This post is for you, office workers everywhere; I hope that by sharing a little bit of my office wisdom with you I would give you the tools to keep calm, stay sane and return to your desks fearless, though probably friendless, for another day.
Because there was a time, not so long ago, when I used to work in an office, too.
A huge, open plan affair with rows of desks facing each other in clusters of four or six and separated from the rest of the wing by low level filing cabinets thoughtfully designed to encourage communication.
For the first few weeks I felt happy, well-adjusted, even proud of my work. Money was coming in on a regular basis (and also going out with equal constancy, but I didn’t let that little detail worry me) and my mother finally approved of what I had become. I, myself, was confident that I had found the right career.
And then I started noticing things. Like, for example, how public transport made most people late, but took me there on time. How looking after someone’s desk whilst they were away did not translate in a reciprocal action. And no matter how well planned and clearly defined my holiday arrangements were, on my return my desk always resembled a hay stack precariously loaded onto a children’s wheelbarrow.
It was usually at these manic times, when I was drowning in paper, answering the phone with my left hand, typing a management report with my right hand and jotting down instructions on a new area of risk management using the pen between my teeth, when an inconsiderate colleague decided to come and engage in pointless friendly banter on the pretext of seeing how I was doing.
They would stand leaning against my desk, or even draw a chair and push some of the folders onto the floor dislodging a flurry of brightly coloured sticky notes with it, so they could have a place for their coffee. And they’d begin to natter.
No, not just natter. They would do their best to get a response out of me, completely oblivious to – or maybe secretly thrilled to have the chance to mess up – my conscientious hard graft. And no matter how clearly I mentioned, say, catching up later, or really needing to focus, or even hinted at imminent murder-inducing madness, they never left. They never took the blasted hint. Not until the last drop of their miserable insipid existence had been shared, dissected and resolved, and even then others were waiting in the wings, like an Olympic relay team, ready to pounce on that small space for a cup of coffee on my desk.
Over time, in an attempt to cope with such situations, I have come up with a wide array of phrases that give me a modicum of satisfaction and also help relieve some of the stress of the moment, even when muttered silently between my teeth.
And here are some of the most useful ones:
- I’m already visualising the duct tape over your mouth
- I’m not being rude – you’re just insignificant
- I’ll try being nicer if you’ll try being smarter
- It must be awfully hard to hear your own voice with your head so far up your own ***
- I see you’ve set aside this special time to make a fool of yourself in public
- I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you
- I don’t know what your problem is, but I bet it’s hard to pronounce
- The fact that no one understands you doesn’t give you the right to carry on annoying me
- How many times do I have to flush before you take the hint and go away?
- Thank you. I feel refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view
- Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?
- I might look like I’m doing nothing, but at the molecular level I’m really quite busy
Warning: muttered too loudly, these comments might damage friendships.
If all else fails: imagine the person naked. Beware, a vivid imagination may lead to uncontrollable fits of laughter that, in turn, might lose you a friend or have you committed. Whichever way, you are likely to be left alone to do your work from then on.
Glad to have been of service.