Updated: Feb 26, 2022
In today’s intergenerational workplace, occasions for unprofessional behavior abound. Unfortunately, many young adults do not receive adequate instruction on basic principles of work ethic, personal discipline, appropriate dress, speech, and attitude, but they are sitting in the cubicle next to you with nerve-wracking music hissing through their earbuds.
As a result, you might respond ungraciously. Sure, dealing with youngsters and co-workers who insist on dousing themselves with intense fragrances or informing you of their bathroom habits can be a chore. However, there are some basic customs of workplace etiquette that we all should abide in order to effectively communicate with others, especially if you intend to advance or get promoted in your career.
Rules for Proper Business Etiquette
MAKING AN INTRODUCTION
When making introductions, be sure to state the person’s name, relationship, and relevance to whomever you are introducing them to in efforts to briefly provide context for the introduction. Use these general guidelines when introducing yourself to others as well.
“Hello, this is Terry Smith from Accounting. He’s a new hire and I’m introducing him to everyone on this floor.”
“Hello, my name is Dora Chambers. I’m a guest of Terry Smith, the supervisor for Accounting.”
At times, you might be on the receiving end of an introduction whereby someone is being introduced to you. In this case, remember these gentle reminders in your head without looking weird or preoccupied. Hopefully these reminders will come naturally to you.
When listening to an introduction:
Make a ‘mental note’ of the person’s name.
Offer a firm handshake or wait for the other person to extend their hand first as a courtesy.
Smile to show interest and goodwill toward the person being introduced.
Speak courteously and mention the person’s name when responding to the introduction.
Example of a Response:
“Okay, so you’re Terry Smith from Accounting. Good to meet you. I hope you like working with us. If you need anything, just let me know.”
MAKING AN APOLOGY
Many of us have been taught not to apologize as if doing so is a sign of weakness or an admission of guilt or ineptitude. However, we all eventually make mistakes—large or small—and will need to extend an apology at some point in our professional work environments. Instead of avoiding the situation, take the initiative in offering a sincere apology and plan for correction.
First and foremost, if you make a mistake, admit to it without hesitation. Do not attempt to transfer blame to someone else either directly or indirectly.
Acknowledge your mistake specifically. If you forgot to file an important brief by the deadline, then say so. Tell the truth to avoid further damage or consequences.
Offer a reasonable explanation.
Offer to correct your mistake. If you are unsure, ask what you can do to make things right. Also, tell how you will avoid this mistake in the future.
Keep your apology brief and direct. Do not ramble due to nervousness or as a tactic to avoid taking responsibility.
Lastly, be sincere. Others can tell if your apology is fake or disingenuous.
MAKING A REQUEST
In the workplace, making a request usually includes asking for time off, asking for help, additional resources or for a favor. Regardless of the reason, always remain genuinely courteous, even if your request is denied.
Before asking for something, figure out who can best help you.
Decide how to approach the person based on their personality. Do they respond to friendly small talk or direct statements?
Choose the best time and place to ask. In the morning or afternoon? In front of others or one-on-one? Again, gauge the situation based on the preferences of the person you need to ask.
Be specific. Ask for exactly what you need and why.
Communicate a timeframe. Is your request a one-time occurrence or will it involve long-term changes? Does your request include a deadline? Be honest about the time commitment involved in fulfilling your request.
GIVING CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
Giving and receiving criticism is difficult, because it makes us feel wrong. We do all kinds of things to avoid this level of uncomfortable conversation. However, in the workplace, dealing with criticism is unavoidable. The key is to share your views in a supportive way and to offer helpful feedback. When thinking of it as an opportunity to help yourself and others flourish, then the idea of personal critique is less intimidating.
Know when to offer criticism. In fact, are you the right person or should another supervisor or manager deliver the feedback?
Choose an appropriate time and meeting place to discuss your concerns.
Be empathetic. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you feel as the receiver of criticism? How would you like to be treated? Remember to be supportive and courteous.
Mix positive and negative comments. In fact, start with a compliment then slide into the awkward part of the conversation. As a general rule of thumb, sandwich a negative between two positive comments. Teachers are experts at this when it comes to student evaluations.
Example of Constructive Criticism:
“Hey, Ken. I notice that you are always on time for work, which is fantastic. However, I see that you are spending a lot of time away from your desk. Are you okay? Is something happening that we need to work out? If not, I’ll have to start documenting your work activities, but you’re a good employee and everybody likes you, so I would hate to start doing that.”
Be descriptive. Focus on the behavior, not the person. Keep your criticisms as objective as possible and do not slip into personal attacks or judgments. For example, instead of saying, “you sound mean and unfriendly on the phone,” try saying, “your voice sounds rushed and annoyed.”
Offer suggestions for solutions as soon as possible. Do not focus on the problems, but spend more time outlining plans for improvement.
RECEIVING CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
No one enjoys hearing criticism, but do not take it personally. Listen without reacting negatively, especially if you disagree with the person’s assessment of your performance. Since it is hard for us to accurately judge ourselves, receiving feedback from others actually helps you to correct, learn, and advance in your personal and professional goals.
Listen carefully without interrupting.
Ask questions. Make sure you understand the criticism. Ask for more information or specific examples, if necessary.
Put the criticism in perspective. Without offering excuses, internally decide to accept or reject the criticism.
Do not confuse the criticism with the manner it was delivered or the person offering it. Basically, try not to get emotional. Listen to their suggestions and use logic to extract the useful parts of their feedback.
Check yourself. Is the criticism warranted? Do you actually need to make some changes? Ask someone else for a second opinion and make efforts to improve.
Remember, we are all facing unprecedented difficulties at work, home, school and every area of our lives. As humans, we need to be kind and respectful of other humans who are doing their best to adapt to the economic, social, and political changes that have highly affected and overwhelmed our lives.
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Ashan R. Hampton is a long-time English instructor turned entrepreneur. She is also a proud graduate of the Donaghey Scholars Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock under the direction of Dr. C. Earl Ramsey, Emeritus. Through her company, Onyx Online Education & Training, she offers online writing courses and print books for academic and professional development to individuals and corporations. She is also a prolific published author of several books on a variety of topics. To find out more about Ashan's work, visit www.arhampton.com.
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