The eye-roller. The stop sign. The “Pffft” person. The guy who refuses to say “Yes, but…” and instead says “Let me stop you right there.” Or just: “No.”
Every workplace has one. Every workplace needs one. In a world of yes men, kiss-asses, “we are family” types and the like, there has to be someone who stands athwart the bridge to doom, shouting, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS.”
It takes a very certain personality type to pull it off, but there’s also an art to this. If you’re getting hauled into human resources for making people cry, you’re not succeeding. As much fun (for me) as it would be to have a big red stamp that says “NO!” or to show up at the 17th meeting in a week with a t-shirt that reads “I’m With Stupid” and arrows pointing in every direction, that sort of behavior is not exactly conducive to a functioning working environment.
As someone who’s been “that guy” for most of my adult life (and probably half my childhood), I think I can offer a few pointers to those interesting in filling this role.
Be the Only One
Hate to break it to you, but a workplace can’t function with too many cranks and curmudgeons. If you show up on the job and Bob in Accounting is already that guy, then you’re likely out of luck. In the immortal words of philosopher and workplace-optimization consultant Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Know your role and shut your mouth.” If you don’t, the host organism will reject you. (Off topic: Dwayne Johnson should do a Highlander remake.)
This is, however, situational. If you’re at a big company with many departments and some cushioning between you and Bob in Accounting, you might be able to get away with it. Or if you’re in a meeting and Bob in Accounting is out sick (likely hungover), then it may be safe. Someone has to be the voice of reason.
Be Funny, Angry or Both
Put another way, be entertaining. Embrace the character. The modern workplace is boring, a sea of sameness. Even with Facebook and computers and blogs and smartphones, people want a little variety. And there’s only so far all that electronic stimulation will take you. People pay 99 cents for the single but 50 bucks for a live performance, right? Being funny and or angry livens up the place. Being funny also helps people be a little more receptive to your message. Expressing anger — at the system, at the company, at the boss, at the incompetent — helps people feel like their frustrations are being voiced, you’re saying what they’re thinking.
Be Competent at Your Job
I’ve been lucky enough the past decade or so to work with smart, competent people. For the most part. Sometimes I’ll end up a meeting with people who aren’t my coworkers and I’m astounded at how far in life incompetent idiots can be. But that’s an argument for another day. We’re talking about being Mr. Bad Attitude. Before you go chucking stones, you need to have your house in order. If you’re bad at your job and still making wise-ass remarks, crapping on projects and spending meetings rolling your eyes at 1,000 RPMs, you’re not a crank, you’re just an asshole. There’s a difference. And if you don’t know that there’s a difference, you’re not right for the part. (Also, if you can’t handle being called an asshole, you’re not right for the part.)
Be a Man
This isn’t metaphorical. I’m not saying you should be forthright, that you should stand tall. I’m saying you should have a penis.
Obviously, all of the men all of the time can’t run around being office cranks.
But almost none of the women none of the time get away with it. There might be a couple of exceptions: academia, all-women offices. But even there, a negative woman is likely a woman fifteen minutes away from getting a talking to. In general, a man can be a Loveable Crank, a Kooky Curmudgeon, a Corporate Warrior, a Bullshit Detector. A woman on the other hand? Debbie Downer, Negative Nancy, Buzzkill Brigette, Crazy Katie, Ballbuster Betty.
Bob in Accounting blows up in a meeting or laughs at the very premise of the million-dollar project and that’s just Bob being Bob. Negative Nancy over there is just being a bitch.
Forget pay inequality and maternity leave and not having enough counter space in the restroom. To me, this is one of the biggest injustices in the modern workplace. Aside from ignoring phone calls from frantic PR people and drinking at your desk, being a crank is one of the few true pleasures in the office. If a person has the talents, the skill, he or she should be allowed to embrace the Bad Attitude role, regardless of gender or race. (But now that I think about it, you should probably be white if you’re going to try any of this.)