Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to Make the Grand Leap from Office Pariah to Corporate Cog

Sometimes it seems as if the whole company is against you. Your boss, who lets out an exasperated sigh every time you walk into a meeting, walk by his office or walk into glass. Your colleagues, who stop talking every time you appear in their workspace or ask them a question. The mailroom employee, who greets everyone everyday with “Merry Christmas!” but only points and barks at you until you run away. The little girl who shows up every “Take Your Child to Work Day” with the smart mouth and cruel yet astute insights into your personal life. The barista in the lobby cafĂ© who really should have found an alternate career path by age 38 if only so she wouldn’t loudly and harshly correct you every time you mispronounce “frappe.” The guy who comes every two weeks to water the plants and shakes his head with derisive laughter whenever he looks at your monitor, in your appointment book or through your cubicle drawers. In short, the world as you know it.

Such feelings of professional estrangement often surface at times when one questions their self-worth or contributions to the office. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you in fact haven’t been marked the organization’s outsider or—as Dale Carnegie was want to say—“bitch.” But how do you address such a hostile environment without sounding uncooperative, churlish or paranoid? By looking out for No. 1 and seeking to fulfill countless revenge fantasies, always keeping the following business truisms in mind:

1. You’re on your own.
Many of us would like to think that office life is just as it appears in the movies, wherein even the most dejected employee has a good friend/coworker to help them get through the departmental rough patches. In such films the lead actress is, perhaps like you, being unfairly targeted by a self-serving manager or unwelcoming corporate culture. And in such films her compatriot is more than a professional associate. He is her voice of reason. He is her support system. He is so flamboyantly gay that he makes Harvey Fierstein look like Antonin Scalia. And just to make sure that the movie lets no broad-based character opportunity go unexploited, the helpful coworker will most likely be African-American, allowing the film to be both inclusive and traffic in a stereotype so unbelievably swishy that it’ll make Provincetown seem like gathering of the John Birch Society. But life is not like the movies. There is no comforting and conclusive three-act structure. There is no lucid, linear narrative, incidental yet parallel subplot or peculiar comical cameo by Christopher Walken. And there is no one else you can turn to in times of great distress. That may sound cynical, that may sound dispiriting, but the sooner you realize you’re on your own the quicker you’ll be able to destroy the careers and lives of everyone around you to in the name “setting things right.”

2. Keep good, detailed records of everyone else’s work.
One of the best ways to counteract an attack on your professional character is to have the documentation to prove your worth. But an even better way is to have the dirt to besmirch others’ reputations. This means keeping important files, notes of all meetings and every photo taken with a telephoto or night-vision lens. Anything that will cripple egos, crush dreams or shatter lives. Now granted, many people would counter that tactic by saying ultimate success and lasting happiness comes from leading a principled life, not by engaging in impulsive reprisals. People like Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire. People whose own deaths prove they could not survive in the harsh 21st Century business world. Let’s face it, ethics are like poetry. They’re nice on paper but they serve no purpose in the real world. Unless, of course, you’re an English professor. Or an Ethics Professor. Or you simply want to be able to look at your reflection in the bathroom mirror each morning without spitting toothpaste at your image or screaming at your distorted visage for 45 minutes straight.

3. Learn how to toot your own horn to supervisors or blare your accomplishments over a podcast.
Many individuals shy away from the spotlight. Individuals who tend not to get promotions. Individuals who eventually find themselves at age 55 sharing a studio apartment with someone they met through Craigslist and regularly having to choose between spending money on Raman noodles or on the very gas necessary to cook those noodles. Individuals who if they had just made the effort to be recognized for their accomplishments at work would not currently be celebrating their 25th year in a bar band, not for the creative outlet but because complimentary drink tickets beat going yet another day without liquids. That’s why it’s important you take every opportunity to let your coworkers know just how brilliant you would like to be perceived. Whenever anyone has a great idea at a brainstorming session, exclaim, “I was just going to say the same thing!” (But only after the idea has received the nod of approval from corporate superiors). Whenever anyone receives applause for a stellar presentation, emphasize that it was a team effort. (And that you, in fact, led that team.) Whenever anyone does anything that in any way elevates, enriches or expands the company, stand up, clear your throat and say, “I’m glad I could help.” (Then quickly follow it with “I’ve never been prouder of us.”) Anything to make certain that when it comes time for the office holiday party you’re feted for the year’s accomplishments and not the only one on staff who’s manning the carving station.

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