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Ask Carmen Courtesy, Your Workplace Etiquette Expert July 2010

Do you deal with anger, frustration, embarrassment, harassment or conflict in the workplace? Carmen Courtesy’s goal is to promote interpersonal workplace harmony and stop sticky…

Dear Carmen Courtesy:

We have supervisors in the office who enjoy hitting golf balls against the wall while they discuss business, distracting those of us who work nearby. I’ve been told by my managers to ignore it. But it also seems like these higher level bosses are getting to goof off and are not focused on the work.


Teed Off


Dear Teed Off:

Well, I must say, good thing their sport isn’t basketball. Where do you work anyway, the 1960s? Because it certainly sounds like these guys are living in a different generation, when it might have been “acceptable” to putt away in their office in between mixing up a midday martini and pinching the secretaries. But now we’d call that behavior rude–and not just because it sounds so mid-century sexist. People come to work to do a job and this kind of clueless behavior is hindering their ability.

Giovinella Gonthier, president of Civility Associates and author of the book Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace, recognizes the need some people have for repetitive mindless tasks while they’re concentrating on a business problem. But a golf ball against a wall that can be heard by the other, apparently office-less coworkers is just inconsiderate. Maybe they could try chewing gum instead. “They certainly need to find a quieter mantra,” says Gonthier.

In addition, it does create the sense that certain levels of management get to “goof off,” while others do the work. That’s not an image any company should want to project. Despite what your supervisor suggested, this might just be an issue to make an issue of. Someone’s going to need to talk to these managers and suggest the golf balls stay silent until after work hours. If you can’t do it yourself, and your supervisor still refuses, raise the issue with HR. Maintaining office productivity and morale should be par for the course.

Sincerely yours,

Carmen Courtesy

Dear Carmen Courtesy:

People’s cell phones ring all day at work. Is this appropriate?


Celling Out

Dear Celling Out:

It used to be that every time I heard the William Tell Overture rendered in ringtones, it broke my concentration and stopped me in my office tracks. But I must say, I’ve finally gotten used to the ever-present ringing. As cell phone use has gotten ubiquitous, I think people are becoming savvy about switching to vibe in quiet office settings, not to mention movie theaters and restaurants. And if not, then they should be…hint, hint.

Stacy Brice, president and chief visionary of Assist U, a professional administrative assistants organization, notes that in these modern times, people need to recognize that cell phones are here to stay. “If you’re going to get jarred out of what you’re doing, you’re going to lose a lot of concentrated moments. Cell phones ring on the street, in elevators, in the subway, and people need to learn to accept them.”

As for usage, it should be handled the same way as the office phone. If a company has a personal phone call policy, it should be extended to cell phones as well. In other words, if personal calls are taboo at work, then gabbing away at your desk, even on your own mobile, is out of the question. But the reverse should be true as well, and no one should be penalized for taking a personal call from their cell phone.

Like all phone calls, they should be handled discretely and not disrupt the working habits of others. If you’ve got one of those cell phones that seem to work like a walkie-talkie, in which both sides of the conversation are clear to everyone within earshot, then that’s probably not one you want to use for a lengthy call at the office.

And if you are bugged by a neighbor’s ringtones, perhaps you can help her reset them to a tune and a tone you’ll both like. I hear Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven makes a melodious choice.

Sincerely yours,

Carmen Courtesy

Dear Carmen Courtesy:

Is it the woman’s job to make coffee? This has been going on for two years. I’m an accounting assistant. I’ve told my boss that if I were drinking coffee at the time I would be more than happy to make some, but since I’m not, please ask the receptionist. His response is: “When I ask you to do something, please do it.” He never asks anyone else to make coffee.


Bitter Taste

Dear Bitter Taste:

To answer your first question, of course it’s not “the woman’s job” to make coffee.

Also, I sympathize with your situation. Your boss doesn’t sound like the easiest person to get along with. That said, you have to ask yourself whether it’s worth battling with him over coffee of all things, or (given that it’s been two years now) is it time for you to lighten up?

Reading between the lines, Ms. Courtesy gets the sense that an underlying issue is the question of your boss’s respect. Perhaps you feel he’s using the coffee duty to demean you.

In which case, an observation from Eleanor Roosevelt comes to Ms. Courtesy’s mind: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” But practically speaking, you might try “thinking out of the box” on this one.

Figure out who the coffee drinkers are in the group and agree on a schedule to share the responsibility. Each person can take a turn being the coffee maker of the week. Or, you can agree that the first coffee drinker who comes in for the day makes the first pot. Subsequently, whoever finishes each pot during the day makes the next pot. That’s a fairly common approach in many offices.

Then, the next time your boss asks about it, tell him the coffee’s already made and that you now have an arrangement so that coffee gets made every day. Be lighthearted about it. Defuse the situation.

Voila! Now, you’re in control and to a degree you’ve managed to match wits with your boss.

However, you may also want to consider just buckling down and making the darned coffee, bitter as it may be.
“In almost any job description, there’s that one line that refers to ‘and other duties as assigned,’” says Jill Bremer of Bremer Communications, an Oak Park, Ill.-based image consulting firm. “To this boss, that means making the coffee. He’s within his rights to ask. My advice is to lighten up.”

Fine. But Ms. Courtesy can’t help adding that the next time you have a large, back-breaking box to move, don’t hesitate to send up a flare.

Sincerely yours,

Carmen Courtesy

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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