Thursday, June 7, 2012

American Business English - Learn How to Name Your Colleagues!

A Short Field Guide to American Workers (Part One)

Your American colleagues and co-workers ... you gotta love 'em.*  Or not. If not, you can have lots of fun figuring out how to categorize them. Here are a few types of office workers that are universal (at least in the USA -- maybe other countries have their own typical office worker types): 

The "Naysayer" - image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

The naysayer - the person who thinks nothing is ever possible ... ever. The one who is quick with the reasons why something will not work -- without have any creative suggestions for how to solve a problem. Favorite sentence starters for the naysayer:
- "That won't work because ..."
- "We tried that a few years ago and ..."
- "There's just one thing ..."
- "No, that'll never fly." (note: "fly" = work)

The nitpicker - the person who finds fault or problems with everything. The reason they find problems with everything is that they look hard for them! No problem is too small to identify and complain about! This word is featured in the book Speak Better Business English and Make More Money. Its origin comes from picking nits out of hair or fur (nits are the little eggs of parasitic insects).

The "Rambler" - image courtesy off the Wall Street Journal 
The rambler - this is the person in the office who does not know when to stop talking. Blah, blah, blah, as we say in American English, to express that someone is talking for too long. We can also say, "He goes on and on." This person seems to get most active when you're either trying to head out for your lunch break, or trying to leave your office by 5 p.m. Most of the information provided by the Rambler is: (a) stuff you either already know (perhaps because he's told you before, then forgot) or (b) you don't really care about. Ramblers I've known are not sensitive to small cues or body language. So they keep talking, even as you get up from your office chair and head for the door.

The control freak - this person spends every moment trying to control everybody else. How do they get their own work done? They don't. They think of it as their job to control what you and everybody else is doing. Think you're going to make a quick trip to the bathroom without anybody noticing? Think again!

The micro-manager - a relative of the nitpicker (see above). No tiny detail is too small for this person to worry about. She'll spend hours re-ordering the lists in your PowerPoint. He or she manages every single detail. The people working for her/him will often start to feel dumb, powerless, and resentful. But most micro-managers won't pick up on those feelings.

The bad apple - this is the person in the office who never should have been offered a job. Sometimes he or she is also called the "rotten apple." They create trouble everywhere. They talk behind people's backs and stir up trouble. They are the basis for the proverb: "One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch." In other words, this person can turn other people in the office -- good people -- into bad ones (by spoiling their morale, creating a bad atmosphere, etc). I don't know how such a wholesome fruit as the apple got to be part of this negative expression!

* you gotta love 'em - this American English expression means just the opposite of what you might think: you will NOT love them because they are annoying. So it is used mainly in an ironic way.

P.S. We've just learned of a company in the state of Utah, USA that sells coffee mugs based on annoying personality types! You know the old saying: "Only in America!" They've got a fine list of annoying personality types along with some funny pictures. Check it out here if you want a good laugh.

1 comment:

English at Work said...

What a coincidence! I just posted a very similar activity (literally an hour ago) about annoying coworkers on my ESL blog. Even the layout is similar, although we touched on different vocabulary. I'm going to update my post by linking to yours as I think my readers/students would enjoy this.