Michael Scott: “Last week I would’ve given a kidney to anyone in this office. I would’ve reached right into my stomach and pulled it out for them. But now, no. I don’t have the relationship with these people that I thought I did. I hope they ask, so they can hear me say, ‘Uh, no, I only give my organs to my real friends. Go get yourself a monkey kidney.’”
In the Season 2 episode “The Carpet,” Michael is faced with a huge expectation failure. When Michael thinks about his employees, he imagines that they view him as a family member and that they love him as such. But when he gets a “surprise” on the floor of his office, his entire world begins to collapse. This “thing,” as the office calls it, smells terrible and is so bad that they have to remove the carpet to put new carpet in (we never do actually find out what it is). Throughout the episode, Michael gets more and more paranoid about who could have left it and why.
The Expectancy Violation Theory (Burgoon, 1976) states that each person has an inherent set of beliefs or expectations about how people should behave, usually nonverbally, in certain situations. When those expectations are challenged or misrepresented, we feel some sort of violation in our thought processes. Different people can respond differently to having their expectations violated, and their reactions don’t even necessarily have to be negative.
For Michael, the smell of his office was something that he considered a violation because he felt it undermined his authority as manager. This sets off a string of events that violates many other expectations of behavior for the other members of the office. It first starts when Michael claims Jim’s desk for the day, leaving Jim with no choice but to head to the back corner of the office next to one of the most annoying employees, Kelly, who loves to talk to no end.
In order to cope with this change to his setting, Michael reacts by being obnoxious (no surprise there) and distracting his other employees.
His actions include:
- Hitting Creed extremely hard on the shoulder just to see his reaction (which is also another example of expectations of normal etiquette being violated)
- “Raiding” the Accounting employees by knocking things off their desks and throwing their papers all over the ground
- Challenging all of the salespeople to a competition of who can make the most sales (which he then terminates because his expectation of being the best is violated)
Finally, when Michael sees his employees laughing at him, and sees that no one is confessing, he gets upset and puts his entire office in “time-out.” He gets so upset by his world being turned upside-down that he says, “You know, I’m starting to think that what happened in my office was an act of terrorism. It’s the only thing that makes any sense.”
What is most interesting is how he reacts when his normal expectations are brought back into play. He finds out the “thing” in his office was put there by one of his old friends whom he loves to play practical jokes with. After finding out that this act was not a result of disrespect or hatred from his office, he laughs it off completely. To him, it was done out of love, which is what he expects from people in the first place.
Michael Scott: “I swore to myself if I ever got to walk around the room as manager, people would laugh as they saw me coming, and they’d applaud as I walked away.”
Burgoon, J. K. & Jones, S. B. (1976). Toward a Theory of Personal Space Expectations and Their Violations. Human Communication Research
Michael Scott: “The most sacred thing I do is care. And provide for my workers, my family. I give them money. I give them food. Not directly, but through the money. I heal them. Today I am in charge of picking a great new healthcare plan. Right, that’s what this is all about. Does that make me their doctor? Um… yes. In a way. Yeah, like a specialist.”
There are many episodes that I could use to express the Face Negotiation Theory, partially due to how important “maintaining face” is to Michael. But for these purposes, I chose the classic Season 1 episode “Healthcare.”
To start off, I think it’s important to explain what the Face Negotiation Theory (FNT) is. According to Martin and Nakayama in Intercultural Communication (2010), “Face is the sense of favorable self-worth, and in all cultures people are concerned about saving face.” In other words, face is your reputation, or how you think others view you. There are generally two different approaches when looking at face; you are either individualistic or collectivistic. Individualists are more concerned with their internal perceptions and focus on ego, pride, personal accomplishment or failure, and self-esteem. Collectivists tend to think more about groups and relationships. These different focuses influence your behavior.
In the episode “Healthcare”, Michael is told he has to pick a new health plan for his employees. At first, he chooses the best, most extravagant plan, thinking it will please his employees. His boss, however, tells him that the point of picking a new plan was to cut costs. This is something he definitely does not want to do. He tells his boss, “That is kind of a tough assignment…not going to be a popular decision around the old office…it’s a suicide mission!”
There were many ways that Michael could have responded to his task. He could have avoided, obliged, compromised, dominated, or collaborated (Griffin, 2009). He probably chose the worst option he could have: avoidance. First, he tries to delegate the job to Jim, who, wanting to save his face, tells him to have Dwight do it. Jim knows that the reaction from the office will be an unpleasant one, and since he feels it isn’t his job (which is true), he also chooses not to do it.
Dwight Schrute: “OK, first let’s go over some parameters. How many people can I fire?”
Michael Scott: “Uh, none. You’re picking a healthcare plan.”
Dwight attempts to save face in his own way by trying to build up his ego and reputation. He is extremely individualistic, and constantly tries to showboat his newly-gained “power.” He is given a “temporary workspace” which he repeatedly refers to as his office. He also tells Michael’s boss that he is acting manager for the day because Michael gave the job of picking a plan to him. In these instances, Dwight tries to build his own ego by flaunting around his assignment.
Throughout the episode, Michael constantly makes stupid mistakes in his failed attempts to save face. First, he delegates the job. Then when Dwight comes up with a first draft of his plan and the other employees complain, he acts like he is angry at Dwight and tells him to come up with a new plan that will work for everyone, even though Dwight did what Michael had told him—save money. To dig his hole even deeper, Michael tries to cheer everyone up by saying he will have a big surprise by the end of the day.
He shows up later with some bags of ice cream bars, thinking that it will win over his employees. They respond positively, but when Stanley asks, “This isn’t the big surprise is it?” Michael says no, it was surprising, but not the big surprise.
There is also a point in the episode where Dwight calls everybody in the office into his conference room to see what they need covered. Rather than respecting their confidentiality, he goes through diseases they had written one by one to see who needs it covered. During this session, everybody is embarrassed, trying to save his or her own face. Dwight has no concept of a collectivistic viewpoint of his co-workers. Instead of doing what was best for the group, he tries to serve his own agenda.
In the end, everybody is frustrated by Dwight’s healthcare plan. They end up waiting outside Michael’s office to see what the big surprise was. They tell him that Dwight’s plan was awful, and he acts surprised and says, “Thanks, Dwight, for a crappy plan. I wish I could change it, but Jan needs it by five…What time is it? Oh, it’s after five.” When they ask what the big surprise was, he has absolutely nothing to say. Michael, at the end of his rope, just stands there looking like an idiot, as the employees slowly file out one by one.
This all could have been avoided had Michael chosen a different way of handling the situation. He could have found ways to compromise with Dwight’s plan. He could have formed a team to collaborate and make a plan. He could have just chosen the plan himself, as the boss, and dealt with employees not loving him. These ideas didn’t come to him, though, because he was too concerned with maintaining the approval of his inferiors…which he lost in the process.
Griffin, E. (2009). A first look at communication theory. Boston: McGrawy-Hill Higher Education.
Martin, Judith, & Nakayama, Thomas. (2009). Intercultural communication in contexts. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.
Dwight (while interviewing Andy): “You’re not off to a very good start, Bernard.”
Andy: “I agree. But in another way, I am off to a very good start, wouldn’t you say?”
This post will address job searching and the interview process. The best episode I found for an example is the Season 3 finale, “The Job.” In this episode, we get to see four different people get interviewed. The premise is that three of the employees– Michael, Jim, and Karen–are applying for a management job at the corporate level. The fourth interview takes place when Dwight, who believes he will become the regional manager when Michael gets the corporate job, interviews Andy for the title of “Assistant Regional Manager.”
There are a lot of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) within this episode. One of the biggest mistakes of the episode is when Michael becomes overconfident that he will get the corporate job. In his confidence, he sells his condo, finds a place to live where his new job will be, and tells his employees that he is leaving for the corporate job and naming Dwight his successor. He does not do his homework when looking into the job, either. According to Camenson (2002), author of Great Jobs for Communication Majors, when doing a job search you should find out which employers hire people like you, explore job descriptions, and identify information resources.
Instead of doing these things, Michael views himself as a shoe-in, despite any previous notifications that the man doing the interview does not think he’s a good candidate for the job. Michael also does not study the job title very clearly, because he later finds out that it is in fact the job that his girlfriend currently has. Michael also bombs his interview by failing to prepare well for it and providing terrible answers to what should be expected questions.
From Michael, Jim, Karen, and Andy’s Interviews:
- Try to make your weaknesses look like strengths.
- Try to have a sense of humor and play along with comments your interviewee may make to be funny.
- Have a detailed plan of what you intend to accomplish within the job.
- Be prepared to explain why you’d fit well in the job, and what you plan to do with the future of the position.
- Tell the interviewee that your weaknesses are actually your strengths.
- Answer “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” with a long personal imaginary scenario that has absolutely nothing to do with the job you are interviewing for.
- Give poor answers by trying too hard to impress your interviewer over things that aren’t that important.
In Michael’s interview, he answers the question of “What are your greatest strengths?” by saying his greatest weaknesses are, “I work too hard, care too much, and I am too invested in my job.” But when looking at Camenson’s list of good personal traits to describe yourself, “hard-working” and “invested” aren’t even on the list. Instead, Michael could have used better descriptive words such as loyal, efficient, trusting, thoughtful, meticulous, or even inventive. Those words provide room for explanation and expansion.
One other thing we can learn from this episode is how to see signs of a good or bad interview. Jim’s interview goes well, because the employer tells him about other colleagues he will get to know and would enjoy. The interviewer also spends as much time talking casually with Jim as he does with serious interview questions. On the other hand, he could not respond to most of Michael’s answers, because they were so ridiculously irrelevant. But sometimes, signs within an interview aren’t as easy to spot. In the end, what is most important is having confidence in what you have to offer, as long as you know what the employer is looking for with the job at hand.
Camenson, Blythe. (2001). Great jobs for communications majors. Ntc Pub Group.