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Demonstrating Courtesy and Respect in the Workplace

Do good manners at work really matter? Should you really be expected to be polite all the time, or can you bend the rules in the name of efficiency and productiveness? The answers are yes, yes, and no!

Most people don’t intend to be rude or discourteous. In an attempt to be efficient and productive we sometimes forget to consider the impact of our behaviours on our colleagues. Courtesy and respect towards others should be standard behavior in every workplace, regardless of role, rank, stress or circumstances.

The following actions help ensure a respectful, civil, considerate, professional workplace. These might all be evident behaviours for you, but for those that have forgotten …here is a work etiquette 101 crash course:

  • Be cordial – Greet people when you arrive, when you leave, when you pass in the hall or when you encounter them in the elevator. A simple "Good morning", "Hello", "Goodbye" or "Goodnight” will do. Look them in the eye. Make an effort to exchange polite conversation and shake hands when you're introduced to someone. You don’t have to get into a long conversation, but simply acknowledge that a person exists.
  • Be polite – Hold doors (even the elevator) for people. If you're asking for something, or asking someone to do something, say "please." If someone does something for you, or gives you something, say "thank you." Say "Excuse me." if you want someone to get out of your way, if you bump into someone, if you walk between two people having a conversation, or if you need to interrupt a conversation.
  • Be tactful – Avoid being blunt. Say "I'm sorry" if you intentionally or unintentionally hurt someone. Sometimes we are rude or grumpy when we are tired, rushed or having a bad day, and then when we realize we have made a mistake, we are too embarrassed to apologize and we just continue on as though nothing has happened. Don't do that. Take a moment to own up and make verbal amends. Don’t mock or belittle colleagues, not tell offensive jokes that sting.
  • Be considerate – Respect personal space and belongings, don't help yourself to things that aren't yours. Don't barge into someone’s workspace without knocking or announcing yourself, and don't interrupt when other people are having a private conversation. Clean up after yourself. Wipe crumbs from the counter and splatters from the microwave. Replace the ink cartridge, clear the paper jam or fill the paper tray if you are the last one using the printer. Make a fresh pot of coffee if you poured the last cup. Leave the conference room clean when you leave.
  • Be thoughtful – Acknowledge remembrances and celebrations (Birthdays, anniversaries) and be attentive to a colleague’s state of mind and health (Sickness, condolences, personal challenges).
  • Be inclusive – Avoid forming cliques that might exclude people, giving colleagues the silent treatment or speaking to people in a condescending way. Those are forms of bullying. Encourage healthy relationships in the office.
  • Be attentive – Don't check your phone in meetings or when someone is talking to you, not even a peek from time to time. Look at the person who is talking to you, stop texting or typing on the keyboard and turn away from your computer screen. Pay full attention to the person in front of you.
  • Be punctual – Demonstrate professional courtesy by showing up on time and respecting deadlines. Being late sends the message that you don’t have respect for other people's time or schedules.
  • Be neat – Your work, workspace and your appearance should always be orderly. Being untidy, cluttered and unkept sends a message that you don't really care how you look or whether it brings down the professional image of the office.
  • Be discreet – Keep your voice down and your personal phone calls private and wear headphones if you're playing music at work. If you have an open-space set-up don’t have calls on speaker phone. Be a good neighbor!
  • Be gracious – Listen more than you speak. Pay attention when co-workers are talking to you. Don't interrupt people when they're speaking. Let them finish. If you must interrupt, say "excuse me," or if you catch yourself after the fact, say "Sorry for interrupting you." Don’t make personal remarks about someone’s appearance or clothing. Keep judgmental or nasty comments to yourself and avoid gossiping and talking behind someone's back. Sharing credit, humbling asking questions, acknowledging others and smiling all have positive impacts and demonstrate civility.
  • Be decent – Leave the personal grooming for home. Don’t floss, clean your ears, give yourself a manicure, put on make-up or clip your nails at the office. Personal grooming should be done at home or at least in the bathroom.

Demonstrating workplace courtesies, it’s not about simply being nice, it’s about the effect you have on your colleagues and your workplace. Incivility makes people less motivated and decreases work performance whether you are the one experiencing the incivility or witnessing it. Being unaware or uncaring of your behaviour will eventually create an unproductive, toxic and hostile environment. There's no excuse for discourtesy in the workplace. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “there is always enough time to be courteous.” Take the time. Be mindful of it. The results — a productive, pleasant, creative, helpful, happy and healthy workplace for everyone.

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