Tag Archives: Office etiquette

Who You Lookin’ At?

I think I know what the next big Chinese export is going to be. 

I read this article about a new shop in China where only women can go.  On paying the equivalent of $8 NZ, they are admitted into a mock up of a house, complete with functioning appliances such as televisions and computers.  They are given a baseball bat and a helmet and for one minute, are allowed to take out their frustrations by smashing things with ruthless abandon.  The appliances actually work but are second hand.

The idea is that the woman can pretend that it’s her house and do what she wishes she really could at home.  Right now the only rooms available to trash are a living room and bedroom, but they are planning to add a kitchen.  In addition to appliances, you can throw plates, rip up paper and slash bean bags. 

Business is booming, according to the article.

The reason I think that this idea is going to catch on in the West is because it looks like we are doing everything we can to engineer ‘reacting’ out of our society.  I saw another article that talked about the city council of Elmhurst, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, planning to make it illegal to roll your eyes when someone says something stupid, or you object to what they are saying or doing.

Yes, you read that right.

The whole thing came about when a city councillor was ‘ejected’ from a meeting for “rolling her eyes” at something one of her colleagues said.  Now, in order to preserve “decorum,” the city council is asking the city attorney to look at ways to make eye rolling illegal as a “disturbance and disorderly conduct violation.” 

According to the article, under Illinois law, disorderly conduct means behaving “in an unreasonable manner as to alarm or disturb another, or to provoke a breach of the peace.”

What they are saying is that showing disagreement by rolling your eyes is unreasonable behaviour that might alarm or disturb someone.

If this sort of thing catches on, I’m getting a “Smash-Things-With-a-Baseball-Bat-Shop” franchise.  It will be a gold mine.  Imagine spending a whole day having to suppress natural reactions to the stupidity, thoughtlessness and general annoyingness of the people around you.  Wouldn’t it make you want to pick up a baseball bat and smash something?

I don’t know about you but I grew up in a world in which people were fairly quick to let you know where you stood.  Teachers used red ink and corrected our work with gentle observations like “WRONG!!!” And we survived.

When I was an agent of global capitalism, I met my share of people who made eye rolling look like a loving caress.  I once had a boss who was, to put it mildly, a maniac.  One time we had to present a report to him.  We worked diligently and polished the finished product.  After the presentation, which he did sit through without interruption, he picked up the report, tore it up, threw it in the wastebasket and then expectorated into the waste basket to show his displeasure.  Rich verbal feedback about our performance and quality as employees and human beings followed.

I wonder what the eyeball police would say about that.

In fact, the more I think about it, I’m a little worried about a post eyeball rolling world.  For one thing, walking down the street would be like a scene from Children of the Corn or Village of the Damned.  And that would be scary.

But it would also be confusing.  Because people would walk around like zombies and not be able to intimidate each other by eye rolling, but presumably they would still be able to give each other the finger while driving.  Or, given that this is Chicago, pull a gun on each other. 

The law of unintended consequences might end up engineering emotional nuance out of human interaction.

Where in the past other people could give you clues that you are getting on their nerves, e.g., by rolling their eyes, now they would be legally required to go to more extreme forms of showing displeasure. 

Theoretically, I supposed, if there were enough “Smash-Things-With-a-Baseball-Bat-Stores” it wouldn’t be so bad.  But if people couldn’t go work out their frustrations on inanimate objects, they very well may start doing it on each other. 

All because it would be illegal to show displeasure by eye rolling.

Festive Cognitive Dissonance

Today I thought I was experiencing an interesting episode of cognitive dissonance.   That term gets thrown about quite a bit, so I figured I’d check it in the dictionary to make sure I had it right. 

Sure enough, my dictionary defines cognitive dissonance as psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.

That pretty much describes it, except technically, I didn’t hold the incongruous attitudes—I was just reading about them. 

Incongruous Idea Number One was encountered in an article about how businesses, because of the recession, were being forced to cut back on Christmas parties. 

A lot of my friends say that they aren’t too bothered by that.  They would rather their employer just give them the money that they would have spent on a Christmas party.  Their attitude is “I see my co-workers day in and day out.  No offense, but I’d rather celebrate Christmas with people I associate with by choice.”

Nevertheless, the office Christmas party is pretty much a social institution and apparently during the boom time, extravagant parties became de rigeur.

But times have changed.  John Thain, who used to be the CEO of Merrill Lynch was quoted in the article as saying “Everyone is pretty sensitized to the fact that excessive consumption or excessive anything is not acceptable.”

He should know.  In his last year at Merrill Lynch he earned $84 million.  That’s $40,385 per hour if he worked a normal work week (but a more reasonable $9500 per hour–if he worked 24 hours a day all year).  He also made headlines because he had a $1400 wastebasket in his office. 

A lot of firms are showing this new sensitivity to excessive consumption. 

Goldman Sachs, still feeling bad about wanting to pay $16 billion in bonuses after getting a government bailout, announced with some fanfare that they have cancelled their Christmas party for the second year in a row. 

So the picture looks pretty bleak and some companies are worried about the devastating effect on morale that Christmas party cancellation will have. 

One wonders about the morale of the people who won’t be going to a company Christmas party because they don’t have a job.


 Then I happened upon Incongruous Idea Number Two.  It took the form of an article on out of control spending on high school balls and proms.  The article called the prom support business a ‘recession proof industry.’ 

The article didn’t say if companies in that industry are still having Christmas parties, but it did say that parents are spending large on end of school parties, proms and balls.  You would think that modern parents would have enough to worry about already, but now they have to make the cruel decision—fork out a lot of money or let your kid be consigned to the world of the irredeemably uncool.

This is current news in the southern hemisphere, where it is the end of the school year and where the recession is as persistent as in the north.  But the market for high school formal attire alone grew by nine percent, and that is just in Sydney.

A survey of kids revealed that girls spend on average $1300 and boys spent $840 on prom prep and bling.  Clearly there is an untapped market for accessories for the boys.

Where is the money going?  In addition to fancy gowns, other must have items on the shopping list include makeovers, artificial tans, a photographer and a limo.  And these dos aren’t held in the school gym.  Fancy downtown hotels are doing proms in the ballrooms where they have wedding receptions.  In fact because more people graduate from high school than get married, the hospitality industry is thinking that the prom business will be bigger than their wedding business.

Think about that for a minute.

The article continued by saying that for 77% of the kids surveyed, prom planning was the number one thing on their mind when they started their last year of high school.  So much for having your whole life ahead of you.

And here is where it gets really interesting and where the cognitive dissonance with Incongruous Idea Number One comes in.  The article talks about a book called Prom Night:  Youth, Schools and Popular Culture by Amy Best.  The book states that the growth of the prom industry was the result of “the rising purchasing power of youth culture.”

A guy who is cashing in by starting a prom franchise business agrees.  “. . . teenagers of today have more expendable cash than previous generations . . . and far more sophisticated tastes.”


From a psychological perspective, I may have crossed over from cognitive dissonance to post-traumatic stress disorder after trying to process that statement.  One has to ask where this expendable cash is coming from.  Unless McDonalds is paying more than we think, it’s got to be coming from the parents whose companies are cancelling Christmas parties. 

Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

And that’s before we even begin to address the question of “far more sophisticated tastes.”

The Perils of Corporate Texting

I don’t think we are going to have to wait until 2012 for the Apocalypse.  There is some evidence that it is already at hand.  The other day I was talking to a neighbour who is an elementary school teacher.  She was complaining that she had a student teacher who she was supervising for a few weeks.  I opined that it must make things easier because there was someone to share the work with.  “No way!” she informed me.  “The woman cannot be left alone.  She’s a clear and present danger.” 

“To the kids?”

“No.  To Western Civilization.  You won’t believe what she does.”


“She writes on the board in text language.”

It was my turn to say “no way.”  But yes, apparently she does things like give the kids class assignments and writes, “Wen ur done c me” on the board.  She also writes “Orsum” on well done homework papers.

Call me a Luddite, but there’s a time and a place for everything.  I found this story so amusing that I repeated it to other friends and not all of them laughed.  Their attitude was more like, “I can top that!”  Another teacher said that a dictate had come from on high that if a kid uses text message lingo in a written exam it should be deemed acceptable because that is the way young people communicate and under the pressure of an exam situation, allowances should be made for slips in communication.  Aren’t communication skills one of the things kids are supposed to learn in school?

But not only teachers have to deal with this problem.

You might remember that during the economic boom, consultants convinced businesses that life as we know it would end unless we made the workplace Generation Y friendly.  No one under 30 would want to work for a company that didn’t accommodate their unique characteristics.  Companies were advised to build a Googleplex, eliminate dress codes, stock the conference rooms with Lego and have Starbucks on site.  As part of all that, some businesses became ‘text friendly.’ 

Not only that, because of their greater techno acumen and general joie de vivre, Gen Y people were getting promoted over their older, less with the program colleagues. 

However nobody talked about need for inter generational sensitivity training.  Let’s look at a hypothetical but plausible example of this generational clash of cultures. 

Joshua, a Gen Y MBA, has been put in charge of the financial analysis department of a big American company.  One of his subordinates, Ken, has been with the company longer than Joshua has walked the Earth. 

Joshua thinks that Ken has issues with him because Ken doesn’t respond to his Facebook friend request, and insists on doing things the way they’ve been done forever.  Ken thinks Joshua doesn’t like him because Joshua puts his feet on Ken’s desk when he comes into his office.

Drawing on his experience and acumen, Joshua decides that he and Ken need to have a little talk.  So he proposes that they “pop down to Starbucks” which is conveniently located in the building lobby.  Ken doesn’t like Starbucks because he isn’t sure if you can order plain black coffee there.  But he agrees to go.  In order to show that the portals of communication are open, as they wait in line Ken tells Joshua, “You know, I never know what’s good here.  Why don’t you order something new and different for me.”

Joshua, delighted at Ken’s overture, says, “Sure, man.  You gotta try this new thing they’ve got for Christmas.  Approaching the counter he tells the clerk, “Two Gingerbread lattes.”

Ken insists on paying and they move to a quiet corner.  Ken eyes the frothy drink in front of him like Socrates examining a proffered cup. 

Ken ends up actually enjoying the coffee and the conversation, and both of them feel that they have had a breakthrough.  Ken even promises to help Joshua improve productivity by communicating with text messages when necessary.

Happy, they both return to the office and Joshua decides to explore their new relationship by sending Ken a text message, thanking him for the coffee and the meeting.  He texts:

10Q 4 *$

To Ken, who has worked in finance for a public company for years, ‘10Q’ doesn’t mean ‘Thank you.’  It means Form 10-Q which is a quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission.  He knows that ‘4’ means ‘for,’ but he has no idea that ‘*$’ means ‘Starbucks.’  He remembers that in previous quarters they have put together a draft 10-Q in advance, and he thinks that perhaps Joshua is asking him to do a draft.  But there is no 10-Q filing needed for the fourth quarter and that’s what he decides to tell Joshua.

Ken takes his cell phone in his trembling hand and texts:

No 10Q 4Q

New to the game, he doesn’t know if you are supposed to sign text messages.  He decides that ‘Kenneth Abercrombie’ is too much of a challenge, so he simply adds his initials:


Joshua’s delight at receiving a text from Ken is short lived.  He stares at the message.  He briefly wonders what he’s done to make Ken so angry.  And then he decides that such insubordination and unprofessional behaviour must be punished.  So he texts:

4Q 2 DCM

And he calls Human Resources.

Ken has an adrenaline rush when his phone beeps and he quickly reads Joshua’s message.  He doesn’t realize that ‘DCM’ is text talk for “Don’t come Monday,” and means that he’s been fired.  He studies the message and decides that Joshua is labouring under the delusion that a 10-Q is needed for the ‘fourth quarter, too,” and is requesting documentation from Ken justifying his position.  After all, the kid is fairly new.

So Ken quickly prepares an e-mail with attachments of the pertinent literature.  His outgoing e-mail crosses a notice from HR which he reads with incredulity.


And I don’t even want to think about the legal ramifications of all of this electronic miscommunication.