Recently I was in competition for a promotion to manager which I did not get. The promotion went to someone with less experience than I have and someone who, I believe, is less qualified than I am and who got the promotion by playing politics which I refused to do because I believe organizational politics are bad.

Now I have to work for this person. What should I do? I was thinking about complaining to HR about the unfair promotion and asking to be assigned elsewhere? Is this the right thing to do or is there a better choice?

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    Original question for those who have enough reputation to see and meta discussion of original.
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 17:37
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    I'm not sure as to whether this is answerable. The options are (a) Live with it, (b) Find another job, (c) Complain if you have proof but expect risk and blowback. Any of the three are viable but depend on the person's character.
    – MrFox
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 17:54
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    @Mr. Fox, I have an answer in mind, so I think it is answerable.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 18:07
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    I'd say that's just how it is if one is unwilling to participate in oragnization politics.
    – DA.
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 19:42
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    "I was thinking about complaining to HR about the unfair promotion".. surely that is playing politics, which you say you refuse to do? Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 7:53

6 Answers 6


Congratulate them!

Even if it is not official yet the decision has been made and there is nothing that you can do that is going to change it. Anything you could say now is likely to look like sour grapes, which is going to work against you. Because this is a management position, even if you are union the company is not required to promote by seniority.

Instead of making an enemy, you can try and get them on your side. Congratulate them, and give them the respect that the position deserves(even if you do not feel the person in the position deserves it). When you have the chance work with them and help make them look good. It will only help to have them as your ally when the company is making the decisions on who to consider promotions in the future.

I think you could have a meeting with your manager to find out what you should improve to maximise your chances for the next promotion. I would definitely keep a positive attitude when you have the meeting though.

And next time there is an opening coming up get proactive about asserting yourself as the front runner. You can do this while respecting the person currently holding the position. But allowing your competition a few weeks to get ahead of you in line makes it more difficult to stand out when it is time to make the decision.

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    I think an important note is: People who do the WORK better are frequently bypassed for Management. Why? Because they do the WORK better. I've been on both sides of the coin as a person who does the work "well" - management and non-management - and it's just a matter of preference at the company you're at as far as I see. Perhaps he (the question writer) is too valuable to WASTE on Management?
    – AMM
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 14:47
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    @AMM Yes, poor HLGEM, too valuable to get the raise that surely comes with a promotion into management...
    – Tacroy
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 18:06
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    @Tacroy : In some companies, low-level managers are paid less than the employees at the bottom. (The employees often don't notice that, because the salaries are not discussed openly.) Sometimes it has a form of a lower base pay and motivational bonuses which are supposed to compensate for it, only to find up later that the bonuses are smaller and less frequent than was suggested originally. The low-level managers still do it in hope that one day they will be rewarded by a promotion to a higher level. Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 13:59
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    Paragraph 3 is important. By asking what you need to do to get the next promotion, you may find out some areas you need to work on and you let managment know that you seriously want to be promoted. Of course you need to improve on whatever they tell you even if YOU don't think it is important.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 15:23

How is it unfair?

Management needs to play organizational politics. Your refusal to play them (rather than diffuse them, or sell yourself in other avenues) pretty much spells out your lack of qualifications to be a manager.

While you can choose to work for the new boss, or ask for a transfer, or look for new employment, the best thing you can do is learn from it.

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    +1 on this; if you consider office politics to be ugly and evil (an opinion I share), I can't imagine you'd want to be promoted to management.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 22:35
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    Yes, even if you don't like politics, as a manager, you can help to help shield the people under you from bad politics. If you don't "do" polictics, then the people you manage could suffer in various ways. For instance, their projects may end up having less support, because you didn't advocate for them effectively.
    – Kaz
    Commented Apr 6, 2013 at 5:58
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    @Telastyn - I am not trying to get into a conversation with you in comments. My comment was meant as a suggestion for how to improve your answer. Answers that explain why are generally more useful than answers that just say what the answer is. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 14:32
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    @Chad:Even in places where politics are "subdued", they still exist. 2 Managers need the same employee, who wins? Unless there is an obvious business need, its the one who plays the game better. All managers want more money budgeted for their department. I would think none of them think equal distribution between departments is fair, after all their group does more important things. Who wins? Also, I have worked where politics weren't as noticeable, but most of that was because of an awesome manager shielding the team and not the company culture.
    – Dunk
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 23:07
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    @Dunk - I am not seeking discussion rather an improvement of the answer by clarifying. Answers should explain why they are correct not just what the answer is. Perhaps you could help Telastyn out by editing their answer to provide that information. Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 12:38

Complaining only shows a bad side in you. If this is how you feel, the company made the correct decision in not promoting you (I know this is not easy for you to read).

Life is not always fair, as an employee you need to demonstrate the ability to give any new manager a fair chance to lead you. I worked in a team, in which a co-worker was upset with the promotion given to a different member - he could not accept it and every discussion or decision became an argument. It made him look bad and we disliked him for making everything an argument, I seriously considered leaving because I could not bear his behavior (luckily he eventually left).

This is an opportunity for you to grow, try to make the most of it.


It's unfair to the people you are leading if you are unable to have influence in the company. Call it politics. Call it being liked. The reality is, it's about getting things done.

Will people in your group get cheated out of their own promotions, raises and bonuses because you refuse to play ball? How will you get them the tools they need to do their job and provide the protection they need?

Unless your company explicitly places importance on time served and level of technical knowledge, you may have no arguement to present to HR.

They may have done you a favor by not giving you this position. It is naive to think playing politics isn't a requirement for a manager.

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    A long time ago, I worked for someone who didn't think he should play politics and, yes, he was unable to get the performance appraisals he wanted for his people and they consequently didn't get the raises they deserved. My perceived value to the organization pretty much doubled as soon as I moved to a different boss even though I was doing the same job. It amazed me how much easier it was to get things done too and how much more respect I got. The next year I got a higher rating and a much higher raise. It was a real lesson to me in why you need to play the game and why your boss does.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 13:50

Personally, I still think the question is a little too much of a rant even after the rewrite and should be changed to something that focuses more on "What is office politics?". Unless this is made clear, any answer would probably be moot.

If your definition of politics is akin to the backstabbing and dramatic power plays so common on television, and you genuinely believe that the person has employed such means to "leapfrog" over you, I think that anything you do, or plan to do, will be tinted with negative connotations and not necessarily realistic expectations.

If your definition of politics is to something more in line with "influencing people through soft skills to accept your ideas", I'm sure your plans would be different as well.

In any case, its my experience as a long time manager and head of department that the ability to influence people is my number one job description.

Does this require the use of non traditional soft skills? Definitely.

Would I be doing my job to the best of my ability without these soft skills? Definitely.

At the end of the day, your understanding of the event will drive your perception of whether or not something was "right" or "just". What I would suggest is to review those perceptions and try to come at the question at different angles before coming to a conclusion and that this review should be done before you even start thinking about what you plan or want to do about it.

  • Hi Permas, the first 3 lines would be best removed from your answer and either posted as a comment on the question, or taken to meta to discuss the focus a bit more. As it stands it's not really fit for the rest of the answer you have so kindly provided! Thanks in advance!
    – user5305
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 19:37
  • What are "non traditional soft skills"? Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 21:16

Like Chad, I think that you should congratulate the guy. And the main reason is the following :

  • If the new guy is good at playing politics, and if you complain about him to HR or to n+2, he will likely reorient his full attention on you. And I guess you don't want that, except if you want to leave afterwards.

By the way, but it is personal view, I always find difficult to stay after applying for a position and not having it.

  • I always find difficult to stay after applying for a position and not having it. - You should realize that not getting a position does not mean that you were not qualified for it, or not good enough to get the job. If you leave every time you get turned down you will find your career ceiling much lower than someone who sticks it out and tries again. Which may not be a concern today but you are limiting your self tomorrow. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 15:05
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    I was turned down once, so I took the (higher) position elsewhere. If you are really qualified for a job, there will almost always be a place where you can have it. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 15:56

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