Sunday, January 10, 2010

Office Etiquette

One you've gotten that job you want to work in a congenial and harmonious office environment. If you want to keep the job and advance your career you do not want to be a disruptive presence.

You do this by practicing good office etiquette. It's another basic aspect of good character. Link here.

Etiquette shows active consideration for the feelings of others. It is more important to make a considerate gesture than to protest that you feel someone's pain.

Neither I nor Miss Manners believe that you can arrive at good manners by worshiping your own feelings and acting as though everyone should do as much.

Etiquette is more about rules than empathy. When people write to Miss Manners they most often want to know the rule for dealing with a certain sticky situation. If it was just a question of feeling everyone else's pain, then we would not have so many books offering the rules for proper etiquette.

But isn't it good to put yourself in someone else's shoes? Isn't it a basic social skill? To that I would answer: Yes and No. It depends on what you mean by feeling someone else's feeling.

Try an example: most adult men who are involved in relationships with women know that it is a good idea to send an occasional bouquet of flowers. Women like flowers; they like receiving flowers. Men do it because they know that it is one of the basic rules of intersexual gift-giving.

But do they send flowers because they know what it feels like to be a woman receiving flowers from a man she loves. I might be revealing a little too much obtuseness, but I believe that they do not.

Men do not know what and how women feel about any one of a number of situations... from receiving flowers to being a bride to giving birth to being a mother.

Through trial-and-error they learn the right and wrong ways to act toward and with women.

Women do not expect men to know how women feel. Men who feel that their advanced sensibility allows them to project themselves into the stirrups during childbirth, cause a great deal of trouble... for not respecting the uniqueness of a woman's experience.

Better to follow the rules than your feelings.

Similarly in the office. When everyone is misbehaving for lack of good etiquette, it might be a good thing for a manager to set out the rules for proper office behavior.

If some colleagues had worked in offices where everyone talked loudly and ate pastrami sandwiches at their desks they are not likely to understand why people in a new office find such behavior rude.

It is surely a good thing, as the article suggests, to be courteous and polite, to ask whether a choice builds a relationship or just feels good to you.

It is also a good thing, as the article advises, to ask those who trust... whether your voice is too loud, whether your workstation is too messy, and whether you have been coming across as dismissive and abrupt.

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