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Filtering by Category: Workplace Survival Guide

The Workplace Survival Guide: Meetings, Meetings, Meetings...

Mark Marianelli

Kick-off meetings, working sessions, sponsor reviews, team meetings, one-on-ones, off-site meetings, all hands meetings, lunch & learns, join-ups, readouts, stand-ups, check-ins and a billion other gatherings specifically designed to waste your time under the guise of efficiency. The office world LOVES to have meetings in the same way that some people LOVE to make grocery lists and then order a pizza. Why do we have so many?? When somebody is booked solid with meetings, when do they have time to get any real work done? The answer is, of course, during the meetings. But if you're working during your meetings, then you're not really paying attention, which means you probably didn't need to go the meeting in the first place. However, meeting attendance is no different than saying "God Bless You" or "Gesundheit" when somebody sneezes; It serves zero purpose and the only reason anybody really does it is because people get offended if you don't. So where does this leave us?

Sadly, it leaves us nowhere. Meetings are unavoidable, like death... No, death is too metal. Meetings are unavoidable like taxes. So let me be your accountant as I take you through the wonderful world of meetings!

Scheduling

I'm 99.9% sure that meetings exist to inconvenience people. From the moment they're scheduled, they begin to intrude. Nobody gets an email with a meeting invite and goes "Oh, how convenient!", the response is usually something more like this, "Oh no, what time is this scheduled for?" - This is because nobody cares what a meeting is about, they want to know which hour of their day is about to die slowly in a sea of boredom and tears. I use the term "hour" loosely - You know the expression "Give them an inch, they'll take a mile"? Well if you give a meeting an hour, it'll take a day. No meeting ends on time. But let's face it, there will never be a day when we as white-collar Americans are free of this mundane ritual. With that, most of us have learned to cope with the fact that over 22,000 hours of our lives will be spent in meetings, but there are ways to make those 22,000 hours a little less intrusive. Let's start by avoiding these highly inconvenient hours when scheduling meetings:

12pm - 1pm - I shouldn't even have to explain why this is the absolute worst hour to schedule ANYTHING other than lunch plans. However, there's a reason this sacred hour of the day is so commonly interrupted by meeting makers - A lack of common sense. The hardest part about scheduling a meeting with a large group of people is that they are rarely available at the same time, but because the work world has this nifty little thing called a lunch break, meeting makers see this glorious available hour as a wonderful coincidence. And just like that, coincidence becomes inconvenience. I should also point out that most people who schedule lunch-time meetings don't have the decency to break out the corporate card and provide a sympathy meal. Horrible. Just horrible. Shame on all of you.

9am - 9:30am - To assume that anybody is getting to work at exactly 9am is silly. The only people that show up on time are newbies, contractors and brown-nosers. Any REAL cube-dweller knows that the work day officially starts at 9:30am. But let's just pretend that people do show up at 9. This would mean that they are walking into the building at 9 o'clock. They're not set up yet; their computer isn't out, their headset isn't on and they probably have to use the bathroom after sitting in traffic for the past hour with a large coffee. So when you schedule that 9am meeting, you're effectively adding 15 minutes to somebody's day because now they have to be at work early enough to be situated in their cube and ready to conference. At least be reasonable and schedule for 9:15.

4pm - 5pm - The last hour of the day. Home stretch (sports analogy!)... and you're going to schedule a meeting now. The problem isn't that you're interrupting something important, it's that nobody is checked-in enough at this point to be effective. There's only two things running through people's brains between 4pm and 5pm - 1.) "What do I need to get done so I can leave?", and 2.) "What's for dinner?". That's it. So unless you need a decision made that involves food, I suggest you do yourself a favor and just wait until tomorrow... Unless you're the devil, in which case you'll probably use this next time slot...

Anytime between 5pm & 9am - Hey, what a shocker, everybody's calendar is open here too! Do I really need to spell it out why I'm NEVER going to accept a meeting request at 8:30am or 5pm? Look, I get that some groups out there work from 8 - 4 or 10 - 6, but that's not how the majority of us common cube-dwellers function. Don't expect me to be anything but a big fat TENTATIVE on your meeting-maker if you attempt this time-slot with me. I might even just accept and not show up to spite you. Hissss.

Corporate Hot Potato

Why do we have meetings in the first place? In their purist form, meetings are used to discuss project goals, deadlines, next steps and make important decisions. Nowadays they're just an excuse to make your team look more efficient than it really is. Personally, I think meetings are a relic of that primitive era known as Pre-Internet. We all know the majority of topics brought up in most meetings can be resolved with a simple email thread, the rest require a quick phone call. But I won't pretend that the people we work with, above or under are non-confrontational enough to do things the easy way. Which is why meetings don't exist in their purist, logical form. They exist for people to flex their corporate muscles, be political, get face time with higher ups and cover their own butts with this very common phrase when something goes wrong - "Well, we met with (insert scapegoat here) to discuss this over a month ago and they said (insert blame here)."

I call this scenario Corporate Hot Potato. You have a constant flow of meetings to toss that hot potato around until something goes wrong, whoever had the potato last is responsible.

Fun, right? Of course not! There's just as much politics in the workplace as there are in… well, actual politics. It's better if you don't get involved. Though, if you're like me, you're probably too tuned out to get involved even if you wanted to. 

Passing the Time

Meetings are monotonous, and if you're not interested in playing Hot Potato, there are a few other ways to pass the time that are much less confrontational and a lot more fun...

Games - If you've read my schpeal on Buzzwords, Acronyms & Nonsense, then you've got the makings of the perfect in-meeting drinking game, sans the drinks of course… Unless you're sneaky. Get on whatever instant messaging service you've got (Lync, Sametime, gChat, etc…) and place bets with a coworker on who's going to use which buzzwords and how frequently. Or even better, try to string together a sentence using X amount of buzzwords. For instance, "To your point, I tend to agree that we should be cognizant of the SEO value of our CTA's, as from a content perspective, amping up the design itself is tertiary compared to the affordance our copy provides - and by this logic, I'd say we have a home run on our hands." - 10 points, you owe me lunch! … Wait never mind, we have a lunch meeting.

In the same vein, another fun game to play is guessing how late the higher-ups are going to be to your meeting… Or if they'll even show up at all. It's like the showcase on The Price is Right. Whoever can get the closest without going over wins. And just like The Price is Right, I like to guess a minute later than everybody else.

Fantasy Island - If you don't want to involve other coworkers in your shenanigans, the best escape from a meeting is your mind. I personally like to sit and imagine that I'm stranded on an island with the people in attendance and we're discussing who gets eaten first. Because I'm not actually paying attention to the REAL words coming out of anyone's mouth, I apply my own dialogue based on their body language and tone. As it turns out, I have some seriously cannibalistic people on my team. When my boss doesn't show up, I'm usually picturing him fighting his way through hoards of wild animals to make it to the meeting and cast his vote so as not to be cannibalized by default for not being present at the council. He fought bravely, and he was delicious I imagine.

Debate - Not that confrontation is the best course of action, but if you're going to have your time wasted, why not waste everyone else's time as well? What better way to accomplish this than by challenging EVERYTHING. Play devil's advocate, take the meeting so far off track that they'll be forced to schedule another meeting. Then go to that meeting and do it again. With enough rationale, anything can be proven wrong. Think of it like a rap battle, only incredibly passive-aggressive and politically correct. I'd even suggest bringing a microphone with you just so that you can drop it every time you give a retort.

Rather than give my final thoughts, I'll end this section with a conference call challenge. If you're calling into a meeting from your desk or from home, have an air horn ready and blast it every time you take yourself off mute and announce yourself like a DJ. Then proceed to to chime in as normally as possible.

You're thinking about it aren't you…
~ M.

Keep in mind, this is all strictly satirical - If you're actually taking workplace advice from a guy that makes video games about 'Rock Paper Scissors', then you probably shouldn't be working in an environment where your actions impact an actual business. Okay? Good? Let's all laugh and make the most of our daily grind together.

The Workplace Survival Guide: Restroom Etiquette

Mark Marianelli

This is a touchy subject, but one that demands formal statute because for far too long, people have been violating certain unspoken rules due to lack of proper documentation.

Capacity

It's just a fact of life, everybody poops. Because of this, offices are required to provide a space for this event to take place. It's called a restroom. While it is one of those luxuries most take for granted, it can very quickly turn into a daily inconvenience. Most restrooms accommodate around 4 - 6 people at a time, which sounds rather nice until you do the math and realize that 4-6 does nothing when you have an office building with over 200 people. The obvious (and very false) assumption is that people go at different times throughout the day. In actuality, people generally go right before and right after lunch time. It's inevitable that when you walk into the bathroom after lunch, somebody has beat you to the punch. For men, urinals are convenient for this type of situation because they encourage speed. Stalls on the other hand do not. If your office building has one bathroom per floor with 2 stalls each, that is not very accommodating for a building full of men who all just got back from a hefty lunch.

Men do not wait in a line for stalls. So if you're a man, you are left with one option when those stalls are occupied - Walk back to your cubicle with your head held high and your butt cheeks clenched, because you're going to be waiting a minimum of 10 minutes for that stall to free up, and this is assuming that when you return to the bathroom that stall won't have been taken by somebody else.

Because men cannot wait, and will most likely lose the race a second time around for that coveted stall, it is MANDATORY that you vocally express your frustration to the stall's current resident to make it clear that they are inconveniencing you. The most work-friendly and passive-aggressive way to do this without getting a call from HR is to make the opening sound of a curse word as your exiting the bathroom. It is important that this is accomplished as you are leaving so that the stall's occupant does not have any time to react and figure out who you are. It is also important that you only make the first sound of the curse word so as not to give away your voice for easy identification… And because cursing is naughty.

BE WARNED - If there is somebody standing in the bathroom who can identify you, consider this one a loss and retreat silently.

Vocalization

I title this section "vocalization" because there are a number of things involving one's voice which are in direct opposition to what I feel is proper restroom professionalism. Let's go down the list, shall we?

 Grunting - Here's what I'll say: If you're not allowed to do it at Planet Fitness, then you shouldn't be allowed to do it in a bathroom. We all know what goes on in a bathroom. When I notice somebody is in a stall, I know what's going on in there. Being the creative type, it is with the utmost willpower that I train my mind NOT to visualize what is happening in there. While I understand some sounds cannot be avoided, there are other sounds which absolutely CAN be avoided and SHOULD be avoided at all costs. Besides, if you're having to grunt that intensely, you should be at a doctor's office, not a corporate office.

Talking - If it were up to me, I would never say a word to ANYBODY in the bathroom. Not a friend, not a boss and certainly not a stranger... But I understand that this is unavoidable. Some people think of the urinals like Cheers, where everybody knows your name, and I'll let this slide under the pretense that using a urinal next to a coworker is akin to passing them in the hallway - it's going to be awkward no matter what, so have at it. However, there are two things which you should never speak to while in the bathroom: Your phone and yourself. Not only is it uncomfortable to be in a stall next to someone having a full on conversation on their iPhone, but it now puts you in a position where you feel as though YOU need to be quiet as well, which means you're probably holding something in for the sake of sparing the poor soul on the other end of your neighbor's phone line.

Also, does the person you're talking to on the phone know what you're doing? This goes back to visualization; don't put that in your friend's head. That's wrong. As for talking to yourself - This isn't even acceptable OUTSIDE of a bathroom. Don't do that.

Brushing your Teeth

This is a bit of a controversial opinion, but it needs to be discussed and solidified in the restroom rule books right underneath "always wash your hands". Don't brush your teeth in the restroom. To me this is no different than using your cell phone, it's just awkward. Look at it this way, there are people who become incredibly self-conscious when sitting in a stall. The only relief they have when you're in the bathroom listening to them is that unless you're performing the same embarrassing function as they are, you're not going to be in the bathroom for very long. When you decide to spend the next 5 minutes brushing your teeth, you ruin that whole bubble of safety. You're literally standing there with nothing else to do except listen to the sounds of "nature". Nobody wants a stranger to listen to them go potty. Respect your fellow man's wishes and put the toothbrush away. And let's not forget that you're occupying sink space, people need to wash their hands, get lost.

The only reason you're brushing your teeth in the first place is because you chose to eat an Onion Sandwich with french-onion dip and a side of onion rings. If you're intentionally bringing your toothbrush to work, it means you've already preconceived the idea of eating something smelly. Do us all a favor and eat your onions at home. Would it kill you to say, "hold the onions" once in a while? And on top of that, do you really need to eat RAW RED ONIONS? I don't care HOW much you brush your teeth, that smell isn't coming off of your fingers or anything else you're wearing. Just buy a pack of gum if you're so concerned.

Cleaning Ladies

The cleaning crew. There is not a worse feeling on this planet than seeing that large plastic yellow sign forbidding you entrance to the one place that can relieve that awful feeling in your stomach after that 2 hour meeting that was scheduled directly after lunch time. Every office should have both a Female janitor and a Male janitor. Otherwise you run into this issue:

You just sat down in the stall. It's going to be a doozy and you know it. A moment later, you hear a knock on the door. It's the janitor, and she has decided that NOW is the time to clean this bathroom up. You yell out, "Occupied!". She says, "Okay, take your time." and you think all is well. About 10 minutes later, you exit the bathroom to find something horrible… The cleaning lady has been waiting outside the bathroom this whole time for you to leave. You realize as she's about the enter the bathroom that you left no time to air out the situation, and she's seen your face. She'll always know what you did. When you pass her in the hall, you'll always wonder why she smiled at you… Was it a pleasantry? Or was it something much, MUCH worse…

You know how you solve this problem? GET A MALE JANITOR. No more waiting for the bathroom to be clear, no more awkward moments, no more embarrassment. He's a guy, you're a guy, all is good in the hood.

I'm realizing how one-sided all of this is to the benefit of males. Sorry, ladies. Honestly I have not one word of advice to give… Not that you'd want to listen to me give you advice on how you use the public restrooms at work. As far as I know, the Ladies Room leads to Narnia and everybody does their business in the woods. Not sure why you need to take care of that in Narnia though…

I'm sure Mr. Tumnus doesn't appreciate it.
~ M.

Keep in mind, this is all strictly satirical - If you're actually taking workplace advice from a guy that makes video games about 'Rock Paper Scissors', then you probably shouldn't be working in an environment where your actions impact an actual business. Okay? Good? Let's all laugh and make the most of our daily grind together.

The Workplace Survival Guide: Buzzwords, Acronyms & Nonsense

Mark Marianelli

If you're going to work in a professional environment then there's no avoiding it, you're going to need to learn the language. Workplaces are like foreign countries, they have their own set of idioms, their own unique cultures and an endless sea of buzzwords and acronyms that will have you scratching your head like a tourist for months until you adapt to the environment.

The following should help you fit in ahead of your newly hired peers and have you blending in to your surroundings in no time.

Sports Analogies

These are the most common, and really they're all pretty much the same, the trick is to not be too obscure in your sports reference. For instance, if your team has done an excellent job on a particular project, would you say they:

A.) Hit a Homerun
B.) Scored a Try
C.) Checkmated it
D.) Got a nice Birdie

Obviously the answer is A. It's not that anybody wouldn't understand B (most would pretend they do so as not to be outed as less than the Ultimate Sports Geek), but it's better to limit your analogies to more generic sports like Football, Baseball and Basketball.

The following is a list of acceptable sports terms for everyday situations, both positive and negative:

✓  Slam Dunk

✓  Home Run (Interchangeable with Grand Slam or Knocked out of the Park)

✓  Touchdown

✓  Hole-in-One

✓  Fumble

✓  Strike

✓  Miss the Mark

✓  Swing and a Miss

✓  Ball's in your Court

On the flip side, not ALL sports analogies are necessarily GOOD ones. Try to avoid the following:

✕  Baby Split

✕  Crotch Serve

✕  Stick & Ball

✕  Pony Goal

✕  Icing

✕  Back Row Attack

✕  Jungle Ball

✕  Banana Kick

There's a billion sports with a billion terms, know your crowd and choose wisely!

Buzzwords & Common Phrases

Ugh… There's just no way around this nonsense. If you want to sound like you know what you're doing, you just have to use these. 90% of the time, people don't actually know what they're saying, but regardless, what they're saying somehow makes sense because it's common terminology. So here's a few words and phrases to throw into your BS arsenal as well as what they actually mean (as opposed to what people THINK they mean):

1. "To your point" - I hear this one on a daily basis, and it's clear that nobody in my office knows what it actually means to say it. It is MEANT to be an affirmation of a point made earlier by somebody other than yourself, but all too often it gets used to merely defer back to said point, not necessarily agree with it. I've even heard it used to disagree with that point! e.g. - "And to your point, I disagree." – This is wrong, but good luck correcting the offender as odds are they're higher up than you on the food chain… That and you would just sound like a colossal tool.

2. "I tend to agree with you" - This phrase annoys me most of all. Saying that you "tend to" anything implies that you have a habitual and recorded history of such tendencies. So to say that you "tend to agree" with something means that it has come up before and you agreed with it then as well. That's a bold claim and it makes you sound predictable. Rather than using this stupid phrase, replace "I tend to" with "I am inclined to". It sounds more educated.

3. "From a(n) ____ perspective" - If you hear this phrase, somebody is about to argue a point using the defense that it will benefit their end of the business. So if you're a designer, you would say that "from a visual perspective" it works better this way, while the developer in the room will argue against your statement saying that "from an IT perspective" it works better another way. This isn't necessarily an effective weapon to have in your argumentative arsenal, but it's great for starting an infinite loop of useless debates that can only be stopped when someone speaks up and says, "From an I'm your boss perspective". They win every time.

4. "Make it pop" / "Amp it up" - Only manager-types use phrases like this because it's as vague as it is uncompromising. This is generally used specifically towards designers and in a nutshell it means - "It's boring, try using purple" (purple being interchangeable with whatever color ISN'T in your brand guidelines).

5. "No worries" - People say this when you've screwed up… And it means that you should probably worry.

6. Hard Stop - This term is something you'll typically only hear from people at higher levels of management. It means that at a specific time you will have to leave a meeting, mid-conversation if needed. The reason this term is used at all is because most meetings, regardless of how long they're scheduled for, will inevitably run over their allotted time. Higher-ups are infamous for their overlapping meetings (see Identifying Higher-ups), so in order to make as many meetings as possible, they require the use of this term to tell people, "Hey, don't waste my time, I'm out once this meeting's scheduled time is up". The reason only higher-ups get to use this term should be obvious, but just in case it isn't, I dare you to tell your boss that you have a hard stop during your monthly review. I dare you.

7. Tertiary -  Primary, Secondary, Tertiary. Meaning a third level of importance. People only use this term because they know at some point somebody is going to ask what the heck this word means, and they can then proceed to drop knowledge on that person like a steaming hot political poop - thus solidifying their rank of septenary importance. Don't know what septenary means? Don't worry, neither do they.

8. Affordance - It's official definition is "a visual clue to the function of an object" - which is appropriate when discussing how a button is designed, or where an object is placed in a layout. However this word will get thrown around with a few different meanings, mainly when describing the mere level of noticeability of an object. If you hear it used, don't assume it means what it's supposed to, pay attention to HOW it's used… Honestly, you'll probably get by just fine in whatever meeting you're in by just ignoring this word when it gets used. You could say this word carries little affordance. Wait, can you say that? Who knows, it's a stupid word anyway.

9. SEO - Search Engine Optimization. If you hear these initials thrown around, it's more or less referring to how often Google is going to present your website upon every search humanly imaginable. I guess you can think of it as the new "synergy" - Useful concept, overused buzzword.

10. Cognizant - Rather than saying to “keep in mind” or “be aware” or even the ultra simple, “think about it”, some people like to use this word to emphasize their intellect. One thing I’ve found is that this word spreads like a wildfire if kept unchecked. If just one person uses this phrase in an office where the term has never been used, give it about a week and you’ll inevitably hear it used 3 or 4 times per meeting, whether it applies or not.

11. The Ask - I officially give you permission to slap anybody who uses this one, whether boss or peer. The Ask is a really pointless way of saying "the request".  You'll hear it used like this: "What is the ask for this project?", it will then more likely be followed by me turning to puke inside my recycling bucket... I couldn't reach my trash bucket in time. They say texting is causing the English language to be butchered, well I'm convinced that office lingo is far more detrimental to our grammatical well being. Please do me a personal favor and stop this one before it spreads any further.

Acronyms

No, I'm not going to give you a list of acronyms and what they mean. There's just far too many and there's a good chance you'd almost be disappointed to find out what things REALLY stand for. All that can really be said about office acronyms is that their meaning is 100% irrelevant. A project's initials mean nothing to the point that the initials become a name themselves. If you read a project charter, you've already learned everything you need to know about said project. You know its purpose and you know its history, so who cares what the name is? I still to this day don't know what NBC stands for, but I know it's a tv station and I know what shows to expect from it. The same logic can and should be applied to work. Even if you did know what the acronym stood for, you'd still call it by the acronym because it's just easier. Think of it as verbal shorthand.

Well I hope your mind and your tongue have been sharpened and ready to verbally attack the office world... Not verbally attack like being a potty mouth, but speaking of potties (forced transition!), be sure to check back in for my next segment in the Workplace Survival Guide: "Bathroom Etiquette".

With love,
~ M.

Keep in mind, this is all strictly satirical - If you're actually taking workplace advice from a guy that makes video games about 'Rock Paper Scissors', then you probably shouldn't be working in an environment where your actions impact an actual business. Okay? Good? Let's all laugh and make the most of our daily grind together.