Saturday, January 01, 2005

work persona lesson 3: on omniscience

Gather 'round, students; it's time for your next big lesson. Today, we will be discussing our first behavioral technique. Everything that we've discussed so far solely relates to appearance, but with what we're covering today, your clothes aren't going to help you. Seeming omniscient can take a lot of work, but it's mostly a characteristic of conversational manipulation. Are you ready for this?... probably not.

The first thing that I'll discuss is actively learning everything you can in the workplace. I shouldn't have to even mention this... I'm assuming you had some value coming into this program, but let's be realistic and assume that you didn't. When you're on the job, you should never stop learning everything humanly possible. It doesn't apply to your job?... fuck you, learn it. If you're not becoming the local expert on everything possible, all of that information will never apply to your job... because you'll be stuck doing the same shit that you're doing now.

Here's the way it should be. Your boss, who's been doing his job for years, runs into something he doesn't know how to do.... he should immediately know to turn to you for advice. That's right, you should know how to do his job better than he does... you should know every detail of his job, you should know every way to do it faster than him, and you should be able to do it better than him... and he should know that you have that ability. The same goes for every little tedious process in your company... you should know everything about the bitch who makes your coffee's job, you should know the best way to carry a package, you should know every tedious step in every type of data entry... you should be some sort of company superhero.

Now, sometimes, in order to learn these things, you have to get your hands dirty. Sometimes, you'll have to try your hand at data entry to find the tricks that the moron who does it daily would never think of... that's okay... just don't let them turn to you to do menial shit. Your task is to seem omniscient, not to be the extra hand that can help out in any situation... it can be very difficult to be one without being the other, but we'll discuss this topic when we cover the 'illusion of being valuable'.

Believe it or not, it's very easy to become the local expert. Nobody wants to... they consider their useless jobs to be too overwhelming... they're pussies. How fucking hard is it to look over your shoulder, or tell someone that you want to sit with them to learn what they're doing all day? If you want to be subtle... just direct regular conversations in directions that cause the other person to tell you everything you need to know. Trust me, they want a shoulder to cry on... "making coffee is hard!" My approach is to learn my job really fast, tell my boss that I have too much time on my hands, and make him cross-train me. Who the fuck wouldn't want someone who can do any job on the floor, for the price of a regular salary? Of course, such skills make you entirely more valuable, but again, we're jumping ahead of ourselves... I have to speak very slowly so that you can catch every word.

Okay... gaining actual knowledge is obvious... now onto the subtle shit:
Some dumb bitch: "Rand, do you have any idea what I have to go through every day? I have to call the manager of blah company precisely at 8:00 AM to find out the work order number for blah so that I can blah and blah blah blah blah."
Me: *calmly* "I know."
The same dumb bitch: "After that, I have to blah blah blah blah and blah blah."
Me: *calmly, feigning compassion* "I know."
One confused dumb bitch: "You knew all that? Did you know that blah blah blah blah?"
Me: *feigning compassion and interest* "Yip, that's why I'm glad that I don't have your job... your job is hard."
A gullible dumb bitch: "I'm glad that you understand."

In the above case, I didn't have to know jack shit about her job.... but now that she spilled the beans, I know everything. If she doesn't believe that I know it, she can quiz me... everything she just told me is memorized, and because I know the company better than she does, I can tell her why things are the way they are. What's more important is that she just told me a lot of shit.... since I seemed to already know all of that, it's quite likely that I know a fuck of a lot more.... I didn't come up to her and tell her everything I knew... I just said that I knew absolutely everything that she told me... of course, such a complete understanding of her job implies a complete understanding of everyone else's as well. I'm omniscient.

The important thing is rarely what you say that you know, but what you seem to know that you aren't mentioning. Anything that you happen to actually know, makes the secret shit floating around in your head all the more threatening. Modesty usually translates to secrecy in others' minds. Here are a few phrases that are useful for interaction:
"Before I explain it, I want to hear your take on the process."
"Oh, I'm really not supposed to discuss that."
"Please, I don't really know that much... you just happened to ask the right question."

Sometimes though, showing your hand is useful. In my last job, I was doing some programming that required me to have access to restricted areas of the database. I was in my boss' office discussing some things, and noticed that he had access to payroll.
Me: "Oh, you have access to payroll too? They recently gave me access to that, but I don't need it for what I'm doing. You can have them take it away if you want."
Boss: "Jesus, they shouldn't have done that... you'll be tempted to look at everyone's salaries."
Me: "No, I'm glad that I had it for that reason... that's information that I absolutely should have. I have everyone's salaries memorized now though, so you can take it away if you want."

I solidified my knowledge by spitting out a few numbers that were accurate to the dollar (I wasn't bullshitting at all), so that my boss knew that he couldn't pull anything over on me when we discussed my salary (which was our next conversation). We both knew what I was worth relative to my co-workers, and now we both knew how much I was getting paid relative to them. I also told him exactly what I was worth on the open market in California and in New York (where he knew that I was thinking of moving to). There was no room for bullshitting me, and I made that absolutely clear. He didn't even try to play any games after that point. Also, he and everyone else now had to be just a little nicer to me.... we don't want Rand telling other people how much the bosses are making.

When you're seen as omniscient, you have a potentially unique place in any company. The bigger the company, the more departmentalized it is... if you manage to cross over those boundaries, you're vital for the planning or restructuring of any process that crosses departmental borders. People will assume that you know everything anyway, so they'll feel free to discuss things with you that they otherwise wouldn't. If someone's getting fired, everyone will assume that you, of all people, know who that person is, and they'll also assume that you had a hand in the decision. If you're omniscient, it's assumed that nothing happens without your say, and it will quickly become practice that in fact, nothing does. The illusion of omniscience quickly contributes to actual omniscience. This is a big task for you... I'm not entirely sure that you're going to be able to handle memorizing this simple skill, let alone how to make a cup of coffee.