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OFFICE LYFE

How to Do Office Banter Without Accidentally Doing Hatespeech Instead

It’s tricky! But I think we can do it.

by Joel Golby
03 April 2017, 1:03pm

(Photo via _DJ_)

Sorry, lads, but I'm going to have to invoke the Telegraph. Salt the ground behind me once I'm done:

Religion has become the butt of workplace jokes as workers who would never make sexist or racist comments mock belief instead, a survey has found.

A study by ComRes found that up to a million workers may have faced harassment, discrimination or bullying because of their religion or belief.

The report's authors suggested that this tended to be in the form of "lower level exclusion" which people did not bother to report because they did not feel it was serious enough.

Respondents said they had been made to feel uncomfortable by colleagues making jokes about religious beliefs.

I was going to be all "well that doesn't sound right to me!" but then I remembered I'm literally an atheist and am probably in a very bad position to talk about discrimination in the workplace, especially religious discrimination. Erasing people's lived experiences by going, "Hold on though: I have never said to you 'god's a dickhead', have I? So what's the problem here?" is a pretty good way of actually making people feel insignificant and ignored, so if religious discrimination is the office bad banter du jour according to people who feel the sharp end of it, then by goodness (*1) we're going to move on the next paragraph in the full assumption of that.

So listen: we can't tell John from accounts that Jesus was a big virgin lips. And, in big 2017, we can't tell John from IT that "there are only two genders", either. We cannot tell John from HR our extremely outmoded views about homosexuality. Do you see how our office banter options are diminishing by the minute? On one hand: very good for everyone who has ever been bullied in the workplace. On the other hand: very bad for people whose only pleasure at work is bullying.

Anyway, I've tried to think of some things you can shout at your colleagues to assert office superiority over them, which leads to hierarchical domination, which in turn leads to you, in two or three years, getting a promotion over them that they were on paper more qualified for, and I've tried to think of some that don't lambast people for being LGBTQ, religious, fat or thin, or in any way from a different culture or race. It's tricky – it is tricky – but I think if we work together we all can do it. Onwards:

DO: QUESTION THEIR STATIONARY USE

I've found a really good way of getting inside someone's head in the office is to question their use of stationery. Remember stationery? It's a thing people used to write with before we all got computers and laptops and phones and also before we stopped caring how good we were at our jobs. Now when people use stationery, it's alien and weird. Capitalise on this. Use this for banter.

Example how: next time someone gets back from the stationery cupboard, just wander over to their desk a couple of minutes later and take a look. In this example, let's assume they've taken a pen:

YOU: Pen, is it?
THEM: Yeah. Just… just need to write on some forms.
YOU: [Pause, soto voce] Hmm. Pen boy.

Do you see how you are already inside their head? They cannot understand how having a pen in their possession is wrong, but you have made them think it is. Next time you go over there, lead with this: "Hey! How's the pen?" The time after that: bring them another pen. Get in early before work and lay pens out on their desk in the shape of their name. Slowly, you are eroding their sense of self and sense of worth, and replacing it with pen-liking. Soon they will switch to pencils. Soon they will begin to lose it and try to punch a photocopier. And that – that, my friends – that is some good, harmless, hatespeech-friendly office banter.


WATCH: 10 Questions You've Always Wanted to Ask a Gynaecologist 


DO: MAKE 'YOUR MUM' JOKES

I'm trying to teach my girlfriend's brother "your mum" jokes, because he's stepping up to secondary school next year and if he doesn't have the "your mum" joke edge on the other kids then he's going to get his head flushed down a toilet two to three times a term, maybe more. Here's one he tried on me yesterday:

Your mum is so fat, she's dead

So: he's getting there. But what we forget when we leave the playground behind is how powerful – yet cloaked in insignificance – the mum joke really is. Few of our mommas are so fat that, when they jump in the air, they get stuck (I think this is impossible, anyway: anyone so fat that their body mass can gloop around them like playdough and cushion beneath them when they jump necessarily cannot jump, because their legs have already caved in from the weight of themselves), so hitting someone with a really good "your mum" zinger doesn't really hurt. But then it also does hurt, because everyone loves their mum. You see how a good "your mum" joke is like a fine-edged sword: on one side, sharp; on the other side, blunt steel. Go into an HR meeting with your boss and a union representative and explain to them how you told someone in the PR department that "[their] mum smells so bad that Lambeth Council reclassified her as a condemned dump" and they'll laugh and shake your hand, because it's really unlikely that Lambeth Council will have actually done that. And once again: you have won at office banter.

DON'T: QUESTION OTHER PEOPLE'S LUNCH OPTIONS

Unless someone microwaves fish in the communal kitchen – which I personally feel is a fireable offence, enforced on a one-strike-and-you're-out system – then just don't talk about someone's lunch, ever. Four reasons:

  1. Really annoying to have to answer "what have you got there" while you are actually eating it; like, I'm reading a football website at my desk, mate – I'm clearly not here to chat about couscous; I've got my mouth full here pal, come on;
  2. Some people feel self-conscious eating for whatever reason and you leering over their dinner going "CUCUMBER, IS IT? WATCHING YOUR WEIGHT, ARE WE?" is rarely helpful w/ that;
  3. There's a really fine line between "taking an informed interest in someone else's culture and the food that is born from it" and 'getting really close to their Tupperware and going "SO WHAT'S A CUMIN SEED THEN?";
  4. I personally cannot chat shit about anyone else's lunch because I have the exact same thing every day – sourdough toast, avocado, salmon and chilli from the Waitrose Deli counter; you get your good fats and some protein and it's only £4 all-in – because I literally do not possess the brain power or organisational skills to either think of different lunch options or plan to bring my own from home. So how am I going to have a go? I live in salmon-avocado Groundhog Day. My entire existence is pathetic. Lunch is the only escape.

DO: LAMBAST THEIR WEAK TEA

Don't care what religion you are, you bring me some pissweak tea then I'm going in on it (*2). Here's the thing: in an office environment, it is rare you actually get to talk to your colleagues outside of i. that once-monthly trip to the pub where you, to overcome the horrid awkwardness of it all, rush through the first three pints of the evening in <40 minutes and end up racing through "merry" right the way through to "yelling pisshead", and embarrass yourself by dry-humping one colleague and loudly calling another a "fucking twat", or ii. the awkward bit where you go around an entire desk hub pointing out people in turn and asking what they would like on the tea run, taking people's green tea teabags that they keep in a special drawer in their desk, listening intently as someone describes the four steps necessary to make instant coffee the way they like it, that one woman who always, always says "just show the teabag to it. Just wave the teabag at the water" and who you just make normal tea for and says fuck all: in the office, the tea run is something close to holy. So when someone brings you some inadequate tea, call them out on it. It withers their shell-like sense of self-worth – when you say "this tea, god! What kind of teabag did you use in here?" you are actually saying "you – you, the fuckup – you fuck up so much you fucked up making tea, the simplest process in the world. Like: imagine you with a spreadsheet. Moron." 

Seriously: a very good way of undermining someone's very existence is to question their tea-making skills.

DO: GO AFTER HOW BAD THEY ARE AT THEIR JOB

This is a great one, because everyone has imposter syndrome – everyone! Everyone has it! Everyone is waiting for their manager to come over and put a single hand on their shoulder – you can feel the weight of the hand, now, when you think this scenario through, can't you; you can see the manager's wedding ring glinting just out of the peripheral and smell the hot, close scent of their perfume or cologne, just feel the single heavy hand on the shoulder, like a small but hefty bag of sand, the hand – feel the hand on the shoulder and hear a quiet, "Can I have a word?" and be walked to a small dark room where three people in suits who you have never seen before have big printouts of all your work Google history, and a running tally of cumulatively how late you have ever been, and a Powerpoint presentation that has your name on it and then the subtitle "And Why We've Realised You're Vastly Underqualified For Your Own Job". Everyone fears this. Everyone! Everyone shares this fear!

So we all fear we are seconds away from being found out: OK. How can we use this to our own insidiously banterous ends? We openly suggest that our colleagues are bad at their jobs. Like this: every time someone asks you for help with something, especially if it is an IT question, just say in a really obvious tone: "You don't know how to do that?" Then pause a second – just a second, before you wheel your chair over and go and fix it – and then say "OK". You have allowed the idea that you have found them out to slip inside their head. From there on it will wiggle and grow like a worm. From here you can only use this information to win.

Every time someone accidentally prints out a document in the wrong aspect ratio and does it across, like, eight sheets of paper, grab it off the printer and hold it up and say, "Did anyone leave these?" Every time someone says "umm" in a meeting, take the opportunity to steal the floor. Turn up earlier than them. Dress better, neater. Unplug their mouse and have them confused for the first 20 minutes of the day. Dominate them in every possible way. Is it still office banter if it actively promotes your career at the behest of theirs? I'm not sure any more, you know. I'm not sure. Keep this up for a couple of months, a couple of years. Keep being infallibly brilliant at your own job. Do it just to piss with other people. And before you know it, you are the boss and they are the underling, and the fist closes, and you have won at banter. And nobody had to get their feelings hurt along the way. Fin.

@joelgolby

*1 Notice how I did not say "God"!!!!!!

*2 I would like to clarify that the "it" in this fragment refers to your tea, not your god and/or faith

More about working in offices:

How to Deal with Every Type of Asshole in Your Office

Surprise! Your Office Job Is Slowly Killing You

Here's Everything That's Going to Happen in Your First Shitty Office Job

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