Forget The Song: Respect Is Spelled E-T-I-Q-U-E-T-T-E

“Watch your manners and make choices that will enhance, not detract from, your professional image.” 

Marjorie Brody, author of “You Can’t Do It Alone”

Remember the old song that talked about R-E-S-P-E-C-T?  Everybody wants it, but all too often coworkers feel just the opposite.  They see their coworkers doing things or saying things that seem unprofessional and disrespectful.  And in such a work environment, morale, motivation, engagement, and productivity ALWAYS go down and costs ALWAYS go up. Costs go up in terms of gossip, negative feelings, work distractions, and team dysfunction.

In other words, some people simply don’t understand the nature and importance of workplace respect.  Other people were never taught the rules of workplace etiquette.  That’s sad … because most of us spend a major portion of our lives in a workplace environment.  And we desperately want it to be a pleasant and productive experience.

For example, you may work in a place like John.  John’s coworker in the next cubicle has a habit of constantly clearing his throat, snorting and making other unpleasant sounds. John has tried to ignore this behavior, but finds it extremely distracting. John wonders if he should just work harder to ignore this behavior and he wonders if his coworker might have a health problem that is causing this behavior.  John wonders if he should counter-attack by making equally unpleasant noises, speak to his co-worker, or go directly to HR and complain.

Some of you may work in a company that has provided a spacious kitchen with a large refrigerator, a microwave and a coffee maker. Most of the employees using this space are respectful of others … cleaning up after themselves, removing old food from the refrigerator, and making a new pot of coffee when the pot is empty. Unfortunately, there are a few employees who are so discourteous that they do none of those things.  And as you can well imagine, the behavior of those disrespectful coworkers has led to resentment among the tidier coworkers who have to pick up after them.

To overcome some of those obnoxious behaviors, to up the R-E-S … P-E-C-T factor or etiquette score in your organization, it starts with you.  After all, you can’t expect others to give you what you refuse to give to them.  So I suggest the following: 

Take a look at yourself before you point a finger at others. 

One of my clients, Mitchell Thomas, a Networks Contract Manager for the Veterans Health Administration, shared this quiz with me.  Take it.  It will give you an idea as to how much professionalism or etiquette you’re displaying at work.  Simply answer “True” or “False” for each statement.

1.  I say “good morning” to co-workers when I enter the office each morning.

2.  I clean up after I use the kitchen, cafeteria or snack area.

3.  I say “thank you” when someone does something nice for me.

4.  I arrive on time for meetings.

5.  I keep my anger under control.

6.  I don’t think it’s okay to tell jokes about race or sex, even if they’re “tasteful.”

7.  I don’t think it’s okay to just “drop in” on coworkers, even if I have something I want to tell or ask them.

8.  If I send an e-mail message, I make sure that it is relevant, appropriate, clear, and checked for spelling and grammatical errors.

9.  I am respectful of coworkers’ workspace, e.g., not using their desks or computer, and separating my belongings from theirs.

10. I don’t make promises to others if I’m not certain that I can keep them.

Scoring: Give yourself 1 point for every “True” response.

Score Interpretation:

  • 0-5 Big problem.  You are committing a number of etiquette errors.  Perhaps someone has said something about your behavior and you’re already doing something to fix it.  If not, and if you keep it up, your career is probably going nowhere, and you may not have a job.
  • 6-8 Okay.  Your office manners are somewhat satisfactory.  But don’t be satisfied with “good enough.”  Take a look at the areas where you responded “False;” improve them, and you should see your career rolling forward.
  • 9-10 Excellent.  You are probably one of those people described as “a pleasure to work with.” Your respectful behavior, professional etiquette, and sensitivity to others should move you far along on the road to success.

The point is this:  You have little or no right to complain about the behavior of others if your own behavior is less than appropriate.  Look at yourself before you point your finger at others.  It’s the first step in creating a better workplace environment.

And then … 

Learn to avoid inadvertently disrespectful behavior and inappropriate etiquette.

On the one hand, I feel a little foolish talking about this.  After all, I think everybody should just naturally “know” how to distinguish between good and bad behaviors.  And I think everybody should just automatically “mind their manners.”

The sad truth is some people were never taught what was appropriate and inappropriate.  And other people were never taught the simplest of manners.  I see it all the time.  I see it when I buy groceries and the clerk doesn’t bother to say a word to me, not a word, but simply points to the machine where I should swipe my credit card.  I see it when I walk down the corridors of a company and greet people who don’t bother to greet me in return.  And I see it when I walk through a company, notice bit’s of garbage on the floor, and watch employees walk by it rather than pick it up, because it’s “not their job.”

So please forgive me if I seem too simplistic.  But from thousands of interviews, employees have made it clear that they don’t want to see the following behaviors in their coworkers.  They see such behaviors as disrespectful and inappropriate etiquette.  

I share the list for one reason:  if you’re guilty of any of these behaviors, STOP IT if you want to be liked, respected, followed, and admired.  Of course, there may be exceptions to this rather exhaustive list, but for the most part you’ll be better off NOT doing these things than doing them.

  • Have poor personal hygiene
  • Leave old or spoiled food in the refrigerator
  • Don’t clean up after using the office kitchen, sink, restroom or appliances
  • Leave trash or personal belongings in other people’s work spaces
  • Don’t follow through when you say you’ll do something
  • Refuse to acknowledge others unless they speak to you first
  • Use language that is overly familiar, e.g., calling someone “honey” or “dear”
  • Wear clothing that is dirty, too casual, too seductive or distracting in some other way
  • Flirt with coworkers, vendors or customers
  • Wear too much perfume or after-shave
  • Drop in on others while they are working without asking if it’s okay to interrupt
  • Habitually arrive late at meetings
  • Gossip about others
  • Have outbursts of anger or yell and curse
  • Say negative things about other employees behind their backs
  • Brag
  • Talk too much about your personal life (Some is good, very good, but knowing the right amount is critical.)
  • Speak too loudly on the telephone
  • Eat food at your desk that has a strong smell
  • Tell jokes that involve race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity or national origin
  • Touch others too much or in inappropriate ways
  • Invade their personal space, standing too close when you talk to them
  • Send sloppy e-mail messages
  • Borrow things but forget to return them
  • Play music in your cubicle that others can hear
  • Forget to return the restroom key or put it in the wrong place (or even take it home by mistake)
  • Don’t say “thank you”
  • Waste your time while others are working hard
  • Don’t return phone calls in a timely manner
  • Keep asking other people the same questions even though they answered your questions before
  • Start meetings late and/or don’t end them on time
  • Don’t pick up your completed copies from the copy room or pick up pages you have sent to the printer.
  • Don’t check faxes or copies you have made to make sure that all the pages are yours
  • Carry on loud conversations outside of your office or cubicle
  • Borrow money and forget to return it
  • Frequently complain and/or criticize others
  • Block walkways or doorways when carrying on conversations
  • Don’t pay attention when others are speaking to you
  • Keep others waiting
  • Leave voice mail messages that are difficult to understand (in particular, saying your phone number so quickly that others have to listen several times to get it right)
  • Use emoticons (those little faces that express an emotion) in office e-mail
  • Leave the coffee pot empty
  • Forward on every e-mail you get because you think it’s interesting without asking if the other person wants this information

Getting ahead and being a great success has an awful lot to do with doing the right things.  But it also has a lot to do with avoiding a host of nonprofessional behaviors … such as the ones listed above.  Make it your goal to be free of all those listed behaviors and you may very well find other people following your example.

Action:  Identify 5 of the offensive behaviors listed above that you are sometimes guilty of performing.  Decide that starting today you are done with those behaviors.