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Ask Carmen Courtesy, Your Workplace Etiquette Expert February 2010

Do you deal with anger, frustration, embarrassment, harassment or conflict in the workplace? Carmen Courtesy addresses all of these issues. Carmen’s goal is to promote interpers…

Dear Carmen Courtesy:

My manager constantly addresses me in an unprofessional manner. He’s rude, disrespectful and aggressive. He’s not only verbally rude, but he points and thrusts his finger at me when he talks to me.

This has been going on for approximately six months. I think part of the reason he does this is that he believes that an intimidating management style is most effective. Also, I think he feels pressure (real or not) from upper management.

But I’m fed up. If he sticks his finger in my face one more time, I may bite it off!


Invaded Space

Dear Invaded Space:

Before resorting to cannibalism, perhaps you should try another type of direct communication. Like talking.

Here’s an approach that may help you get some results.

First, be as nonaccusatory as you can. That probably means broaching the subject when you are feeling fairly cool-headed about it.

Also, put the emphasis on how his behavior is affecting you rather than what he’s doing wrong. In other words, frame it in terms of yourself, rather than you jerk!

“If you emphasize what he’s doing wrong, it’s just like pointing a finger back at him,” says Jill Bremer, an etiquette and image consultant for Bremer Communications, an Oak Park, Ill.-based image consulting firm. “You always want to couch things in terms of yourself. For example: ‘I feel uncomfortable when you point your finger at me,’ or ‘It’s really hard for me to listen to what you have to say when there’s a finger in my face.’”

One last point, I agree with you that there is no excuse for pointing a finger. It’s patronizing, invasive and accusatory. And he needs to stop it. However, it may be worth considering the possibility that your boss does not intend to be as rude as he comes across. (If that’s true, it may help you approach him with less anger.)

In fact, very often men in the workplace are misunderstood. Because they are so direct and confident in their communication style, some women may misinterpret their behavior as rude or threatening when they’re actually just trying to get the job done.

“A lot of men don’t realize that they have to change their communication style when addressing women, and a lot of women don’t recognize that they may need to grow thicker skin when dealing with certain men,” adds Bremer.

Since you have not identified yourself as a man or woman, it’s difficult to know if the last piece of advice applies to you, but it is worth chewing on.

Sincerely yours,

Carmen Courtesy

Dear Carmen Courtesy:

There is someone in our department who wastes a great deal of time visiting. She will spend 30-45 minutes at each person’s desk, mostly when the boss is out or in a meeting.

Not only does she infringe upon our time, she often complains that she is “so busy” that she doesn’t have enough time to do all the things she has to do. She acts put out when the boss asks her to do something or requests a status report on one of her projects. We all want to tell her that if she spent less time gabbing, she would probably get all of her work done.

This has been going on for years, but has gotten worse within the last several months.

Nothing seems to work so far. She ignores hints and body language. So, a couple of us have told her point blank we do not have time to chit-chat. The boss has even told all of us in a staff meeting that there is too much visiting going on. But nothing seems to faze her.

Now, when she plants herself at someone’s desk, one of us will run down the hall and call the victim to “save” him or her from having to listen to Miss Chatterbox go on and on.


Ready for Ear Plugs

Dear Ready:

I suggest you deal with this situation quickly. Apparently, the boss thinks there’s a lot of visiting going on in his department, which means less work is getting done, but he has not pinpointed the problem. That means that eventually, the whole department may get in trouble.

To protect yourselves, several of you may want to go to him. You might say that you like this woman (so that the complaint doesn’t sound personal), but you’re all having difficulty getting your work done because of her chatting habits. Let him know that you’ve tried telling her that you don’t have time to talk, but nothing seems to faze her.

If he hears that you’re not able to get your work done, that will probably get his attention.

Meanwhile, to survive the day-to-day occurrences, there are several things you can do when she approaches your desk:

•   Keep telling her, point blank, that you do not have the time to visit. You can even raise your hand palm outward, and ask her to stop, explaining that you have a lot of work to get done. Then turn your back on her and get back to work. I suggest doing this all very nicely and politely. Be careful not to put your hand in her face.

•   Avoid making eye contact. “That’s how people give each other permission to converse,” says Bremer. “If you never look up from your desk, she may talk for five minutes, but eventually she will walk away.”

•   Consider changing the position of your desk so that your back is to the door or entryway (if you work in a cubicle), Bremer adds. It’s another way to avoid unwanted eye contact.

The bottom line is that you’re never going to change Miss Chatterbox. Twenty years from now she’ll probably still be Miss Chatterbox. The only thing you can change is how you deal with it and possibly how the department deals with it.

Sincerely yours,

Carmen Courtesy

Jill Bremer, is an etiquette and image consultant for Bremer Communications, an Oak Park, Ill.-based image consulting firm. Ms. Bremer is also co-author of It’s your move: Dealing Yourself the Best Cards in Life and Work (Financial Times Prentice Hall 2004).

Linn Back is an affiliate owner at Westaff, which has offices in Lansing, Owosso and Grand Rapids. Westaff provides temporary and temporary-to-permanent staffing, professional permanent placement, behavioral and skills employment testing, and employment and background verification checks.








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