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The Languages of "The Office" 147

Posted by kdawson
from the talk-amongst-yourselves dept.
Venkat Rao has followed up his analysis of office dynamics as reflected in The Office, which we discussed last month, with one titled Posturetalk, Powertalk, Babytalk and Gametalk. The Office is running a little thin of meaty examples to make his points in delineating the ways of PowerTalk — the language of the Sociopaths — so Rao reaches out to Goodfellas, Wall Street, The Boiler Room, and Making Jack Falcone. The entire analysis illuminates and is illuminated by a diagram of the disparate languages that Sociopaths, the Clueless, and Losers speak to each other and among themselves.
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The Languages of "The Office"

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  • What about clueless loser sociopaths? How do we^H^Hthey communicate? Or do they just use all of these different "languages" to talk to themselves?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Somebody who is all three is either schizophrenic or has multiple personality disorder- in which case they'd speak the language that best fits their current personality in that relationship.

      I say this because the clueless stereotype and the sociopath stereotype in the description are mutually exclusive; the first is honorable and goes beyond the call of duty without motivation or recompense, the second you can't get out of bed without offering a six digit salary.

      The losers are the people somewhere in the mi

      • I say this because the clueless stereotype and the sociopath stereotype in the description are mutually exclusive; the first is honorable and goes beyond the call of duty without motivation or recompense, the second you can't get out of bed without offering a six digit salary.

        You seem to have confused altruistic with clueless. Of course, a sociopath would likely consider an altruistic person to be clueless.

        • You seem to have confused altruistic with clueless. Of course, a sociopath would likely consider an altruistic person to be clueless.
           
          Not my definitions, but if you read the author's two main pages, that is EXACTLY right. The only difference between the clueless person and the loser person is altruism.

          • by rsw (70577)
            No it's not. A clueless person can be 100% convinced that they will get ahead as a result of their actions, and just be wrong about that fact. It's not altruism that makes them clueless, it's, well, cluelessness. So yes, an altruist is clueless, but not all clueless are altruists.
            • The parent post was describing the author's definitions. Your post seems to contradict itself. You say that it isn't altruism that makes them clueless, but then say that an altruist is clueless.

              An altruist just seeks to work for the betterment of the group, and can be quite aware that not everyone will be doing the same, and they CAN apply judgment with regard to people who would attempt to take advantage of them.

              There is nothing about being altruistic which requires you to be oblivious. Habitat For Hu

        • by Cylix (55374)

          And he would be right to do so!

    • What about clueless loser sociopaths? How do we^H^Hthey communicate? Or do they just use all of these different "languages" to talk to themselves?

      They burn down the building. Duh...

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Friday November 13, 2009 @11:48AM (#30087410)

    Didn't read TFA - just skimmed it a bit, but let me get this straight, some guy has analysized a bunch of fake conversations (that were created by the various shows' writers) in order to produce an explanation of real world office dynamics?

    Do I have that right?

    • by dave562 (969951) on Friday November 13, 2009 @11:51AM (#30087446) Journal

      Yes, you have it right. I made it about half way through the article before my eyes glazed over. I wonder what category the author puts himself in.

      • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Friday November 13, 2009 @12:04PM (#30087618) Homepage
        Idunno. What kind of a sociopath divides the entire world into the "clueless", the "losers", and the "sociopaths"?
      • by mounthood (993037)

        ... some guy has analysized a bunch of fake conversations (that were created by the various shows' writers) in order to produce an explanation of real world office dynamics?

        I wonder what category the author puts himself in.

        A.I. researcher.

      • by Skreems (598317)
        The names are poorly chosen, and aren't intended to mean what you'd usually think they mean. He's also drawing a connection from a couple of somewhat legitimate (at least not based on a comedy show) books on the subject. If you read far enough to get to the explanation of what the names are intended to mean, it's actually a relatively insightful analysis.

        Basically, he's grouping people like this:
        • clueless / loser : on the bad end of a poor economic exchange, i.e. getting less back from the company than t
    • Yeah. The original article was profound bullshit, and I imagine this one is too.
    • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Friday November 13, 2009 @12:25PM (#30087878)

      but... is the The Office [bbc.co.uk], or the US version?

      The original was unbelievably true to dysfunctional form. I Everyone I know says "yeah, I used to work for a guy like that". that's mainly what made it so popular. The US version... well, I believe they altered it to make it fit the US culture, mini series format, product placement and got a pit of writers in to add some jokes and make it run for half a dozen series. I'm sure the joke wore thin after the 1st.

      • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Friday November 13, 2009 @01:18PM (#30088482) Homepage Journal

        Actually, the US version fits US Business even better- and if that scares you, well, it should.

      • by icebraining (1313345) on Friday November 13, 2009 @01:21PM (#30088526) Homepage

        Mod parent up. The UK version is a real observation of life, much like The Royle Family, and its accuracy is what makes those shows great.

        Someone once said to me: "Steve Carell tries to be funny. Ricky Gervais acts like a guy trying to be funny".

        • by dbIII (701233)
          At times I wanted to turn off the TV and walk out of the room - not because it was bad but because it repeatedly hit the mark so well. Sometimes it was like watching a slow train wreck in progress.
          I still haven't seen any of the US version. Should I bother or will I be disappointed?
      • by nametaken (610866)

        He's using the US version.

        The US version used to fit US businesses pretty closely. It had the same effect you describe... we all thought of someone we'd worked for.

        Then the show got wildly over the top and all the characters became overblown versions of their quirky selves. It no-longer resembles reality.

        Someone wrote an article on this with an excellent breakdown of how ridiculous it's gotten, but I forget where it was. :(

    • by thesandtiger (819476) on Friday November 13, 2009 @12:41PM (#30088084)

      I know, right? It's almost as if he were pretending that the conversations in The Office were like, extreme examples of the things that people do, in fact, run into every day in office situations and then using them as exemplars, and that he also thought maybe more people have seen The Office than would be privy to the goings on at McManus, Kinsey & Schmidt Box & Container Manufacturers. What kind of insanity as this?

      It would have been MUCH better if he used really tame or low-key examples from some office in the middle of Podunk, Iowa that nobody has ever heard of, because that would just work so much better for an article intended for a nation/world-wide audience. EVERYONE knows how Jeanne in Accounts Payable is like this while Frank in Customer Service is like THAT. Cause that stuff is REAL, yo.

      Gotta keep it real.

      Does it also bug you that people study literature or historical accounts which may very well be somewhat fictionalized/idealized portrayals of real events, and attempt to use them to understand human interaction?

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        I know, right? It's almost as if he were pretending that the conversations in The Office were like, extreme examples of the things that people do, in fact, run into every day in office situations and then using them as exemplars, and that he also thought maybe more people have seen The Office than would be privy to the goings on at McManus, Kinsey & Schmidt Box & Container Manufacturers. What kind of insanity as this?

        Plus, having to do research into the psychological dynamic at real companies is a h

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      Didn't read TFA - just skimmed it a bit, but let me get this straight, some guy has analysized a bunch of fake conversations (that were created by the various shows' writers) in order to produce an explanation of real world office dynamics?

      It's amazing the extent to which some people will go just to be able to sit in front of a TV for hours on end.

      I remember doing a research paper in grad school on "storytelling in the Italian-American community based on the early films of Scorsese, DiPalma and Coppola". I

  • by C10H14N2 (640033)

    Seriously. Why the hell is this on Slashdot AT ALL much less on the front page? Even in whatever field this is attempting to masquerade, this isn't even craptastic. It's just crap.

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      Anything related to "The Office" is immediately beholden to all geeks, everywhere, for all time. Just look at how many Wikipedia articles are dedicated to minutia from The Office, and compare that to say Particle Physics or FOSS, and the answer becomes clear: The Office is today's 'Geek Thing you have to love' just like Science Fiction or board games, both of which have very little to do with present day computer science or IT.

      • And the silly thing is, I resemble that remark, even though I've never seen the office- the stereotype of The Loser fits my career to a T, just as the stereotype of the Sociopath fits every entrepreneur I've ever known.

        Oh yes, I've known quite a few of the clueless as well, but most of them have been stop-lossed overseas in the last 10 years.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by flydpnkrtn (114575)
          Wow, nice subtle dig at the military there... if that's what you were going for... Personally I'm proud to have served those 5 years, and I'm going to college full time for free... in fact I actually make a little bit of money off the GI Bill
          • Re:This is crap. (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Friday November 13, 2009 @02:24PM (#30089552) Homepage Journal

            Not meant to be a dig at the military- if anything, I have great respect for those willing to go above and beyond the "bare necessity" that I do.

            In fact, I'd say that the country *owes* a full retirement to anybody who has ever been in combat- that "little bit of money off the GI Bill" is an example of the sociopaths politicians disrespecting the value of your service. The reason this stereotype calls you clueless is because you don't realize just how little they gave you in return for you risking your life.

            But they're definitely an example of the "clueless"- because that's what the clueless do; risk their lives in return for a "little bit of money off the GI Bill".

            • But they're definitely an example of the "clueless"- because that's what the clueless do; risk their lives in return for a "little bit of money off the GI Bill".

              That assumes your desire was to maximize material possessions. One of the many reasons so many people in the military are admirable are they do know it's a ripoff, profit-wise. It's more altruistic than quid pro quo.

              • That assumes your desire was to maximize material possessions.

                Which of course is the desire of the sociopath. And in fact the whole point of "The Office" and the working world to begin with.

                One of the many reasons so many people in the military are admirable are they do know it's a ripoff, profit-wise. It's more altruistic than quid pro quo.

                EXACTLY- and altruism in the system from the article (and by the way, an entire branch of economics, the Austrian school of thought),

            • by pluther (647209)

              That "little bit of money of the GI Bill" is on *top* of full tuition being paid for, including books and living allowance.

              It's actually a pretty decent deal. It's what my roommate is doing right now as well.

              It also includes a good health plan for life (for himself and four children he pays half of what I pay for just myself, and doesn't lose it if he switches jobs).

              There's also some pretty attractive terms for home purchase in there as well.

              It could, and probably should, be better, but it's not a total "s

              • It could, and probably should, be better, but it's not a total "screw you" to those who've served anymore.
                 
                It's pretty similar though to the deal private industry gives, when you consider private industry people don't get shot at. BOTH are significantly less than a person would make if they could market themselves and/or own their own means of production (be in a co-op).

              • Well... the "Post 9/11 GI Bill" only makes sense if you're going to a traditional brick-and-mortar school. Then you get full tuition paid for (up to the most expensive state college) and the extra money for books. I think it was a good chunk of change too if I remember...

                However...if you're going to an online school (as I am) you only get your tuition paid for, so for me it makes more sense to stick with the older GI Bill.
            • by TheCarp (96830)

              > But they're definitely an example of the "clueless"- because that's what the clueless do; risk their lives in
              > return for a "little bit of money off the GI Bill".

              Actually, those are the more sane ones.

              The truely clueless are the ones who believe that risking their lives at the whims of congress actually protects their fellow citizens and country. Its the ability to allow "whatever congress and the president says" to become "protecting my country" that makes for the truely clueless.

              Those who are will

    • by EkriirkE (1075937)
      kdawson
    • i have to agree with you on this, i think these types of stories should be allowed to vote on and never allow that person to post again

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday November 13, 2009 @11:54AM (#30087500)

    There's certainly layers of nuance and meaning that can get heaped onto human communication. As an aspie geek, it's very easy for me to get what was literally said and completely blow past the subtext. "What's wrong?" "Nothing." "Ok! I'll be on my way." Nooo, that's the nothing that means there's something and I'm supposed to fish.

    However, the author really starts heaping on the layers of meaning in his examples. It reminds me of the conference scenes from Dune where whole conversations are intuited from the lifting of an eyebrow. "I knew it, he knew it, he knew I knew he knew it, but he didn't realize I knew he knew I knew he knew it. The twitching of my pinkie finger drew his attention away from my own eyebrow thus concealing my knowledge." Puts me in mind of great bits of comedy where sophisticated and devious characters are speaking obliquely around a topic of great significance, doing so in such a way that they soon realize they're not entirely sure if they're both having the same conversation.

    • Nooo, that's the nothing that means there's something and I'm supposed to fish.

      A real man says whats on his mind. He also doesn't fish. If someone is afraid to speak their mind, they are lower status than you, and should be ignored. Do not feel guilty about being a real man.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by LehiNephi (695428)
        And just like he did, you entirely missed the underlying meaning. The other party in that not-so-hypothetical conversation isn't a real man, precisely because that other party is female.
    • by Abreu (173023)

      "What's wrong?" "Nothing." "Ok! I'll be on my way." Nooo, that's the nothing that means there's something and I'm supposed to fish.

      Bazinga!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by thesandtiger (819476)

      The thing is, there really IS a whole lot of stuff to human interactions. Not quite as absurd as portrayed by that bit of Dune, but it can be psychotically nuanced, especially in situations where people have (internal) goals that are often in conflict (i.e. "tell your boss to fuck off" vs. "I need to keep this job" vs. "I don't want to be hassled" vs. "I don't want to be a doormat" vs. "I don't want my co-workers to think I'm unstable/unreliable" vs. "I don't want them to think I'm a pushover, either" etc.)

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The coworker has integrated non-lexical elements into the language and you have not.

      Imagine if you were talking to a computer program that took each of your words and interpreted each word according to the first definition that appears in the dictionary for that word. So, you tell the program, "I feel well," and the program interprets "well" as a well that you fetch water from. The program understands you lexically, but not contextually. The program is using a subset of the language that you are using.

      • by gknoy (899301)

        I believe that the grandparent is aware of this ... just as he is aware that he has trouble noticing those non-verbal signals and recognizing their meaning.

  • that these stereotypes of behavior are aspects of everyone's personality, including yours

    i would have hoped that people would have realized thinking about the world in this cliquish way went out of fashion in high school. simply because you realized in high school (or should have realized) that people aren't cartoonish cardboard cut-outs of one dimensional behavior

    show me someone who is supposedly dead center for being, say, the "sociopath", and i'll show you their empathetic qualities. now also show me someone who is supposedly far removed from being the "sociopath" and i'll show you the sociopathic side to their personality

    it makes for good television, but real people are a lot more complex than this derivative reductionist thinking that sells people short. its entertaining, but in real life, its brutalizing to your social interaction

    thinking about people this way only hurts you, in the end, by hobbling you with a poor model of human thinking and interaction. such that you reduce the richness of your own social experience up front before you even have a chance, because your mentality has overly simplified the people around you. you sell them short, and in turn, you only wind up selling yourself short

    in other words, you've become the source of the problem: i would call a person who uses these stereotypes as a way of thinking about people around them the only truly one-dimensional stereotype that has a ring of truth: "the feckless tool"

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I too once thought as you do. Then I met WAY more people than I ever wanted to. These sterotypes *DO* exist. They even strive to live up to the expectation of the sterotype. They are actually proud of the 'highs' and 'lows' of each one. They embrace it.

      Are they totaly 1 dimensional? No. But they do not stray far from it. I can think of at least 5 people I have met (out of hundreds) that exhibit 1 dimensional behavior.

      They do exist. Some have learned to hide it as they know what they do is somehow '

      • so you've had 5 minute conversations with a bunch of people you didn't really want to talk to. and based on that, you think this permits you to give them heavy condemning labels

        no one is one dimensional

        but if you still want to make the case that someone out there is one dimensional, i nominate you, based on the shallowness of what you've just written

        • by TheCarp (96830)

          Actually....

          I mostly agree but, I have met at least one counterexample, a true sociopath. Not just met, but actually lived with him.

          He was really an excellent liar, and to that end, was very one dimensional in his underlying purpose... it was all about him and what he wanted. However, so much so that he was willing to lie and act to get what he wanted. He wasn't just two faced, he was three and four faced. He would act one way, then, in private, "drop the act" and seem genuine and sincere.... except... it w

    • that these stereotypes of behavior are aspects of everyone's personality, including yours

      Ditto for the Simpsons, and Family Guy and several other shows that are ridiculously more insightful into the human condition than The Office.

    • True enough, as far as it goes. But these three stereotypes are mutually exclusive when it comes to the cut-down face we show at work in our careers, and eventually, one of the three will take over your career and there is NOTHING you can do about it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      2nd response: the reason there's nothing you can do about it.

      The skills it takes to be a sociopath, be clueless, be a loser (and I think the original author must be a sociopath for choosing these labels) in the workplace are so mutually exclusive that one can't possibly be good at all three.

      The sociopath is the ultimate salesman- his aim is to get the most reward for the least effort. I disagree with the author that he's the guy making the organization work despite itself- he's more a parasite on everybody

      • And there's not a damned thing you can do about it, because your talents are what they are and you can't change them.

        I suppose I am supposed to remember this the next time I want to learn a new instrument? Or, perhaps I should tell my wrists and forearms to forget the muscle memory I instilled in them half way through high school, when I started playing the drums, so that my talents will never change because trying to do so was, in fact, hopeless.

        I see where you are coming from for the majority of your post, but that last sentence needs to be lopped off maliciously my friend. You can change your talents your entire l

    • You've got a point, but on the other hand I think you've never gotten to know a sociopath well.  I've know two very well, and I can assure you--no empathy.  Just ain't there.
  • I can't be bothered to read the entire article before saying this.

    I don't claim to not stereotype at all - it's an outgroup homogenity bias that all of us have built into us. But I've learnt not to classify people into categories, rather assign qualities to each person I meet instead. I find that a much more natural order of thought in my head, but almost useless to compare notes with.

    At least this way my vocabulary-of-people is more like words instead of just individual alphabets (yeah, you sound like

  • Seriously, if you're going to post this drivel, at least acknowledge the superiority of Ricky Gervais' version. I'm an American, and even I resent it when people assume that "The Office" is synonymous with the Greg Daniels version.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Look, I don't really care which one is better, but one is certainly more relevant. And that's the one that is currently on the air and has produced seven times more episodes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Just because there's a lot of crap, doesn't make it good.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, how outrageous, Americans assuming that "The Office" means the version shown on American television.

    • by blogan (84463)

      We'll just refer to the one that lasted more than 2 seasons.

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        We'll just refer to the one that lasted more than 2 seasons.

        See, that's the difference between the Brits and Americans. The Brits know when to end something good. They could easily have made tons more series/seasons of the BBC Office, but they know that it's better to end things on a high note instead of Jumping the Shark (a largely American phenomenon, BTW). So the British series was brief, but every single episode is good. Whereas the American show is in what, their 6th season (of 20 something episode
      • by Kryis (947024)
        It only "lasted" 2 seasons because the writers felt they would just be redoing the same thing over again if they did any more, instead of milking it for another 20 seasons until everyone got fed up with it. Instead of running the series in to the ground, they stopped while the idea was still funny.
    • by mevets (322601)

      I think to appeal to the nAmerican wit, they had to cram 2 seasons worth of material into 7. Both are hilarious. I think the original offends nAmerican sensibilities because it is too unforgiving.

      I hope he doesn't do an nAmerican version of Extras; it was tuned to perfection, and does a great job of lampooning the way The Office had to be tamed for general consumption.

      • by elrous0 (869638) *
        The American version does have its moments, but they're very diluted. And it's nowhere NEAR as brutally hilarious or apologetically black as the original. Thanks to it being on network TV, there can never be a moment as laugh-out-loud, jaw-droppingly funny as David Brent yelling "I think there's been a rape up there!" in the middle of that training session.
  • Can we get a mirror. The entire domain has been /.'ed to hell

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 13, 2009 @12:30PM (#30087916)

    The Office and other Workplace fiction are written by people who have never worked in a real world workplace, or if they have it was merely as a stopping point for them.

    Thus they don't know a thing about it...but...they're creating an entertaining fiction. To acurately reproduce workplace interaction would be very boring TV. So they're doing what they need to do...but there's no reason to try and interpret that dialogue as if it were real.

    • by Acer500 (846698)
      I haven't watched any of these fictions, but offices can be wildly entertaining :) - there IS a lot going on, especially the more bureaucratic ones - probably startups aren 't this way, but as I've worked in the financial industry, it is quite odd (I guess it's a function of more free time :) )
    • by westlake (615356)

      The Office and other Workplace fiction are written by people who have never worked in a real world workplace, or if they have it was merely as a stopping point for them.

      The studio is real world.

      The Pixar feature will have a budget of $180 million. It will be four years in production and employ 400 people. That is as real as it gets.

      Writers often work in teams.

      Ideally every story problem - every legal and technical and budgetary problem - will be solved before you go into production.

      It doesn't always work o

    • by drsquare (530038)

      Thus they don't know a thing about it...but...they're creating an entertaining fiction. To acurately reproduce workplace interaction would be very boring TV. So they're doing what they need to do...but there's no reason to try and interpret that dialogue as if it were real.

      I wouldn't agree with that, The Office (the UK version at least, not the US sitcom), is a pretty accurate reproduction of a work place. Ricky Gervais wouldn't have been able to write that unless he had experience of such a place.

      The dialo

      • I wouldn't agree with that, The Office (the UK version at least, not the US sitcom), is a pretty accurate reproduction of a work place. Ricky Gervais wouldn't have been able to write that unless he had experience of such a place.

        I guess that was sometime after he was doing this. [youtube.com]
  • It has been a way for powerless losers to get back at uppity assholes. Doesn't work quite so well with group-think delivery, though.
  • Cache and comments (Score:2, Insightful)

    by meustrus (1588597)
    The article seems to be inaccessible, so here's a link to the Google Cache (text-only version) [74.125.95.132]

    My response to what people have said here so far (and I haven't read any of the article yet) is that this is not social theory, it's business theory. It's not supposed to define how you relate to people or how you perceive them. It's intended as an analysis of business dynamics, which is to say it's about how workers in different positions respond to their position and the position of those around them. From wha
  • I always thought of it as a poor man's Glengarry Glen Ross

    And considering that my pick is an all-male flick, which describes most of the close-quarter workplaces we're accustomed to, feel free to chime in.

  • by XDirtypunkX (1290358) on Friday November 13, 2009 @02:37PM (#30089756)

    Sociopaths (that is, people with a brand of Antisocial Personality Disorder that have a pathological failure at true interaction with society) is probably not the correct term for the people at the top. What these people actually have is more likely Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Narciopaths?

      • Yeah, what we need is a good term for people who "define themselves by the position they're in because they have a damaged identity and can only value themselves because of the worth placed on their position by others and because of this believe that only position is truly important".

        • by natehoy (1608657)

          "Managerial Staff"?
          "Executives"?

          "The people who are going to can my ass if they ever read this and realize it's me?"

          (sorry, boss)

  • by PJ6 (1151747)
    Let's translate the diagram into a logical statement:

    if you're not a sociopath, you are either clueless or a loser

    I don't think the author fully understands what a sociopath is.
  • ever heared of LaTeX + Gastex + Jastex?
  • "Only a schmuck works for somebody else."

To understand a program you must become both the machine and the program.

Working...