I read a lot of stuff about how to get ahead at work, about how to be a team player or get promoted. And that’s all well and good if you’re in the field you want to be in and generally happy about what you do. But I want to put something out there more along the lines of How to Eke By or How to Barely Keep Receiving a Paycheck. You know, advice for the many, many people out there who have jobs that they aren’t happy with, jobs that are condescending, jobs that feel like sitting in waiting room for eight hours a day, hoping for something better.

In a lot of ways, I like my job. It pays the rent, it doesn’t tire me out, and I have a wonderful manager who understands me. But in a lot of other ways my job is slowly killing my soul. I waste time and energy on things I don’t care about, I sit on my ass in a box all day, and I get an unhealthy, warped idea of what money is supposed to mean to me.

Over the year or so that I’ve worked this office job, though, I think I’ve picked up on a lot of great ways to slide by. It’s a pretty complicated formula involving keeping your boss content, avoiding social contact, and being utterly invisible to middle management. It’s a delicate mixture of passive-aggression and gold old regular aggression.

Today’s advice concerns the Evil Administrative Assistant in my office. As you can tell, we don’t really get along and never have. He brings passive aggressiveness to heights that even I find frightening and is also a bit anal retentive. He tends to pick favorites and hold grudges. He’s my manger’s manager’s assistant, which, in his warped mind, makes him one rung higher on the ladder, even though we are both assistants, also known as Doers of Menial Tasks.

He orders around the marketing assistants and I often get emails from him asking me to tidy my office or tidy my mangers office or the tidy marketing supply rooms (I am organized but certainly not tidy). He’s one of those people who will “suggest” you do a certain list of things and then get angry if you don’t act on his “suggestions.” Then he’ll “suggest” you take his suggestions. And so on.

He’s also the guy who is charge of ordering office supplies and filling out technology forms for the group, and he takes these lame responsibilities very seriously — in a Dwight-like manner. I once went weeks without packing tape, perhaps because I didn’t want to small talk with him about musicals.

(Aside: EAA isn’t as bad as I’m making him out to be. He’s just someone in my office who tells me to do things, which I hate. To tell the truth, I’m not exactly a joy to work with either, as one might imagine. He’s really mostly a normal guy with good intentions. His biggest trespass is simply having to work with me.)

Now, my goals in this situation are to A) avoid speaking with the Evil Administrative Assistant face to face at all costs and B) avoid tidying anything, ever, and, even more importantly C) avoid being asked to tidy things, even if they are only suggestions.

So. A few weeks ago I devised a plan based on simple stimulus/response conditioning. Every time I needed EAA to complete a task for me (order boxes, fill out a report, sign something) I held onto it, waiting patiently. Then, as soon as I received a ridiculous request from EAA to tidy something (or not wear ripped jeans or to be civil to the new person “for at least a week”), I would immediately barrage him with all of my saved up requests at once – just like ringing a little bell.

It’s really as simple as making a dog drool: I connected in EAA’s mind emailing a task to me with his having to do several tasks for me. I do the same thing to him when he drops by my cube with “suggestions.” He’ll suggest that I look for a new place to keep my supplements and I jump on him with a suggestion to clean out the marketing closet around the corner. It’s Psychology 101, and this time I’m not cutting to play video games.

Sure, I’m using punishment as a conditioning behavior instead of reward, which we learned in Psych 101 was a bad way to condition children. But this guy isn’t a child, he’s a gown (evil) man. And, dear reader, I haven’t had to tidy anything in weeks. Let’s just hope I don’t run out of packing tape.

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