Freshman etiquette at work
IT IS how good at your job you are that gets you promoted, it's how you do it! Many of us in our cupidity think that its best to hone our abilities to a finely sharpened point and then spend the rest of our working life endeavouring to make sure that the fine point remains sharp. Then we wonder why we find ourselves in a dead-end job with no place to go but sideways or out, but depressingly, never up. What makes matters worse is that a Johnny-come-lately, who comes to you regularly to ask you for advice, is advanced over your head.
How does he do it and why you get relegated to the boondocks should be the question on your lips. To answer that yourself, check him out yourself. First: Do you like him? It's likely you do, so, if you do, why? Do peers, subordinates and the management generally like him? If so, why? Once you crack this, you'll know why he, who knows less than you do and does a lot less, gets the job you've been hankering after for years.
One of the reasons he's so popular, even if he's not as productive as you is because he probably goes out of his way to be nice to everybody, an activity that you probably thought was good only for the capability challenged. You're not the only one who thinks that, which is why we must all rethink our preconceptions and not undervalue the importance of positive projection.
Very few of us realise that good manners, can get us far further on our career path than mere hard work. In fact, etiquette magically transforms a hierarchical ladder into a high-speed escalator. The opposite, bad conduct or behaviour can severely damage our chances, officially, and socially. Remember that most hiring today is done attitudinally, in the sense that people are rejected because they have a `bad' attitude. This feeling is a notion carried by interviewers who notice small infringements of acceptable etiquette, but are not able to put their finger accurately on the reason why they felt there was something wrong.
In these days of political correctness and ultra high sensitivity, it has become important for people to respect the feelings and sensibilities of others as never before. Racial, ethnic and gender-related slurs are unacceptable and anything even vaguely suggestive is branded as harassment, and is liable for action both official and legal. While not all organisations are as strict, the fact is infraction of all or any of the rules can (and will) cause you to be summarily dismissed.
The truth of the matter is that etiquette differs from place to place, and that includes social and workplaces. Behaviour with workplace acquaintances and colleagues is very different from your interaction with friends, family and neighbours. Your behaviour follows certain rules with the people who know you informally, and other rules apply at work. Its not as if the twain never meets; it does, but, by and large, one is informal and the other is formal. For one thing, you can choose your social circle, you can't choose whom you work with. You have a certain latitude of expression when you talk to your friend at home, but none when you do at work. Often we are confused with the mixed signals we pick up from TV serials and foreign-locale programming. Come back to earth. It doesn't work that way. Foreign workplaces are never as chummy and informal as depicted on satellite TV, and though workplaces are riddled with scheming and underhand skulduggery, they do not always include itinerant romance and burgeoning promiscuity. While some new-economy companies are making an attempt to promote a more casual approach to workplace etiquette, given the odd working hours and the strange biorhythmic inversions, they have found that this change does not really improve productivity. In a country where there exists a certain formality in social and familial behaviour, it is unlikely that workplace behaviour be any less formal. Organisations that began with a casual dress code and flat hierarchies have now realigned their rules to a rather more formal structure. Culturally, we as a society do not feel comfortable treating an older colleague or senior with the same casual attitude, as we would while talking to peer. Just as, at home we prefix an honorific to even our elder siblings, a practice unheard of in the west in recent times. We are different and trying to adopt customs from other cultures may not always work well.
There are also rules that concern the way we do things in the office. The way we write, the way we talk on the telephone all have a certain acceptable manner of conduct - a manner that is likely to be different from the one we adopt at home. What can be worse is that many of these forms of interaction are recorded and may be used to your detriment if they are not up to the norm.
However, those of you who are making your first foray into the world of corporate behaviour need not feel daunted by the prospect. While you are expected to behave with decorum and restraint, old hands are tolerant of the odd mistake. Youthful high spirits though, should be restrained, and rules are there for people exactly like you to follow.
Treat it not like a draconian law that is inflexible, but as a cheat-sheet to help you succeed at what you have been trained. Don't be like an ingénue who asked me recently, why it should matter to add the frills and fancy to something if the facts are all there. Remember, as I reminded her, that its not what you do but how you do it that matters, and people in business don't have the time to spend making excuses for your gauche conduct, no matter however good your output, its all a matter of image.
Next week, I shall dwell on the essential conduct expected of new entrants into corporate houses, but before that just remember the following tips and take off with these to begin with:
Remember to treat everybody with the same consideration and politeness that you know you have to with the Chairman and managing director - it doesn't matter if the person is the doorman or your immediate boss. It's always worked for me, I know it will for you
Be as gender neutral as possible. If you have been brought up getting out of your seat when a lady enters a room and continue to do so in your workplace, do so even when a man enters. If you open doors for ladies, do so for men too, regardless of their place in the hierarchy
Be polite and use language that is generally accepted, and never interrupt when others are talking, even if you have a better idea. Ask for permission to speak in any company except when you are chairing a meeting. When people you want to meet are busy, do not burst in on them unless the building is on fire - otherwise you'll be fired
Just as your mother told you not to associate with schoolmates whom she felt were a bad influence on you, try not to `jam' with a set of rebels in the office who try to undermine the fabric of the workplace. It will only do you harm - more than you ever will be able to handle
(To be continued)
Send this article to Friends by