How to Handle a Brownnoser

Act Accordingly

The suck-up by definition facesa dilemma: Where's the line between flattery that flatters and flattery that annoys? The best brownnosers can feel that line almost by instinct. The others have to constantly measure their levels so their approach doesn't backfire, possibly detracting from the appearance of sincerity.

Before proceeding, then, ask yourself this: Is the boss buying it?

If she isn't, there may be little reason for you to risk the potential fallout of acting -- and there is always some degree of risk involved in addressing the negative behavior of a colleague. If the boss is onto the brownnoser, then the flattery, the self-promotion and any bad-mouthing are falling on deaf ears. They are not friends. You are not on the outs. Your job is still what you make of it. In this case, it's wiser to trust that the boss will "handle the brownnoser" than to get in the way.

If the boss knows, and if the suck-up isn't dragging anyone else down, what's left to "handle" is your annoyance with the brownnoser's behavior. And that's about you. Practice breathing exercises, avoid the suck-up whenever possible, commiserate with similar-minded colleagues when you need to vent, and chalk it up to "sometimes people, well, suck."

Or, if you can bring yourself to do it, you might try heaping your own excessive praise and agreement on the brownnoser himself. This could create a level of redundancy and confusion that throws him off his game.

Offering sincere praise and agreement is an option, too, as it may decrease that person's need to seek constant approval from higher-ups [source: Miranda].

Other circumstances, however, may warrant an effort to thwart.

If someone on your team is using flattery to cover incompetency, your reputation can be affected even if the boss is seeing through it. In this case, be sure you're not inadvertently helping with the cover-up. If you have a tendency to talk up your peers in the face of management scrutiny, hold back with this one. If asked about your brownnoser's contribution to a project, be honest about shortcomings. If asked to cover for the co-worker when he arrives an hour late, say no.

More serious, though, is the case of the suck-up who knocks you down while building himself up. If you know this co-worker is acting with malice, telling lies about you or taking credit for your work, it might be time to send the problem to those with the resources and know-how to address it proactively. This typically means an immediate supervisor or the human-resources department. It might, if your workplace is very small, mean the boss.

Keep good records -- times, dates, specifics regarding the nature of the brownnoser's behavior. If other co-workers are affected similarly, ask them to do the same. When you feel you have collected clear evidence of your malice claims, take it all to HR (or the supervisor or boss) and explain what's happening. Be calm and professional, and set up a time to follow up.

Whatever you do, and whichever type you're dealing with, do not call attention to her behavior in front of a crowd. This can be tempting in the throes of annoyance, but you'll likely find you've made your own situation worse. Suffering public embarrassment and disapproval, your brownnoser might feel the need to step up her efforts with the boss.

Proceed with caution and act with professionalism, and you might be able to achieve some relief. It's likely, however, the brownnoser will continue to fawn over the boss's ideas and shoes. Use your breathing exercises.

For more information on brownnosing behaviors, office dynamics and approaching problems at work, check out the links on the next page.