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Dear Anna,

I wasn’t successful in being promoted, but my colleague was. I now find myself reporting to them and it’s awkward for both of us. What can we do?

Being promoted from within the team into a leadership role is one of the trickiest transitions professionals make (the other one is promotion to partner, if you are wondering). People who were once your peers are now your supervisors and you are both in uncharted waters. Here’s what you can do. 

Get your head straight: It’s normal to feel disappointed, angry or frustrated at not being promoted. Find a way to come to terms with the reality that your colleague was promoted and you were not. You will know if you have done this by the way you can describe the situation to others and feel okay about it. “Yes, we were both considered. Jim worked really hard and he is an asset to the team. I know where I need to focus and I’m going to keep that in mind to be ready next time.” You can’t find a new way to work together if you are holding a grudge or don’t agree with the decision. Keep having conversations with the key people until you have it fully reconciled. 

Get ahead of the storm: Talk with your colleague about how the promotion affects you both. Work through likely scenarios that will come up – a misunderstanding in instructions, a change in expectations, or the need to give feedback. Highlight where you think it could feel awkward and be realistic about the expectations they can have of you and you can ask of them. You might ask that you are given the opportunity to read through changes made to your draft before they walk you through it, or review the document together and agree amendments together if that’s practical.  Remember that it’s likely to be a little awkward for them, too. They are expected to review your work and yet they also know it wasn’t that long ago you were peers. 

Get your goals in order: Use this situation to give your career planning a boost.  Talk about the areas that held you back this time and what you can do to change in the future. Get the right people involved to give you the experiences you need and regular feedback to know you are on track. Try to work through the fear of failure that can come from committing publicly to a goal that you aren’t sure you can achieve.  Access the positive parts of perfectionism that propel you to aim high and push through rather than losing hope or dwelling on not being promoted. You can’t change the past, but the future is there for the taking. How you deal with this challenge will be watched by others – it could just be the thing that gets you across the line in the next promotion round.