Why Your Office Is A Lot Like Kindergarten

And other lessons for 20-somethings at work, from the editor of Real Simple.

Photo by Morsa Images/Getty Images

I tend not to allow myself to think about how long I've worked in the magazine business, because thinking about all those consecutive years of working just makes me feel very tired. And with the amount of musical beds happening in my house this summer (insufficient air conditioning + humidity-sensitive husband + 8-year-old nighttime wanderer), I am already tired enough.

But let's just say that I've been doing this—and by this, I mean working for a large company, with a number of other "adults"for a couple of decades. And along the way I've picked up a few pieces of life wisdom that, because I am an eldest child and constitutionally bossy, I feel entitled (or would that be compelled?) to share with you. Over the years I've had great days and horrible days, bosses who were inspiring and those who seemed to be faux-human, coworkers I came to genuinely love and those who I detested so much that I had dreams about punching them in the face, only to be disappointed when I woke up to find the face punching didn't really happen. My career continues to be fun and, although the challenges change over the years, the truths about human nature and what it takes to work successfully with others stay fundamentally the same.

This is the first in a series of regular columns I’ll be writing about work. In each one, I will address something I've learned over the years with lots of trial and a fair amount of error. And I’d love to hear from youespecially if you disagree.

To: My 27-year-old self

From: Me

Re: Yes, work is like kindergarten and you do want everyone to like you….

For a few years I've been kicking around an idea to write a book about work. Actually, I don't really know what the book would contain, but I do have a title: "Just Don't Be An Asshole." Which, of course, is rule #1 in the workplace success playbook, at least everywhere I have worked. You know that phrase "Nice guys finish last?" I don't believe it. "Idiots finish last," maybe. Or "Chumps finish last." But nice guys—and women—forge relationships with their coworkers that benefit everyone, themselves most of all.

When I was 27, I got my first job in magazines. I worked at Vogue. Actually, basically I was wandering around Manhattan, post-graduate school, and fell into a manhole that landed me at Vogue—that's how much planning and strategy went into me getting the job. Anyway, there was a woman who sat in the office next to mine named Maggie Buckley. Maggie was responsible for booking the celebrities for the magazine, which meant she spent a fair amount of time sucking up to capricious publicists. I learned four important things sitting next to Maggie: that bright red lipstick looks beautiful with white skin and black hair; that you can buy pink boots at a sample sale and have them dyed black; that my voice really carries, and not in a good way (she would call "loud voice!" from the next office to get me to pipe down); and that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

That last piece of wisdom I knew, because like most everyone on the planet I learned it when I was about 11 years old. But working with Maggie was the first time I saw it put into practice. Maggie was nice to everyone, not just the publicists. At that time, Vogue was filled with all sorts of characters: bitchy, friendly, imperious, mysterious, kleptomaniac, drug-addicted, sullen, nose-to-the-grindstone, gossipy, clueless, mean. And they all LOVED Maggie. In fact, she may have been the only person on the staff who was universally adored. People came to her for advice and a shoulder to cry on and a good laugh. No one walked away disappointed.

But what the people who relied on Maggie for comfort or entertainment didn't realize was that the mere fact they went to her for said comfort and entertainment made Maggie extremely effective in her job. People wanted to be around her, wanted to help her, wanted her to succeed, and always returned her phone calls. People would go the extra mile for her because they liked her. Really, it was that simple. And—bonus!when Maggie Buckley left the magazine, she was given a gold Cartier watch. Which is a lot more than most of us can say.

So I try, TRY, to channel Maggie when I can. Am I angling for a gold Cartier watch? Uh, maybe. Just kidding! No, I'm trying to be effective in my job. And, weirdly, being liked and being effective sometimes go hand in hand.

Next time: Don’t expect (or even want) everyone at your office to be your friend.