One of the major benefits to working as a creative independent contractor is the ability to work autonomously. You don’t necessarily have to consult a team; you don’t have to crawl to your boss for approval for every little decision — you are your own master. You rule. Until, of course, a client hires you, at which point you are a sniveling nobody who has to yield to his overlord’s slightest whim, day or night. If he or she demands you wear a tutu to your presentation, you do it. You listen and obey.
This also holds true if you find yourself working at a large — or even middling — design firm. If you’re the junior guy, your input means precious little. The designers that were hired five minutes before you look on you as a threat, and will likely covertly report on your abilities and even your hygiene to your superiors, while taking careful note of every design concept you conceive. Prepare to have your ideas stolen, buddy!
We’re kidding, of course — it’s not that bad (mostly). But we do want to illustrate the importance of working as a part of a committee, which, while occasionally galling, is entirely necessary until you reach such heights within a packaging design firm that you can’t even see the little peons underneath you. Of course, in order to behave like a lordly master, you have to actually be a lord and master. The problem for many novices is that they confuse grandiosity for confidence. Maybe this was because their parents taught them to have self-esteem; perhaps they’re basing their personalities on an article they read in “Maxim.” Whatever the reason, it’s obnoxious and it has to stop. If this describes you, you’re putting your career in jeopardy.
Swallow Your Indignation
Every now and again, your brilliant idea will be vetoed in favor of a truly terrible concept. If you are wholly convinced that the idea that is getting the green light is unworkable and will only bring a huge amount of pain and vexation to everyone involved, trust us — there is a right way to handle it.
The right way: Outline your argument in a heavily researched, fact-based manner. Present your idea both in person to your immediate superior and in email form (so that there is an electronic paper trail if your advice is ignored and you were ultimately proved right). Give your reasons dispassionately and personably. Listen to his response, and if it is a negative, you take it as the final word, and get to work making the horrible idea a reality.
The wrong way: Whine about how stupid the idea is to your colleagues. Send numerous and easily traceable instant messages to this effect. Act peevish and snarky during the initial development. Make sure to roll your eyes at least once every five minutes in the presence of your team. Do little things to sabotage the progress of the project. Do everything in your power to suck both inspiration and motivation from every room you enter. Never for a moment disguise your bitterness.
Temper Your Input
There is a certain amount of finesse to communications in a professional environment. Many people in a team leadership position within a project choose to use their fluency in corporate jargon to illustrate their expertise. Others want to convey an image of proficiency through their attitude. Once again, there is a right way and a wrong way to accomplish this.
The right way: Make sure you’re always prepared as far as you are able. Don’t pretend you know anything you don’t. If someone asks for advice or assistance, respond in a direct and pleasant fashion, leaving no room for misinterpretation. Try to appear emotionally relaxed even in crisis circumstances. If urgency is necessary, convey urgency through direct language and action, rather than exasperation or rage. Try to have a sense of humor. Treat poor performers with compassion, but be brisk and specific when relieving them of their duties.
The wrong way: Make sure your entire team dreads your direct participation and lives only to work outside of your physical presence. Never conceal your fear, anger or despair for even the briefest of moments. Make sure your memos are long and convoluted. If you don’t know the answer to something, just talk; eventually, your team member will think you must have addressed his issue and will walk away, confused and saddened. If you are asked to proof a document or a draft, point to items within the document at random and ask in a petulant voice, “Is this what you wanted to say? Are you sure? You don’t think you might have, I don’t know, missed something?” Keep on in this vein until the team member starts weeping openly.
Maintaining a pleasant work environment fosters creativity and makes people want to work with you, which is your professional goal. When you’ve reached your goal and achieved the pinnacle of success, you don’t have to work with anyone ever again, and will be able to drink martinis at 9 a.m. and toss peanut shells at the heads of your subordinates. You’ve earned it!