Smiling Tigers

I used to think that working hard and being competent at your job was enough to succeed in the corporate world. Not anymore. I’ve seen loads of incompetent workers filling positions ahead of efficient and reliable people, and I’ve always wondered why.

The savvy corporate jockey has many tricks up his sleeve, he is wise to internal politics, understands and befriends the people with any real influence, he also has strategies to increase his profile and can identify and avoid the pitfalls, saving precious energy. The one to watch out for however, is the Smiling Tiger.

The Smiling Tiger is not necessarily smart, but they are cunning. They are not afraid to sabotage their colleagues to further there own agenda and typically do it in a passive aggressive manner. They will pretend to be your best friend to your face then work behind the scene to undermine you and destroy your credibility.

Not long ago, I started a contract as a trainer for a contact centre. I joined a team of 4 other trainers who all – bar one – had just started and were also on contracts, we all also knew that come the end of the contract that there was a possibility of being made permanent. However out of a wider training team of 15 contractors, only 3 would be kept on. I didn’t really care because I will probably be moving on regardless at the end of the contract; however this fact was not enough to stop me being thrust into a rollercoaster ride of hidden agenda’s, passive aggression and clique-like-behaviour.

Thankfully I have managed to ride out the storm and am at a point where I can just do my job and concentrate on having fun, however it was an emotional and frustrating 2 months in which I observed and thought a lot about the prominence of passive aggression in the workplace. I write this now with the intent of sharing my observations and strategies on how to deal with it.

Identify the Tigers

The first and most crucial step to dealing with passive aggression in the workplace is identifying it. Once you identify someone’s true colours you may act accordingly. This then begs the question, how do you identify someone that may act in a passive aggressive manner?

The instant best friend – Have you ever met someone that instantly acts like your best friend? It can be hard to spot, because it feeds your ego and you may be tempted to overlook it. If a charming person is smiling at you warmly and calling you babe, it may make you feel good, you may feel like this person fully appreciates or admires you. Don’t be naive and think this is truly the case; a relationship of mutual respect takes time to build and cannot be shortcut. If someone is showing you an unusual amount of respect or familiarity too quickly, it is likely that it is false.

The Pot Stirrer – snitching on someone will often have nasty repercussions, if someone learns they have been snitched on, their first reaction will be to find out who has dropped them in it and why. This is likely to illicit a negative emotional response and foster feelings of resentment, anger and revenge. The Pot Stirrer knows this, this is why he will develop strategies for snitching in a cunning or round-about way that will not lead directly back to him. If you ever notice someone dropping ‘innocent’ comments to someone that will then pass on that information be aware. If they have no qualms about doing it, would they really worry about doing it to you?

Incongruent Behaviour – less easily spotted is incongruent behaviour. Examples of this include people stealing your credit for work you have done, or even more cunning; volunteering to do something for you and intentionally neglecting to do it or doing it poorly. If the ultimate responsibility rests with you, be aware of situations when you are dependent on a Smiling Tiger. Micromanaging them through it or always chasing them to do it can be time consuming and emotionally exhausting. Always consider alternatives; can someone else do it for you? Can you engineer it so they are directly responsible for the quality of work? If not, perhaps it might be easier in the long run to just do the work yourself.

The Back Stabber – the most easily spotted is the backstabber, if someone is chatting amicably with their colleague and being friendly or familiar, watch their actions once that person has left. If they immediately turn to you or someone else and make snide comments it is obvious that they have no problems engaging in passive aggressive behaviour. Also pay particular attention to their facial expression, once the colleague has left, does their smile instantly turn into a scowl? Was the smile even genuine in the first place?

This leads onto the next strategy, once identified you can now…..

Avoid them like the plague – the easiest way to deal with a Smiling Tiger is to simply identify, then avoid them. Usually motivated by their own ambition they will only seek to undermine you once they perceive you as a threat. By avoiding them, you run less risk of provoking their envy. A smaller moving target is a less attractive target, by avoiding you are giving them less ammunition to fuel their fires with, they may leave you alone to pay more attention to people they perceive as bigger threats. However, you may sometimes be forced to interact with these people and avoidance is not an option. In this case you will need to …..

Seem to submit to their will – on the surface you submissive and non-confrontational. Understand: a Smiling Tiger cannot be influenced by logic or reason, attempting to argue with them will only exhaust and frustrate you. Better to work behind the scenes and appeal to their self-interest. Arguing also has the unwanted affect of making them defensive; unwittingly you will be encouraging them to spend more time and energy devising ways to undermine you. Let them have their little victories, you may feel like you are swallowing your pride, but you can see the bigger picture. If you really feel the need to resist, then you must….

Fight fire with fire – passive aggression is best fought with passive aggression. Use the above strategies to retaliate and do exactly what they sought to do to you. Remember to always keep your cool, if done correctly you may cause them to react emotionally. If they have an outburst, then it is time to rejoice. By simply remaining calm and detached you will be highlighting their childish behaviour, use your own detached reaction to contrast just how ridiculous their actions are.

To Facebook, or not to Facebook? That is the question.

photo by webgeek
photo by webgeek

Recently a friend from my old work sent me an out of the blue email. It was a standard message, friendly banter, disparaging remarks about my sexuality and some sort of quip about how amazing it was that out of 1 billion sperm, I was the fastest.

All joking aside, one point that struck me as interesting was that the company had decided to ban Facebook. Again.

It’s obvious that senior managers perceive Facebook and social networking during work time as unacceptable and a roadblock to productivity, however the back and forth clearly indicates that they’re not sure about the implications of banning sites such as Facebook altogether.

The Power of Expectation

Generation Y workers have an intimate relationship with technology. These stats from Wikipedia state:

  • 97% own a computer
  • 97% have downloaded music
  • 94% own a cell phone
  • 76% use instant messaging and social networking sites
  • 75% of college students have a Facebook profile and most of them check it daily

Simply put, the younger working generation is used to instant gratification, they expect to be able to access social media and probably have an addiction to doing so. With social networking, affordable web hosting and the ability to easily host blogs, people have come to depend on their connectivism.

What are the implications of taking this away?

Companies such as Google, with their gaming rooms, lounges and relaxed policies realise that the more free an employee feels, the more productive they will be.

Generation Y aside, taking away workers rights will only serve to undermine their motivation. Senior managers and supposed leaders need to realise that people will perceive taking away access to resources they’ve previously had (or believe they have to right to access) as a betrayal of trust.

Two steps forward, one step back?

If you’ve worked for a large corporate, you’re probably been to some sort of ‘Company Values’ training. The purpose being to instil the company values into you, so that you act in the best interests of the company; customers are the lifeblood of our business, increase your circle of influence, compete on value not price – and all that sort of wank.

These training sessions are not cheap, if a company is willing to spend so much money in order to get people invested, why throw it all away by fostering resentment towards the majority of their staff?

An alternative strategy?

That’s all good and well, but there is that niggly little fact that perhaps using Facebook does actually also lower productivity. With all the games, applications and video’s it’s no surprise. However the question needs to be asked: is there a way that staff could get their social networking fix without a massive drop in productivity?
Why not implement an in-house or bespoke social media package, there are many open source options available and if it enabled staff to feel free or empowered while still having some control over what can be accessed it has to at least be worth a shot.

So I quit my job

photo by Shayan

Yes that’s right, I have quit my job.

When I first moved to New Zealand at the age of 22 I was more concerned about having a good time then my career or working. 5 years later, a couple of rungs up the corporate ladder and living and working in the UK I still have that nagging feeling in my gut that something just isn’t right.

During this time I’ve worked for a couple of different Fortune 500 companies and have observed some disturbing trends, as well as having gained some valuable insights into the true nature of big business and the effect it has on people.

In his book, Daniel Goleman talks about an emerging phenomenon of people in the 40’s and 50’s suddenly reassessing their lives, deciding what’s truly important and reordering their priorities.

New studies show, for example, a sharp rise in people’s altruism at midlife, a key sign of new priorities. Psychoanalysts now see this increased caring as the flowering in middle age of emotional development that begins in childhood.


The key phrase there is: ‘the flowering in middle age of emotional development that begins in childhood’.

My questions is; if this begins in early childhood and only starts to flower in middle age, in terms of emotional and spiritual development (don’t freak out, I’m not a hippy) what happens in our 20’s and 30’s? Continue reading

Giving Specific, Timely Feedback – The Key to Maintaining Motivation

Trying to get a blog off the ground is hard work. After the initial period of excitement died off I found it harder to continue writing and thinking about ways to generate inbound links.

A month had passed since my last post and I began working on other projects, letting Nubtub slide lower down the list of priorities.

Until I finally received a positive comment on a post I was particularly proud of.

I suddenly found myself re-energised and inspired to continue writing. This is a pretty simple concept which is applicable to many areas of life and not just work, but it begs the question:

How can I use this knowledge to my advantage?

Continue reading

Free groceries, anyone?

photo by said&done

When I was 17 I used to work in a supermarket on the checkouts. Occasionally an item wouldn’t scan properly and it would need to be rescanned.

I decided any customers that I liked, that greeted me warmly or were a hot girl, would not get their items rescanned. That I would pretend not to notice, effectively giving the item to them for free.

Warning bells

With so many beeps going off in front and behind you I quickly learned that the way not to get caught was to pretend not to notice miss-scanned items. The store security looking out for dodgy behavior from checkout operators couldn’t distinguish the beeps (or lack of) and would rely on reading the people and looking for nervous behavior.

I recall one girl in particular; she had a warm smile and was pleasantly engaging. I liked her immediately. For some reason an unusually high number of items were not scanning correctly.

And she noticed.

When she noticed, she looked me directly in the eyes; I could read the question on her face but waited to see if she would say anything.

She knew I was doing it on purpose.

I knew that she knew.

Neither of us said a word.

I’m no different from everyone else; there are people everywhere in positions with some responsibility making whimsical decisions simply based on how they feel about you.

Do you take the time to smile and say hello? You may get some free groceries.

Want to leak a secret and not get caught?

Wikileaks is developingan uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking

Photo by Zara
Photo by Zara

and analysis.

Wow. This is an example of how the Internet changes everything. For so long we have lived with the belief that one man cannot make any real change.

We may say to ourselves; sure, Malcom X made a difference, Ghandi changed the world, but these kind of people are fanatics. They devote their lives to change, what can I really do?

With the advent of the Internet, the sudden overwhelming availability of information, one person can make a difference. Wikileaks is a great example of a group of driven, intelligent and Internet savvy people collaborating towards achieving a specific goal.

They want to stick it to the man

We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies. Continue reading

The 5 Barriers to Personal Growth on Company Time – Part 5: Don’t Tell Anyone. Ever.

Baby with a secret 

Photo by gadgetgirl 

Part 1: Why you need to look out for number one

Part 2: Don’t work too fast

Part 3: Let the details tell the story

Part 4: Deflect envy

For my final instalment for this series I want to talk about letting people know what you’re upto. At work there are lots of great people around that I like and trust that I am dying to tell about my blog or reveal that I’ve spent the whole day sitting at my desk reading a book. I want them to know how clever and cunning I am.

But I’m not going to.

Why I here you ask. If I trust these people then surely it’s ok to let them know? Unfortuatly it’s just not worth the risk, people love to talk and a secret can soon become gossip. Also I’ve told one friend before that I fully trust and swore him to secrecy only for him to pass me in the canteen asking in a full volume voice ‘Yo Jackmo! Busy day updating your website today bro?’ Continue reading

Actions Change Beliefs

actions change beliefs 

Photo by w2awfil 

I trained at Telecom for two years and was with the company for about three and a half in total. During this time I trained around 200 people from their beginnings with the company and observed several trends. I recently read an excellent article about cognitive dissonance that resonated with me and got me thinking about the past. The basic premise of the piece was that person’s beliefs are changed – over time – by their daily actions. Continue reading

The 5 Barriers to Personal Growth on Company Time – Part 4: Deflect Envy

The green eyed monster! 

 Photo by mmlobster

The people in your direct proximity are your biggest danger of being discovered slacking, be it on purpose or inadvertendly. You cannot hold it against people for revealing your true game plan, they may not share the same beliefs as you. That energy is better spent learning from your mistakes and devising methods to fly under the radar.

When someone has it much easier then you it’s natural to feel envious. It raises all sorts of ugly and confrontational questions such as; Why do they have it easy and I don’t? Are they better then me? Am I getting a raw deal?

If it gets to the point that these questions are being asked then it’s already too late. As a successful Productive Slacker you need to wise to the beginning signs of envy. Recognising it will allow you to take steps to deflect it. Continue reading

The 5 Barriers to Personal Growth on Company Time – Part 3: Let Details Tell The Story

Let the details tell the story

Photo by lesec 

So far we’ve established that you need to look after number one and discussed the importance of not working too fast.

In this post, I’ll be talking about the perception of being busy and how it’s all in the details.

“Why do the Yankees always win? The other team can’t stop looking at the pinstripes.”

Frank Abegnale

Having read the previous two posts, you may be thinking; it’s all very good to say we should spend half our time working on personal growth and pursing our own interests on the company clock but what happens if I get caught?

A very valid question. Obviously the methods for actually achieving this need to be given considerable thought because being caught could have serious potential consequences. Continue reading