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Rediff.com  » Getahead » Workplace etiquette: Mind your manners!

Workplace etiquette: Mind your manners!

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August 25, 2008 16:22 IST

Picture this: marketing executives Arvind Vyas and Supriya Verma are on a client visit. On nearing the glass doors to the office, Arvind pushes his way through first, without taking into consideration that his female colleague is just two steps behind. He lets go of the door, which promptly closes in Supriya's face!

Understandably, Supriya is quite piqued -- Arvind clearly displays a lack of manners. It is customary for a gentleman to not only open any door for a lady, but to politely usher her through before making his own way in. In fact, whoever reaches a door first, irrespective of gender, needs to hold the door open for the person behind. It is such a simple task and yet so many of us fail to do it.

The globalisation of businesses in India has vastly improved manners at work, but there is still much to be desired. In far too many companies, basic courtesies are still overlooked. Every work place has its own complex dynamics but the basic social rules which make people comfortable with each other remain valid in every working situation. An organisation where people are treated well and treat each other well tends to be more successful than others.

Here are certain guidelines to follow in a working environment.

How to welcome newcomers

  • Newcomers should be welcomed by their seniors and colleagues.
  • They should be briefed about their jobs and company practices.
  • Staff at any level should be introduced to any newcomers they encounter.
  • Courtesies should be extended to everyone you meet, irrespective of whether it's the receptionist or the CEO.
  • Avoid asking personal questions regarding the newcomer's educational qualifications/ parentage/ marital status/ age/ income etc.
  • Our names are an important symbol of our identity. Do not mispronounce, misspell or mix-up anybody's name.'
  • Using someone's first name usually implies that you are superior to him, decidedly equal or friends. Therefore, it is best to start off formally. Use their surnames, preceded by Mr, Mrs or Ms. He/ she can then easily suggest that you use a first name.

How to show courtesy towards colleagues

  • Greet everyone you encounter cheerfully and with a smile on your way into the office. On your way out, remember to thank the receptionist / office boys etc.
  • Good bosses, employees and colleagues don't forget their manners. Remember 'please' and 'thank you'.
  • Always show your appreciation with a smile.
  • Small talk and light chitter chatter at work is essential; it expresses friendliness without demanding attention. Whether you talk about the traffic or the weather, the vital message is that you are all part of the same team.
  • Be polite to hired help like peons, drivers, delivery boys etc.
  • Do not talk loudly when you talk over the phone or to your colleagues. Talk in a soft and clear voice.
  • Take instructions with grace and give instructions gracefully.
  • On occasions like birthdays, staff members should receive a personal gift, good wishes and words of appreciation from the boss and colleagues.
  • Always be considerate. The last person to leave the office should not have to switch off all the lights, air conditioners and computers. For example, when a photocopier runs out, whoever used the last sheet of paper should refill it.
  • When you are going to get yourself a cup of tea, coffee or a cold beverage, offer to bring one for your co-workers as well.

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How to make yourself likeable and pleasant to work with

  • Don't be a whiner who is always complaining and miserable with his/ her lot in life.
  • Never use words like 'can't' and 'won't', nor phrases like 'I'm busy' and 'that's not my job'.
  • Do not criticise anyone -- that's not your job. And if you get criticised, be professional about it. Do not take it personally.
  • Keep personal conversations down to a minimum and keep out of earshot of others.
  • It is shabby to look through people's computers, emails or letters -- and don't ever make the mistake of sneaking into people's personal property like handbags or wallets. Be responsible for your own property and valuables. If you lose your expensive items, everybody else becomes a suspect and nobody likes being one!
  • Never borrow anything from someone's desk without permission and when you do always return it in good condition.
  • Do not misuse office property. Keep your workplace orderly. Do not infringe on other people's space.
  • Be friendly with colleagues of the opposite sex but know where to draw the line. Don't get involved needlessly in any situation which could lead to embarrassment and could potentially damage not only your reputation, but that of the organisation as well.
  • Do not get indulge in office gossip or discuss delicate topics (religion, politics, money, sex etc).
  • Do not fidget or make unnecessary sounds which can be distracting to your co-workers.
  • Maintain stringent standards of personal hygiene. Do clean up after yourself when you use the restrooms so the next person using it does not have to scrunch up his/ her nose!
  • Do not convert your desktop into a place of worship. Since you might be working with people who follow different faiths, it might be better to display a vase of flowers instead.
  • Use office privileges like sick leave etc thoughtfully so that you don't burden your co-workers with extra work.

Business meeting etiquette

  • Be punctual. If you are late, apologise briefly but sincerely and immediately give total attention to the meeting. Those who wish to leave early should ask their seniors' permission beforehand. Leave quietly, with an 'excuse me' and catch the eye of the person who is talking at that point.
  • Dress well -- it gives a good impression.
  • Always remember to switch of your mobile phone.
  • If there is an established seating pattern, accept it. If you are unsure, ask.
  • Do your homework; get all your facts and figures in order. Go prepared.
  • Acknowledge any introductions or opening remarks with a brief recognition of the chair and other participants.
  • When discussions are underway it is good business etiquette to allow more senior figures to contribute first.
  • Never interrupt anyone -- even if you disagree strongly. Note what has been said and return to it later with the chair's permission.
  • When speaking, be brief and ensure that what you say is relevant.
  • It is a serious breach of business etiquette to divulge what has been discussed at any meeting with a third party -- consider it confidential.
  • Thanking the person who organised the meeting is not only good etiquette; it is also a sign of respect.

Keep competition within the organisation healthy

  • A team tends to behave like a human body, accepting what is part of it and rejecting any alien tissue. People are accepted if their behaviour mirrors the group norms.
  • Faults and blunders usually take place due to lack of communication. Find out the cause of the mess-up and solve the problem so that it is not repeated.
  • Curb your annoyance and control your temper.
  • Do not strive to pull a colleague down just to get the approval of the boss. This will backfire on you in the long run.
  • Back-stabbing and petty talk is not only unpleasant, it is in poor taste.
  • A secure and efficient worker never grudges another's success. Envy and jealousy among co- workers ruins the working environment for everyone. The following notice, seen on several office walls, gets the point across well:
  • 'This department requires no physical fitness programme. Everyone gets enough exercise:

  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Flying off the handle
  • Running down the boss
  • Knifing friends in the back
  • Dodging responsibility
  • Pushing their luck!'

Suneeta Kanga freelances as a corporate groomer, international etiquette expert, beauty advisor and aesthetics and style consultant for various individuals and organisations including airline training centers, finishing schools, banks, hotels and corporate business houses. Vist her website at www.suneetakanga.com.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Suneeta Kanga
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