Workplace Manners Matter: 5 Ways to Improve Yours

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When you hear the words “bad manners,”  perhaps an image of your mother or grandmother telling you to get your elbows off the table or to not talk with food in your mouth comes to mind. But bad manners exist in the workplace as well and they go way beyond the table. Here are some examples of bad workplace etiquette you may have encountered.

There’s the manager who never gets back to you after you have completed a project. Despite your follow-up call and e-mail, you never know if she is pleased with your work or if she wants changes. You wait and wait, finally deciding no news is good news, but it doesn’t feel good.

Then there’s the co-worker who constantly texts during meetings and then asks questions at the end of the meeting about what has already been covered.

Maybe there someone at a desk near yours who tends to put callers on speakerphone without their knowledge. What about a colleague who listens to music all the time, so he never hears what you and others are saying to him?

Our American society has become increasingly informal through the past several decades. While some of that informality is refreshing and inclusive, other aspects of it reveal a certain laziness and inconsideration of others. According to “Civility in America,” a national survey of 1,000 adults conducted in 2013 by the public relations firms Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, 26 percent of those surveyed said they have left a job because of workplace incivility.

In addition to the problem of employee turn-over, an atmosphere of incivility can lead to weaker business relationships. A recent study conducted for the American Management Association found that nearly 50 percent of managers held back their best efforts when working for bosses who they felt were inconsiderate or unkind.

In today’s workplace, we have the ability of communicating with many people both in person and online on a daily basis. How you treat those people through an e-mail, a phone call or a face-to-face conversation matters.  Respect and courtesy is something that should never go out of style.

Here are six basic ways to improve your workplace manners:

Make timely responses. There’s no doubt that you’ve been on the receiving end of the communication waiting game. You send out an e-mail expecting a prompt response and you are left hanging. You leave a detailed phone message and you don’t get a call back. Or you’re in charge of setting up a meeting date, and only a few people have gotten back to you.

It is probably more true than ever that time is money. In a very real sense, when people don’t get back to you, opportunities can be lost. Don’t be one of those people that leaves others waiting for a response.

Get into the habit of returning phone calls and e-mails promptly. If you need more time to get the information that is requested of you, you can always send a quick, “Thanks for your e-mail. I will have those results for you by Friday.” Then follow through with your promise and get those results ready by Friday.

When you get back to people promptly, it shows you respect their time and efforts. You will see the results of this attention to detail in the form of those people getting back to you more quickly as well.

Pay attention.  When you are immersed in your tablet or listening to tunes on your headphones or always checking your phone for messages, you give off the vibe that you are disinterested in the job at hand and in the people around you. Limit your distractions at work.

While there is nothing wrong to listen to music while you work on a solo project, if you are constantly plugged in, you will miss out on what is going on around you. In addition, having your headphones on all the time at work is almost like wearing a “Do Not Disturb” sign. It can give others the signal that you don’t want to be part of what is going on or that you don’t think it is important to hear what others are saying.

Say thank you more. One of the first things parents teach their children is how to say “please” and “thank you.” Why do we stop saying them? When someone does a good job on a business report, send a thank you e-mail. When employees really go above and beyond on a project, let them know you appreciate it.

You can write a personal e-mail, make a phone call or really get noticed with a hand-written note, but saying thank you is a basic courtesy that gets forgotten all too often. Think of new ways to thank clients for their business as well. I have never heard of someone feeling over-thanked, have you?

Respect people’s boundaries. If you work in close proximity to others, keep in mind their personal space requirements. Even if there is not a door on a cubicle, for instance, announce your arrival when you approach a co-worker’s space. You can say something like “knock, knock” or simply “hello,” but it is rude to just walk in. Similarly, knock on an office door before entering, even if the door is open. It shows courtesy and respect for the other individual.

Another important way to respect boundaries is to immediately let callers know if they are on speaker phone and to not forward e-mails to others without the sender’s permission.

Avoid slang and inappropriate language. Now, some work places are more laid back than others, so you will have to keep your business and its culture in mind for this one. Generally, however, this rule falls into the category of “it is better to be safe than sorry.”  If you get into the habit of cleaning up your vocabulary — in spoken and written communications – you will be taken more seriously and you will not run the risk of offending others.

Respect other cultures and customs. As business expands internationally, many of us are communicating with people from other backgrounds. Be aware that many cultures are more formal than Americans are in business communications. Research what is appropriate for a particular country with which you are doing business, and you will show those clients or colleagues the respect they deserve. Also, be mindful of time zone differences.

Recent studies conducted by Harvard University and the Carnegie Foundation revealed that technical skills account for only 15 percent of success on the job. The remaining 85 percent depends on social skills.  When asked to define “civility,” most participants in the 2013 “Civility in America” study answered with a variation of the phrase “treating others with respect.” By following these simple rules, you will go a long way towards showing others respect and courtesy. It matters.

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