The University Record, June 11, 1996

Etiquette in the workplace is still important

'Being polite sets the tone for work relationships, how you interact with people and how people perceive you,' Morning told her audience..

Photo by Bob Kalmbach


By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

Politeness and proper decorum are not outdated issues in the workplace of the '90s---according to Paula K. Morning, an independent business consultant and director of development for the SOS Community Crisis Center in Ypsilanti.

"People say etiquette is no longer relevant in today's workplace," Morning told U-M staff members who attended her Workplace of the '90s session on workplace etiquette last week. "I maintain it is the primary force in workplace and professional development. Being polite sets the tone for work relationships, how you interact with people and how people perceive you."

Morning believes etiquette issues will become even more important in the future as increasing racial, gender and cultural diversity in the workplace make it important for supervisors and co-workers to be sensitive to interpersonal dynamics and have respect for different communication and working styles.

"Women and people of color can do the job, but they may not do it the same way" as it was done by a previous worker, Morning says.

When members of the audience asked how to handle difficult situations in their jobs, Morning emphasized: "Kindness is not the same as weakness. There are polite ways to do everything. You do not have to become a doormat."

How do you deal with difficult people making impossible demands? "Focus on listening to their entire request and then determine what they really need---not what they say they want," Morning says. "A good hearing can resolve a lot of difficulties. Active listening is the best etiquette."

What if you work with people who continually use offensive language? "One good way to handle it is just to walk away. You do not have to participate in conversations at that level."

How does one person deal with conflicting directives from several supervisors? Put it in writing, Morning says. She suggests submitting a brief memo to all supervisors documenting how long it will take you to complete all the directed tasks and noting that delivery on assignments for Supervisor A may be delayed, because of time devoted to completing assignments for Supervisor B.

Are you continually passed over for promotion? "It's probably because you have not taken advantage of opportunities to let your supervisor and others know what you have accomplished," Morning says. She suggests keeping a daily journal to track assignment dates or completion dates for tasks. And if you hear or read something inaccurate about your job performance, speak up and correct it immediately.

What if your supervisor insists a job be performed faster or in a way that isn't humanly possible? "Develop a job shadowing opportunity for your boss where he or she spends a day either doing the task or working with you as you do it," Morning suggests. A little first-hand, on-the-job experience may make your boss more flexible about how it's done.

How about the co-worker who insists on answering your telephone and then gets the message wrong? "The telephone is our first line of communication, and it must always be answered in a professional manner," Morning says. "If you prefer callers leave messages on voice mail when you're away, then it is important to tell your co-worker. When people are usurping our time or space in the workplace, we need to let them know."

Morning's final advice on workplace etiquette was simple: Take charge of what is yours, maintain proper decorum at all times and always treat others the way you want to be treated.