The smart-ass at work

My one strong piece of advice to those entering the work force; Don’t be a Smart-Ass. Here’s what smart-asses do at work:

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  • They do not take instructions well. Work is about doing what you’re asked to do-the way the boss or the company wants it done. If you want to do it differently, build it over time, steadily, not at the outset. Or leave and do it on your own.
  • Act dismissively and all-knowing. I can think of few things that drive a boss to despair more than a new young hire who-verbally and physically-says ‘Yeah, yeah, I get it already, whateve’, a verbal and slangy wave of the hand, with a knack of appearing disengaged when instructions are set. The smart-ass often lacks politesse, and it shows.
  • Has bad body language. Similar to dismissiveness, and includes lack of eye contact (or worse, rolling one’s eyes) combined with a look of both perplexion or irritation at being disturbed. Some people have no idea how they appear when listening to others. If you furrow your brow a lot, try saying “EASY CHEESE” silently and closing your lips. Really.
  • Use sarcasm. Being bitey, mocking or sarcastic is a sign of insecurity or attention-getting. A smart-ass uses words as a weapon , freely and caustically, a bad habit to fall into. Don’t do it. Ever. I used to imitate my peers and bosses (I’m a pretty good mime, actually) and would do so with great frequency and gusto. Anyone want to know if it helped my career?
  • Don’t know how to play along. Years ago I had a very difficult boss, but I respected him and he understood me- we got along most of the time. (Oh, and he was one of the people I used to imitate, but to his credit had a healthy enough ego. It didn’t bother him too often.)
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    There was an offsite meeting at a hotel with the entire office and some of the big brass in town to make a presentation. My boss said to me before the meeting, ‘Make sure you sit in front at my table or close by, this is an important meeting for all of us, and you need to get visibility.’ I was too much of a punk and a contrarian to listen, scant interest in toeing the company line, thought the offsite was silly. So I got to the meeting late, sat in the back with the rowdy crowd, and even though I was not a rowdy, got labelled as such. He asked me later why the hell I was in the back of the room, why didn’t I listen to him, he was trying to help me, and so on.

    As obvious as it is, writing this many years later, at the time I could not have cared less, honestly and truly. I did my job fairly well, was not planning on sticking around a long time at the company, and was (more or less) well liked. I felt bad for letting him down, but justified it as not really being interested in moving up the ladder.

    Take it from a former smart-ass expert, do NOT do what I did. Ever. It fails every single time, guaranteed.

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