Reyer: Etiquette standards needed in the workplace, too

  • Article by: LIZ REYER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 29, 2012 - 6:06 PM
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Proper office etiquette can go a long way toward making a positive work environment. Sitting on someone else's desk? Uh, probably not.

Photo: Jes Aznar, New York Times

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Violations of office etiquette are frequently raised by readers as sources of office tension. Some minor, some egregious -- but they all can get under people's skin and make it hard to get along.

First, some key assumptions. Workplace issues can arise from different boundaries and preferences, and etiquette standards are an effort to develop common ground. There is no assumption of ill intent on anyone's part. No one is trying to be annoying; if there is malicious intent, that's for a different column.

Now, on to some common areas of friction. Let's start with chatting, or the lack thereof. The sweet spot is friendly but not excessive, and I hear complaints on both sides of that. The office grump, who doesn't even say good morning. The Chat-o-matic, who spends way too much time in a pleasant interaction, ignoring all "I need to get back to work" body language.

And then there are telephones. It's tough in cubeland where there is little privacy anyway. However, there are ways to make it worse:

Speakerphone. If you aren't in a conference room or an office with a closed door, use a handset or headset. Others do not want to hear your conference calls or voice mail.

Private conversations. Remember, they will not be private anymore ... everyone just heard it and it's awkward if it's too personal.

Cellphones. Hearing someone's cellphone ring on and on is bad enough, but it can be downright annoying (or even offensive) depending on the ring tone.

Finally, a few odds and ends:

•Assuming that food in the fridge is fair game is not a good assumption. If you didn't bring it in and it wasn't offered to you, hands off!

•Texting in meetings, except with prior explanation say, for family interactions, is never good manners. Same with doing your e-mail.

To have a positive environment, first take a look at yourself. When thinking about being a good office mate, are there places where you fall short? For example, perhaps you tend toward the quiet side. Keep in mind that going to the far edge of not even greeting people will send a negative message. Nor do you want to be the person people avoid because you don't know when to stop talking.

When considering others' breaches of etiquette, ask yourself if you're over-reacting. Remember, this isn't about intentional poor behavior, and you may be better served by just taking a few deep breaths.

Now your team needs to work together. Consider having a "manners time" in your staff meeting. People could bring articles about etiquette breaches to raise awareness of faux pas that may be occurring. Also think about having a set of defined ground rules -- office dos and don'ts that you all agree on.

Once these rules are in place, also agree on protocols for breaches. Maybe you have a dollar jar for loud ring tones or speakerphones, and use the money for an office party or charity. Or just an expectation that if you slip up, someone will gently remind you.

Readers, please share actions that get under your skin and ways you've found to constructively address them. Your contributions may be featured in a coming reader's response column.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com.

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