Etiquette to the Rescue

You may end up spending more waking hours with the people at work than you will with your loved ones at home. Eight hours a day for five days each week you spend time with the person on the job site or at the desk or cube next to you. And when you arrived for your first day on the job, you may not have known anyone at all. Yet, you are expected to be able to get along with these people, even if you don’t really know them or even like them.

Some common basic courtesies—we call them manners—can help make a difference in how well you get along with your coworkers, even the ones you may not really like very much.


1. Say “Hello.” Greet people you encounter, especially the first time you see them as you arrive at work. A nod and brief, “Good morning, how are you doing?” is a pleasant way to recognize colleagues at the start of the day. You don’t have to stop and engage in a big conversation, but if you know your coworker had an event the evening before, like a birthday celebration, a brief inquiry is a nice addition to the “Hello.”

2. Cubicles and open office areas are decidedly un-private. Yet, people receive calls that deal with private and perhaps even difficult situations. If you receive such a call, make an effort to move to a private office or empty conference room to continue the call. When you can’t help but overhear your cube-mate’s private call, you might take a quick bathroom break or visit the water cooler to give him or her a sense of privacy.

3. Cubicle walls are walls. They should be treated as such. Don’t just lean over your wall to start talking to an adjoining cubicle occupant. You may be interrupting his or her concentration, or, if the person has a guest it may appear to them that you have been eavesdropping on their conversation. Instead, make the effort to walk around and enter the person’s cubicle, and then, if appropriate, you can initiate or join in on the conversation.


4. Pay attention to the people you are with. When someone is visiting with you at your desk, don’t watch for the next email and then start reading it. If your cellphone rings, send the call to voice mail, and if you receive a text notification, you don’t have to look at it instantly. Focus on the person whom you are with – that’s who deserves your undivided attention.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected]

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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