How to be someone by being no-one

You can’t be a passionate workplace and change manager without expressing yourself on an uncomfortably regular basis. Sometimes this is beneficial, sometimes not, as passion is never neutral. With time and experience we accept the undulations with good grace.

But have you wondered if its possible to succeed by being entirely unremarkable? Executive coach Dave Machiavelli brings you ten things to avoid if you want to to get on quietly:

OPINIONS: the middle ground is your sacred turf, so stay on it at all times. However you may be irritated by others, or pushed for an opinion, never give one. Retain a calm ambivalence about everything and everyone. Only fall in behind a shared opinion when you have cast iron certainty that it has 100% support. Otherwise simply express no objection, rather than support. Of course this relates to your personal and private life too. Don’t even be tempted to come into the office with your Bolton Wanderers scarf on. Even when they beat Blackburn Rovers.

CREATIVITY: anything creative is risky. It brings an exposure to the unpredictable tastes and whims of others. Deny that you have a creative bone in your body, and prove this by being unable to draw a box with a biro and a piece of paper. Not being able to do something is of course much easier than being able to do something. Be exceptional only at not being able to do anything creative at all.

EXPERIMENTATION: this is living, breathing uncertainty. By far the best use of experimentation is to suggest that others – in particular your rivals – partake, and as often as possible, in the most exciting and dangerous experiments. By all means offer suggestions, but make sure no-one hears you, and never do so in writing. You can call it support, encouragement and motivation if you like.

SPEAKING FIRST: always have a roll of virtual gaffer tape with you, for your mouth. Not saying anything daft at any time is of course beyond the realm of anyone. Speaking first exposes the risk of what you say being wrong or stupid. Always wait for everyone else to speak, gauge the mood of the room, and perhaps offer a gently worded factual contribution where required. Facts, facts and facts only. If you think the facts came from a colleague, be sure to clearly attribute your source just in case they found them on Facebook.

STYLE: don’t, whatever you do, get noticed. The pink Versace overcoat will have to wait until the trappings of success are secured. If you get noticed for sartorial elegance, it will irritate those without, and they will have opinions about you. Stay high street, wear known brands, and get a product-free hairstyle. Never wax your eyebrows.

DECISIONS: dangerous things. Association implies preference, which alienates an as yet unknown sector. By deciding on something you have abandoned all other options, some of which may be favoured by others. Offer entirely non-contentious fact-based perspectives, being fair to all sensible options, and await decisions by others. Always offer a gentle, sage and supportive note of caution for when the chosen path goes belly-up, one that you can refer back to when required.

SIGNATURES: you cannot undo a signature. Your unique squiggle represents a complete commitment. It will throb on the page like a sepulchre so avoid at all costs. Verbally and quietly authorise a subordinate to sign, and if problems arise deny all knowledge and rebuke the appropriate underling. Certainly never scan your signature, or it will be printed onto promotional tee-shirts before you know it.

REFUSAL: As a manager, it is likely you will have to say “no” from time to time. This implies up to 50% risk, and is a bad place to be. You can avoid this through careful suggestion of alternatives – “you may wish to….” or “I would rather that you…” or even “don’t you think it may be a good idea to…” – practice in front of a mirror, with a slight smile as to imply that you bring pleasant news when a member of your team wishes to attend a conference and you don’t want them to. Always add sugar.

E-MAIL: we have all used e-mail once or twice, and it rather drags you in. As your keystrokes grow in ferocity, an understanding of the implications of the missive evaporates. Sentiments are misunderstood. The recipient, unbeknown to you frustrated at the coffee grindings floating to the top of their latte, loses all sense of reason and copies the world on a stinging rebuke. Quiet anonymity is lost forever. So use e-mail as sparingly as possible, never initiate correspondence, and respond only when absolutely necessary, and with neutrality. Use the “Reply All” command and you may as well get your coat. Not the pink Versace one of course.

FLIRTATION: the workplace can be a bubbling saucepan of unrequited desire. Not for you though. You are better off with the undeniable thrill of stick cricket or BS Bingo, both privately of course. The minute you flirt you are sunk. You will be marked out as led by your emotions, vulnerable, fragile, an eggshell personality. Beyond reproach means beyond an encroach.

AND REMMEBER – you never read this. Because the eleventh thing to avoid is coaching. Big sign of weakness. You must have done something wrong. Right?

Leave a Reply