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Administrative Magic Tricks

Updated on September 1, 2017
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I've learned a lot of lessons during my time in offices, so here are some valuable words of advice.


I have held various administrative jobs for at least 20 years, taking on all sorts of responsibilities, and I can keep an office organized at fifty paces. So I’d like to share a few tips for organization as well as credibility, respect, communication, and other workplace complexities. All these methods have been tested and they work, not just in theory but in everyday practice.

Change your voice

No, not your vocal range – your vocal tone. Sometimes a coworker can derail a project, generate unnecessary work for you, or otherwise do something that creates a bad environment. During those times, instead of allowing irritation to show in your voice, employ your “pass-the-butter” voice when responding. This is the same non-threatening tone as used to ask for butter at the table. It’s less likely to sound defensive... and make the situation worse.

Ask yourself why you care

What is it that bugs you about your office nemesis, and why exactly do you care, anyway? Figure these out, and it will help: you will gain insight about that person by determining what reward they receive by behaving in manners that affect you, and ignoring the behaviors that drive you up the wall will be easier.

You’ll find it’s more practical to put your energy into suggesting or modeling behaviors for these people to start, rather than behaviors you may want them to stop. It’s possible to adjust situations over time to reduce whatever reward that person receives, and they will probably not notice the change. With time and patience it can work, without being detrimental to others. Machiavellian or even Pavlovian? Maybe… but with a twist.

Check your unconscious cues

People can tell when someone else is feeling weak or uncertain. So, figure out what unconscious cues you are sending. I've learned to recognize when I am about to hunch over my desk and appear less than confident. If I take up more space instead (i.e. standing or sitting straighter), people assume I am more in control of myself and my situation. This is most useful to remember when you are put into a situation unwittingly and may be unsure what is expected of you.

Think about the boss

Be sensitive to your manager’s (or supervisor's or director's) ultimate responsibility. If you don’t know what that responsibility is, ask! He or she may not give you all the details, but it will be far easier to determine the best way to move forward by knowing the point of the project.

Feel the fear… and do it anyway

This is an especially useful tip, because who doesn’t feel nervous or stressed out occasionally? On those occasions when there is no choice for you except to be in stressful situations, allow yourself to be nervous for a short period of time, and then get over it. Rise to the challenge, allow your skills to showcase themselves, and you never know – you could get a fabulous compliment.

Here's an example: at one of the first board meetings I attended as scribe, I almost fell off my chair when I received a public compliment about meeting minutes I had carefully written for a different committee. I was pleased and proud.

No best friends!

At work, that is. It’s just not a good idea. By giving yourself the right not to be liked, you are trading that for being more respected. Sometimes you have to be firm with colleagues, vendors, clients, or other people who just want to do things their way. By treating these people similarly, you will be able to get what you or your director needs politely, professionally, and without creating ill feelings.

Keep your hands to yourself

Keep them close to you. Don't reach out to anyone and everyone... you never know what someone will put into them! Remember in grade school? There was always a kid who would run to you, thrust something distasteful into your open hands, and yell, "No back-sies!" Today that annoying kid is an office bully and they want you to do their work. Do not accept that. Keep your hands on your keyboard or pen and paper, and only turn your head to face the person instead of your entire body, then respond to their requests.

Personally, I do this only when I am extremely pressed for time and then, only when dealing with certain coworkers. (Hey, I were the boss and my assistant acted this way, I would find that behavior unacceptable for sure!)

Be inspired

It may sound hokey, but it actually works. If you inspire yourself, you gain personal power and therefore command respect automatically. To that end, do things you enjoy more often. I enjoy art and craft projects and writing in my off hours. Doing activities you love, like coloring, will help you feel more positive and creative, which translates to increased happiness in general.

This in turn brings more contentment in the workplace and greater ease in thinking on your feet, which coworkers like because they don’t waste time hanging around waiting for an answer. They respect that. More respect translates into better communication with senior staff and ultimately, upper management.

Overestimate others

If you overestimate someone just enough so they can show off a little, everyone wins. Of course, the goal must be attainable; otherwise, behaving in that manner would just be malicious.

List examples

When making a point, cite examples. For examples, please see the tricks described above!

What's the best administrative magic trick?

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