How to Suffer Fools Gladly
Posted at 5 a.m. on July 23
Every office has one: The person whom you aren’t quite sure how he landed a job. Or how she graduated college. Or managed to wear matching shoes.
It’s the office fool, the person so ridiculously unwise you can’t understand why he is still employed. But he is, and you have to work with him, even if he doesn’t know how to pronounce “Boehner” or correctly transfer a phone call.
Here’s the thing about fools: They are everywhere. They are elected to Congress, they craft legislation, answer phones, pitch reporters, all the while accidentally deleting your emails and preventing Metro doors from closing.
So how can one handle the swarm of fools ruining the day? Hill Navigator is not here to help banish fools. They are inescapable. If one fool goes away, another will pop in to take her place. But there are better ways to handle someone whose mere presence is an affront to effective offices everywhere.
— Stop getting mad at them. Yes, that was an important call that was dropped, and no, that is not the way to spell your last name or email address. Getting mad is unlikely to be productive and is therefore a waste of your energy. Take a deep breath, smile if you can (even a wan one will do) and redirect the energy spent being ANNOYED at fools to something more productive, like your career. If you can, offer to help. Some fools are in denial and think they should be the ones offering lessons, in which case you may have to wait until the learning curve catches up. But for those open to it, spend extra time on a quiet day demonstrating how the office phone system works, or whatever task the fool cannot master.
— Don’t enlist others. It can be so tempting to laugh off a fool’s actions with another co-worker. Hill Navigator acknowledges this is something even the best of us do on occasion. But try not to. It demeans you and it creates false alliances. It also is bound to be overheard, and even the most foolish of fools have feelings and would feel horrible and isolated at such taunts, leading to an all-out breakdown of office harmony of which you would be the culprit. Want to bond with your coworkers without gossip? Make a pot of coffee. Or bring in bagels.
— Accept that fools are here to stay. Fools regenerate like mushrooms. No matter where you go, there is likely to be a fool in your office. Even at the White House. Even at Facebook. The dream team of brilliant staffers can only last so long. If you don’t have a fool with you now, you’re only a few staffing changes away from it. The best staffers are those who don’t let fools affect the mood, who focus on the work and save energy for frying bigger fish.
— Don’t get demoralized. One of the rough side effects of dealing with an office fool is watching them move up the ladder. Fools get promoted, they win awards, get picked for the staff delegation to China or land on Roll Call’s Fabulous 50. They are valued for reasons that may not be obvious to you, but are important to someone. Grit your teeth, go for a walk to clear your head, but ultimately recognize that if you keep doing good work, you’re likely to get praise and promotion, too. It will just be on a different timeline, one that isn’t always readily apparent.
—Realize that YOU could be someone’s fool. Hard to believe, isn’t it? You — who works hard, uses spell-check and does not spill coffee on your necktie — might be regarded as a fool at times by co-workers. Hill Navigator thinks you’re outstanding, but even the most stellar among us have made an error that could be considered foolish to an onlooker. And even if you’re an established all-star now, surely there has been — or will come — a time in your career when things have been rough. Have some compassion for those who seem befuddled, for they, like you, could still emerge strong and capable. D.C. is a very small town, and fortunes have a tendency to spike high and low. The more people you treat with goodwill, the better your future will be.