk about how we can turn these impressions that have been created around?” Wait out the next round of venting, justifying, and complaining, and get into the stuff she needs to hear.

    You’re her friend, but your management has also made you her coach. If you manage to change the course here, it will reflect well on you both. If not…

  24. Not So NewReader

    I just have to say this. I have worked for companies where messages were sent through “friends” and I hate that method of operating.
    The friend may or may not get the point across. The recipient of the message may understand the message and still chose NOT to change their ways.
    The simple fact that the friend delivered the message could be the one last nail in the coffin for that job.

    If I were OP, I would be wondering what is being said about me behind my back. I would be wondering if someone who I thought was a friend was actually being sent to deliver a message to me.

  25. NicoleK

    In my career, I’ve dealt with the following situations:

    1. company will never promote me no matter what
    2. company wants to promote me but there are no opportunities available
    3. company says they’ll promote me but nothing happens
    4. opportunities are available but I’m not their first choice or they have someone in mind already

    Regardless, the situation no longer works for me so it’s always best to move on instead of stay and be bitter.

  26. NicoleK

    Is it ever possible to pull back once you’ve reached that level of unhappiness? I’ve been in that place a time or two. I had enough awareness not to complain to the powers that be, but I probably complained too much to my colleagues.

  27. OP - Jane's Friend

    Thank you all for your comments and feedback. I really appreciate it. I’m going to take Alison’s advice and try to help Jane using her wording (Alison – you always have the best wording!!). From there on I have to accept that Jane’s choices are her own. I can listen to her and be supportive but I can’t allow her to drag me down this path she is on.

    Again, thank you all.

    1. TootsNYC

      I might suggest you try to dial back on the listening to her. Get her to stop talking to you about it. It’s just too hard on you. And it’s not helping her.

      I might suggest you even start saying, “What are you going to do about it?” when she complains. And waiting, with genuine interest, for the answer you expect her to give.

      (someone did this to me once, and it absolutely worked.)

      1. Candi

        Hah! :)

        I have a rule: you get to complain about something twice. Then you do something about it or drop it. The count resets if the doing something doesn’t work.

        It takes the situation from “whyyyy this is horrrrrible not faaaaiiir” type thinking to “what can I DO about this?” If you can’t, it’s not worth dwelling on it, if you can, then there’s a choice to do something, or not.

        Saves me an epic amount of stress. :)

  28. AcademiaNut

    If Jane is crying in multiple people’s offices because she hates her job, the only thing that would make her happy is a promotion, and there is no position she can be promoted into, she needs to find a new job, the sooner the better, because she will never be happy at this one.

    I don’t think it’s heinous of an employer to not have promotion opportunities. If they’re not growing and have low turnover, or there’s a lot of junior people and few senior, then it doesn’t make sense to invent unnecessary positions simply for the sake of promoting people.

    But they need to be transparent about the situation – make it clear that promotions are rare and totally dependant on a position opening up, but that you can take lateral moves to gain experience in a variety of positions. There are lots of jobs that you do for a few years, and then move on (and maybe up) to a different employer, and it sounds like this is one of them.

    Jane reminds me a bit of a friend of mine who is a chronic complainer. He’s very good at his job, but not a superstar, and it’s a very, very competitive field. He tanked his chance at a promotion to a permanent position when we were coworkers purely because of attitude – they hired other people who were much easier to work with, and didn’t publicly and repeatedly slag off the institute to visitors.

  29. jeff york

    Learning to channel one’s frustrations can be a very difficult endeavor. I know – I have had to learn how to do so. Helping the friend and colleague to learn how focus her frustrations on desired outcomes, including getting some professional training in this softer skillset, could go a long way to helping her. Look into training, make a plan, focus on achievable goals, short term and long term, and take small steps towards those goals.

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