The economy is still in shambles, so work is your new home. A work-life balance and the middle class are now fairy tales we tell children at night. Now more than ever, financial need is the reason you punch your time card. Remember ambition and greed? They’re things of the past. That being said, since you have to be there, you might as well make the most of it.
Everyone has that one person at work who makes their blood boil. There’s the guy who eats everyone’s food, no matter how many times you write your name on it. Hector Corrector of the Grammar Police, who will rudely interrupt you to publicly shame you for a grammar mistake. And who can forget Sheila, who is excited about doing everything but work? She bombards you with e-mail forwards, questions and unwanted sexual advances.
Here are a few simple steps to not be that person at work:
1.) Keep It Real. Be yourself, and be honest, but if you don’t like someone, don’t force it. Forcing yourself into soul-crushing small talk with people you don’t like is what makes people lose it. Be diplomatic, personable and cordial, but don’t be afraid of keeping your distance. If a coworker asks, “How was your weekend?” and your internal response is, “Fantasizing you died in your sleep on Sunday,” maybe it’s a good idea to your keep your distance. Feel free to be friendly without being friends. Not everyone will get along, but forcing it will add more stress to the tension.
2.) Distance Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself. No matter the work environment, remember it’s your job. Healthy boundaries are important. They may be your best friends, but they’re still your coworkers. A healthy distance while you’re employed will keep you employed. Friends fight, but when coworkers fight, it gets dangerous. Also, you can make sex jokes with your friends, get really wasted on a night out or share major personal information, but it’s smart to keep a healthy distance from coworkers/friends to cover your ass. Along the same lines, it goes without saying that you should try to avoid sleeping with, getting naked with or having an alcoholic meltdown with coworkers, too.
3.) Make People’s Lives Easier. People think ass-kissing and networking are the keys to success. They take for granted two important things: gratitude and being invaluable. If you make everyone’s lives easier, no matter what the industry, you win allies. These are the people who will help you rise through the ranks. If you make your boss’s life easier, help people in other departments and get projects done more efficiently, no one can deny you’re an important part of the team.
4.) Pick your Battles. Some people can get under your skin. Oftentimes, you want to collect your ounce of flesh. You want the world to know that Jim in HR is a huge douche-nozzle. Or, maybe you’re a nice, well-adjusted person and just feel really passionate about a campaign idea or the situation in Uganda. Cooler heads prevail. It’s a good idea to take a step back. It doesn’t hurt to bite your tongue, it does literally, but waiting to say something will serve you. Inevitably, there will be a chance for you to tell the people who matter how you feel. They just might agree with you. However, if you go off on a rage-fueled tirade, you lose your credibility.
5.) Don’t Be a Baby or Baby Others. No offense to baby-identified Americans, but you shouldn’t engage in or be a brat at work. Sometimes, for the sake of efficiency, diplomacy may fly out the window. Sometimes you have to take it. Equally, you shouldn’t encourage employees by babying them. This wastes valuable time that should be spent on working. When you walk on eggshells with people, it encourages them to act like children. Someone should be able to take criticism if they are working for you. Equally, you should be able to take criticism from them. Teamwork, people.
6.) Be Aggressive — not Passive Aggressive. Don’t throw your stapler or hit patrons with your tray at a restaurant, but be direct. Direct communication is clear, efficient and will often be appreciated. You want to be diplomatic and mindful of who you are talking to, but if there’s a problem, just say it. If you have an issue bring it up — in the right channels. A reputation as a straight-shooter can actually earn you major respect.
7.) Be Constructive & Positive. It’s easy to criticize something once all the work is done. Rather than criticize, offer constructive criticism. Be specific, and always propose a solution for a problem you bring up. That is something that can be changed, altered and improved. Saying that something blue should be red or “Maybe it would be better if we started all over again” serves no one. If you keep your feedback constructive you show you appreciate what someone has worked on and want to make it better. Along the same lines, a general positive attitude is really underrated. But the cheerleader in the office is the one person everyone likes.
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8.) Back it Up Figuratively & Literally. Before you open your mouth, be prepared to back up what you say with actual facts. If you don’t know for sure, it just becomes a time-wasting debate. Why not do some research, and then present a fully-fledged idea? Any opportunity to learn makes you better. Also, it’s always a good idea to have copies of e-mails, exchanges and files to prove your point. In the realm of passive aggressive office politics, a lot of things can happen. If someone needs an old spreadsheet or the copy of the schedule and you have it, you’ve just proven you’re invaluable. If you have friction with a coworker and you have the exact e-mail chain, you can defend yourself. Plus, in the work world, you never know who can be litigious.
9.) Tact is Not What Holds Up Posters. Tact is an important part of diplomacy. Be aware of how you say something and who you say it in front of. As I said earlier, you don’t want to baby people. However, you don’t want to rip someone a new one let alone in front of other co-workers. Try and find the best way to work something out. If you are at a loss and have to give someone a major talking to, pull them aside, go outside or for a cup of coffee and bring down the hammer.
10.) Appreciate the Unappreciated. There’s always the red-headed stepchild in the office. It might be the busboys, receptionist, janitorial staff or IT team. Why not bring them some candy or just take a second and say, “Thank you.” Not only does it show people you care, but it also breeds good relations between you and another department. Along the same lines, sign your e-mails with “Thank You.” If you’re pompous, “Regards” sounds jerky. If you’re an asshole, “Cheers” is ironic. “Sincerely” is pretty insincere. But even the most hateful e-mail can be softened by “Thank You.”
Christian Cintron is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.