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The Workplace Survival Guide: Identifying Higher-Ups

Mark Marianelli

The cube farm. It's the reason you've suffered through 12 years of school and tried so hard not to get caught napping in the Macy's storage room so you could pay your way through 5 1/2 years of college. And by "pay your way", I mean keep those Wendy's dollar menu items flowing like milk and honey while your parents throw their hard-earned cash into a black hole of hope and utter denial.

Much like any school, the corporate world has its own cliques, dress codes, drama, lingo and, most importantly, cafeteria. Teachers and Principles get replaced with Managers and CEOs, Freshman are called Temps, graduation is called retirement and Class Ranks blossom into something called the corporate ladder. If you've watched any number of teen comedies, the main character (usually on his first day of school in a new town) inevitably meets up with that one older rebellious kid who shows him/her the ropes. Let me be your honorary cool misfit in the leather jacket as I guide you through this brave new world that is… The Workplace.

In a company where roles and org charts change with the wind, it's important to be aware of who the higher-ups are in your department. This is important for a number of reasons - knowing who to let beat you to the last available stall in the bathroom, knowing when to speak your mind in a meeting, knowing how hard to apologize when you almost bump into them in the hallway, and so on and so forth.

The following are a couple of methods for quickly identifying who holds your frail and precious job security in their hands:

Method 1 - The Coffee Brand

This particular method is good for identifying a number of roles and hierarchies within your department. The brand of coffee which people drink is directly related to their position on the corporate food chain. Here's a quick cheat sheet for spotting a coworker's pay grade:

Starbucks - While the obvious assumption is that a man/woman of class would prefer the finer things in life (e.g. $10 lattes), this couldn't be farther from the truth! An individual with a higher role has no time to waste on things like extra foam and proper milk/espresso ratios. The most likely candidates for a Starbucks beverage are Designers and other visually-related titles. They're trendy, sugary and require a degree of self-righteousness to sport in front of their peers. An individual who's job it is to worry about the appearance of a web-page will most likely be concerned with ALL areas of appearance, including the elegance of their coffee.

Dunkin' Donuts - The working man's coffee. It's quick, there's two in every town and the "larges" tower over the ever exclusive and enigmatic Starbucks Trenta. But I must reiterate that it is a working man's coffee. It's a quick fix of caffeine for long nights at the office for people who don't like their coffee sweet and sugary. Do not be deceived, this is an IT man's delight. Back-end code monkeys and Quality Assurance Specialists are likely candidates for the every-man's coffee brand. You'll never witness a higher-up needing a "turbo shot" because you won't catch them at the office past 4. This leaves one more option…

The Office Coffee Pot - That's right, a higher-up has no time and absolutely no patience to wait in line at Dunkin Donuts OR Starbucks. They need their coffee ready-to-go because while running to their next inevitable meeting, their brain cannot waste its ever-so-precious energy on petty things like taste and quality. If you're about to bump into someone carrying a plain, unmarked styrofoam cup, than I suggest you get to updating that LinkedIn profile and make sure your resume is looking pretty.

Method 2 - The Availability Factor

This is a simple method. If you're concerned about an individual's pay-grade then there's a pretty fool-proof method to identifying how much further up the ladder they are. The mere fact that this person is in your line of vision in the first place means they're probably nobody worth sweating over. If on the off-chance you can sneak a peak at a higher-up's calendar, you'll probably see something that looks like one big blue block of overlapping "tentative" commitments.  In a nutshell, your insignificant little half-hour kick-off meeting means absolutely NOTHING in light of the level of meetings a higher-up is obligated to attend on a daily basis. Their calendar is so full, they have to carefully pick and choose which meetings impact their position the greatest. To summarize, they probably don't want to listen to you discuss what color button you want on the company homepage.

Think of it this way - the only way you'll truly catch a glimpse of a higher-up is while they're booking it to another meeting (which they're probably late to).

Now, if they DO happen to show up to one of your meetings, it's likely because they needed an excuse to remove themselves from an even LESS interesting meeting. In which case, this next method is a good way to spot one of these rare occurrences…

Method 3 - Inception

When a higher-up blesses your meeting with their presence, A.) They will always be late, and B.) You'll notice they're not really paying attention to what's being said. They're on their phone... BLATANTLY on their phone. While it could just be a power trip reminding you that you don't matter in the grand scheme of things, its more probable that they're replying to emails in regards to ANOTHER meeting. Hence, Inception - A meeting within a meeting… Probably within another meeting.

In older days, the style of phone that person was using was another indicator of their position. Designers had iPhones, developers had droids and higher-ups had Blackberries. Nowadays it's just all over the place. There's no telling what kind of phone they'll have. I've even spotted a manager rocking a Samsung flip-phone - I'm fairly convinced he stole it from the cleaning lady in an act of corporate takeover.

Method 4 - Sweat

This is a tricky one and it should be used in combination with one of the three previous methods I've already addressed.

Sweating can mean a lot of things, but in most cases, it's a result of habitually scurrying from one place to another without much downtime in between. Who is the most likely culprit of scurrying about in such a manner? Obviously somebody with infinite overlapping meetings... In other words, a higher-up.

Now, because lots of people sweat for various reasons, this method on its own is not efficient enough to draw any conclusion on its own merit. Rather, it should be considered a confirmation of sorts. For example, if you see someone walking the halls with an unmarked styrofoam cup of coffee, it COULD be a higher-up, but if that person is sweating profusely, it most definitely IS a higher-up.

If someone shows up late to your meeting and is staring at their phone the whole time, but you're not sure if they're important or they just THINK they're important, check for sweat.

Sounds ridiculous, but deep down, you know I'm right.

Well, hopefully I've left you feeling empowered, enlightened and a little more clever as you wander the halls of the corporate workplace. Speaking of wandering the halls, stay tuned for my next Survival Guide post - "Hallway Awkwardness".

Until next time, kids,
~ 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.