Here is a brief discussion of politeness on the job that will appear in the next edition of Interpersonal Messages. It's kind of a complement to the post on Relationship Politeness (2/27/09).
Politeness at work will prove important from your initial interview at a college job fair through the face-to-face interview, to your first day on the job, and, of course, to your progression up the organizational ladder. In one study some 80 percent of employees surveyed believed that they did not get respect at work, and 20 percent felt they were victims of weekly incivility. Rudeness in the workplace, it’s been argued, reduces performance effectiveness, hurts creativity, and leads to increased worker turnover—all of which are costly for the organization (Tsiantar, 2005). Not surprisingly, organizations are devoting considerable attention to politeness. A search of Google for “politeness +business” recently yielded over 1,000,000 sites.
Not surprisingly, the teaching of workplace politeness is now big business with thousands of firms offering their services to teach workplace politeness. A Google search for “business etiquette +consultant” yielded approximately 200,000 sites. Demonstrating the principles of politeness on the job is clearly one of the qualifications for moving up within any organization.
Politeness on the job follows the same general rules stressed for effective interpersonal interaction stressed throughout this text. For example, be positive, be expressive, listen carefully, and so on. Nevertheless, there are certain rules for polite interaction that take on special importance in the workplace. To complicate matters just a bit, each organization—much like each culture--will have somewhat different rules for what they consider polite. Nevertheless, here are a few general suggestions for politeness on the job, which seem near universal.
• Be respectful of a colleague’s time. This rule suggests lots of specifics; for example, don’t copy those who don’t need to be copied, be brief and organized, respond to requests as soon as possible and when not possible, alert the other person that, for example, “the figures will be sent as soon as they arrive, probably by the end of the day.”
• Be respectful of a person’s territory. Like animals, humans are very territorial. This is especially true in the business world where status distinctions are very important and govern the rules of territoriality. So, for example, don’t invade another’s office or desk space and don’t overspend your welcome. In brief, treat another’s work space as someone’s private territory into which you must be invited.
• Follow the rules for effective electronic communication, which will naturally differ from one workplace to another. Generally, look for rules governing the use of e-mails, Internet game playing, cell phones (see Chapter 4, p. 00), social networking (see Chapter 5, p. 000), and instant messaging.
• Discard your Facebook grammar, spelling, acronyms, and smileys. These may be seen as not showing sufficient respect for someone high in the company hierarchy. The general suggestion offered for people writing into newsgroups is appropriate here as well; watch how other people write before writing yourself. If you find no guidance here, your best bet is to write as if your email is being graded by your English professor. This means editing for conciseness, proof reading, and spell checking.
• Uses the appropriate medium for sending messages. Generally, the rule is to respond in kind—for example, if a question is asked in email, answer it in email.
• Avoid touching except in shaking hands. Touching is often interpreted as a sexual overture, so it’s best avoided on the job. Touching may also imply a familiarity that the other person may not welcome. Your best bet is to avoid initiating touching but don’t be offended if others put their arm on our shoulder or pat you on the back.
• In generally, follow the organization’s rules of politeness—for example, answering phones, to addressing the hierarchy, dress, lateness, and desk materials.
• Treat everyone politely, even the newest intern—as if that person will one day be your boss.