People You REALLY Need to be Nice to in the Office Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

People You REALLY Need to be Nice to in the Office

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The interior of an office.

So, you've survived the agonies of the application form, avoided the interview pitfalls, and passed any other tests of aptitude that you were allocated. Now it's time for you to join the ranks of those who spend their working day in the jungle more familiarly known as The Office. Some offices are large, and some are small. But they all pose similar challenges. You'll have to learn new skills. You'll have to meet new colleagues. And you'll have to navigate the choppy seas of office politics, awash with hidden obstacles and barriers. Naturally you'll be polite and charming to everyone you meet. But some colleagues are more equal than others (with apologies to Orwell). So let's examine the guys and gals who it's especially important to be nice to, so that they are nice to you too.

The PA to the boss

You may have thought that it was just the top man or woman that you have to suck up to, but this is incorrect. There is someone who controls their diary, and who knows their moods. This someone can get you an appointment to see the head honcho, and can advise you on how to survive such a meeting. They can remind you when it is Person At The Top Of The Food Chain's birthday, and suggest your strategic plan of attack. This key player is the boss's PA, or Personal Assistant. He or she may be called by a different title— diary secretary, advisor, receptionist or simply an assistant. But you would do very well to identify this person quickly and set about making them smile when they see you approach. Don't be afraid to use flattery. Tell them their hair looks marvellous. Ask them the name of that gorgeous perfume or after-shave you can smell. Share their tea-time distraction, whether that be Sudoku or the Times crossword. Never ever refer to them as 'just a secretary' if you are at all keen to progress.

The person in charge of coffee

Everyone knows that an office is only as good as the quality of its coffee. But as you sip your java joe, trace back how it ended up in your cuppa. Did someone fill the filter machine with ground beans, tipping a generous quantity into the hopper? Did you make your own from a jar of instant (but was that jar bought from an office kitty1?) And anyway, who filled the kettle? Or did you buy your cup that cheers from the canteen? Somewhere along the beverage's history there were other people involved, however marginally. And you'd better show your gratitude, if you want to guarantee your daily supply of caffeine. Or tannin.

The person who can lift stuff

The poor old office junior, especially if male, young and fit, will often be required to do tasks that might break a nail, raise a blister, or smudge lip-gloss. This could be retrieving files from the dark and dusty archive in the basement, or putting together a scarily disjointed file holder from some oddly-shaped bits of cardboard and a plastic toggle. Find out what football team they support. Ask on a Monday how the team got on, was it a long ball game or a short ball game, and how does this affect their position in the league table thingummy. Buy them a pint at the Christmas party. And you'll never be stuck when you need someone to help you unload a whole pallet of photocopier paper or boxes of books.

The geek

Ah computers: where would we be without these 21st Century assets? Yet, though computing has advanced in leaps and bounds, as individuals our ability to fix them when they go wrong has stalled. This is where you need the geek. They may actually work in a dedicated IT department, but in a smaller office they may just be someone who's good with technical gubbins. IT geeks even have their own television programme these days, and the undoubted uber-geek in The IT Crowd is the shy but brainy bloke, Moss. Geeks usually love computer games and anything Sci-Fi related, so be sure to ask them about their Star Wars memorabilia collection, admire their Futurama T-shirt, and start a conversation about what super-power they'd really like to possess. Then, when you've nodded and "Uh-huhed" along for the requisite five minutes, see if they can give you Internet access.

The person who knows where the bodies are hidden

Find out who has been with the firm since time immemorial. Some day you might need to know the answer to a tricky question, like who started the practice of buying doughnuts on a Friday, or at which meeting the annual Christmas shopping leave was first approved. Unlikely, but it could happen. And when it does, this is the person with the perfect recall. He or she can tell you what it was like back in the days of red ledger books and quill pens, and more importantly, will be able to find the red ledger book that you need from last Millennium. The one that proves your innocence.

Meanwhile, over in the classroom

Different workplaces will have slight variants on their list of 'people to be nice to': in extending the definition of 'office' to include a school, science teachers find that it pays to be nice to their science technicians for many reasons, including the following:

  • they are responsible for having all the equipment requested ready for each lesson.
  • if the school or science dept has a scheme of work/programme of study, they will often study this in advance and have things prepared in readiness.
  • They often maintain class sets of photocopied worksheets and the like, which they are able to produce promptly if the teacher's request for them has somehow been forgotten.
  • In many schools, the science department has its own common room and the coffee making duties fall to the technicians, bless their little white overalls.

The Commissionaire

It's Friday evening, and you've gaily skipped out of the office door. You've said a cheery goodbye to the boss's PA, discussed the weekend's sport with the person with muscles, volunteered to make next week's coffee, and shown the Dilbert cartoon strip to the geek. As you make your way home you are struck by a horrible realisation: you've left your mobile phone on your desk, next to your water bottle. You can't possibly make it through to Sunday night without it, but how are you going to get back in to retrieve the essential. There is one person you need. And that is the doorman (all right, doorperson). They'll have the keys and security codes required to gain access. And they'll assist you in your quest much more readily if you actually know their first name, rather than just 'security chappie'. So learn their moniker, and use it each day on your ingress and egress. Add some bland comment about the weather or the traffic. If you're nipping out to the shops at lunchtime, ask if you can get them a packet of Jaffa Cakes.

So there it is in a nutshell. Exude charm and bonhomie to these key members of the team, and your success in the workplace is assured. Possibly. Well, we can't give any guarantees!

1A fund to which members contribute on a regular basis, and out of which common purchases are made.

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