Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Working Life: Workplace Etiquette 101
The Radio Show Recap...
In this segment of “The Working Life,” Carol Blymire interviewed me about Workplace Etiquette. The general consensus from the media is that we have become a very rude and ill-mannered society—and the workplace appears to be no exception. Workplace etiquette can run the gamut from how to eat at your desk without offending others to wearing too much cologne or perfume, to waiting your turn to speak and not interrupting someone, to basic rules of respect. Carol and I discussed some basic rules and guidelines to ensuring proper office behavior.

Carol’s Question: How different are the etiquette rules in the home versus the office?

My Thoughts: While some rules vary—the philosophy and intent is the same. Etiquette and manners are about 3 things:
  1. Putting other people at ease by showing respect, courtesy & caring
  2. Being fully present to the other person
  3. Putting other people first!!!

Business etiquette is extra important because if you display good manners, then you are essentially creating an environment where the other person feels great about themselves—and that is the surest way to build better business relationships.

Carol’s Question: Let’s talk about some basics that affect three of our senses – sound, sight and smell – so that would mean noise levels, keeping a neat work area, and being aware of basic hygiene. Again, these sound like no-brainers, but are often common complaints in the workplace. Any thoughts?

Mary’s Answer: It is amazing how often "no-brainers" are ignored in the workplace. While there are many “etiquette rules” for us to follow, I’ve put together a basic list of essential workplace do’s and don’ts:

Cubicle Common Sense:
  • Do not enter unless invited: every cubicle has an imaginary door—learn to respect it.
  • Turn down the volume: do not speak or laugh loudly—this includes, music, speaker phones, idle chatter, personal phone calls, etc. Remember—you are sharing the space with others and the first rule of etiquette is to put other people first!
  • Do not use your cubicle as kitchen or bathroom—this space is unacceptable for generating odors, overdoing grooming, or hosting parties. Remember, the door is only imaginary!
  • Do not discuss confidential matters. Sounds and voices carry. It is bad form to discuss private/confidential matters in a public space.
  • Keep the cubicle neat and orderly—it is not your “home” away from home. Your workspace must always look professional and organized.

Email Etiquette
  • Send the email message only to those who absolutely need the information. This means take it easy on the “reply all” button.
  • Respond to email promptly. Even if you are not prepared to provide the requested information or action—let the sender at least know that you have received their communication.
  • Make the subject heading clear and succint. Don’t make the receiver guess as to the contents of the email. For example if you are sending information for an upcoming meeting—announce it in the title.
  • Include your telephone number or other signature on every email. Don’t assume that people have all of your information—especially since many people access their email remotely.
  • Business emails should always be about business. If you want to send personal emails do so from a personal account. By the way, this is not only proper etiquette—but it smart professional behavior. Your employer “owns” your email account and all the correspondence in it.
  • Always use a spell & grammar check! Always.
The Forgotten Art of Introductions
  • Firm handshakes please! Grip palm to palm. Hold briefly, make eye contact, and say something engaging like: “How do you do?” or “Good to see you again.” Most importantly—don’t forget to smile.
  • When introducing two people to each other always name the higher status person first. For example, if you are introducing your boss to your secretary, you will say, Bob Boss, I’d like you to meet Sally Secretary. If the status levels are equal or unknown either use the elder person’s name first or person whom you know the least first (they’ll be flattered).
  • Always offer your own business card first! And never ask for the card of a higher status person—wait for them to offer it to you. If they want you to have it—they’ll offer. And be sure to take a moment to admire the card.
  • Handle forgotten names with grace and if all else fails, honesty.
Tips for handling the name game:
  • Tip 1: Always re-introduce yourself to relatively new acquaintances. Something like: “Hi, my name is Jane Doe, we met last year at the XYZ conference.” Savvy people will respond in kind with their name.
  • Tip 2: When at a function that provides nametags—be sure to position the tag high on your left lapel. This prevents you from accidentally covering up your nametag as you reach out your right arm.
  • Tip 3: If you find yourself talking with someone who’s name you have forgotten, have a friend help you out. Simply say to the unknown person, “have you met my friend, Jane?” Hopefully, the person will give their name to Jane. If not, Jane must be prepared to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.” It is a good idea to pretend to be sipping a drink or waving to someone else during this time so as to cover up the fact that you didn’t give a proper introduction.
Better Business Meals
  • Follow the guide of the host and the rest of the party when it comes to liquor, appetizers, desert etc. Do not drink liquor unless the host (the boss) does so--espcially at lunch. Do not prolong the group meal by being the only one who orders appetizers, deserts, etc.
  • Never talk business during the meal. Before or after. Sometimes between courses—but never during.
  • Learn the proper utensils and use them. (If unsure—follow the lead of others. If busted, laugh and admit your error.)
  • Avoid messy foods like spaghetti, ribs, chicken wings, etc. Eat food that is easily handled and that has a low risk of spillage!
  • Follow your diet quietly. If you have special restrictions—call the restaurant ahead of time to inquire about food preparation. Do not subject your companions to a lengthy discussion with the waiter about what you can and cannot eat. While it is okay to ask for your salad dressing on the side—it is not okay to grill the waiter on the preparation of every dish before ordering.
Carol's Question: What about someone who constantly interrupts in meetings? What do you do if it’s your boss doing it?

Mary’s Answer: If it is your boss doing it—then you really don’t have much wiggle room. You can’t really point out his rudeness (because that would be rude) and you can’t really request he wait until you are finished (because, well, he’s the boss). You'll just have to endure politely.

Otherwise you can gently redirect. Remember etiquette isn’t about controlling others-it is about controlling oneself. So the key to good etiquette is to make the other person comfortable—which means you cannot reprimand them!

If it is your meeting—then you have the right to set ground rules about interrupting. If it is your meeting you can also intercede on another’s behalf. Example: “Tom, if you could hold on one second, I want to make sure I understand Jane’s point before we move on. “ Intercede politely and respectfully.

Other Tips for curbing interruptions:
  • Gently hold up your hand and say with a smile: "Excuse me, Bob, if I could just finish my thought.,,
  • Use I language, not you language. Don't say: "You are interrupting me." Do say: "I appreciate your patience while I complete my thoughts."
  • Most importantly don’t interrupt others—and if you do, you better have a good reason, apologize profusely and be brief.
  • To ensure you are not interrupting, count to 2 before speaking.
Carol’s Question: A big no-no, even though we’ve all done it, is workplace gossip. What are your thoughts on this?

Mary’s Answer: This is really more of a business savvy question than an etiquette question. And I know you know that I am going to tell you NOT to gossip! While it is quite alluring, it really is never ever a good idea. However, when approached by a gossip—you certainly don’t want to insult the gossiper.

What you want to do is to gently redirect the conversation away from the gossip. You could try something like this:
  • “Yes, I did hear something about Jane’s meeting with Ted—dear me sounds like they have some work to do! Say, I need to ask you about the Pensky file…” OR
  • “Oh, yes, I did hear about Jane. Thanks for reminding me—I’ve been meaning to call and check up on her all day. Oh my, look at the time—gotta run!”

If possible don’t say something snotty like… "Yes I heard about Jane and I don’t think it is at all appropriate to discuss it. I’m not the kind to engage in petty gossip." This not only insults the gossiper, but makes them your enemy. (And someday you may need access to their grapevine.)

Carol’s Question: What about money discussions? Department budgets are fair game, I think, for discussion, but talk about individual salaries and bonuses can cause trouble. What are the rules for talking about money in the workplace?

Mary's Answer: The rules for talking about money are clear: If it involves personal exposure (for you or others) and makes the other person uncomfortable don’t do it. If it makes you uncomfortable and requires exposure, don’t do it. Use your common sense.

Carol’s Question: What do you do if you overhear someone being rude to a co-worker or client?

Mary’s Answer: Well, it really depends on the situation.

If you are “overhearing” it means you are eavesdropping and there isn’t much you can do except check-in with each party later. Your only other "polite" option here is to conveniently walk past the conversation, "notice" their difficulty and offer assistance.

If you are part of the conversation, then you can and should intervene gently and tactfully to remedy the situation. Diplomatically intercede to ensure that business is conducted with respect and courtesy. Sometimes things aren't so much a question of etiquette as they are a matter of tact and diplomacy.

Carol’s Question: If you’re a supervisor and you need to address some etiquette concerns among your team of with an individual employee, what’s the best way to do that?

Mary’s Answer: Gently, tactfully, and directly. Here are the guidelines:
  • Individual concerns require a private conversation.
  • A team concern deserves a team discussion.
  • Don’t turn an individual thing into a team thing.

Carol’s Question: What is the rule of etiquette when it comes to gift-giving in the office?

Mary's Answer: Bosses give. Employees receive. Thank you notes are always required. Other than that the same social rules apply. In other words, gifts are gifts and not some kind of quid pro quo.

Carol’s Question: Being in Washington, where politics is king, how do you handle yourself in the workplace when people are talking about elections, candidates, issues, or other topics related to politics?

Mary’s Answer: This is not so much etiquette as good common sense. Is this really an appropriate conversation in a business setting? Remember at work—you should be talking about work. You are not being paid to create political policy.

Carol’s Question: Do those same rules apply to talk about sex and religion?

Mary’s Answer: Yes.

Closing Thoughts: Remember, the goal of etiquette is to put other people at ease. To focus on making them comfortable and well cared for. When in doubt, always ask yourself whose needs you are meeting--theirs or yours?

To Listen to an archive of this show:

No comments: