How to deal with Sugar-coating coworker, or 'suck-up'

The Sugar-Coating Coworker

The sugar-coating coworker goes by a number of even less-flattering terms, like ‘suck-up,’ ‘brown-noser’, kiss-up’, etc. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people writing in to ask me what to do with this particular coworker behaviour. Barbara from Ohio perhaps articulated the issue best:

“Whenever our VP asks how things are, my coworker tells her they ‘couldn’t be better’ – even though we’ve all discussed where things are falling down and need to be improved. Whenever the VP has an idea, he automatically agrees with it – regardless of whether or not the idea is workable. The problem is that, because of him, management is not getting a clear picture of things – and we sometimes set ourselves, and the VP, up for failure. I know he’s just trying to be positive around the boss, but I think she would equally appreciate honesty…”

They want their bosses to be happy

Sugar-coating coworkers are people who are so concerned with having a positive relationship with the boss that they will say and do most anything to keep the boss happy – to the point of creating negative outcomes.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with trying to keep our bosses happy. Quite the opposite, in fact. There is nothing more valuable to a company and a workplace culture than responsive, motivated and diligent employees.  But the sugar-coating coworkers we’re referring to here are the ones who want to present everything in a positive light, even if it means misleading or obfuscating the truth, and making everyone else miserable.

Point out the consequences

The most effective way I know of for dealing with this type of coworker is to appeal to their desire to look good in front of the boss. The next time they exhibit the sugar-coating behaviour, talk with them about it – and put it in context of how their actions might negatively impact how the boss perceives them.

For example: “You know when you told the boss that everything is great? She’s going to be pretty ticked off when she finds out we didn’t tell her about the issues we’re dealing with around here. It could really make her look bad.”

Hopefully, when the sugar-coater see that their actions might actually have the opposite effect intended, they’ll think twice before doing it again.

Whatever you do, don’t just talk about sugar-coaters behind their backs. That would make you the terrible co-worker!

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