Although many people associate the word etiquette with proper manners and formal social functions, etiquette also can be viewed as a code of behavior that helps a person act properly when meeting new people or navigating unfamiliar situations. Rules of etiquette are often identical to the rules of consideration for others, and paying attention to the polite practices of any group in which you participate can help others see you as a respectful and thoughtful person.
Some general rules of etiquette apply in most situations. For example, you should always reply politely and respectfully when you are addressed, thank those who help you, and excuse yourself if you are in someone's way. Many specific group situations have their own etiquette rules. For example, etiquette observed in church may differ widely from the rules that apply to a sports stadium. If you are not familiar with the expected etiquette in a given situation, let common sense dictate respectful behavior. You should act in a way that takes others’ feelings into account without drawing undue attention to yourself.
Basic office etiquette involves taking responsibility for fulfilling the expectations of your job. If you are late to work, or if you are the first to rush out the door at the end of the day, this behavior can reflect poorly on you. Punctuality will reinforce the impression that you are serious and committed to your job, while lateness can inconvenience those who may have to wait for you. You should always keep careful records of your commitments and make sure to fulfill them unless you have a valid reason for not doing so. If you will be unable to do something that you have agreed to do, you should notify those who will be affected in advance.
Good personal boundaries are important on the job, especially when people work closely together. While you may share stories occasionally, talking too much about your personal life in the workplace can make others uncomfortable. You should not try to sell things to your colleagues, invite them to your church, or attempt to persuade them to your political beliefs. Personal comments about a coworker's body or appearance should always be avoided, and you should never flirt or make suggestive comments or sexual jokes in the workplace. Personal phone calls should be kept to a minimum, and you should refrain from talking too loudly or listening to the communications of others.
E-mail has become a standard form of daily communication, but office e-mail requires more attention than personal messages. Though this type of correspondence can sometimes seem to invite the use of an informal tone, you should not use the same language in an office e-mail that you would use when writing an e-mail to a friend. You should use standard sentence structure and correct punctuation and keep your messages short and clear. Do your best to remain professional and courteous, and avoid popular slang or abbreviations. You should also avoid writing in all capital letters, as some may interpret this as an equivalent of shouting.
You should always reread e-mails carefully before sending them, checking not only for spelling and sense but also for tone. The written word can be far less forgiving than a conversation, and a directly worded e-mail might be viewed by some as harsh or even hostile. A joking remark can be interpreted as an offensive comment, especially without facial and voice cues. Once a message is sent, you cannot retrieve it or control who might see it, so you should always think carefully before you commit any thought or remark to e-mail. Be very cautious about using your work e-mail for personal correspondence.
Unless it is absolutely necessary, you should not try to work out a disagreement through e-mail. Though it may seem easier to communicate in writing, it is always best to speak in person or on the phone if you are having difficulties with someone. The distanced nature of e-mail may allow you to use language that is more sharp and severe than you might otherwise use in person, and disagreements can escalate quickly.
Work meetings can be time consuming and frustrating, and a conscious approach to structure and procedure can help make them more productive. When planning a meeting, it may be helpful to prepare an agenda beforehand that can be presented to the rest of the group at the beginning of the meeting for approval and additions. This simple practice can help everyone participate in the meeting more effectively.
Observing good etiquette at meetings can help you make a constructive contribution. You should not arrive late for a meeting, as this shows a lack of respect for others’ time. If you must be late, you should enter quietly and make it your responsibility to catch up without disrupting the meeting. You should also avoid arriving more than a few minutes early, as that may disturb those who are making preparations. Be careful not to dominate the discussion or interrupt other speakers. If others seem to be talking too much, you may be able to change the dynamic by asking those who have not spoken to share their ideas. It is important to avoid becoming angry or confrontational in a meeting. If you have a difficult interaction, try to make an appointment to deal with it later in private.
In general, everyone would like to be viewed as a valuable individual rather than classed as a member of a racial, ethnic, or cultural group. Common sense should be your guide. You should make the extra effort to learn to pronounce unfamiliar names correctly and avoid personal comments or questions that point out differences. As you get to know a coworker, you may ask respectful questions about their lives, but you should not ask deeply personal questions or make any remarks that imply judgment.
One of the most important elements of etiquette in the multicultural workplace is to avoid making assumptions and generalizations. White, English-speaking workers may be from other countries, and workers with uncommon names may be from families who have lived in the United States for several generations. If you feel truly ignorant about a colleague's culture, you can do your own research in order to avoid making insensitive comments. Your coworker should not be placed in the position of educating you about his or her culture or ethnicity. You might suggest that your workplace institute a cross-cultural awareness program to increase understanding and communication between workers.
Social relationships with coworkers can be both rewarding and challenging. You may be called upon to socialize with colleagues at company events, such as holiday parties or summer picnics, and you should keep in mind that you will be seeing these party guests again when you return to work. Therefore, it is important for you to remain professional, polite, and considerate in social situations. As at work, you should avoid being very early or very late to office-related social events. You should avoid drinking too much alcohol, making personal comments, or engaging in loud behavior, and you should also refrain from talking chiefly about work or introducing controversial subjects. Social situations can provide an opportunity for you to learn about your colleagues. Making a good impression at a social event can earn you support when you are back on the job.
If you are a supervisor, you have a degree of power over your coworkers, and this requires you to follow a honorable code of behavior in order to avoid abusing that power. Your comments and conversations carry special weight, so you should always be careful to use a calm, polite tone when communicating with those you supervise. You should try to balance critical remarks with positive notice whenever possible, and you should never criticize a worker in front of others. You can show respect for your workers’ privacy and time by apologizing if you must interrupt them. Body language is also important, as a supervisor who talks from behind a desk or stands over a worker can seem threatening. Conversations can be more productive if workers and supervisors sit in a more balanced arrangement.
Though you will want to develop friendly relationships with your workers, you should understand that they may be hesitant to form a personal relationship with you. It is important for supervisors to avoid complimenting workers on their appearance or clothes, as this type of remark can seem inappropriate and may lead to or be mistaken for sexual harassment. You should not ask your workers to connect with you on social media websites such as Facebook, as the invitation may be perceived as an unwelcome intrusion that they cannot refuse. If a worker invites you, you may consider accepting, but you should keep your communications in that forum reserved and professional.
In dealing with customers on the telephone, you should maintain principles of consideration, honesty, and unfailing politeness. You may need to help your client navigate your telephone system in order to solve his or her problem. If you cannot help the client, make sure that he or she is transferred to the right person and that that person follows through.