Dear Coach: My Coworkers Aren’t Happy About My Promotion

December 14, 2023   |   Lesli Mones

What’s the Problem?

Dear Coach, 

I just had a major promotion. It was competitive, with several of my peers and external candidates also vying for the role, and everyone—including myself—thought other candidates were more likely to get it. But, alas, I ended up with the job (!).  

I’m excited about the opportunity, but now there’s tension with my former colleagues, which has been a disappointing surprise. Some have been indirectly undermining, some seem to be harboring resentment, and others are just acting distant and cold. While some of this is likely in my head, my observations regarding their behavior are clearly not.

It’s awkward, especially since some of these people will be my new direct reports, and many of them are part of the broader team I’m joining. Their partnership will be critical to my success in my new role, so it’s important that I navigate the situation carefully. 

Help! How do I transition these new working relationships to ensure we can move forward smoothly and productively?


Promoted but Perturbed


What Do We Think?

Dear “Promoted but Perturbed,”

Congratulations on the promotion! That’s certainly something to celebrate, but we understand it can be hard when your coworkers are not celebrating with you. So, let’s unpack the situation.

First, your question tells us that:

  • You’re in a position of power you’ve not been in before, which means you’ll need to adjust both internally and in your working relationships. 
  • Because of this, we believe you’re facing a matter of developing both your personal and positional power.  
  • There may be others in new roles, too, and your organization may be experiencing change.

So, exactly how is your problem a power problem? We think:

  • The fact that you weren’t expecting to get the promotion tells us that you may have been underestimating yourself—and even, in a way, downplaying your skills and capacities with others.
  • If you’re caught off guard by how your relationships have changed, it could be a sign that you need to be more cognizant of power dynamics in the workplace. 
  • You don’t see that others are reacting to your role and promotion, but not necessarily to you personally. 


What’s the Solution?

It’s a delicate situation, so here are a few things to consider before you act: 

  • Part of your positional power requires that you take the lead in helping people get comfortable with your new role.
  • It’s easy–and human–to feel hurt, betrayed, or disappointed by your colleagues’ reactions and behavior. But rising to what your new role requires means not letting those feelings guide your actions. 
  • Your job is to look at the organizational tasks before you and think about what you need to do to bring out the best in everyone to accomplish those tasks.
  • It may be that you’ll need to have conversations with people about the changing circumstances, determining what they’ll need from you (and you from them) to work together. 

With all that in mind, a good first step is to bring the team together to talk about the new configurations and expectations; discuss what you’re trying to accomplish in your new role and give people the benefit of the doubt. 

The negative reactions you’ve noticed may just be initial rumblings, and if you focus on the good work you could do together, you may be able to get past this disgruntlement.  

Best of luck!


Each month, we answer questions we often get from the leaders we work with and unpack how, at the end of the day, every problem is a power problem. If you have an issue you just can’t solve, get in touch! We’d love to answer your questions in an upcoming Dear Coach post. Find us at [email protected], or on LinkedInFacebook, or Twitter.