The word “etiquette “ may bring to mind ladies of yesteryear wearing white gloves and dainty hats while sitting primly and sipping tea. Social practices have changed dramatically since those days, but the basic premise of respect -- for yourself and others -- remains a foundation for early 21st-century etiquette. Basic etiquette in the workplace, where you spend a big chunk of your waking hours, can make your life a whole lot easier.
Private Versus Shared Spaces and Items
Some people never get past the two-year-old's “me” phase. Don’t be one of them. Your colleague’s desk is hers; it’s not there for you to raid when you need supplies. Respect your co-workers’ privacy by resisting the urge to peak over the top of partitions or to gaze into each workspace as you stroll down the corridors. And for goodness sake, don’t insert your own commentary into conversations that you overhear. In shared areas, show some respect for your colleagues by cleaning up after yourself. This means pushing your chair back into position at the conference table and wiping up your spills in the microwave.
Sometimes you notice an embarrassing flaw. Let’s say a male colleague comes back from the restroom with his fly undone, a co-worker has a piece of lettuce stuck in her teeth or, worse yet, your boss says something that’s inaccurate in a meeting. Your colleagues want you to point out these things so they can correct them, but not publicly. Pull the person aside and let her know what went awry so she can fix it.
Nothing says “I don’t care about you” more than turning away from a person in your presence to pay attention to someone or something else. If you’re meeting with someone and the phone -- the office apparatus or your cell -- rings, let it ring. That’s what voice mail is for. If someone pokes in her head while you’re in a meeting, stop and think about who it is. If the interrupter is the same or a lower rank than the person you’re meeting with, tell her that you’ll be with her in half an hour, 10 minutes or however much time you think it will take to wrap up your meeting. If it’s your boss, politely excuse yourself and tell your guest that you’ll be right back. And don’t leave her sitting there for time eternal.
Customers can be demanding and just plain annoying, but they keep your company in business -- and your paycheck coming. Be polite, no matter how ill-mannered the caller may be, and try to find a way to make her happy. Even if you feel a customer’s anger is unwarranted, it is real. Listen to the complaint without interruption and, when the caller has finished speaking, tell her in a calm tone that you’re sorry she feels this way, and do your best to fix the problem. The caller probably will realize she was a little too emotional and will feel a tad guilty for taking it out on you. No matter what happens, thank the caller for her business. She’s the reason you have a job.
- USA Today: Top Workplace Pet Peeves and Etiquette Mistakes
- The Sideroad: Workplace Etiquette: How to Avoid Conflict in the Workplace
- Advanced Etiquette: Etiquette Tip of the Month
- Business Management Daily: Fourteen Tips on Business Etiquette: Setting a Professional Tone with Co-Workers, Clients and Customers
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.