This week I’d like to respond directly to a query recently raised by a reader in person.

As you will understand, writing a column for a national business newspaper is fraught with inconveniences. Not least of all the prospect of being identified in public places and being mobbed by crowds. Which is why these days I tend to disguise as, for instance, the MD of a management consulting firm who is also a director of a major American investment bank.

Nobody comes anywhere near me.

Also read |Sidin Vadukut’s earlier columns

Still, the odd reader does see through the subterfuge. And so it was with this one who asked me: “Sure. You often tell us how to deal with evil, villainous jerks in office. But why haven’t you ever told us how to identify these foul fiends?"

The reader has a valid point. We will rectify this error today. Please find below a half dozen or so ways of identifying those people in your office who are jerks, frauds, backstabbers or any other form of posterior orifice. This will be useful for young and old cubiclists in all industries.

Hint 1: Office jerks usually have two opinions about everything: a public one and an honest private one. Tease these out.

For instance, ask him or her what they think of Pink Floyd in front of your CEO who is a huge fan and writes emails that have subliminal satanic messages when read backwards.

File photo of an office

Hint 2: One of the most painful class of orifice in my book are those who deeply dislike sharing things. I have known people who hunt down pens, markers and staplers with sheer undiluted ferocity. This might seem like a harmless quirk. But they are also usually the guys who will blame you for collective goof ups, and do positively revolting things like give honest feedback.

Indeed, I wonder what would have happened if Osama Bin Laden had absconded with Post-It notes belonging to an old CFO colleague of mine. Mr. CFO kept all his possessions chained to his desk. Everything: notebooks, keyboards, mice, correction fluid, office boys.

Hint 3: Dastardly cubiclists are paranoid about other people being close to the top management. Test your colleagues one day by suddenly picking up your phone and saying loudly “Hello CEO sir! Let me find some privacy first..." Then walk to a corner, or behind a glass door or partition and watch everyone else. Laugh loudly once or twice... Anyone who looks perturbed? Note down. Expect future skulduggery.

Hint 4: This can work both ways. So use prudently. Cubiclists who can quote corporate policy from memory—“Aurangabad is a Grade B city for all Level 7A officers except on a national holiday, when it is Pune"—are either shrewd operators like yourself seeking maximum income for minimum effort, or they are Desktop Desdemonas plotting everyone else’s downfall.

So, do not judge them by their diligence to policy alone. Combine with other hints for more accuracy.

Hint 5: There are few things I hate more than people who turn out for team lunches but have “by mistake forgotten wallet in office". Such mistakes are entirely human. But only the first two or three times.

Repeat offenders are Office Othellos who will stoop to any level for personal gain. For them, the rest of society is merely a stepping stone to personal success. They will shamelessly suppress, oppress and manipulate for personal gain. Keep a careful track of who pays, or not, for meals and treats and parties.

Hint 6: However, there is one variety that is even more scary than wallet-forgetters. And that is people who return borrowed money immediately. Prompt reimbursement is not a human tendency. Normal people, not just Greeks, are not designed that way. If everyone started paying back loans promptly, the entire capitalist backbone of modern civilization would simply collapse.

But, apart from the fact that these fellows are a liability on our planet, they are also capable of great misdeeds. This is especially true of people who religiously return small sub-Rs 100 sums. Who does things like that? So, the next time your colleague returns the price of a cigarette, look into his eyes. Do you see ice-cold lifelessness?

Never, ever let him out of your sight.

Hint 7: But of all the traits that set off alarm bells in my head, none is as scary and off-putting as this one: anyone who has somehow inveigled their alma mater into their personal email address. For instance

I have seen many American crime shows, and I know that this level of narcissism often hides deep sociopathic tendencies and/or US-returns looking for booming India economy opportunities. Both are equally troubling.

An advanced form of this disorder is seen in people who actually use their alumni email ids for general, personal and sometimes even official use.

If you come across such specimens, I would recommend extreme caution and constant surveillance.

But do remember that identifying evil potential in a co-worker alone does not justify counter-measures. In a future column I will explain how and when to retaliate. Till then, happy observing and have a good weekend.

Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at