How Not to Be a Pest at the Office
A ready reckoner for good manners at the workplace
Here's a situation: You are racing to meet a deadline and have been labouring on the story for hours, but the cantankerous colleague from across the office floor, who you're calling unprintable names in your head by now, is having an animated and extremely personal conversation with their ex. You do not want to be a part of it, but their voice just keeps drilling deeper. And now you're panicking and sweating from places unimaginable and desperately looking for a way out.
We all hate this colleague. Don't be like them. Thankfully, there are ways to improve on your interpersonal skills and keep out of your (high-strung) colleague's hair (this is turning out to be oddly autobiographical). Here are quick fixes for getting by at work without stepping on too many toes -- and looking good in the process.
BE A GOOD CITIZEN. Value your workplace; it makes you value your co-workers automatically. This translates to being mindful of others' space (particularly in today's open-plan offices) and time. What it means is, you put your phone on silent mode -- or, at least, turn the volume down so no one is subjected to your ringtone -- and avoid talking loudly in your bay (worse, near someone else's).
Surely you do not want to be remembered as the jerk that jumped the line at the cafeteria or forgot to give the right of way at the gate during rush hour? And I hope the person who keeps taking away my chair (and never putting it back!) reads this. While on the subject, it's best not to dawdle or loiter about inside the office -- a breakout area is designed for you to unwind, so make the most it! If there's none, just take five and step out.
Offering to pay for a birthday gift or a contributory lunch, informing in case of a delay and not keeping your colleagues waiting are some of the things that are guaranteed to get you in their good books. Avoid borrowing money or disturbing them after office hours. These tend to get people's goat.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY. Be tactful wherever possible, particularly with your seniors. Avoid vocabulary -- and body language -- that could work to your disadvantage. Do be courteous -- 'please' and 'thank you' go a long way. And I cannot stress this enough, treat office email with a degree of formality.
Do not interrupt colleagues or butt in on conversations that don't involve you. On a similar note, always offer to help out, but never compromise on your own work. And do give credit when it's due.
If a subject you know well is being discussed, it is good to sound knowledgeable but do not talk down or appear like an obnoxious know-all. Also, leaning in is great, but wild self-promotion isn't. Strike a balance.
No harm in being friendly, but do not flirt with your co-workers -- it is never charming. As some learn the hard way, innuendos can amount to sexual harassment. Also, avoid getting personal, like remarking on people's appearances. A seemingly harmless "Oh, you look so good today" may not land as well as expected, so it's best to stay out of such meaningless controversy. As an aside, do not get drunk at an office party, just because the drinks are on the house. And never reciprocate bad behaviour; turn the proverbial cheek!
DO NOT BE A DRAMA QUEEN. Do not be the 'difficult' person that the team avoids like the plague. Avoid backbiting and/or gossiping -- it's rude and damaging. Do not play politics, whine or burst into tears in the office.
SHOW THEM WHO'S THE BOSS. Fine-tune your relationship with the boss. There's quite a bit of room between a mole and a boss's lackey, so find that space. A blatant attempt to please can be off-putting. As the saying goes -- and I'm not making this up -- admire, don't slobber. If you need to correct them on something, you need to repeat after me: finesse, finesse, finesse. In case your differences are a matter of perspective, not facts, respectfully agree to disagree! Pssst … Keep your entitlement a secret; it irritates the hell out of bosses. Telling them you're busy is also not the best move either.
Now, bosses, take note: Don't name and shame, please. Humilia-ting an employee in front of others reflects badly on you. There is always a better way of handling a situation -- even if it's the hardest thing you have to do.
Prioritize your tasks and meet deadlines -- you will always be appreciated for it. Do not go into a meeting without looking at the agenda or doing your homework. Keep a few questions/suggestions ready. Conversely, do not hog all the attention or speak non-stop. You will get a thumbs up from not just the boss, but your colleagues as well.
DON'T BE A PIG. No one will tell you to shower regularly, but it is a good start. Do not go to work if you're too sick. If you do, you are pushing yourself in the wrong direction and exposing your colleagues to your germs.
Maintain house rules; there's a reason they're there (eye-roll at another mention of "rules are meant to be broken"). Keep your workspace clean and make sure cups and leftovers are cleared. Don't eat smelly or messy food at your desk, please? I've stopped keeping a track of the times I've walked in to dirty toilet seats and a messy trail of toilet-paper horror -- that's the stuff nightmares are made of. As they say, cleanliness is right next to godliness.