Photo: Sarah Cooper
Photo: Sarah Cooper


How to sound like a genius at work

Or, at the very least, sound like you know what "circle back" means

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

When you're young – and, by "young", I mean, like, 21 – you have this idea that offices, no matter how boring they appear on TV, are pretty straightforward places. You go through your late teens indignantly waving your nose in the air, telling everyone how you "simply couldn't" survive in an environment as dull and un-stimulating as an office, insisting that you will instead find your fortune teaching English to Japanese teenagers in Tokyo. Eventually, however, you cave. You get a job temping for a legal firm, or as a receptionist, or as an intern, and it's then that you finally realise: offices make no sense. 

Singing happy birthday to a person while they sit at their desk and will themselves out of existence makes no sense. Emailing someone when they sit next to you makes no sense. And office talk makes no bloody sense. 

The first time I had no clue what someone was saying to me in an office environment, I was the shameful age of 23. My new boss asked me to "get a slide together" showing a brand's strengths and weaknesses. I sat at my desk, paralysed by fear. What is a slide? What does it slide into? What should it slide out of? When I "get" a slide "together", what am I composing it from? Other bits of slide? I eventually drew a graph on Microsoft Paint, printed it out and put it on her desk. She didn't comment. 

This happens a lot, as far as I can tell. "I have gone through the same process of bafflement and enlightenment every time anyone has used 'EOP', 'COP' and 'COB' on an email," says Lauren Bravo. "The first time I saw EOP I thought it was a cheery Yorkshire colloquialism." Stacey Duguid was once asked for "suggs" and assumed that it was referring to the lead singer of Madness. 

Which is why the author and artist Sarah Cooper is providing a valuable service. Her book, 100 Tricks To Appear Smart In Meetings, is a glossary for every office-ism that makes absolutely no sense but you will find yourself saying over the course of your career anyway. 

I have, I'm pretty certain, said every single word on this list. The passive agressive "happy to discuss this further". The absolute daggers behind the statement "thanks for bringing that up". And Cooper doesn't stop there either: pass-agg office talk is her Mastermind subject. She goes deep, man. 

The thing I love about this one is the stupid triangle phone that absolutely everyone who has worked in an office has had to deal with. 

If you can do maths in your head, always, always make the most of it. I can't do maths in my head, so I generally just repeat whatever the person in power just said, with a knowing squint. 

I have had this book sitting on my desk for over a week now and, even though it's mostly a comedy book, I can't help but think how legitimately useful I would have found it in my early twenties. If there is someone who has just graduated uni or has recently entered the workforce, for the love of God, buy it for them. Stick it in their stocking. And "circle back" later to see if they enjoyed it. 


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women at work

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