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The same communicative toolkit every good kinkster makes use of can be a godsend in the workplace. (Image: Tina Tiller)
The same communicative toolkit every good kinkster makes use of can be a godsend in the workplace. (Image: Tina Tiller)

SocietyMay 6, 2024

Tense office dynamics draining your soul? Kink can help with that

The same communicative toolkit every good kinkster makes use of can be a godsend in the workplace. (Image: Tina Tiller)
The same communicative toolkit every good kinkster makes use of can be a godsend in the workplace. (Image: Tina Tiller)

The workplace can be a minefield of bad comms and passive aggression. Kinksters can help you navigate it. 

A friend and colleague recently gave me a compliment I loved. They told me I’d always been good at emotional communication and making people feel comfortable. “But I feel like it’s really taken a step up since you got into kink,” they added. 

I’ve worked in office environments in the public service for 20 years (astonishing, really, given I’m still so young). I’ve only been hanging out with kinksters for about a year. But I think my colleague was right: the subculture that gave us hentai, wax play and cock-and-ball torture (a form of CBT your work probably won’t pay for) has really lifted my standards for interpersonal communication across multiple domains of my life. 

That includes at work, because let’s face it, being our best communicative selves at work is hard sometimes. We make pass-agg comments in meetings. We rant to our colleagues instead of raising issues with management. We get mad when people don’t read our minds – or maybe just our emails – properly.

During these tense encounters, having some extra communicative tools – the same tools a good kinkster keeps sharp and at-the-ready – can elevate your workplace relationships from fraught and unnerving to manageable; even enjoyable. Here are the best ones.

Don’t assume, don’t speculate. Just ask

Miscommunications in kink can be high stakes: no one wants to accidentally sexually assault their partner, after all. The best kinksters are insanely good at identifying and resolving ambiguity upfront. As my poly partner S likes to say: When unclear about something, don’t assume, don’t speculate. Just ask. 

Unfortunately, people in office environments can be quite crap at this (and to be fair, some kinksters are too). “Why didn’t they just ask me if they weren’t sure?”, I once heard an MP ask in bemused exasperation after hearing officials speculate outside his room about one of his remarks. Office workers routinely spend costly hours guessing what someone (usually someone senior) means by a cryptic comment in a meeting or a pen mark in a margin. 

Fortunately, you can “just ask” at the office using the same questions you might in a kink environment. Greatest hits include, “What does that word mean to you?”, “What would that look like to you?”, and “So if I did [intended course of action], would that meet your needs?” For a smoother ride, use those sorts of questions as liberally as you would the GirlsGetOff lube we all like so much. 

Good clear communication is vital in kink: no one wants to accidentally sexually assault their partner, after all. (Photo: Getty)

Also, there are times in kink when you’re halfway through tying someone up and pouring hot wax on them, and you realise you can’t remember if they said hell yes or hell no to getting it on their feet. In those situations, you stop and ask – and the same should apply in the office. If you realise partway through a task that you don’t fully understand the brief, stop and ask.  

Some of you might feel bashful about seeking clarity, especially from more senior colleagues. You might even feel it’s an implicit criticism of them if you have to ask them to explain themselves further. To this I say: get over it! Managers, like play partners, want to be satisfied. They’ll usually be happy to take an extra minute to explain upfront, so that once you get started on your jobs, you can nail ‘em.

Don’t expect silently when you can request vocally

“Unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments.” This powerful and slightly chilling sentence was written by Neil Strauss in his book The Truth, and it perfectly captures how messed up it is to expect someone to meet a standard you haven’t told them about, especially if you then get pissed off when they don’t. It’s like setting a trap for them. 

Lots of social expectations in neurotypical vanilla life are widely shared and don’t need to be voiced. This is not so in kink. We are diverse little perverts. We understand – or should understand – that words or acts that might make one person feel respected, valued and horny could leave another feeling rejected, misunderstood and repulsed. 

So good kinksters try hard to state expectations clearly, and check they’ve been understood and can be met. “In this group play situation I want you to change condoms between partners every time. Do you have plenty with you?” 

This skill is a natural complement to communication tool  #1, asking for clarity, and the two work really well together in the office. If one person is saying, “Please track changes in the document so I can see what you’ve done, OK?”, and the other is saying, “Will it suit you if I email it to you from Word once I’ve tracked those changes, around 3pm?”, the potential for misunderstanding really shrinks.

Incidentally, by making fewer assumptions and explicitly stating our expectations, we can do a real solid to neurodivergent people in our workplaces. In my experience, neurodivergent people often don’t share the same assumptions and expectations as others, even within the same culture. Kink is full of neurodivergent people, and I think they (we?) thrive there in part because of the amount of explicit communication.

Say, ‘Thank you for telling me’

For things to really go with a swing in a kink environment, everyone needs to feel they can be honest. Good kinksters make sharing information a prosocial and rewarded activity. They spend a lot of time saying, “Thank you for telling me”, regardless of whether it’s good news (“I really enjoyed our impact session last week”) or bad (“Soooo, I have chlamydia”). 

The best workmates, just like the best play partners, are safe people to bring information to. Next time someone tells you something at work, whether it’s nice feedback on your memo or the intel that your pet project’s been canned, why not thank them for telling you? Just like a Wartenburg wheel (google it, they’re SFW), you might be surprised by how good it feels.

If it’s a 7/10, find out what could make it an 8 or 9

“How does that feel?”, my poly partner H will sometimes ask me. And if I say it feels good, he’ll ask, “What could make it feel amazing?” Let me tell you, his stakeholder satisfaction surveys are very impressive.  

If you want to make someone in the office feel like their experience genuinely matters to you, you could first ask them how they feel things are going, then ask, “What would lift it from [whatever they just said] to [the next rung on the quality ladder]?” Let your business partner know you want to take them higher.

If they don’t have an answer straight away, consider asking again in a few days. And then thank them for telling you, of course. 

Give good aftercare

Aftercare in kink refers to the set of things you and your play partners (and sometimes your support people) do after play, especially after a BSDM scene, to help everyone process and integrate the experience. It can include cuddling, words, calories (often in a specific form), talking, alone time, music, and much else. People’s aftercare needs can differ a lot and should always be discussed before play (see tools #1 and #2). 

Good aftercare helps in the office too. It’s agreeing at the start of the meeting who’ll take notes and share them afterwards. It’s emailing after the coffee catchup to say thanks for your time and here’s a recap of what we agreed. It’s knowing that after going hard-out to meet a big deadline, you need everyone in your team to please just leave you alone for an hour.

Know your aftercare needs and ask about others’. Give generously and receive graciously! 

The final word: self-care

Good self-care is so important, whether you’re massaging away the inner-thigh ache after a good time with a spreader bar or winding down after a 45-minute presentation on marketing strategy. People who know their own limits and can advocate for themselves are safe and relaxing company. When you feel confident that your partner will tell you if you’re biting too hard, you can really go to town on their shoulder, and that’s such a relief. Similarly, if your manager knows you can be relied on to go for a walk when you need a walk, that’s one less thing for her to worry about. 

We all need to use our safe words and avoid being those office martyrs who wear as a badge of pride the long work hours that make them unhealthy and miserable. Now that’s perverted. 

We also need to accept that we’ll make mistakes. One of my kinky friends who recently joined Fetlife (a social networking site for kinky people) thought that “edge play” meant that he liked edging people, ie almost bringing them to orgasm and then backing off, and was surprised by all the knife photos he was getting. One of my work colleagues didn’t know about Format Painter until at least a year into his very Microsoft-Office-intensive job. We’re all on some kind of learning curve and need to keep practising our skills. 

My hope is that, by becoming more handy with the communication tools above, you’ll earn yourself a reputation for thoughtful conduct in the office. That will stand you in good stead when things get sticky or go tits-up. Save all that for after work.

Keep going!