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How do you manage someone who wanted your job?

This week’s question is how to manage someone who also applied for your manager’s position. Please continue to share your ideas and suggestions for the column by commenting below and by sending in your questions to the

How do you manage someone who wanted your job?Federal manager (GS-13) from the U.S. Census Bureau

 To help you navigate this awkward situation, I want to start by sharing a story of a friend who was promoted into a position that another colleague had felt entitled to assume after filling that job in an acting capacity.

My friend didn’t realize that he and this colleague had been competing for the same job until he noticed some passive-aggressive signs of discontent. After speaking with his supervisor about the staff member, my friend learned that they had in fact been pursuing the same job.

 Armed with that understanding, my friend scheduled a meeting with his former colleague, now employee, to have a difficult but professional discussion about their situation. He began the conversation by saying:

 “I just recently learned that you were interested in my position, and I understand that you may be frustrated by the outcome. I probably would be as well. That being said, I was selected for the position based on my qualifications, and we now need to figure out how to work together effectively.”

 Once they cleared the air and confronted the real issues, my friend and his colleague proceeded to have a productive conversation, which led to an effective working relationship moving forward. They never became the best of friends, but they became respected colleagues.

 Although each situation is unique, there are some important takeaways from my friend’s example. First, consider if a conversation between you and your colleague is necessary. Perhaps your colleague simply needs some time to overcome the disappointment.

 However, if you believe the competition for the job will permanently affect your working relationship and your team’s performance, it’s important that you have this difficult conversation. Before going directly to your teammate, I suggest soliciting your supervisor’s advice about the best approach given their knowledge of the individual, your team’s dynamics and the agency’s culture more generally.

 Finally, you should strive for respect as the final outcome. You don’t need to be the best of friends with your colleagues, but you should respect what each of you brings to the team and find ways to actively support one another’s work.

 I hope that my friend’s experience is of some help, and I invite others who’ve had to deal with similar situations to offer their advice. Feel free to simply post your stories below or to send an email to

Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.


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