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Learning to work with 'Neanderthals'


Julie swells with anger when her colleagues vault over her for promotions.

"Brown-nosers," she announces, resignation in her voice but resentment in her baby blues.

"They're not as qualified as I am," she says. "I've had to show them how to do things. But I can't schmooze. I'm too busy working. I get by on my ability. It's frustrating." Like Julie, most employees have co-workers they liken to some lower form in the animal kingdom.

It's not just the person who kisses the boss' you-know-what who bugs you. It could be the goody-goodies who think of themselves as martyrs. Or perhaps it's the individualist who comes in later than everyone else, breaks all the rules, skips meetings -- and gets away with it.

Sydney Craft Rozen and Albert J. Bernstein dissect these personality types in their recently released hardcover, "Neanderthals at Work" (John Wiley & Sons. $19.95). And no one is spared.

"Each of us is bound to see ourselves in the book," says Ms. Rozen. In other words, while someone is undoubtedly getting on your nerves, you're probably annoying the heck out of that person, too -- or someone else.

"The bottom line: We can all learn from our colleagues, and in the process, improve our relationship with them, making work a more pleasant, less stressful place."

Take Julie. The 30-year-old retail buyer only gets by while her craftier peers prance off with promotions and raises.

Ms. Rozen's advice: Dear Julie, don't hate. Emulate.

To Ms. Rozen, the people Julie calls brown-nosers are simply "competitors" -- successful people who know how the system works.

They dress for success, know how to get praise and credit for what they do, and work hard at high-visibility tasks.

"A lot of people think people who play politics are sleazy sellouts," she says. "They aren't. People [like Julie] should take a look at what [their colleagues] are doing and borrow a few pages from them."

Jim Germer, a management consultant, agrees.

She "should respect people who schmooze, and try to be more like them," says Mr. Germer, author of the book "How To Make Your Boss Work For You" (Business One Irwin. $18.95).

But competitors are not without fault. Too often they alienate people who don't share their get-ahead doctrine, and often these are the very people they need to make them look good.

"Often, when a competitor has the time to go to a power lunch or focus on a big project," says Ms. Rozen, "[someone like Julie] has handled smaller tasks which allow him that freedom."

Generally, women, more than men, share Julie's disdain for competitors.

As Ms. Rozen explains, women are culturally conditioned to be what she calls "believers" -- Honest Abigails who think that motivation, hard work and loyalty alone will bolster their careers.

It just doesn't work that way in the shark-eat-shark fishbowl that is the contemporary American work place.

"There are lots of talented, bright, educated people out there in competition," explains Mr. Germer. "What helps you get ahead is mastering office politics, building interpersonal relations, and stress management."

Many women resist schmoozing, says Mr. Germer, and consequently men in power feel more comfortable talking to men. As a result, women have difficulty climbing up the ranks and crashing the glass ceiling, he says.

Ambitious people -- male and female -- should be friendly to everyone from the mailroom clerk to the chief executive officer, Mr. Germer advises.

"People who are steps lower on the career ladder are important to your own success," he says. "If you're friendly, they will help you out in a crunch." The mail clerk, for instance, can see to it that you get your mail on time.

If you seem aloof and arrogant, letters could "accidentally" get lost in the shuffle.

Plus, getting on the good side of co-workers will help you get the 411.

"The office grapevine is usually pretty accurate," notes Mr. Germer. "Co-workers can let you know if you're in trouble with the boss often before the boss lets you know," he says, "or they can tell you if there's a job opening up."

But the other prototypical office character Ms. Rozen examines won't be of much help in the information department. They're out of the loop.

Dubbed rebels, these are creative types who will wear anything except the company uniform, who like to work alone and who set their own schedule. They will likely hold competitors and believers in contempt.

"The rebel sees the believer as the boy scout who never grew up," Ms. Rozen states. Typically, rebels are just as brutal with competitors, whom they regard as weasels.

Secretly, though, the rebel may be afraid of failure, Ms. Rozen says. It would pay for the rebel to be more like the believer and the competitor. A sartorial change might be a good place to start. Ask yourself, "Do I really want them focusing on the fact that I don't wear a tie or silk scarf?" Wear the company uniform. "Why get grief for something so easy to change?" Ms. Rozen says.

Mr. Germer offers an additional tip for dealing with people with whom you spend most of your waking hours: Be friendly, but don't let co-workers know too much about you. "You shouldn't give them ammunition to make you the butt of jokes," he says. "This is why I don't advise dating around the office."

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