In the abyss of degradation that is the modern office, pretending to respect your boss is one of the more difficult tasks you might face. He or she controls your paycheck, dictates what hours you're chained to your desk, and calls pointless meetings just to hear his own voice with different acoustics. And you? You sit there and take it, because money is necessary, and there's the shred of a chance that you might someday advance through a meaningless corporate system that will only banish you to an empty retirement where you can leisurely burn through those final reserves of humanity until your inevitable demise. If your boss dislikes you, though, blame and eventual ruin has a way of falling into your lap. And you need your job! That's why it's imperative that you successfully pretend to like him.
So how do you feign respect for a person who warrants no such thing? How do you have someone's back when you really don't? Some tips:
This is your best strategy. Bosses generally have kids. Your boss loves his kids, even if he really doesn't live like it (and the delusion of power he feels in the office sublimates the fact that he's actually a terrible father). He got ahead by being a family man. You see that photo of Junior on his desk, vacantly staring back with his toothless smile? Take note! That little son of a bitch is your key to success.
Hear about Sarah's birthday? Enter it in your Google Calendar. Did the kid give a class presentation, make a volcano out of papier-mâché, start a new tech company that's in the running for Y Combinator? Tell your boss how cool that is, how much you loved making a volcano when you were that age, and how he–get this–must be proud to have such a smart, innovative child. It's no surprise, considering his stock!
Mention his kids at least three times per year to show you pay attention. (No more than three, though: Otherwise, he might call the cops.) He will think you are also an alright guy:one who values family, remembers the right details, and knows there's a life outside this thing called the office. In reality, you are using the universal soft spot for kin to your advantage. There's nothing more capitalist than that.
You're already reading the internet all day, so send her a fucking article once in a while. No manager actually reads with any depth, so it can be just about anything relating to your industry. A simple link shows you are thinking about the job beyond the job. You are trying to make the company—and her, by proxy—look better by keeping up with the discourse surrounding your business.
The best part of sending an article is you don't even need to read it, either. Send anything. The pertinent info is in the article already. Just write something simple like, "Check this out! Pretty interesting—thought you might enjoy." See? You thought she might enjoy it, whatever it is. She'll respond with a "thanks!" or "looks interesting!" without reading, but the act will linger in her mind when it comes to bonus time.
Always present the illusion that you're working so hard that there's really no time for niceties. Keep your head down, always be typing, and occasionally make a demonstrative phone call where you pace around the office. When your boss tries to set a meeting with you, act exasperated. It's the Constanza™ technique. If you look like you're pissed off and drowning in work all the time, your boss will think you might privately loathe him (the truth) and leave you alone.
Here's where you make your move. Once he really doesn't know what to think— Does Brian hate me, or is he just working so hard he has no time for politics? I've never encountered this before!—you do something friendly. Give him half your snack. Buy an extra coffee and leave it on his desk. Suggest that sometime in the future, you'd love to brainstorm ideas about how to grow your department. Never set a date for that; just act open to the idea of being a positive, generous person. You'll earn his love because he finally earned yours.
Like, twice a year. This gives the illusion of honesty. "Damn, you know, I can't even lie. I really screwed the pooch on that one," you might say. This actually makes you a relatable, trustworthy member of her team. No one ever admits mistakes in an office. People stammer and lie; they pathetically search for someone lower on the chain to bear the brunt of their excuses. No, step up and take it yourself. Admitting a mistake implies you respect your boss enough to assume that she, too, is human and will understand that it's not what you do, it's how you learn from it. Bosses love meaningless character-building shit like that.
Your boss doesn't understand Facebook and Instagram. (Forget Twitter. Unless he's a monster, there's no way your boss is still on Twitter.) So "like" a post now and then. It'll make the ol' guy feel good. Similar to that random article you sent, it doesn't really matter what you like. That picture of dessert on Thanksgiving? Sure. A nameless baby? Why not. His feet kicked up in sharp focus with a blurry fireplace in the background? To each his own. Some kids in some nondescript snow? Double great. A single affirmative click can buy months of goodwill.
Your boss likely has a super small social network consisting of only family members and a series of random work colleagues from throughout his career. That's nothing compared to you, who grew up with this garbage, so a like goes a long way. Feeling extra ambitious? Leave a comment. A simple "LOVE IT" or "This is the best!!!" puts you in borderline friend territory without spending more than a minute thinking about him.
This strategy is the most fraught of all, as it necessitates shit hitting the fan in your office to such an extent that both you and your boss are embroiled in some controversy and banding together is the only way out. You need to be in her actual office for this. The ship needs to be sinking. It's all on the line! And it's here where you lean in, shake your head, and mutter the following words:
"We should've gone into biotech."
Then you shrug. Why biotech? Who knows. Seriously, no one actually knows what biotech is, but it's perceived as a successful, stable, growing industry—the sort of place where whatever problem you're having would never happen. She'll also shrug, and then you'll both laugh, because it's the truth. Biotech symbolizes the great unknown beyond the worthlessness that is your office, and as with any middle-class corporate situation, it's that undefined future potential for something better that keeps everyone going. At least you're all in this together.
Carter Maness is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He tweets about Frasier here.
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