There are so many office stereotypes that after I started writing this I realised I would have to make it at least a two parter. So here is Part 1. See if you can identify yourself. Because while some stereotypes are to be avoided, others can be worn as a badge of honour.
The chatterbox is someone who can talk at length about anything and everything. And will. Frequently. The chatterbox prefers to come to your desk or office because that way you can’t escape in the same way you can when you drop by their desk. The chatterbox can just as easily be a man or a woman and in my working life the ratio is actually larger on the male side.
The problem with the chatterbox is that they are generally nice people. You don’t mind having a short chat. But a chatterbox doesn’t know how to have a short chat. They are the masters of segues, finding tangent after tangent and leaping gleefully from one topic to the next until you aren’t sure exactly how you got around to talking about BHP shares or handmade jewellery. One thing you do know: your afternoon is gone and so are all your carefully laid plans of working through it.
The best way to deal with a chatterbox is to have an emergency interrupter nearby at all times. You will either work out a subtle signal that the chatterbox won’t comprehend as a call for help or if your emergency interrupter is a victim of the chatterbox as well, you probably won’t need a signal at all. They will simply know when help is required. The most effective device is, of course, a telephone call because it spares both the victim (‘I’m sorry, I really need to take this and I might be a while’) and the chatterbox (‘Totally understand’) alike.
Bullying behaviour can range from annoying to insidious to criminal, depending on how far the bully is prepared to take it and how long the person being bullied is prepared to put up with it. Strangely, the bully is often someone admired by others (especially those not being bullied or not aware of the bullying behaviour), someone who frequently gets results and gets promoted, someone who can be a charmer one minute and a horror the next, although witnesses to this Jekyll and Hyde transformation tend to be few and far between.
Brent#, a graphic designer, recalls, ‘It wasn’t until I read the harassment and bullying policy at my new place of employment that I realised I had spent the last nine months at my old place of employment being harassed and bullied. I’d been helping an older male colleague who didn’t know how and didn’t seem interested in learning to use a software package that is ubiquitous in offices and one day he asked me to do something. I had my own work to do and offered to show him how to do it himself. He had a hissy fit and called me several unpleasant names, which was witnessed by everyone who had an office or cubicle nearby. He didn’t talk to me for the remainder of the time I worked there. Unfortunately, we were in the same department and part of a sequential work process. But he was one step ahead of me in the chain. He was supposed to complete his work and pass it on to me so I could complete mine. I didn’t receive a single piece of work from him ever again. I know we all think being paid to do nothing is a dream come true but this passive aggressive form of bullying was just as destructive as other, more blatant kinds.’
The nice guy
In my experience, there’s only one genuinely, completely nice guy in each office, but he’s the guy who makes going to work a pleasure, who never upsets anybody, who will always be there when you need to bitch about something for five minutes just to get it off your chest (and never break your confidence), and who is the one and often only reason you regret leaving a job that just isn’t suiting you anymore.
I once told a nice guy, ‘If you were a foot taller and we didn’t work together, I’d probably marry you.’ He should have slapped my face. He didn’t. Because he was (and still is) a nice guy.
The girl everyone likes
In my experience, there’s also only one girl in each office that everyone likes. I was lucky enough to work at a company where when that one girl everyone likes went on maternity leave, her replacement was bubbly, friendly, happy, funny and soon become the new girl everyone likes. I’m friends with both of them to this day.
The girl everyone likes is traditionally good looking (which probably contributes to why even the bitch and the bastard like her – look out for these stereotypes who will appear in Part 2), constantly smiling and laughing, knows everyone in the office (including first and last names and at least two pieces of personal information that nobody else seems to know), has a stylish dress sense, and can – and frequently will – cook and bring results of said cooking into the office for the consumption of all.
You can’t have too many slackers in an office or your business won’t survive but the slacker is someone who knows exactly how much work has to be done in order to avoid drawing attention and correspondingly exactly how little work can be not done and still gotten away with.
The slacker operates on a 50/50 rule, working half the time and slacking off the other half. Done effectively, this work routine can be undertaken indefinitely, especially if the slacker is also good at the job they have been hired to do, meaning they can complete the minimum required tasks in a short amount of time and spend the rest of their day pretending to be busy while keeping up on the latest lolcats, playing golf video games and watching YouTube videos.
The slacker and the bludger may seem similar but the important difference is this: the bludger does no work at all. For three months I worked at the desk next to a supposed marketing specialist who kept blaming project delays on everyone else in the project team not doing what they needed to do. I wasn’t a part of the project team and the reasons for these delays, as he explained them, seemed perfectly valid.
One day, after listening to him and another project team member argue like children about how to do the work they were supposed to be doing, I snapped, ‘Good grief, if you spent as much time working as you do arguing, you’d probably be finished by now.’ I went into a meeting and when I got back to my desk, the other project team member told me my desk neighbour was gone.
‘What do you mean “gone”?’ I asked.
‘Gone, as in left the building, as in not coming back. He didn’t like the way you spoke to him.’ After an emergency dash to HR to make sure I hadn’t actually done anything against policy, I was then emergency seconded to the marketing team to take over the project the marketing specialist had been working on. Or not working on, as it turned out. Even though he’d sat next to me for three months and even though he’d happily accepted his pay cheque, his internet history showed his days appeared to have consisted of looking at car websites, researching setting up a restaurant business and implementing a well thought-out plan of how to achieve nothing while seeming busy.
There are two kinds of expert – the genuine, recognised by others, backed up by qualifications, ‘been-doing-this-so-long-I-really-am-an-expert’ expert and the not quite so genuine ‘never-studied-a-single-page-of-a-textbook-but-been-here-so-long-people-think-I’m-an-expert’ expert.
Both can be extremely important to the smooth running of a business. Because while the genuine expert gives the business credibility and makes sure products are made and services are provided correctly, the not quite so genuine expert knows where everything is stored, knows who and where everybody in the business is and what they do, knows who to call when something goes wrong and, if they can’t answer a question directly, knows exactly who can.
The expert and the know-it-all might seem like the same stereotype but nothing could be further from the truth. The know-it-all is more likely to be self-proclaimed, more likely to be in their twenties and more likely to be an alternating crucial part of the team/enormous pain in the butt.
As a recovering know-it-all, I feel confident saying that the defining trait of a know-it-all is getting to your mid-thirties and realising that you don’t know it all, although you still know more than most, but what you do know isn’t really the sort of knowledge that puts you ahead of the pack. And if you think you’re a know-it-all but have hit your mid-thirties without having had this realisation, you’re not a know-it-all, you’re probably just an asshole.
Keep an eye out tomorrow for Part 2 featuring the bitch, the bastard, the boss’s pet, the doormat, the clotheshorse, the soon-to-be-retiree, the charmer, the fraudster and the political animal.
#Name changed for privacy reasons
*First published on LinkedIn 11 August 2014