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Know your role

Eric Prister | Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The workplace. No matter your education level, everyone still must, at some point or another, experience the excitement and the annoyance of having to coexist and be productive with other people who may or may not share anything besides a genome with him or her.

One crucial aspect of the workplace is the pecking order. Unlike some areas of life, where anyone’s opinions are supposed to matter just as much everyone else’s, the workplace is founded on the fact that some people have more authority than others, which makes things run smoothly when tensions are high, as they inevitably will be, likely more often than not.

For anyone who has worked in some field where the pecking order is defined, there is nothing more excruciatingly annoying than someone who doesn’t understand the pecking order, or does and blatantly ignores it. Those in charge should be in charge, and those below should stay at those lowly depths until they are either promoted or fired, whichever comes first.

I’ve been the lowest person on the totem pole, and granted, it’s not the most enjoyable experience. But to succeed, you must learn to take the punishment that comes with the position, and survive until you are given some authority. And once your reach that higher position, nothing could be more frustrating that dealing with someone who doesn’t understand his particular role.

As an employee, you don’t constantly badger your superior for a promotion, no matter how certain you are that you deserve it. And you especially don’t threaten to quit unless you’re moved up in the world. That only works if you bring something to the table that few others can offer. And odds are, if you’re in one of these low level jobs, you don’t.

You also don’t make demands on someone who has done what you do, and has moved beyond it. They may have more talent, or simply more experience. Either way, they outrank you, and therefore owe you nothing.

Now, I haven’t ‘paid my dues’ or done anything that qualifies me as an expert on inter-office relations. Nor do I claim to be one. But I have been employed (multiple times, in fact) and understand that no matter who your superiors are, they deserve your respect, simply because they are your superiors. The only way to move up in the workplace is to earn respect, and you must show respect in order to earn it.

This may or may not apply in the real world of big business – I wouldn’t know. But it surely applies to the on-campus jobs that many of us hold. Fellow students probably outrank you, and you owe them the same respect that you owe any coworker. Some people would do well to remember that.