Thought Catalog

The Implications Of Water Cooler Talk: A Brief Overview Of Office Archetypes

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Jason Pratt
Jason Pratt

If you’re like me — and I’m sure loads of you poor bastards are — you went to college not with the intent of honing a specific trade or skill, but rather, simply because you thought you ought to. Or were told you ought to. Either way, you went for the sake of going, not to get something specific out of the experience. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dumb. In fact, it may mean quite the opposite — you either recognized that it was the best next step, or you heeded the wisdom of some sage who told you as much. That was a good call. Go you! It’s not your fault the college degree is the new high school diploma. What it does mean, however, is that since graduating you have very likely landed yourself a crushingly mediocre office job, which in no way represents who you are or what you love, and slowly saps the last vestiges of your soul out through the tears you pretend not to cry in your pathetically hollow moments of solitude.

If you don’t relate to the above, awesome. I am genuinely happy for you. Either you are completely oblivious or you have at this point in your life discovered and begun to pursue your passion. If it’s the latter take a quick second and hug yourself mentally. Fuck yeah. Do not stop, no matter how daunting or perilous the path to your goal may seem. It’s just like KISS said:

[I]t’s never too late to work nine-to-five
You can take a stand, or you can compromise
You can work real hard or just fantasize
But you don’t start livin’ till you realize…

And then there’s some stuff about God and Rock and Roll that detracts from the song’s relevance. Glorious.

However, If you do relate, or can empathize, or have spent any time at all as a vapid cubicle drone for whatever reason, you have probably, at one point or another, considered something akin to committing Hara-kiri as a suitable alternative to engaging in your run-of-the-mill conversation with some or all of your co-workers. If you haven’t, beware: You may well be one of the water cooler archetypes I’m about to describe.

What do the seemingly inane things your co-workers say to you actually say about them? Are they simply making the time go with some pleasant conversation, or are you unwittingly involved in a sick, twisted, sociopathic indulgence? You decide:

The Ranter

You’re sitting at your desk and a co-worker ambles up to you. He’s got that lonely-yet-hopeful glint in his eye which signifies his hallowed quest for validation and prompts you to muster your resolve and resign yourself to at least 5 minutes of uncomfortable fake laughter interspersed with tepid conversation buoys like “definitely” and “I know, right?” He begins to talk at you about some inane office phenomena, all the while laughing at his own jokes and gaining momentum off his own steam — effectively shooting load after load of word-jizz onto your face in a tsunami of masturbatory, one-sided dialogue. This is The Ranter.

The flocks of cubicle sheep all love The Ranter: He seems to have it all figured out — he can humorously and coherently stab at the idiosyncrasies of the office, he’s friendly, and probably decent at his job. They look up to him. He represents the hope that they too may one day rise above the muddled office politics and achieve his clarity of mind. However, what The Ranter actually represents is the pinnacle of wasted potential: An affective wit and insight floating pointlessly along in the ether of office purgatory, most likely due to cowardice in the face of the prospect of trying and failing at something truly meaningful to him.

When necessary, only engage The Ranter in groups of at least 3 if at all possible. His attention will be diluted, providing a window out of which you can hopefully climb unmolested.

The Old-Timer

The Old Timer is a real toughie. He’s in that aged sweet spot that’s old enough to be completely irrelevant in almost every conceivable way, but not yet so old that he can’t still be minimally competent enough to maintain employment. But, there’s no denying this man is a class-act through and through: Always in a suit, greets you the exact same way every morning (and apologizes if he forgets to), still says “cap” to describe hats… He’d make the perfect grandfather: You’d sit with him on his porch while he complains about how things are becoming “a bit too urban” for his liking as he whittles different types of nuts out of wood with the ivory-handled pocket knife he once used on the Viet Cong. But he isn’t your well meaning, mildly racist grand-pappy. No. He’s your co-worker.

This man is a master of the “any plans for the weekend?” and “how ’bout this weather?” elevator dialogues. When he unleashes upon you these water cooler nukes, you can’t help but be taken aback at the nuanced precision of his delivery — awestruck at the self-assured manner that could only result from decade upon decade of uncomfortable elevator rides with countless employees, both past and present. As Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Standard office tech (outdated computers) has far outdistanced The Old Timer. But doggedly he persists, insisting that he can work with “the machine.” Depending on your role in the office, you may just pity him from afar, snickering at his more feeble attempts to perform simple tasks, or sometimes maybe even lending him a hand when you notice that he’s typed a web URL into a Microsoft Word document and is insisting his machine is broken when it doesn’t “go.” Or you may find yourself working with him, perpetually unsure as to whether or not you should suggest he retire, as you continually find yourself doing most or all of his work due to the fact that it requires knowledge of how to save a file in multiple formats, and you don’t have the two weeks it would take to give him a crash course. “Lesson one: Pushing the power button.”

If you see The Old Timer coming your way at the water cooler, just sit back and enjoy the ride. He’s in the driver’s seat, and you should feel safe in his classy-as-fuck hands.

The Neurotic

You can’t help but be worried for The Neurotic. He manically paces about the office with his forehead veins throbbing like he’s just overdosed on Viagra; like his entire body has taken on the characteristic of a massive, pulsating hard-on. He speaks in all-but-incoherent bursts of loosely strung together phonemes, which are more often than not accompanied by flecks of spittle, the frequency of which is directly proportional to the shade of red adorning his face at a given time: The redder the wetter. On a moment to moment basis, you can’t interact with this man without feeling like he’s two seconds away from having an aneurism explode out of his skull and slime you with blood and pus like you’re on some horrifically fucked up version of Nickelodeon’s Wild And Crazy Kids.

If The Neurotic draws near, you’d better already be in crisis mode. Steel yourself for battle, you sorry son of a bitch, for if you’re caught unawares what follows will be an assault on your mental faculties so jarring you’ll come out of it unsure as to whether you’ve spent the last five minutes preparing presentation briefs or frantically running through the minefield bordering Syria and Israel whilst dodging gunfire from both sides.

In all honesty, when it comes to dealing with this crazy bastard, your best bet is to act equally bat-shit insane about whatever project you’re working on at the time of his approach. Bug your eyes, twitch your lips, pull your hair out — whatever it takes. If there’s one thing The Neurotic can appreciate, it’s neurosis.

The Suck Up

The Suck Up is different kinds of unbearable relative to the capacity in which you are employed by your company — there’s a sort of hierarchical chain of butt-fuckery at play here, split into three distinct tiers of interaction: subordinate, peer, and superior. Let’s start with the bottom of the barrel.

Subordinate: Depending on your disposition, this is very likely the most aggravating rung one can be at on The Suck Up ladder of dick-wizardry. The Subordinate, in the eyes of The Suck Up, is nothing more than a means to an end — a mere tool by which he can further demonstrate value in the eyes of his peers and superiors. You are a pet whose loyalty he feels can be bought with the occasional pat on the arm, or mild word of encouragement. Do not be fooled by his congenial bullshit — It’s all a ploy. The Suck Up is the guy who will grin the most shit eating of grins as he loads you up with an enormous last minute project — which in no way fits your job description — on a Friday at closing time, that he can’t do because he has an “important meeting” at the bar around the corner, but still needs to be completed for the boss by Saturday morning at 9 AM. And you’ll do it. You’ll hate yourself for it, but you’ll do it. Because you don’t want to stir up trouble given your relatively low position in the company, and if it doesn’t get done you’d better believe you’re getting blamed for it. Don’t worry though; he’ll be sure to tell you how much he appreciates your “help.”

Peer: As a peer, one must be wary of the The Suck Up. Constant vigilance! as Professor Moody from Harry Potter would say — A fitting analogy, as Moody was a defense against the darks arts professor, and The Suck Up is about as well-versed in the evil art of douche as they come. On a scale of 1 to Bono, he ranks a Mel Gibson. But I digress. A peer relationship with The Suck Up will oftentimes necessitate that you work together. This can be a boon, as The Suck Up wants to make sure all of his–and your–work is as top-notch as possible. But BEWARE: He will take credit for EVERYTHING you do if you give him the opportunity, and your boss has no interest in who did what beyond the initial taking of credit. He’s got more important things to do than arbitrate a semantic squabble about who contacted which client first. The credit goes to he who claims it, and if it isn’t you, you may wake one day to find you’ve slipped from peer to subordinate.

Superior: It seems pretty obvious that being a superior to The Suck Up (or anyone in your company) is the ideal spot to be at. And there’s a lot of room for perspective when it comes to being The Superior: Some superiors may appreciate the “get ahead at all costs” attitude, as they only care about productivity, and The Suck Up is, if anything, productive. These superiors need only worry about dealing with the occasional bout of sycophantic nut-hugging or faux “next steps” wisdom-seeking that come with The Suck Up’s successful completion of a project. Not bad. But many superiors have at some point been, or may actually still be The Suck Up in one form or another… Suckception! While these superiors needn’t deal directly the The Suck Up’s bullshit in any truly aggravating way, depending on the size of and their position in the company, they will have to worry about The Suck Up advancing to peer status or beyond, as they know how the game is played: Lawlessly.

If you find yourself alone at the Water Cooler with The Suck Up, do your best not to lash out in anger. Even though most everyone would understand if you did.

The Ego Maniac

If your office were a video game, this guy would be the final boss. No question. The Ego Maniac, to a large extent, is an aggregate of the negatives of every archetype listed above. He is abhorrent in nearly every facet of human existence:

When approached by The Ego Maniac, bear in mind three things:

1. He does not know your name. Unless you have spent at least 5 years at your company, odds are you haven’t been useful enough to him for the two of you to have interacted enough that he’s had to learn your name for efficiency’s sake. And even that is no guarantee.

2. He could not care less about what you have to say. Every question he asks you is either a springboard off of which he can dive into continued self-indulgence, or an attempt to further solidify his feeling of situational control.

3. He will not hesitate to fire you. Or get you fired, depending on his position in the company, though this attitude usually accompanies the higher ups. He has absolutely zero regard for your personal well being or financial situation, as they do not affect his life in any tangible way. He thinks himself a monarch of your office kingdom. Which makes you a peasant; a mere plebeian, the purpose of whose entire existence is to perform whatever task it is you are assigned. Falter in any way, and you shall be destroyed and replaced.

If The Ego Maniac happens to share the water cooler space with you, do yourself a favor and shut the fuck up. You don’t want to be on his radar screen any more than you have to. If he chooses to speak at you, know that in his eyes you are just a human body, interchangeable with any other.

The Lost Soul

If you are sitting at work reading this article right now, this may be you. Take stock of yourself. Are you happy? Don’t lie, it’s okay to say no. If you’re not happy, are you happy with being unhappy? That answer should be no. And you owe it to yourself to try and right that! Try something fun, find a creative outlet, look for a new job, shake things up because you can! Things don’t need to be so dreary, find some color in your life. Or make some. Yee-haw motivation!

If you are offended by this, or think that I sound bitter, or angry throughout, it’s either because I’m not funny or you have no sense of humor. Either way, I don’t care. I am aware that these archetypes are completely sexist — They are based on my own personal experience, and I fully acknowledge that the gender roles of each could be opposite because women are now empowered and all that nonsense. TC mark

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