Career Climb: 4 Basics of office etiquette to consider and live by

How often do you say please when asking for something in the office? This morning when you stepped in, did you say hello to someone and check up on them? It might be time to reconsider the basics of office etiquette.

Ten years ago I visited my older cousins and in the evening we all gathered around the dining table for dinner. We dug spoons into plates and forked pieces of meat into our mouths while chatting in whispery tones. The reason it was whispery was that my aunt was a no-nonsense lady (she still is) and she’d told us there was something called table manners. What that meant was that the only sounds heard while ensconced around the dining table—only acceptable sounds— were the clinking of spoons and forks on the plate.

I wanted to flavor my food just a little more, so I hunched forward and whispered to my cousin to pass me the salt shaker. To my dismay, she shook her head to rebuff my request and said, “But you haven’t used the magic word.” My other cousin who was tipping lamb chops into her plate joined in, “Yes. Mum says we must always use the magic word. Please. That is the magic word.”

I am currently reading Lynn Truss’ ‘Talk to the Hand’, an interesting read described as ‘a cry for civility, taking on the boorish human behavior that for some has become a point of pride. The title comes with the appalling epigraph ‘the utter bloody rudeness of the world today, or six good reasons to stay home and bolt the door’.

One of the things flying from the book and hitting me hard is what has been termed over the years as ‘obedience to the unenforceable.’ The concept is the same as what Jurist John Fletcher Moulton explained as ‘abiding by conventions that are not obligatory’. Now let’s have a crack at that.

Etiquette is unenforceable. It’s not like there is a gun with its barrel pressed on your skull, for you to use words like please, kindly, sorry, and the likes in your daily life at your workplace. However, the greatest value human beings can possess, in my opinion, is the obedience to the unenforceable. I’ve had a boss who would walk into the office in the morning breathing fire, a puckered face as though it was copied from hell and pasted on him. Without a word, he’d sit and start calling out human errs his employees had. His utter rudeness inescapably deflates employee motivation. But let’s store the story for another day.

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

1. How often do you say please when asking for something in the office?

2. This morning when you stepped in, did you say hello to someone and check up on them?

3. When someone checked up on you, were you rude and asked them to sod off?

4.Is ‘sorry’ so hard for you to say when you offend someone at your place of work?

The bottom line is: the world will become a much better place if we obey the unenforceable. Be kind; be nice, last I checked it didn’t break a bone. You can be a patch of sunshine in someone’s life, and why not start right now wherever you are?

That said, have an etiquette-replete day. Will you do that for us, please?


This article was first posted on Fuzu.


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