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11 tips for being courteous to your co-workers

11 tips for being courteous to your coworkers

If you've lived with a roommate or shared a room with a sibling, you probably understand that co-occupying a space comes with unwritten rules concerning respect for people's boundaries. Such unwritten rules apply to work environments, too. If you want to uphold healthy relationships in the workplace, you must recognize such rules, be mindful of others, and exercise civility. 

How to be courteous to your co-workers

The following tips for being courteous to your co-workers address a range of common workplace scenarios. Some of them may not align exactly with your work environment, so you might need to adapt them to your circumstances. 

If you're going to be late, give a heads-up

Your employer expects you to arrive at work on time, so notifying them of potential tardiness shows that you respect their expectations and your place in the organization. You may also find yourself running late for meetings, scheduled lunches, or other professional appointments. In those situations, giving a heads-up that you're going to be late demonstrates courtesy and contrition. If the appointment happens to be with a client, your heads-up can prevent the relationship from turning sour. 

Do your part

When you collaborate, make sure you're doing your part to advance the team toward its goals. If you just do the bare minimum and expect your co-workers to pick up your slack, you'll only foster resentment while slowing everyone's progress. If you have a personal or professional matter interfering with your ability to contribute, communicate with your team so they understand the situation and can help you work around the obstacles. You can rely on your team members just as they rely on you.

Distinguish between "Reply" and "Reply All"

Hitting "Reply All" to an email sends your message to every handle on the recipient list. Now, there are times when "Reply All" is necessary — for example, when the topic is a group discussion or you're specifically asked to send your email to everyone — but outside of those instances, sending your response to everyone creates unsolicited, hard-to-navigate noise. At the very least, it's a great way to make your co-workers speak poorly of your email etiquette. 

So, the next time you receive a group email, ask yourself, "Does everyone need to read my reply?" If the answer is no, hit "Reply" instead of "Reply All."

Close the door if you're having a meeting or conference call

One of the basic courtesies one should practice in the workplace is recognizing that everyone has their own work to do. If your work interferes with that of someone else's, it can slow productivity and promote bad relations. Case in point: a meeting or conference call. It should be a contained interaction, not something that others in the office can hear, so always close the door when you have one. 

Exceptions apply if you're in an open-plan office with no doors to close. In that case, you can take one of the following courses of action:

  • If you're having a large in-person meeting, book a conference room. If your workplace doesn't have one, you may need to consider finding a substitute outside of the office.
  • If you're having an in-person meeting with just two or three participants, speak at a moderate volume.
  • If you're involved in a conference call, use a headset and, again, speak at a moderate volume.

Take your personal calls outside

Quick calls with your partner, family members, or friends are fine to take at your desk, assuming that your employer is OK with personal calls. Longer calls, however, are best taken outside of the work area. It's the same sort of problem presented with meetings and conference calls. Being courteous to your co-workers means not subjecting them to distractions from their work, especially if your call involves deeply personal matters.

"[U]nwritten rules apply to work environments, too. If you want to uphold healthy relationships in the workplace, you must recognize such rules, be mindful of others, and exercise civility."

Isolate noise in general

As long as your employer is fine with it, there's no problem with watching videos or listening to music or podcasts while you work. Just make sure it's not audible to those around you. Always use headphones or earphones, and set the volume to a reasonable level so it doesn't bother anyone in your vicinity.

For uncommon scents, practice common sense

According to a study of 2,000 office workers commissioned by the yogurt manufacturer Yoplait, the most annoying thing a person can do in the workplace is subject their co-workers to food smells. With that in mind, you'd do well to avoid bringing in smelly foods. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy your favorite pungent dishes for lunch. It just means you may want to avoid microwaving them or eat them outdoors. 

Other smells, such as body odor and strong perfumes, can be just as bothersome. As a professional who works in confined spaces, you should practice proper hygiene and exercise moderation with your fragrances.

Wash your dishes

If you pack your lunches, don't neglect your duty of washing up after you finish eating. Leaving your food containers in the sink is inconsiderate, as is washing up and then leaving your containers on the drying rack for too long. In either instance, you're taking up the space people need to tend to their own dishes.

Do your part to replenish the communal refreshments

Snack trays go empty. Espresso machines run out of coffee beans and water. When these things happen, do the considerate thing and replenish them. Usually, the spare materials are in a cabinet nearby. 

Check the inappropriate jokes at the door

Even if you mean no offense, a comment you make in jest can still offend someone within earshot. With that in mind, if you have any second thoughts about whether a joke you want to tell will be received poorly, just keep it to yourself.

Steer clear of sensitive topics

Topics such as politics, religion, and social turmoil generally aren't appropriate for the workplace. Many people have deeply personal attachments to their beliefs, and even an innocent comment may cause them to feel like they're being attacked. Steering clear of these topics is the most considerate thing to do in most instances. Of course, some office cultures invite debate and discourse. If that's the type of place where you work, just make sure you enter such discussions in good faith.

Though the above tips relate to specific situations, they all stem from the same philosophy: that being courteous to others involves respect, consideration, and thoughtfulness. Follow the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — and you've got a good foundation for healthy office relationships.

If the office etiquette at your current workplace isn't up to your personal standards, you might consider using CareerBuilder to find new employment. CareerBuilder makes it easy to identify opportunities with email alerts that automatically notify you of positions that match your preferences.

More tips for getting along in the workplace

Positive office interactions are important for productivity and job satisfaction, so make sure you do your part to promote healthy office relationships.

Sometimes, people's attitudes get in the way of building positive relationships. Fortunately, there are strategies for overcoming this hurdle.