Jungle rules of the corporate office.

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An unintentional breach of etiquette can turn your office into high school with just one small incident of burnt toast.


It can be a jungle out there. 'The Office' starring Ricky Gervais (UK) and Steve Carell (US) is a hit because its antics hit close to home for so many corporate professionals. Here are some serious tips for surviving the animal kingdom of your office.

Office etiquette is about being comfortable around people and making them comfortable around you! People are a key factor in your own and your business’ success. An unintentional breach of etiquette can turn your office into high school with just one small incident of burnt toast. Today’s workforce is more culturally diverse than ever before and there are often no firm guidelines. Workplace culture tends to be more informal and fast-paced than ever before and boundaries between personal and work life, between appropriate and unacceptable behaviours become blurred.Cue gym clothes hanging out to dry or the CEO still in is cycling lycra after 9am.

Tricky situations and their solutions

You are invited to attend a meeting. After sitting there for about 10 minutes, you realise that you don’t have much to contribute to the discussion. How do you ask to leave in a professional way?

You could assume that the person who invited you thought it was appropriate for you to be there.
I would suggest you don't ask to leave unless you have already addressed the issue that it's not relevant for you to be in meetings similar in the past. If you have taken your laptop or notepad into a meeting use the time to catch up on your to do list or take advantage of being privy to the information available to you in that meeting. After the meeting address the issue as politely as possible.

You are in an open office and someone is talking loudly on their mobile phone during a personal call

An open plan office can test the patience of most of us. However, the workplace rules are all about building relationships, yet providing feedback in a calm and assertive way. Try using words such as: “I understand that you had an important call to answer. I am not sure if you realised that we could all hear what you were saying. This open plan office makes things seem so loud. Next time, please could you take these calls in the break-out area?” Avoid sarcasm.

You need to convey bad news to a colleague – do you call or email?

Never hide behind email. If there is news that is not going to be pleasant for the recipient to hear, get a grip of your courage and make a phone call. Sometimes the wording of an email might not ring true and in a conversation it is easier to work with a listener and adapt according to their reactions.

There is back-stabbing happening in the office and you are encouraged to participate.

The best option is to shut it down! It is best to be upfront and not skirt issues or resort to whispering about the situation to other work mates. Back-stabbing is passive-aggressive behaviour and not part of strong office etiquette. If you hear about someone talking about you or anyone else behind their back, follow this formula: Clarify what you have heard, and assert yourself. You can then seek solutions and evaluate them. An example of this would be to formulate sentences such as “When I heard that you complained to others about the quality of my work… I was devastated. In the future, come to me directly if there is an issue. I will do the same for you.”

A co-worker has not submitted a high quality proposal to a client.

When you provide feedback to a co-worker on the standard of their work, focus on the improvements needed instead of the problems. “One way to strengthen this aspect of the proposal is to…” “Have you considered adding … in this section?”

The Basics

Don't leave dishes in the sink or a mess in the microwave or fridge, while this may not be relevant to your job, it's relevant to respecting others and nobody likes the office slob.

Be switched on and self-aware of your actions, body language and how you say things.
Treat others how you would like to be treated.
You have an impact – keep your antennae up and watch for people’s reactions.
There are not two social codes— one for those you admire and want to impress, another for those whom you consider unimportant. Be the same to all people.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, wear your smile.
To get ahead you don’t need to impress your boss alone – you need to get on well with your team members.
Manage your anger and avoid explosive reactions that you will later regret. Rather bite your tongue than make a provocative remark!
There is no point arguing and making a situation worse. Be empathetic and see things from the point of view of your team member. This might seem really tough, but it will allow you to control the situation and lead to a positive outcome.
Build bridges and never burn them – you never know when you will meet up again in the future.
Offer help to others and take an interest in your peers. Listen, listen, and listen.

Relationship-building phrases

I hear you, I understand I want to let you know how much I appreciate your ___ every day. Thanks for making my job easier by… I always appreciate the way you… Thank you for ___...

Advance along your career path through acting appropriately, sensitively and with strong judgement. Coworkers can be your allies… or your adversaries. Be sure to cultivate coworkers as allies at every level of the organisation, from the security staff, to the receptionist ….to the CEO.

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