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Office Etiquette Rules You Should Never Ignore

Updated on April 3, 2017
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I'm a business communications coach who teaches writing, speaking, and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

You and your co-workers can spend upwards of 30 – 50 hours a week together in the same office. Is it any wonder that over time, some of the things your office mates say and do start to drive you bonkers? But before you think you have perfect manners and never bother or annoy others at work, take a look at this list of office etiquette rules you should never ignore. Many people don’t even realize that their own habits can irritate others. And they won’t likely tell you if you are guilty of any of these transgressions either.

Does the sound of your co-worker chewing gum or talking loudly put you in a bad mood at work? Here are some other common sources of aggravation in the office.
Does the sound of your co-worker chewing gum or talking loudly put you in a bad mood at work? Here are some other common sources of aggravation in the office.

Talking loudly. Strive to use your ‘inside voice’ at all times. If for some reason you have to talk loudly to someone on the phone because of a bad connection or loud background noise on their end, try to move the call into a private office or some other place away from where others are working. Beyond having to speak over construction noises, sirens or other loud sounds, there really is no reason to raise your voice at work.

Not cleaning up after yourself. One of the most common complaints heard from office workers the world over is that there are always people at work who will leave a mess in the sink, put food in the microwave without covering it and leaving crumbs and blobs of food on the lunch table. But the kitchen isn’t the only crime scene when it comes to people making a mess. Don’t be that person who makes a mess in the bathroom sink and on the counters. Used paper towels dropped on the floor instead of put in the trash, water puddles all over the counter, hair in the sink---these are all gross things that no one should have to deal with.

Doing your personal grooming at your desk. Clipping your nails, applying nail polish or removing it, using strong lotions and creams, flossing, brushing your hair,---these are grooming habits that should not be done at your desk but rather carried out discretely in the washroom or at home.

Engaging in office gossip. Does it really need saying that as an adult, gossip has no place in the workplace, or anywhere for that matter. Not only is office gossip harmful to others, you risk damaging your professional credibility if you participate in churning the rumor mill about the people you work with. In extreme cases, gossiping can led to charges of harassment and bullying, not to mention potential lawsuits from defaming other people. Remember the old mantra from the classic children’s movie Bambi: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Demonstrating poor communications skills. Communicating effectively with someone else or with a group of people involves so much more than just speaking in plain, truthful language; it involves the ability to be patient, to listen, to respect other people’s time, and to keep people who need to be apprised of situation ‘in the loop’ so that they can responds appropriately and do their job effectively. Talking over other people in a meeting, interrupting, and speaking in a condescending tone to others are not just rude and annoying habits, they are a sign that you don’t respect your peers and colleagues.

"Hey! What happened to my favorite pen?"
"Hey! What happened to my favorite pen?"

Taking what isn’t yours. Most people aren’t crooks who like to steal other people’s stuff, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t guilty of taking what isn’t theirs. From using someone’s specialty creamer in the kitchen to using supplies that are specifically set aside for use by certain departments to absent -mindedly borrowing things and never returning them—these acts of petty thievery, while minor are still rude and annoying. Always ask to before using other people’s things and promptly return equipment that you have borrowed from a co-worker.

Chewing gum loudly or during presentations and conversations with others. Chewing gum at work is like fidgeting, but instead on using your hands, you are fidgeting with your mouth. Lip smacking, gum cracking and the sound and sight of someone chewing incessantly can be as distracting as someone clicking and twirling their pens non-stop in a meeting. If you must chew gum to freshen your breathe or combat the urge to smoke, then do so quietly at your desk. Gum should never be chewed in front of clients, during meetings or on the phone.

Taking a longer lunch and coffee breaks than other staff members. When you dawdle back to your desk after your coffee and lunch break, other staff have to pick up the slack. Don’t foster feelings of resentment from your co-workers by being late all the time.

Conspicuously organizing after-hours social events and not inviting everyone in the office. If you are planning a social event after work in the office, be prepared to invite everyone in the office to join you. Kids at school are reminded that birthday party invitations shouldn’t be handed out in front of classmates unless everyone in the class is invited. If you are planning a smaller after-hours event such as a dinner party at your hours and you can’t accommodate everyone in your tiny apartment, send your invitations to the guests discretely.

Poor posture in meetings and aloof body language. Not only is slouching in your chair bad for your neck and spine, it suggests that you are not interested in the discussion at hand. Whether you are sitting across from your boss during a performance review or watching a boring slide show presentation from the accounting department, sit up straight and look interested. No matter how dull you think the subject matter is, give other people the respect and attention they deserve.

© 2017 Sally Hayes

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