You've gotta know the rules if you want to play the game
March 28, 2015 11:57 AM   Subscribe

For the first time in a long time, I have a full-time, long(ish)-term contract position in a "typical" office (one with more than like, 10 employees). I am very excited about it, but need pointers on how to play the game.

Even though I've been working in some form for 15 years, aside from a couple months when I temped, this is the first time I'll be in a normal office environment. I've worked for jobs that had no actual office, freelanced, worked manual labor when I couldn't find anything else, but mostly I've worked in a lot of offices where there were only 3-8 staff (although in some cases the company was much larger, I was just in a subsidiary office). When I worked retail, I just ignored the politics because I in my youthful arrogance, I believed was way too smart to get involved in sales floor drama, and even now I don't regret not being involved, although I'm no longer that arrogant and youthful. I really wish that jobs were 100% merit-based and that office politics didn't exist, but knowing that it does, what do I (especially with my low bullshit tolerance) need to keep in mind to do and definitely not do? Reading suggestions very welcome.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper to Work & Money (17 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Don't complain to anyone about anything for the first few weeks. You don't have to be perky and cheerful and optimistic and shit right out the gate (especially if that isn't you), but tamp down the complaining. Even about totally irrelevant stuff like "This coffee that I got at a Starbuck's by my house and nowhere near this office sucks." Just don't do it.

Why? Because that "first impression" crap is true. I had a boss once who asked me when I started wearing contacts about every other week for two years because I was wearing glasses the first time we met. That was the only time he ever saw me in glasses.
posted by Etrigan at 12:44 PM on March 28, 2015 [13 favorites]

Best answer: The only way to win is not to play.

You get in, you do good work. You elicit feedback from your superiors and pointers from your colleagues. Listen, a lot. If you get asked out to lunch, and you don't want to go, say, "I'll take a pass this time, but ask me Thursday." If they ask you Thursday, you go. If it's miserable and you hate everyone, just brown bag it thereafter.

Don't complain. Frame every pain in the ass as a potential way to make everybody's lives better: "If we could just address X, it would mean Y took half as long. How do we address X?" Make notes. Compare notes. Let the drama swirl around you like you are the fucking Colossus of Rhodes, untouched by the buffeting of personality-based bullshit. If at all possible, leave the place better than you found it.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:52 PM on March 28, 2015 [19 favorites]

The blog Ask A Manager offers good advice on the dos and don'ts of how to behave at work.
posted by rpfields at 12:54 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Don't fall into coworkers negativity spirals. It is likely that there are 1-2 people there who are super downers. The other people know about it. If someone is making every problem into a catastrophe or SUPER INCONVENIENT then I'd suggest minimizing your interactions with them politely and not contributing.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:06 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Make sure you go out and talk to other people in your office. It will help you learn more about your position and your co-workers will like your personabilty.
posted by Fister Roboto at 1:29 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Be pleasant, cheerful, consistent and neutral. Don't become BFFs with the first person you meet--take a while and observe how the others interact. There is always one person who tries to glom onto everyone new, because the rest of the team can't stand him/her. If people socialize after work, and invite you, go but don't stay long, don't get drunk, and if you don't drink, don't make a fuss about it. Trust your instincts, sure, but give people the benefit of the doubt. You can't help but hear gossip, but don't repeat it.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:37 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

The best thing is really to avoid complaining about other people or things about the office. It's best not to appear negative or as if you don't like being there. If someone else is going to talk shit, just listen and be supportive, but don't join in. If you are the type who can greet everyone and say hello with a smile, that will go along way toward people thinking you're a nice person, even if you've had zero meaningful interactions and they don't know you.

Another key thing -- arguable whether this is more or less important than the above thing -- is to just do your job. When you slack off, it will create stress and frustration for the people around you, and cause people not to like you. I've worked with people who are fine human beings, but suck at their jobs, and I started to not like them, not because they weren't pleasant people, but because they made my work life so much harder.

tldr; be nice and do your job. You'll be fine.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:20 PM on March 28, 2015

Best answer: Rather than thinking about it as politics, with all of the negative connotations, I think about it as relationships...the better you know your coworkers and the more they like and respect you, the easier it will be for you to persuade them if you have an idea for a new initiative or you want to change how anything is done. Check out a classic book called Influence by Robert Cialdini, which talks about some of the psychology of influencing people (e.g., if you do favors for people, they'll want to help you in return, etc.). Of course, all of this is on top of not being a jerk and doing your job well.
posted by three_red_balloons at 2:22 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

1. Support your manager, and the manager will generally protect you from office politics. To do this, work a full day and do your work well. If there's a conflict between what your manager wants and what someone else wants, do what your manager wants. If anyone other than your manager asks you to do stuff, clear it with the manager first.

2. Build good relationships. Go to lunch with co-workers and get to know them.
posted by sninctown at 2:25 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do your job well. Try to be friendly but not overly friendly until you get a feel for everyone you work with (so as not to inadvertently take sides in anything). Developing a good relationship with your manager should be priority one. Do make sure you treat the support staff (assistants, people who answer phones, receptionists) well and with respect. Making someone's assistant an ally, so that they will go out of the way to do things for you, will make your life so much easier.
posted by gemmy at 2:35 PM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Nthing first impressions. I got laid off from a job because the very first time I answered the phone and it was for the job interview, I had just been dumped and suffice it to say, forgot I might be getting a phone call. My boss never got over it (despite me being fine in person and hired for 2 years) and about the only thing she could cite when laying me off was that she hated my voice.

I would go into a new job being as perky and cheerful as possible, even if that is not naturally who you are at all. ESPECIALLY if you have any contact with outside parties like clients. And don't complain because everything is awesome!!!!
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:57 PM on March 28, 2015

Best answer: 1. Get to know everyone. Invite people out for coffee - especially higher level people in your chain of command. "Would love to get to know you and hear what you do." You can do this most easily in the first month when you have an excuse since you're new. In these coffees, ask them if they have any tips for you to succeed here as a new person.

2. Pay attention to norms in terms of email formality/length, slide decks vs. printouts vs. emailing info ahead of time (for meetings), eating at desk vs. in kitchen vs. going out, arrival and departure times, and work attire. Follow the lead of people a level or two above you on all of the above. Dress, act, comport yourself for the job you want.

3. There is an official hierarchy/hard power (org chart and titles). There is also an informal hierarchy/soft power (who likes who, access to information and opinions, influence and having the ear of higher ups/peers, knowing how to get something done quickly and with minimal fuss). Pay attention to both. For the latter: who is universally admired? who gets invited to meetings that seem above their pay grade or outside their normal workload? who had been there the longest and moved up the ranks, not stayed in the same role? Make friends with those people. Don't be overly impressed or deferential to executives. Be friendly and confident and expect that your opinion and contributions are valuable.

A huge factor in your success is who your direct manager is. If your boss doesn't seem to have power and access, make friends with managers who do and whose teams you could imagine yourself fitting into, so that when a position opens up you can make a move to a manager who can support you.

4. Figure out what blogs, email newsletters, news sites, and twitter users everyone else is following and soak them up. If there are books or articles that people reference, read them. Read as much as you can in the news/blogs archives about the last 5 years of your company's history, as well as any competitors. You have a huge amount of institutional and cultural knowledge that you are likely behind on.
posted by amaire at 5:00 PM on March 28, 2015 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Senior Executive here. What really matters is your perception of the job in relation to the role and how you will deliver. Coming into any organization is tough, whether it is 2 or 40 thousand people.

The reality is you can´t be friends with everyone. Take a quick stock of your environment and seek out people that have genuine interest in the company. Those are the people you want to work with.

In the meantime, do what we all do - evaluate the people around you, judge them and assess their abilities as corresponds to your current role. That´s being friendly. Work to live and don´t get sucked into drama. Within six months you will know what is important to the company and what motivates your fellow colleagues.

When it comes to social issues just do the smart thing - stay above the fray and be neutral. Don´t let petty concerns from others or your own come into play.

Congratulations and good luck!!!!!
posted by Funmonkey1 at 5:59 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

>> (especially with my low bullshit tolerance)
That's not a attitude to take pride in. You might want to re-evaluate it. It implies a belief that there's something superior about you compared to the rest of humanity. Others can sense it. But instead of being impressed with your low bullshit tolerance they might decide that you are, shall we say, a person one prefers to avoid.
posted by mono blanco at 6:50 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Good advice above and this may seem odd advice, but figure out the food protocols. Leftover snacks from meetings, for example, or those extras from people's lives (e.g., vegetables from their gardens or whatever) that are left on the table in the break room are fair game in our office. Stuff in the refrigerator not so much unless there is an explicit note left on "the table." This has varied in every office I have been in and can lead to food wars if not respected. Other unwritten protocol matters, too, so try to figure out what it is in your office. This can range from break times to dress code.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 8:04 PM on March 28, 2015

Best answer: * Say hi, make eye contact, and be friendly to everyone, including the receptionist, the janitor, and the contractors. Remember as many names as possible. Everyone is important. Anyone you overlook or treat like they are invisible may someday be in a position to punish you for that.

* Be a blander, less opinionated version of yourself. Don't express strong beliefs about non-work issues, especially hot topics like religion and politics. You can alienate someone, and you're not going to change anyone's opinion anyway. Avoid commenting on coworkers' bat shit insane beliefs, even in jest, even with others who are mocking them.

* Pay attention to how your managers, coworkers, and subordinates feel about each other, and if possible, why. You don't have to do anything about this information, just stick it in your back pocket. If you have a good handle on this, you won't be as surprised by office happenings, especially promotions and firings. Sometimes you can see things coming and side-step accordingly--sort of like when you pay attention when you're driving, you see the upcoming crash and can change lanes safely.

* Gently promote your work. Just doing good work isn't enough; make sure people know about it. But don't be braggy or ostentatious, and give credit to the team.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 11:49 PM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

A simple statement, said in a normal tone of voice, can be interpreted as a complaint or a criticism. So watch your statements.
posted by serena15221 at 12:23 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

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