My theory on people @ work

March 23, 2016

SuperStarWhen we start working in a new job, and after all the brouhaha dies down, we soon realise who people really are; there’s nothing quite like a deadline to bring out the worst (or best) in people. Sometimes our first impressions are accurate but sometimes they’re wrong. So how can we really know people’s true colours.

From the moment we step foot into the office, we start gathering information about your fellow workers (also known as judging).

These judgements usually fall into two categories. Is this person friendly? And, is this person going to help me?

Two social neuroscientists (from NYU and Princeton) published a fascinating article on how we perceive others. For example, we think and feel differently about firefighters compared to the elderly. We also tend to subconsciously view the homeless or drug addicts in a de-humanised way. Even more interesting was how the pictures of the different types of people evoked different emotions (pride, envy, disgust). This phenomenon is known as clustering. We don’t have enough time to learn all the facts about a person’s life, or take the time to fully get to know them, and so make snap judgements. We pigeon-hole people.

Sometimes a person just needs to smile for us to think they’re friendly – that’s all it takes, a smile. How easy is that! Check out this great article on smiling more :)

I spoke to a successful University Professor and she said she always makes a point of leaving her office door open. She is there for the people in her team – literally, they just have to ask. By making herself available and promoting an open door policy, she helps to create an environment of psychological safety in her team. People feel comfortable around her because she makes it seem like she is never rushed for time (although in truth she probably has an impressive to-do list).

Putting people first is not always possible though (we are here to work after all!). But what we can do is start to understand how we interact with the people in our office and know that our opinion of them will influence how we feel about them.

Are people friendly, proactive and selfless? Or are people aloof and selfish?

There are four types of people in the office: the super-star, the cruiser, the unreliable, and the blatant-self-promoter.

4 types

The super-star is the person who get’s things done and is a pleasure to work with. Not only are they engaging, inspirational and influential, but they somehow manage to make great decisions consistently. Super-stars are the people you want on your team. They give more than they take and they do more than they talk. They also do all of this with style! Friendliness is free.

The cruiser is so happy just to be cruising along. As if they are literally on the Sea Princess cruising around New Zealand. They usually keep to themselves and rarely give up there time (except for a chat by the water cooler) but when you actually need something done, they delay. I haven’t quite figured out this category, I don’t know whether to be frustrated or impressed by the Cruiser. They fly under the radar and seem to talk the talk very well. But when it comes to delivering the goods, the cruiser is no-where to be found. The cruiser is not a team player.

The third category is the Unreliable. They always seem to be willing to help out but almost always fail to deliver. The Unreliables over-promise and under-deliver. However, they are different from the Cruiser because they give a lot of their time and energy to others. So don’t give up on them. All they need might be a helping hand, or perhaps for someone to give them a helping-hand. Or perhaps an encouraging word at the right time to spark some motivation. Remember, they are unreliable for a reason, we just have to find out why.

Finally, the Blatant-Self-Promoter (BSP) is self-centred. They are focused entirely on their own welfare. The BSPs talk the most in meetings (usually about themselves and how good they are). Talkers instead of doers, the BSP will always take more than they give. The BSP is also a ladder-climber, in other words they can be proactive, just as long as it benefits them. They are focused on the goal, and in that sense, I guess they deserve a little credit. But when the goal of the individual supersedes the goal of the team, that’s when cracks begin to occur. A selfish team member can infuse toxicity, subtle at first, but the effects can be disastrous. The BSP is happy to step over people to get to the top.

So which are you? Or maybe you know some BSPs or some Cruisers?

Take a look now at the underlying emotions you feel for people in these categories.

4 emotions



Keep this in mind next time you talk with this person – and perhaps remember that if people see you as a blatant-self-promoter you may pick up a hint of anger in their tone.

Let’s strive to be a Super-Star, that is if we want to be admired and respected  @ Work.

Yours sincerely







Anthony Grace


Notes & References
1. Image courtesy of FreePik. Thank-you. ‘‘>Designed by Freepik

2. Harris, L. T., & Fiske, S. T. (2009). Social neuroscience evidence for dehumanised perception. European review of social psychology, 20(1), 192-231.
3. Jonas Ellison (2015) Want to save the world? Smile more. 

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