Practicing Uncommon Courtesy

“If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.”

John W. Gardner, author and government leader

If you’re like most of the people I meet, you’ve probably got too much free time on your hands.  Your job is easier than ever, and there isn’t enough to do at work to keep yourself busy.

Yeah, right!!!  Nobody seems to feel that way or say such things.  Most people are feeling a bit overwhelmed and are struggling to keep up with all the demands.

That being the case, every one of us needs to be as productive as possible at work.  None of us can afford to be distracted at work … because every time you get distracted at work … it will take you three to ten minutes to get totally re-focused and back in the productivity zone.

Unfortunately, there are 1001 distractions, frustrations, and irritations in the workplace. For example, you may be a new employee in an organization who is assigned to an office occupied by Jessica, a long-time employee.   Jessica has had the office all to herself for some time and has been using the whole space as if it were hers.  When you first moved in, Jessica cleared off the second desk area. As time passes, however, Jessica has been slowly taking over more and more of your space. You begin to feel that you are working in Jessica’s office, not a shared office.  You’ve even made a few comments like, “Wow, it’s getting cramped in here,” but Jessica doesn’t get your point or doesn’t seem to care.  Would that distract, frustrate, or irritate you?  Would that get in the way of your productivity?  Yes, of course. 

Or you may work in an organization that is staffed with a diversity of people from different cultures speaking different languages.  A few employees who speak a language other than English communicate with one another in that language.  Some of your coworkers think that’s just fine, while others feel that it is rude.  What do you think?  Does workplace etiquette demand that everyone speak a language that everyone else understands?

To increase productivity and job satisfaction at work, respect, manners, and etiquette are important.  Very important.  In fact, they add up to a lot more than common sense; they also make good cents.  They improve your bottom line.

So how do you get rid of some of those workplace distractions and increase workplace respect?

 1.  Become consciously aware of how your behavior impacts others.

Too many people don’t even think about how their behavior affects others.  They simply “do their thing” or say “That’s just the way I am.  Take it or leave it.”  That’s silly and stupid.  You’ll never get ahead taking that approach.  And as Dale Carnegie used to say, you’ll never win friends and influence people if you take that approach.

To counteract that ineffective behavior, follow the Golden Rule.  Treat others the way you would like to be treated.  And give some thought to the Platinum Rule that says you should treat others the way they want to be treated. 

2.  Practice uncommon courtesy.

Perhaps that sounds strange, but “common courtesy” has all but disappeared in some people.  And other people have gotten “too busy” to pay attention to the little details that make a big difference. 

At a bare minimum, I suggest the following behaviors.  Greet people as you walk from one place to another at work.  Greet them cheerfully and greet them with a smile.  Mind your manners.  Say “please” and “thank you.”  Engage in some small talk occasionally.  It communicates warmth and friendliness. And it doesn’t matter if you talk about the traffic or the weather; you’re sending the message that you’re all part of the same team.

Return all borrowed items promptly and in the same condition or better than you received them.  Take back the stapler you borrowed with some staples left inside.  Leave the photocopier in working condition.  If a machine stalls or jams, take the time to undo the jam or to alert the proper person to fix it.

Beyond that, express your appreciation for what others do.  Do it with a smile.  And when birthdays come around, acknowledge them with your best wishes. 

3.  Monitor the sounds you make.

Be aware of how loudly you speak.  Monitor the volume of your conversations.  If people down the hallway comment on your conversations, it’s probably an indication that your voice is too loud.  When you’re speaking face to face with another person … or even on the telephone … consider closing your office door if you have one … or lowering your voice.

Keep your personal telephone conversations brief and infrequent.  Don’t ever forget that other people are nearby and your workplace is just that … a place of business.

4.  Be sensitive to scents and smells.

Some people are very distracted by the aromas other people bring into the workplace.  And even though your intentions might be good, you might be better off saving your cologne and perfume for social occasions instead of bringing them to work.  Ask your nearby coworkers if it’s okay for you to put fresh flowers and potpourri in your work area before you do it.

When you’re eating at your desk or in a shared area, avoid foods with strong smells and aromas that will travel throughout the workplace.  And as great as some foods are, their smells will make it very difficult for some people to work without distraction.

5.  Minimize visual pollution.

Keep your personal work area clean and neat at all times.  Generally, less is better when it comes to office and cubicle decor.  And use discretion when displaying personal items such as family photos and mementos so you don’t overdo, clutter, and obstruct your work area.

The workplace kitchen can be one of the biggest sources of co-worker tension because of the visual pollution left behind.  So if you expect everybody to clean up after themselves, start by modeling that same behavior yourself.  Wash and return all kitchen items to their proper place, clean up spills, and wipe countertops and tables as needed.  And when you leave food in a shared refrigerator, mark all items with your name and date.  Then remove all your items at the end of your work week.

All of the above talks about what YOU can do to eliminate any of your own behaviors, if they happen to be disrespectful.  But what should you do if you see other people displaying inappropriate or disrespectful behavior?  That will take several “Tuesday Tips” to answer.  But start with this one tip. 

6.  Confront disrespectful behavior.

The best thing you can do is to address poor behavior immediately. Don’t wait. 

If you’re a supervisor or manager, you should not tolerate behavior that is unacceptable, negative and detrimental to the team.  If you tolerate poor behavior, if you fail to address it, you’re telling all your other employees that this behavior is acceptable. You start to create a culture that allows disrespectful behavior … which will, in turn, cause more people to participate in the same poor behavior.   If you’re a coworker, the same advice still applies. Tell your coworker that you’d like a few minutes to discuss a difficult issue.  Ask him or her when it work best for the two of you to talk.  And when you get together, simply DESCRIBE the behavior of other person, TELL him or her how you felt, and ASK for the behavior you would like to see.  Avoid any name calling or judgmental statements. 

Instead of saying, “You’re rude,” say something like “When you did not respond to my comments at our team meeting, I felt dismissed. I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge my comments.  You don’t have to agree with me, but I would like some acknowledgement.”

We all spend lots and lots of hours at work in close proximity to other people. That’s bound to cause some stress, tension, and misunderstanding.  But you can reduce a lot of that stress … you can eliminate many of those distractions … and you can keep your productivity high if you follow these six tips.

Action:  What can you do to eliminate any of your own distracting and possibly disrespectful behaviors?