When you step inside the boundaries of a profession, you find yourself separated from the rest of humanity by jargon, interests and training. You also find yourself surrounded by peers, practitioners who’ve faced most of the same academic, intellectual and physical challenges you faced. The bonds you form with your closest colleagues often lie outside the bounds of the profession, but dealing with all of your colleagues is essential to both the profession and to your own professional growth. In dealing with them, the basic rule is courtesy and the method is professionalism.
Treat your colleagues as professional equals, regardless of any social differences. They are your peers, and thinking of them as such is the first guidepost for dealing with your colleagues. Most hold at least their first professional degree, or a professional certification that recognizes their achievements and abilities. Societal influences, political influences, differences in language, training and worldview can color your colleagues’ approach to the profession.
Follow the ancient Norse proverb found in Edith Hamilton's "Mythology": Be a friend to your friend. Take the opportunity to shut up and listen, even when a colleague’s views are diametrically opposed to your own. Agree to disagree, rather than trying to recruit followers for your viewpoint. Even if your colleagues are tied to an agenda by a paycheck, you’ll learn more about their agenda -- and its faults -- by listening.
Gather information on local customs, whether you work in an office in the U.S. or are traveling halfway around the world to meet colleagues. Gain some knowledge of the local culture; it will help to put your colleagues at ease. Knowing how things are done in an office in India, Russia, or Switzerland is just as important as knowing local customs if you’re working with colleagues in America, either personally or on a teleconference.
Don’t gossip. Not only is it bad form to gossip about your colleagues behind their backs, it demeans you and brands you as a rumor monger. Treat others as you wish to be treated -- if colleagues see you as someone who's even-handed and fair, you'll find your ideas are more easily accepted and your positions supported.
Don’t shout or talk loudly, unless you’re sounding a general alarm or you’re talking to someone who has difficulty hearing. At least one American comedian has made fun of the practice and it interferes with the conversations of those nearby. Be on-time for meetings and stay within the bounds of what passes for good manners locally.
- Physics Today; International Research University Opens in Saudi Arabia; Toni Feder
- Mythology; Edith Hamilton
- Mind Tools: Good Manners in the Office
- As professionals, your colleagues appreciate honesty and professionalism. As people, they also appreciate diplomacy. Think about what you wish to say twice, and speak once.
- If you work in a multicultural environment, remember that some cultures are significantly different from yours. Remain cognizant of these differences when discussing issue with them.
Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.