Who Knows?


We’ve all been there.  You can feel that THING growing in your nose.  You feel your nose swell up.  It is hot.  The skin is tight, stretched and painful.  When you rub your finger over it you can feel the thing, turgid, massive, disfiguring.  It must be on the point of exploding!  You can feel everyone looking at you.  The disgust in their faces.  You must look like Quasimodo at this stage….

Then you get to a mirror and……. where is it?  You can’t see anything.  Oh, well if you look really close it’s obvious, but just nothing like as big and disfiguring as it feels.  This has been impacting on you all morning.  You are full sure everyone was staring at your face.  But now you know it was all in your imagination.

Some things are like that.  Some physical attributes or character traits can dominate your life.  You are full sure that everyone can spot them and that they are judging you for those traits.  But often you are wrong.  Nobody even notices the things that cause you so much angst.  Those are not your real problem.

The real problems are the character traits and bad habits that you carry which are not on your radar, but are impacting on your life.  There are things we do without noticing that can severely impact on how others behave around us, and the opportunities opened to us.

I have seen people eat their meals with mouth wide open and half chewed food on display for all to see, with small flecks of their meal spraying freely across the table onto everybody else, on their clothes, on their food.  These are people who come from a family of open mouth eaters who are unaware of the impact it has on others.  They wonder why the boss did not bring them to dinner with an important client and why Dave, the junior analyst who chews with his lips together was tapped for the best contract of the year.

Personal habits are things we need to be aware of.  We need to be very aware of them in business situations.  Personal hygiene and grooming.  Clean and ironed clothes.  Down to polished shoes.

Habits that can drive others insane.  Noises such as constant tapping on tables, kicking chairs, sniffing, coughing and sneezing relentlessly.  Talking loudly on the phone, talking loudly on the mobile phone while walking up and down the office.

Selfish or inconsiderate usage of common facilities.  Leaving toilets in a disgraceful state.  Cooking smoked fish in the office microwave.  Leaving dirty dishes on your desk.  Stealing (borrowing) other peoples food. Regularly asking to borrow money.

Personal traits are a big issue.  You may come from a family that settles disputes by shouting at each other.  You can’t bring that to the office.  Nor can you ghost your boss and give colleagues the silent treatment.  Aggressive or over assertive behaviours were accepted back in the 1970’s or 80’s but not any more.  Passive-aggressive behaviours have endured, but do you no favours.

The big problem with all of these traits and habits is that normal polite people are reluctant to take you aside and tell you that you have a problem.  They will try to ignore it, or drop vague hints that fly totally over your head.  Your career stagnates, or goes into reverse, and you have no clue why.

I once attended a week long residential Executive Communications Workshop (Grid Management Training) where the week concluded with everyone being rated objectively by their peers.  It was a fantastic opportunity to hold a mirror up to myself and see how I was perceived by a room of strangers.

From “An Essay on Man: Epistle II” by Alexander Pope

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself abus’d, or disabus’d;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Workplace camouflage


Of course, if you have not found that wonderful job then you may be among the millions who try to hide out every day in the workplace.  Keeping your head down, struggling through the day, watching the clock and willing the hands to move faster so that you can escape to your real life.  Sound familiar?  Here are three techniques you need to master.

There are three main forms of camouflage, crypsis, mimesis and dazzle.

Crypsis involves blending into the background so that you are not noticed.  Think of a soldier in a camouflage suit, or a tank draped in netting and leaves to mask its shape and shadow.

If you have an office you could hide in there for long periods of the day and hope nobody comes looking for you.  Bathrooms are also good hiding places, stairwells, fire exits.

Open plan spaces are harder.  Try to wear clothing of the same colour as the partitions and walls.  Don’t move around too much, avoid jerky or sudden movements.  Move like a sloth.

Another good approach is to try to resemble your co-workers as much as possible.  If you all dress in uniform clothing this can be a help.  Adopting the same hair styles, glasses etc can make you all look the same and will confuse supervisors and other predators.

Many Cryptics surround themselves with a smokescreen.  This used to be effective when smoking was permitted in the workplace.  Now it is done in the “smoking area”.

The problem with crypsis in the workplace is that you can be identified as a slacker and targeted by an attentive supervisor.  One day you turn up and find you are on a performance improvement plan and that’s a complete hassle because you have to update your CV…again.

Mimesis is a stronger workplace camouflage strategy.  This is the art of disguising yourself as something else.  A battleship made to look like a cargo ship, or an arms depot that looks like a terrace of housing.

As a mimic you make the Customer Care supervisor believe that you work in accounts and lead the Head of Finance to believe that you work in Customer Care.  As long as they hate each other you will never be found out.

Mimesis works best with supervisors who don’t communicate to each other.  It is a perfect strategy for organisations that work in silos.  For instance if you work in a hotel you could let the head of housekeeping believe that you work in security and when the head of security finds you in a room you start making the bed.  Many workplaces try to prevent mimesis by having different uniforms for different departments.  Try inventing your own uniform by blending two others!

Another mimesis stragegy is to invent a boss who does not exist.  You make yourself look like the loyal PA to a very important person who is forever in meetings, conferences and trips abroad.  It is a sophisticated strategy which requires a great deal of backing paperwork to maintain the illusion.  In fact it is almost as hard as a real job, so difficult to understand why you would bother.

In nature animals use mimesis to look like objects.  An insect may look like a leaf, or a twig.  It takes a master of workplace camouflage to look like an office plant or a computer stack.  It can also be quite hard work.  To be avoided unless you are a yoga master.

Dazzle is the best form of workplace camouflage.  Dazzle involves hiding in plain sight but confusing the enemy.  Ships painted in dazzle were easily visible, but you could not tell which direction they were sailing in.

As a dazzler you never move through the office or work-space at a walk or a stroll.  You move fast, on your toes, and always with a very important looking file in your hand.  That file is going to someone VERY IMPORTANT.  Anyone who sees you knows immediately that you are not someone to be delayed or stopped.

Nobody can figure out if you are coming or going.  Early birds in the office are astounded to find that you are always there ahead of them.  Managers who hang around the office late in the evening, waiting for their partner to feed the kids before they get home, are impressed to find you still there when they are leaving.  Everyone figures you must be working 70 hour weeks.  Meanwhile you sleep in your bed from 10am to 4pm, getting ready to party the night away.

You frequently break this pattern by turning up around lunchtimes, eating messily at your desk as you book holiday flights online, cruise chat-rooms and generally look like a stressed out employee.  As the masses return for the afternoon grind you disappear in a cloud of cappuccino vapour.

You don’t blend into the furniture.  You dress loud and talk louder.  You laugh at the Cryptics and the Mimics.  You loudly identify them to the office with criticisms along the lines of “Did you take the morning off?” as they arrive into work at 9am, or “Taking a half day?” as they depart at 5pm.  You proclaim to the office “I don’t do annual leave” and “I don’t do sick” and explain that you are on the career fast-track.

You fear only one thing.  The annual review, when you are asked to explain exactly what you have done.  You spend weeks practicing obfuscation, simulation and rhetoric which suggests achievement where none actually exists.  Get it right and you’ll go far!