Business Etiquette in the Workplace

Workplace etiquette sets the tone for how you are expected to behave on the job.
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Acting appropriately at work goes beyond being polite at the lunch table and remembering to say please and thanks. Good manners can represent the difference between getting ahead in your job and tumbling to the bottom of the career ladder. Business etiquette in the workplace demonstrates that you understand the importance of respecting your colleagues and customers. A display of common courtesies signals that you are a team player who knows how to conduct yourself in a professional setting.


Rules that govern communication practices sometimes seem obvious. Customary behaviors include making eye contact during face-to-face conversations and not interrupting when someone is speaking. Technologies call for protocols that might not seem so apparent. For example, you should respond to email messages within 24 hours, even if you can only alert the sender that you cannot get back to them until later. Your prompt reply not only buys you more time, but you also let the person who originated the message know that you are not ignoring him.


You can demolish your professional reputation by wearing clothing that does not conform to your employer's dress code. Another office faux pas is to carry a tattered briefcase or operate out of a cluttered work space. In a world where professional images are important, your office mates and clients can easily surmise that you are as careless about details as you are about looks. Tardiness also goes against the grain of business etiquette because lateness suggests an overall disregard for others in your workplace.


Office codes of conduct require a show of respect when you step into other people's work areas. This means knocking or announcing yourself before entering an office or cubicle. If someone is on the phone, refrain from barging in until that person is free. Ask to be seated before helping yourself to a chair and beginning a conversation. Cubicle neighbors can come across as disruptive by talking loudly on their cellphones. Instead, keep your personal calls brief during business hours. Food odors can offend, so try to get a sense of how your colleagues handle items whose odors might be considered annoying, such as fish or cabbage. If everyone seems to prefer going to a break room instead of eating in their cubicles, you should follow suit.


Workplace etiquette calls for flexibility in decoding what is expected on the job. Behaviors that imply politeness in one location can seem odd elsewhere. Addressing co-workers as “ma’am” or “sir” in southern regions of the United States is customary, but those same terms can feel like uncomfortable references to someone's age in northern areas. At the same time, global economies demand sensitivity among international cultures. Scheduling conference calls outside normal business hours might be acceptable in some nations but unacceptable in other countries.

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