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Empowerment in the Workplace:
Making the Office A Nicer Place to Be

by LaToya Prater, Ph.D., D.D.S., KCD

When people refer to "empowerment" in the workplace, they generally mean the concept of arming workers with the knowledge and resources to take control of their own theoretical "helm" and do a better job by doing it themselves, instead of relying on a superior.

The thing I have found most empowering in the workplace is the use of unabashed, sheer obnoxious honesty.

Too many people try to hide behind things like "diplomacy" and "tolerance" in the office, which can lead to gross miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Below are some scenarios and suggestions for turning "problems" into "opportunities." And don't worry. You're not going to get fired. Especially if you're a woman, person of color or fall into any other "minority" group.

Scenario: A co-worker has worked on a project you assigned them. They come to you with a final "draft," and you think it's crap. You:

a. Politely point out what you like about the piece, but make some "suggestions" for changes, and ask if they wouldn't mind drafting a few alternative options.

b. Take the time to consider their point of view, and try to look at the piece with an open mind - maybe their interpretation has more value than you thought.

c. Tell them it's crap, tell them to do it over and have it back to you in a ridiculously short amount of time. When they look at you incredulously, explain the short turnaround is punishment for not listening and following directions the first time. Be sure to follow up with an e-mail in ALL CAPS and a bold red font spelling out the original assignment so they don't fuck it up again.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you the answer is "c". Anything else, and it could take until the end of the damn fiscal year to finish the project.

Scenario: You hear several co-workers standing outside your cubicle telling off-color racial jokes. You know that the new intern, a female of color, is within earshot, and that the jokes slur both her sex and race. The boss's office is also nearby. You:

a. Beckon one of the jokesters quietly into your cubicle, point toward the new intern, and make it clear (but not audible) that they should stop their carrying on, as it may be offensive to others in the office.

b. Step out into the group and say loudly "Kind sirs! Your language and demeanor may be perceived as highly offensive by others. In the spirit of diversity, inclusiveness and respect, please desist immediately from your folly!" Then march haughtily back into your cubicle, the courageous hero/heroine of the day.

c. Join the group immediately, guffawing the loudest and contributing the nastiest joke yet.

Ah. This one's a little tricky. Some of you may be tempted to select "b", not because you really give a rat's ass about offending anyone, but because of the strong temptation to kiss managerial ass. DO NOT BE SWAYED. The correct selection is "c". People of color or other minority status find it highly offensive to be treated "specially." They are used to white supremacy, and have come to expect it. A LACK of racism or other offensive, exclusive language is what really makes people feel uncomfortable.

Scenario: Your boss routinely walks in on you surfing the Internet and generally wasting company time shopping, looking at ESPN, downloading goofy crap to forward to your friends or reading KCDrinker. About the fifth time this happens, your boss asks what you are doing. You:

a. Explain that you frequently surf various web sites to learn how other companies are marketing/positioning themselves in their respective fields. Tell him/her you are taking extra classes in web marketing outside of work, because you feel it could help you in your own job, or in future jobs you aspire to move up to within the company.

b. Hope your ninja-like reflexes activated in just enough time to snap the window closed (revealing the same old Word document behind it you open when you want to appear to be doing work), and he/she didn't see you were checking out maturenakedfatbroadseatingcake.com.

c. Don't turn around. Simply wave your hand at him/her and say "Can you come back later? I'm busy shopping/reading/downloading porn right now. I'd rather talk to you when I can give you my full attention."

The answer is "c". Although "a" is sneaky, it's bullshit and most people know it. You must take full ownership of your "bad" behavior, because it's only bad if you look guilty. Let the world know you are proud of your slacking, and see nothing wrong with it. In addition, you have shown your boss respect by your willingness to give him/her your full attention when you're not busy with more important things. You'd be surprised how the people around you will respect your honesty and balls-to-the-wall laziness, and back the fuck off.

Scenario: You frequently get cornered at the copier, coffee pot, water cooler, etc. by Helen, an elderly lady that has been working as an administrative professional in your office for 35 years. You know that Helen lives alone, as her husband died two years ago, and has tried to fill the lonely void with multiple cats. She takes up large amounts of your time talking about her cats and their antics, and you don't know how to get away. You:

a. Designate 10-15 minutes of your day to talk to this woman and bring some light into her life. Share stories about your dog, and listen to at least three cat stories. After all, what're a few minutes? Someday you might be grateful if someone did the same for you.

b. Frequently feign coughing fits, seizures, heart failure or suddenly remembered meetings to escape the unwanted litany of "Fluffy shat in my slippers, isn't that sweet?" stories.

c. Take Helen by the shoulders, make direct eye contact and say loudly "Helen, shut the hell up about your goddamn cats already. Not everyone likes cats, and I know NO ONE likes your stories. Go out and play Bingo, stay home and drink, do something, but STOP wasting your own and others' precious on-the-job time - it's bad for productivity and for morale."

Another no-brainer. Clearly, the answer is "c". It is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. If she can remember what her cat was wearing at its 2nd birthday party, she can damn well remember the valuable advice you have just enlightened her with. She will probably even thank you in her suicide note.

These are just a few examples of how to put the "fun" in "workplace". And the best part is, it's FREE. Brutal honesty doesn't cost a dime!*

* lawsuits notwithstanding

- www.KCDrinker.com - 2004

LaToya "GfV" Prater  is a free-lance drinker and writer. A native of New Jersey, she got hammered in Hoboken a few years back and woke up in Kansas City tied to the passenger seat of a '77 El Dorado with Gavin McLeod wearing nothing but Fred Grandy. Now a resident of KC, Mo., Prater indulges her overwhelming addiction to editing other people’s copy to earn a paycheck and spends the rest of her time focusing on her three dearest passions: Alcohol, writing fiction, and acting (Japanese balloon fetish porn).


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