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Trouble brews over office politics

recruitment : jobspot

'Want a cup of tea?' Five words that influence and register the social well-being of office, studio, workshop or department to more devastating effect than any directorial edict or memo.

Directed at a cluster of colleagues, but omitting to include one name, they may operate as a verbal weapon: 'I'm prepared to make X and Y a cup of tea today, but not you.' In passive mode, the refusal of the proffered cup may be used or interpreted as a gesture of hostility: 'I'm not going to accept a cup of tea from you. I'll make my own, thanks, ' is a declaration of war.

As a medium for diplomacy, the cuppa may set up a breakout meeting: 'Tea?', meaning 'Let's have a little private discussion/gossip over the humming kettle.' It may be part of a mating ritual: male staff member watches female staff member head for teapoint and promptly joins her. This tactic may also mark less happy encounters, with boss moving in on underling to suggest 'setting a time to have a few words', which does not spell good news for underling. Too many tea offers suggests you're a creep, too few you're just lazy.

But the crucial cuppa is that first one of the day. Who opts to do the honours? When to speak up? What tone to adopt? Too jaunty will jar frayed nerves and sour the rest of the day; too low-key will strike a down-beat note from which the next eight hours may never recover. It is a teasing problem.

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