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Basic office courtesies that will stand you out…

Being helpful: One major trait of a refined character is sensitivity. Being genuinely helpful to your co-workers, especially to the newcomer demonstrates that you are sensitive to the feelings and needs of others and this is one sure way of winning many friends in your workplace. Follow the Golden Rule, do for others what you wished someone had done for you when you newly joined your organisation.

o  Respect for personal space: Your refinement as a person is reflected in the way you show respect for the personal space of your co-workers. Whenever you engage in friendly chats or business discussions with your colleagues, it will serve only to alienate them if you infringe upon their physical space. The importance of maintaining appropriate personal space is so important that an entire study, Proxemics, is devoted to it. A basic knowledge of physical spacing is important both in your personal and professional lives. Keep the following in mind:

–  Intimate distance for embracing, touching or whispering

o  Close phase – less than 6 inches (15 cm)

o  Far phase – 6 to 18 inches (15 to 46 cm)


– Personal distance for interactions among good friends or family members

o  Close phase – 1.5 to 2.5 feet (46 to 76 cm)

o  Far phase – 2.5 to 4 feet (76 to 122 cm)


– Social distance for interactions among acquaintances

o  Close phase – 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 m)

o  Far phase – 7 to 12 feet (2.1 to 3.7 m)


– Public distance used for public speaking

o  Close phase – 12 to 25 feet (3.7 to 7.6 m)

o  Far phase – 25 feet (7.6 m) or more.


Generally, in social/official interactions, a personal space of an arm’s length is acceptable. You can’t go wrong if you use this basic rule. For hugs and kisses, if you are so much inclined, wait for the other party (especially if of the opposite sex) to draw you into an embrace before you oblige. An open body language – open arms, an inviting smile is an invitation to hug or cheek kiss.

Visibility is not availability. In open office arrangements, please note that just because a person is visible and within earshot is not an invitation for unsolicited interaction or intrusion. You must always ask permission before you barge into a person’s workspace or thinking space.


Case study: Jeremy had a deadline and had been at his desk all morning trying hard to finish up and email his work to his boss. While in the middle of articulating a difficult concept in writing, Segun walked in, slapped him on the back and asked him to join in for lunch with other friends. In spite of Jeremy’s best attempts to explain the seriousness of the work he had at hand Segun proved defiant. By the time Segun took his leave, the abstract concept Jeremy was trying to put down had eluded him completely. Unable to recover his trend of thought, Jeremy felt bitter toward Segun for making his work twice as hard as it should have been.

It is crucial to note that the workplace is not the place for indiscriminate fraternisation. It is insensitive to barge in on colleagues without seeking permission. Not all work is routine and can be done by rote, so bear in mind that people may not be available for conversation or socialising even when they are visible. Etiquette demands that you ask if it is the right time to talk. It would have been better if Segun had said something like                  “Jeremy are you free for lunch?”  Or, “Is it a good time to ask you for information on the Band wagon case?”  If the colleague in question shakes his/her head or answers in monosyllables, it is prudent to leave him/her alone and allow some time to lapse before repeating the demand.

Respect for co-workers:  The universal need of humanity is to be appreciated, valued and respected. When you feed these needs in others they reciprocate. Among the many ways to show respect and appreciation for those you work with include:

–       Being polite, even when you are angry.  Do not put down anyone in the presence of others. Do not use abusive words or act in ways that belittle others.

–       Do not take credit for the work of others, especially your subordinates.

–       Be a good team player. When there’s work to be done, put in your fair share. Don’t be a dead weight.

–       Promptly return things you borrow.

–       Be generous with your praises and stingy with harsh criticism.

–       Scold and criticise in private as much as possible and praise in public often.

–       When you introduce your colleagues, especially when they are junior to you, do it in a way that makes them feel important and valued.

–       Remember to thank others for the good work that they do.

–       Remember the small things, like a colleague’s birthday or anniversary. Wish them well, and do not insist that they take you out, or what is popularly known as ‘washing it’.

–       Watch your language. Don’t use vulgar words when addressing others. Avoid sexist language , say “ladies” instead of “chics babes or gals”, and “gentlemen” instead of  “blokes or “guys or dudes”.

–       Remember names. Nothing is sweeter to a person than their name. People warm up quickly to those who remember their name properly pronounced. This advice is especially helpful in big organisations with hundreds of employees. Take the time to memorise the names of your co-workers. It will prove to be a truly valuable habit.

–       Let people leave your company with their dignity intact. They will respect you for your consideration.

Practising Tact and Diplomacy:  At one time or the other, we have had to endure the misbehaviours of certain colleagues that have a wrong notion of what constitutes strength ofcharacter or personality. Some people actually believe that saying exactly what they feel without any form of vetting is synonymous with power, honesty and confidence. A refined person understands the difference between bluntness and frankness, and is careful in discerning the right thing to say to another person so as not to offend him. Tact is the opposite of bluntness. There is a lack of regard for the feelings of others in a blunt person. Speak frankly only when it is absolutely necessary; be wise in discerning what constitutes a necessity. Do not make rudeness a hallmark of your character.

Relationship with the Opposite Sex: As much as possible, maintain cordial relationships with members of the opposite sex at the office. In most organisations, office romance is prohibited and this is so for very good reasons, as most of the time it ends badly. Although there are a few relationships that end well, the majority do not. In the end, a broken hearted employee will not perform optimally, so why risk your emotions, your job and your reputation for an office fling? This is also unadvisable for security reasons. In any case, the office is not the place to throw emotional tantrums or go around with a soulful face. One type of relationship that I strongly advice against is that between a married person and a single person, or between two married people. This type of relationship is best described as toxic. There is no future and no prospect in it. One party always ends up miserable, feeling used and abandoned. Most times women are victims. Please avoid such relationships like the plague.

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