Victim of the Tall Poppy Syndrome? What to do when things get nasty


tall-poppyThe tall poppy syndrome is well and truly alive.

For those of you who may not be familiar with this saying, Wikipedia describes the tall poppy syndrome as: “a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers”.

As you continue to grow your business and increase your credibility and reputation within your field, not only will you capture the attention of your potential prospect/clients – you’ll also be noticed by your competitors and other people in your circle.

And, unfortunately, some of these people may not always have your best interests at heart. In fact, you may find that they try to hinder your progress through a direct attack on you personally and your work, or they’ll try to drag you down with their critical (naysayer) comments and/or actions.

I’m not talking about constructive criticism where someone is trying to offer you advice with good intentions because they want to see you grow and prosper.

I’m referring to the vindictive comments that are coming from a place of ‘do or die competitiveness’ or out of spite and envy with the sole intent on tarnishing your credibility or keeping you down.

In preparing for this article, I reached out to my social network and asked whether any of them had been a victim of the tall poppy syndrome. Sadly, many people could relate to this.

One woman found herself without a job after she had exposed several things to upper management that needed to be brought to their attention. Apparently her supervisor didn’t appreciate her new rise to fame and quickly saw to it that she was removed.

A few years later she opened her own business and was frequently told by people in her community that she’d never achieve the goals that she had set for herself.

So, if like this woman, you too have someone who is going out of their way to ‘attack, cut down or criticise you’ – what do you do? Should you come out fighting? Should you retaliate and serve them back some of their medicine? You know – tit for tat? Or do you just simply ignore them and hope they’ll go away?

Whatever you decide, I believe it’s important to hold true to your integrity and honour so that you can continue to hold your head up high.

Here are 3 tips to consider if ever you find yourself at the receiving end of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’.

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1. Don’t stoop to their level

I think the most important thing to do is to avoid retaliation where you come out fighting and throwing negative comments back at them.

Stooping to their level and ‘serving them up a spoonful of their own medicine’ will only serve to take your attention, energy and focus away from what you SHOULD be focusing on – which is to continue the great work that you’re doing.

Action Step: Don’t get caught up in anger, frustration or retaliation – you’re worth so much more! Rather let your light shine brightly and continue to bring your message to the world, so that you can carry on helping the people who you know you are meant to serve.

2. Realise – it’s NOT about you

It’s important to realise that their remarks have nothing to do with you and the work you are doing, but rather EVERYTHING to do with them and their inability to achieve their own successes.

It’s THEIR stuff – their own issues and lack of self-worth and/or self-belief – and has nothing to do with you!

Action Step: Remind yourself of your mission and purpose and the people you are here to serve. Listening to the naysayers and critics will only delay you from achieving your bigger mission. Move on.

And, most important of all, is to:

3. Surround yourself with supportive people

Do you feel physically and emotionally drained after being in someone’s company where you have listened to their negative remarks? Being in the company of these naysayers and critics WILL impact your outcomes.

Are the people you associate with constantly telling you why something can’t be done, or why your plans are impossible to achieve? Perhaps that’s true for them. However are you going to let this person’s inability to reach their goals affect your ability to reach yours? I certainly hope not!

Action Step: Surround yourself with supportive people – people who will continue to encourage you to be the best you can be and who will celebrate alongside you as you continue to move from success to success.

The important thing to remember is to hold true to who you are and the work you do; keep your eyes firmly fixed on your goals; and to build a community of like-minded people who will continue to inspire and uplift you on your journey.


To your business success!

I work with purpose-driven service-based businesses, implementing compelling brand and communications strategies (including setting up their own podcast/podcast series) so they can attract more clients who pay them what they are worth. Through working with me, my clients have doubled (and even tripled) their results. >>> Want to double (or triple) your results - while BOOST your reach and influence with your own Podcast Series? Let's talk! My details are on the Contact link (top of page).
I'm also the Host of Ambitious Entrepreneur Show & Women In Leadership Podcast, and have often been referred to as the 'Podcasting Queen' by my community. I hope you'll subscribe to my shows!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Louise

    Excellent article as usual, Annemarie. Thanks for the helpful tips and action steps.

    • Thanks Louise! It’s so sad to hear when people are criticised or cut down by others. It can sometimes be difficult to hold your head high and continue on with the important work you’re doing, however, hopefully these suggestions will inspire people to continue their good works!

      • Giftretailersconnection

        AnneMarie: I found this article as a result of your post on Facebook. Would love to have permission to reprint it in my online magazine Gift Retailers Connection, giving you full credit, of course. If you are willing, please email me at

        • Hi, thanks for stopping by. Yes, of course – that would be fine. It’s such an important message to share! Will also contact you via your email!

  • Bonboncupcakes

    Absolutely, yes! And I feel validated by this article. I guess I AM handling it the correct way, and not taking it personally 🙂 LOVE this!

  • Kelli

    Oh my goodness, what a great article! I think so many women, including myself, unfortunately feel this often. It’s too bad that other people feel the need to bring others down, but reading this definitely lifted my spirits. Very inspiring!

    • Thanks Kelli – I’m so pleased you found this helpful! It’s very sad to think there are people constantly trying to stop you from being the best that you can be, because of their spite and envy. It’s important NOT to get sucked into their negative energy, but rather seek out other people who will continue to support you and the work you’re doing!

    • Thanks for stopping by Kelli. I’m so pleased you found the article helpful! It IS very unfortunate that some people feel the need to bring others down because of their inability to reach their goals etc. We can’t control their actions, however we CAN control how it makes us feel and how we respond.

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  • Hi Annemarie – I commend people who are courageous enough to put themselves out there for others to criticize. Reckless abandonment! I sure wish that I had more of it.

    I can say that I used to fall prey to this, but not so much anymore because I am so alone most of the time. I work alone, one-on-one with clients, and only do so much networking. However, as I do more networking and share more about my work and get better and better at it, I’m well-aware that this is likely to happen.

    • Hi Tia, so very, very true.

      Not so long ago, I co-hosted a career radio show and spoke a lot on the topic of personal branding and other such topics to help people build a strong profile in order to attract the attention of potential employers. One of my guests thought the topic ‘personal branding’ was a joke and told my co-host that he wanted to come on the show and argue his point. LOL – oh really?! I think not. There were also other things that he didn’t agree with, such as sharing inspiring quotes.

      Once you are so clear on your brand, who you are, your message and what you ‘stand for’, it doesn’t matter who raises their heads with comments or criticism. You can stand in your power – firmly and passionately as you KNOW it’s important to continue spreading the message.

      And, most of important of all, is to surround yourself with people who will stick with you no matter what!

      Stand up for what you believe in Tia! You’re doing amazing work – never let anyone stop you from being the awesome person you are and continuing the work you are doing with your clients!

  • Leilaandrews520

    This is a great article! Most of my life in Australia I have been criticized and attacked for being different. People were so cruel to me for many years I believed there was actually something wrong with me. After spending time overseas I have realized that there is NOTHING wrong with me. I have hopes and dreams and aspirations and was complimented and praised overseas and had many supportive people in my life! Now that I am back in Australia I realize that there is nothing wrong with me, there never has been. It’s the culture of tall poppy syndrome and unfortunately the more I succeed the more people are going to try bring me down. Very disappointing!!!

    • Thanks for stopping by Leila. Congratulations for all that you have achieved. Unfortunately others may not be able to see it this way, however it’s important to key your head held high and to continue doing the great work you/re doing. All the very best!

    • Hi Leila,

      I’m so said to hear of the cruelty you had to endure over the years. Some people can be so cruel.

      Stand tall and proud in who you are and what you can do/offer. And, surround yourself with positive people who will celebrate alongside you for every milestone you achieve.

      Best, Annemarie

  • Aurora Butterfly

    As an attractive female, people have been mean to me my whole life, to the point where I didn’t even realize I was “pretty”.  As an artist, people accused me of using drugs to make my art, as well as tell me I’m not ready to be on their team… then come to find out they have copied me or taken my ideas.  

    Fortunately as my gifts are genuine, I do not need to retaliate because I can think of infinite ideas.  I am grateful to have beauty, but I know it as well to be a reflection of the inner light and this is what I look for in others.   I take the resitances as opportunites to reflect on what I may be resisting (forgiveness 🙂 and see the obstacles as places I can love myself and others more. Thank you for addressing this important facet of our society so that those who feel insecure (everyone at some point) can have a safe opportunity to expose these shadows and utilize them as places to grow (soil) instead of projecting them onto others.  The game of life, infinite hall of mirrors, I only see love at the end of the tunnel.  

    May we all continue to forgive and un-condition ourselves from the bitterness of being cut down & rise up again 🙂

    • Hi Aurora, thanks for stopping by and commenting. For people on the receiving end of this unacceptable (sad and ridiculous) behavior – there is comfort when realizing that they are certainly not alone AND that it has nothing to them with them and ALL to do with the other person’s insecurity.

      Here’s to your continued success! Stand tall and continue to express your gifts and talents in whatever you do!

      Blessings, Annemarie

    • Amen Aurora Butterfly, I couldn’t have said it any better myself!


    • This has really helped me. I can relate so much to this Aurora!

      Thanks for sharing 🙂 Thank you Annemarie for posting on this topic that people rarely ever talk about. I feel silly talking or even thinking about it sometimes, and I too didn’t realize how much I was shining until now that I am 25 and get that where all the hate was coming from ..
      One day, I hope to write a book about this is on some fashion. Too much to elaborate on, but just wanted to say thanks! This was really beautiful!

      • Hi Jillian, so glad you found this article helpful. It’s not silly to talk about it at all, and well worth educating people on so they don’t get stuck. Thanks for popping by and sharing your thoughts.

  • You wrote “….build a community of like-minded people who will continue to inspire and uplift you on your journey.” Love this because it made me think of you. I think we are like-minded and I feel so fortunate that we’ve connected across the miles. You are both inspirational and uplifting. Thanks.  ~Debra

    • Thank you Debra – I really appreciate it. It’s amazing how uplifted you can feel once you surround yourself with positive and inspiring people.

      I think you’re very uplifting as well and really enjoyed our interview last week. Can’t wait to share your message with the world!

  • As a high IQ person, I should be used to the whole tall poppy thing, but I don’t think I’ve ever really got used to it.

    I am finding the same thing with public competitive speaking now. I began to take this up last year, and after 4 speeches only, got to the highest level possible for the category I was in. I was so enthusiastic that I began listening to the advice of world-quality speakers, and it made a huge difference to my development.

    Problems began (1) the moment that people started to see that I had some talent and potential, and (2) when I began to connect with and take advice from the world-class people, who are way above me in achievements. People assume that I am ‘up myself’ because I have done so. (ie just who does she think she is?), and I am poor at handling people politics, and easy to goad. I have another contest coming up, and know that there would be more than one who would like to see me fail, and find it difficult to concentrate on what really matters. I’ve had people trying to convince me not to listen to these world-class people, that I should abandon all the sterling advice I’ve had from these people, have even had people ‘suggesting’ that I don’t compete in their contest because I had won elsewhere. Not content with criticising me, the same people criticise the world class speakers that I’ve spoken to, putting them down as well.

    People are not always straight out nasty, either. Sometimes they phrase things in ways that sound like they’re trying to be helpful, but there’s always a little put down hidden in there somewhere. Like being told that you aren’t ready to do such and such yet, or you don’t really have a chance.

    It hurts me, and I’m made to feel guilty for being passionate about something, working hard, and yielding results. Usually by people who don’t put in the same amount of work themselves. I know it’s about them and not about me, but I find it really hard not to take it personally. It’s completely gutting me at the moment, and I fear that I will self-sabotage as a result of my own reaction to their comments and attitudes. I’m starting to feel that I don’t deserve to be successful because of some of their attitudes. It’s getting to me.

    • Hi Michelle, I just wanted to comment on your blog, regarding the “Tall Poppy Sydrome”. Yes it is an ugly issue to confront but all I can say is just keep trail blazing your way to success. If you have discovered your talent, use this gift to help you ignore those who want to see you fail. If you want to advance in your chosen field you will have to learn to develop a thick skin quickly and don’t give these people your time and attention. Starve off their toxic comments. They will shut up when they realise you have stopped listening. Anyone who has drive, determination and decency deserves to suceed in life. Follow your instincts always. Instincts never lie. Maybe you need to assess whether the people around you deserve a place in your life? Don’t let the naysayers hold you back. Don’t be tempted for a minute, to sabotage all your good work so far when you feel so “gutted”. strongly suggest you do something positive or talk to someone positive till this feeling passes. You only feel bad when you CONSENT to their toxic comments. To succeed in your area, you must seriously consider mixing a lot more with positive and secure people who are encouraging and supportive towards you. Being around toxic people could have a detrimental effect on your ambition in the long run. Be careful. Unfortunately, the naysayers are just people who are insecure in themselves and feel threatened by your ambition and want to plant the seeds of doubt in your mind. Success is also achieving your goals despite when others have tried to hold you back. As a suggestion, you might like to read autobiographies on people who have achieved well despite negative influences. Maybe that might inspire you further and lift your spirits? eg. Erin Brockovich book is a great read. She experienced this kind of thing too. Best of luck Michelle

  • What a great article. Yes, I’ve experienced the negativity of people trying to hold me down, saying I couldn’t reach things. I stepped out of that toxic environment.

    • Hi Sharita, I’m so glad you found the article helpful. And, that you got away from those naysayers. Surround yourself with positive and inspiring people who will support and encourage you!!

  • What a great post., Annmarie, I didn’t know there was a name for this type of behaviour. Though I’d heard of The Tall Poppy Syndrome, I never knew what it meant.

    I was in my fifties before I learned how to write properly and when I found there was a local critique group, I asked a local, newly published author if I could join, but I was told it was for published authors only. Not giving up, I joined an on-line critique group instead. Four years later after I had self published my children’s books, I met some writers from that local critique group at a book launch for one of them. Two members invited me to join, and as I was now published, I accepted and went along to their meeting. When I arrived, I found that most of the writers there were unpublished and the author that had told me only published authors could join was there too. Not only that but I found out that she was also indi published. I was gob smacked. Not because she was indi published, but because she led me to believe otherwise and gave me wrong information. However, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and kept quiet as she practically ran the group with her spouse. When I was invited to add my chapters for critique, I received great feedback from everyone including that lady. But not from her spouse. He sent me an email, saying that he wouldn’t let his grandchildren read such a book as mine and that humour like that should be kept in the toilet where it belonged. Well, I didn’t say anything, just thanked him for his critique. Non of the others knew what he’d said and I’m not even sure his wife did. she had given me a good review. Later I realised that they had their own publishing company and some other writers were asking me how I published my books so cheaply. Needles to say I didn’t get invited to the Christmas Party, but I went anyway as I had made friends with many other writers wonderful members and they told me about it. I took all my books along and showed everyone, then I never went back there again.

    I always smiled a that couple when I saw them and they spoke back, but one day when I went into a shop in town where local self-published authors sold their books. I couldn’t find my books, but theirs were placed on the bookshelf with other authors from that group. For a moment I thought my books had been sold, but they hadn’t. Someone had hidden them right underneath the bookcase on the floor. Of course, I took them out of that shop after that and never said a word. No point. I don’t know who did it, but now I only leave my books with people who genuinely like them, and me, but mostly I just leave it to on-line book shops to sell them. I don’t know why that couple was like that, but I came in contact with them in everything I did as they lived nearby and we were involved with many similar things. Though I tried to be nice, it never worked so I gave up trying in the end. Some folks may have retaliated, but I find it’s best to ignore people like this or it comes back to bite you.

    • Oh Trish, what a situation to be in. Their actions only prove their insecurities, otherwise why would they bother to hide your books. Well done, for not only developing your writing skills, but getting published. A huge effort to be congratulated!! And you know what? You don’t need a bookshop to sell your book – you can sell them directly from the internet, if you so wished. All the very best and thanks for sharing your story!

  • My brothers are successful business men who have recently become victims of this vicious syndrome. I wrote a poem to lift their spirits. The first two lines are from a popular song by Taylor Swift which inspired the rest of the poem. Feel free to share it.

    Ode to Tall Poppies
    By Liz Stapleton

    Don’t you worry your pretty little mind.
    People throw rocks at things that shine.
    And as poppies grow taller all around
    Jealousy rises so the poppies must fall.

    But the happy secret that our foes don’t know–
    That the poppy seed germinating far below
    Grows strong and mighty with a will to thrive
    To blossom and flourish in fields sublime.

    So bring it on–your jealousy and spite
    That feed on anger in the dead of night.
    The root of the poppy seed will prevail
    And your lust for money will no doubt fail.

    Don’t you worry your pretty little mind.
    People throw rocks at things that shine.
    And as poppies grow taller all around
    Jealousy rises so the poppies must fall.

    And in the end the poppies bloom
    Spreading joy and sweet perfume
    Bestowing grace to those who share
    Abiding truth and hearts that dare

    To rise again!

    • What a wonderful poem Liz – thank you so much for sharing it!

  • Me

    I am a victim of this. But that last one, ‘surround yourself with supportive people’…that isn’t possible. There aren’t any supportive people in a 50 mile radius of where I am. They couldn’t care less.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you have experienced this. Life is too short to have to experience this sort of thing. One of the things that I have enjoyed through social media is being able to meet some amazing people who are inspiring and positive and who truly and genuinely support me. I wonder if you could reach out and build a community this way as well?

  • Thank you for a wonderful article. A friend directed me to it, and what a lovely friend she is too – one of the ‘supportive people’ I surround myself with. Thank you
    ~ Mariane

    • I’m so glad you found the article helpful Mariane. It is certainly a situation that many people face – which is very sad.

  • Thanks for this, Annemarie. It is a very timely tweet for me. I hadn’t known there was a name for it, but I’ve experienced this very phenomenon as recently as last week!

    • That’s so disappointing to hear that you have had to experience this. I’m so glad you found the article helpful. While it may be a difficult and horrible thing to experience, it’s important to rise above and not let it affect you from taking your eyes off your goals and continuing to be of service to your clients.

  • Sue

    Hi Annemarie just used your article in my blog this week to prove a point. I lived in Oz for years so i am well aware of the TPS. People like nothing better than to cut you down if you are successful.

  • Sue

    Oops cant spell my own website

  • Ian

    Hi, this phenomenon affects guys too. I hold much pride of place in a city hotel, striving for perfection and most importantly, pleasing our valued guests with good old fashioned service. However, I have had my opponents, nasty comments that have dug deep with hurt, from colleagues whom I thought knew better. But, seeing a smile on the face of a happy guest is truly wonderful, which, above all, is what hospitality is all about. I have named it heart to heart service. Thank for allowing me to share my views. I have loved reading everyone else’s comments too.

    • Hi Ian, unfortunately the tall poppy syndrome is something that men experience as well. I totally agree that a smile on the face of a happy guest is wonderful, AND validation that you take pride in your work. Keep up the great service!

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  • Hi Annemarie,

    I’m in the U.S. but I’ve heard of this AU saying before. I Googled it after just now being attacked on a job board. I’ve had to endure this Tall Growing Poppy thing for years now. I tell myself that it’s only going to get worse as I develop my dream plans and my dream career goals.

    I’m very glad that your site was one of the first that I found. I’m going to follow you and, I’d like to link to this post on my blog. My blog is about learning, self-actualization and “making lemons out of lemonade”. May I have your permission to link to this post and discuss your site on my blog? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Terr, I’m sorry to hear that you were attacked recently, however am pleased to hear that you found the information helpful. Yes, of course, please feel free to share – I hope that other people that have experienced this situation will find this article helpful as well! I love the message you are portraying on your website – I will certainly pop on over and say ‘hi’!

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  • joss

    I released a book as part of a two part political initiative to become the first openly trans* college president in history.

    I was relentlessly attacked, criticized, and made to feel like the book (nor my political campaign) were worthy of being recognized.

    It didn’t stop there.

    It continued, as I was bullied by some of my fellow peers (of a higher social status) and criticized by my peers of a lower social status.

    I was……and currently am…the school’s laughing stock and public enemy number one, a la Iggy Azalea in the music industry.

    It was, and still is, terrible.

    The implications of the *attack* (because, quite frankly, that’s what it was, left me scarred)….those scars are still healing.

    • Dearest Joss, I’m so sorry to hear of this terrible attack on you. While people can have differences of opinion, I think it shows a complete lack of character on their part when they come out on the attack – rather than choosing to discuss and appreciate another’s viewpoint. And as far as bullying is concerned, it’s just not acceptable. Period.

      The scars and deep emotions that situations such as this can cause makes it so important for you to surround yourself with people who will support and stand alongside you no matter what. Blessings to you…