Promotion of civility within the workplace starts with at least promotion of basic workplace etiquette.
Workplace etiquette refers to unwritten rules or norms of acceptable conduct within a professional environment. Violations of workplace etiquette are not always punishable by company law, but ignoring etiquette guidelines have considerable consequences for an employee or a business entity.
In this article, you will be introduced to some tips in practicing workplace etiquette. In particular tips related to proper greeting, respect, involvement, and political correctness will be discussed.
The seeds of civility can be planted in an organization by encouraging every employee to give their co-workers greetings befitting the professional nature of the work environment.
What rules of greeting etiquette are worth remembering? Consider the following:
Formal Greetings: Always give a formal acknowledgment of another person’s presence, regardless of that person’s rank. Starting an interaction with greetings is a way of establishing rapport with new acquaintances and maintaining rapport with old ones. A “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening” is an excellent way to both initiate and maintain a positive relationship with a co-worker, client, or business partner.
In the same vein, greetings are best followed by expression of sincere interest in the person that you saw or met. For example, you can reply to an exchange of Good morning with “How do you do?” or “How are you doing today?”
When used as a greeting, questions like “How do you do?” are not meant to be answered in great detail. You can consider them as a polite way people can get abreast of what it going on with people’s lives. An appropriate reply can be as short as “I am doing very well. My son graduated from high school yesterday and the family is very thrilled. How about you? How are things at your end?” You and your co-worker can always schedule a longer chat at a more appropriate time.
Informal Greetings: Informal greetings can also be a great way of developing civility in a workplace. If familiarity is already established among co-workers, or when expressly invited to, informal greetings can set up positive working relationships in an organization. The use of “hi” and “hello” can put co-workers more at ease with each other, and set the foundation for social awareness.
Non-verbal greetings such as smiles, taps on the back, a handshake, a high five are also ways to develop civility within the workplace. Note though that it is not recommended to assume any familiarity unless expressly invited to.
Other etiquette rules worth considering when it comes to greeting: The following are a few simple rules when sending and receiving greetings:
Give greetings the attention that they deserve. Saying good morning to an entering staff member while you remain busily sorting folders on your desk can actually come across as uncivil instead of civil behavior. Instead, pause whatever it is you’re doing, even for a few seconds, to offer your pleasantries. Establish eye contact; stand up when greeting a superior or a client, even step from behind your desk to offer a handshake if necessary. Make the other person feel that you’re greeting them because you want to, not because you have to.
Remember that greetings are not limited to face-to-face conversations. Even when sending and receiving written correspondence, including electronic communication such as e-mail or an instant message, it is recommended that you begin and end your letter with a greeting. “Dear (name)” is traditionally greeting for written and electronic correspondence; the word dear is acceptable for both formal and informal communication. “Greetings!”, “Hope all is well at your end.” are also acceptable salutations. Letter closings can include greetings like “Best Regards,” “In appreciation of your message,” and “Cheers,”
In business settings, rank and professionalism matters. Make sure that you’re always sensitive to the power dynamics in an organization when offering greetings. For example, avoid addressing your boss using his or her first name/nickname unless given permission to.
The questions of “who should initiate a greeting?” and “when to offer a greeting? “are often debated, but a good rule of thumb is to always initiate a greeting as soon you see another person, regardless of rank. After all, you can’t go wrong with courtesy! The exception is when the other person is otherwise engaged and will likely construe your greeting as an interruption instead of a pleasantry. Greetings must also be appropriate to the context; you can’t offer a cheery greeting when the mood is grim or solemn such as during the aftermath of a workplace accident.
It may be said that the foundation of civility is respect.
Respect refers to positive esteem for another person, one that demands both deferential and considerate behavior. Respect is commonly perceived as something persons of higher rank demand from their subordinates. In reality though, respect is something every person, regardless of rank, both freely give to, and inspire in, those they interact with.
In many ways, respect can be summarized in terms of attitudes. When you respect another person, you understand that he or she is a person of worth, which in turn demands that you treat him or her ethically. A co-worker’s worthiness of respect has little to do with his or her job performance. All people are deserving of respect regardless of their contribution to an organization.
Respect may also be conceptualized in terms of boundaries; that is, we know that we can’t act just as we please when relating with a person that we respect. Every individual, for example, requires work space in order to perform their task effectively. Intruding on this workplace, for instance speaking loudly when you know someone is conducting a task that requires mental concentration can be a sign of disrespect.
What are the ways you can show respect for your co-workers? The following are just a few ways to consider:
Practice active listening. Every person deserves to be given attention when they’re communicating. In fact, it’s recommended for employees to make a habit of encouraging their peers in contributing more to the discussion. More importantly, give each person’s message fair consideration. Just because a suggestion came from someone not considered as a subject matter expert doesn’t mean that the suggestion is automatically without merit. (Active Listening will be discussed in more detail in a later module.)
Respect your co-worker’s property. Disrespect in the workplace plays itself, not just through face-to-face interactions, but also through lack of consideration for co-worker’s belongings and work space and privacy. For instance, it’s not uncommon in offices to have issues regarding missing lunches from the kitchen, or missing pens and staplers from a desk! Clarify from the onset what is to be considered as office property and personal property. Better yet, establish rules and guidelines when it comes to using any and all equipment and materials from the office. For instance, should reservations be first made before using a meeting room? These rules and guidelines can go a long way in maintaining civility in the workplace.
Respect the right to own beliefs. Most companies advocate diversity in the workplace. Diversity means that you’ll have people of different religions, political beliefs, abilities, traditions, and values working in the same organization. For as long as a person’s faith and beliefs do not interfere in his or her work performance, there’s no reason for said faith and beliefs to be an issue in the company. And definitely, no manager or co-worker has cause to compel a person to convert religion and abandon belief systems. A healthy debate is okay, but only for social purposes and not as a way to discriminate or bully.
Use your co-workers’ time wisely. A little known way you can practice respect in the workplace is by respecting your co-worker’s time. On the jobsite, time is an important commodity, especially when there is much to be done and employees are paid on an hourly basis. Don’t waste your co-worker’s time with idle gossip or unimportant concerns. Keep meetings short and to the point. And set appointments instead of ambushing. These little acts of courtesy may not look much at first glance, but they will surely be appreciated by those with lots to do and think about.
Involvement refers to an active participation in the activities of an organization and its community of people. For instance, employees who practice involvement make it a point to get to know what programs their HR Department is doing for them, and participate actively in these programs. There is a feeling of personal investment in how the company is doing; great sales are a source of personal pride because you know you have helped make the company’s success happen.
Involvement also demands that you don’t just content yourself with getting the tasks in your job description done. Instead, you’re on the constant look-out for ways to make yourself an active part of the system. When the system is experiencing problems, you don’t view yourself as merely “caught in the crossfire” or a “victim.” Instead, you see yourself as a potential “agent of change.” You jump at opportunities to better your group as soon as the opportunity presents itself. And you don’t wait to be told what must be done; you take the initiative to inquire how you can be of help.
Being Politically Correct
Political Correctness, commonly abbreviated as PC, is a way of addressing, and at times behaving towards, other people that takes special care in not creating offense against others, especially against potential victims of discrimination.
Political correctness is based on the idea that language captures attitudes, and potentially insulting language, even if delivered unintentionally by a speaker, can communicate and perpetuate prevailing negative attitudes against people commonly discriminated against.
An example of political correctness is the use of the term “persons with disabilities” instead of “disabled person.” This is to ensure that the premium when addressing persons with hearing, visual, mobility impairment, and any other disability, is their personhood instead of their limitations. In fact, the word “challenged” is preferred in some social circles as opposed to “impaired” (e.g. vertically challenged instead of height impaired) in order to communicate the idea that a disability need not mean lack of capability.
Another example of political correctness is the use of gender-sensitive language. Titles that specify a particular gender, when a position can be held competently by both man and woman, need to be reframed in order to be gender-neutral. For example, the chairperson is preferred to chairman, and cleaner is more acceptable than cleaning lady.
Contrary to popular belief, political correctness is not lying. Neither is it sugarcoating the harsh truth for the people concerned, or patronizing individuals who could otherwise defend themselves. Instead, it’s a way of positively reframing statements that box some members of the population into negative stereotypes.
It is, however, possible to overdo political correctness, to the extent that the positive spirit behind it becomes an object of ridicule.
More About Civility in The Workplace
Introduction to Workplace Civility
Costs and Rewards of Workplace Civility
Conflict Resolution at The Workplace
Getting to the Cause of Incivility
Negotiation and Workplace Incivility
Writing a Workplace Civility Policy
Implementing the Workplace Civility Policy