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Freshman etiquette at the workplace

I HAVE held always held that being polished, suave and polite may not ensure that you get promoted but it's pretty good insurance against getting fired. It also gets one noticed, and for all the good reasons too.

To get to this happy outcome though, fresh entrants need to develop certain skills that will help them `connect' and interact with the strangers that they will meet in an environment that will be as unfamiliar as their work will be.

It is meet you do:

Meeting people, especially those who you will be working with for the first time, is as daunting as making that first entry on stage for the first time. You know that they are looking at you with curiosity, perhaps a little bit of suspicion, and perhaps a little doubt. Rather than expecting them to flock around and clamour to meet you, it's far more appropriate for you to go up to them and introduce yourself. While most companies generally send you around with an HR representative to meet heads of department, it is unlikely that they will take you from person to person introducing you. In the workplace, not introducing, or not going forward to be introduced is rather frowned upon. Something like: `Hello, I'm Rajiv Sethia, I've just joined the finance team and work with Pratap Reddy' will be appropriate if the person you say this to is of your level or perhaps a slot or two above. An obviously senior person should be referred to by name, and this you will need to find out first by asking around. An honorific should always be used: ` Mr. Bhatt, I would like to introduce myself to you as Rajiv Sethia. I've just joined the finance team and report to Pratap Reddy'. Mr.Bhatt may dismiss you with a few words of welcome and certainly a smile, but the chances are that he will remember you as the plucky youngster who had the guts to come up and introduce himself. Remember here to look him (Mr.Bhatt or the nameless peer) in the eye in a sincere way and with a pleasant smile. Grinning foolishly is not an option unless you want to be considered a baboon (without meaning any disrespect to the baboon). Extend your hand to be shaken if it is to a peer or an immediate superior. In our society, you are not expected to extend your hand to a very senior person unless he does so first. Make sure when you extend your hand, that the other person is not burdened with anything in his hands that he has to fumble with to shake your hand.

Many of us hate taking someone's hand in ours because of the kind of weather we have. It's hot and sweaty, and probably insanitary. Unfortunately, it's an accepted form of showing the extension of cooperation so the advice is to give in and grip that hand.

People being people need some kind of contact, however minimal to `connect' with others and the handshake provides just the right amount. So, while looking the person in the eye (see above) take his hand and hold it.

Don't look at the hand suspiciously and imbuing the salutation with doubt and distrust. Your grip should be firm and full, and include the whole hand and not just the fingers. Make sure your hand is dry and not too much like a wet sports sock.

A firm tug downwards or a couple of pumps up and down are appropriate. Try not to get carried away and by heartily enclosing the other person's hand in a two-handed grip that makes him feel as if he's being shanghaied by an orang-utan. Leave such heartiness to politicians ratifying a deal. Hold the person's hand for no more than three seconds at the most. If a hand is extended to you always take it and smile pleasantly.

An Eye To the Main Chance:

When I said above that you must look a person in the eye, I didn't mean you should glare balefully at him. Just look pleasantly into his eyes both when you speak to him or when he's doing the talking.

Don't give in to the temptation of looking down at your watch or at someone else when conversing. Remember, I am not advocating eyestrain so you may blink occasionally and sometimes put your head back and laugh (politely) at something the person has just said. Make certain it is the person's eyes you are looking at and not anywhere else. If you do, you'll find them getting progressively uncomfortable.

Level Playgrounds are only for Games:

I've said this last week, but I'll reinforce it here by saying that you must treat people with appropriate and consistent politeness. The Japanese have a wonderful system. Seniority depends on the length of service.

Not necessarily in pay, but in level of respect accorded. So if the doorman joined on the same day as the CEO, each would defer to the other, and senior executives would treat the doorman with the same respect they accord the CEO. So should this be the case in business. Treat everyone with respect but its important to treat some with more deference than others. While you can joke with your peers, it's not recommended that you do so with seniors in an office setting. You may even gently rib a peer, but never do this with a superior or a subordinate. In the former, you may be considered too `uppity' and in the other too overbearing because they cannot do the same to you. Keep your distance always. Just because you work together, it does not mean you invade your colleague's space when you feel like. How close he will permit you to come depends on your relationship, but respect it at all times.

A good rule of the thumb is that the higher a person is on the corporate ladder, the larger the buffer zone into which you must not venture under any circumstances. The same goes for you too, keep a buffer zone around you and let everyone know where you would like the line drawn. Do this discreetly. When talking to your colleagues officially; do not let your natural hot-headedness overcome your sense and plunge into an argument.

Even if your colleague begins the argument and will not think much of it, others around you will think you cannot go anywhere without getting into an argument, a trait that augurs no good for you. You need to be seen as a team player, not as a troublemaker.

Fun is no Joke:

Even if you have great sense of humour and are a favoured guest everywhere, keep your antics to parties you attend; not to the office. Anyone will tell you that meetings are hell. Do not try to liven things up by joking your way through it, because all it does is to prolong the meeting, not shorten it.

People may have to stay in after hours to finish their work because they spent so much time at meeting that you kindly lengthened with your unending witticisms. Do not contribute unless you have something worthwhile to say, and never butt into a discussion between two people. Take notes and pay attention. Listen. Remember the word `listen' has the same letters as the word `silent'. You can't do the first without doing the second first. Contain conflict by keeping things quiet. Making a noise is a no-no, and will tell against you. Patience is a virtue you'll win with.

Righting Wrongs:

As a newbie, you are likely to be told that something you have done is not up to the mark. Do not take this as a castigatory remark designed to wound and maim. It's just made to tell you that the work is to be done the way the `asker' wants it done. Do not try and defend yourself and, next time go to the critic before you've finished and present it for his approval. You might, in the initial stages, never be asked for your feedback, but if you are, choose your words carefully. If you have to say something negative try saying: `Everything was nice but I would have done this bit a little differently taking into context that the audience might have some difficulty understanding exactly what you say here'. This way, the `blame' for the mistake is directed towards the hypothetical audience and not to your colleague.

Toeing the Line:

Most companies have a code of conduct. Follow it as closely as you can and you will be able to stay out of trouble. However, try not to be inflexible and take changes in circumstance in your stride. Many people make up their rules so find out what they are and follow them.

Office etiquette is all about an attitude to please as many people with your deportment as possible. Good etiquette also impresses those around you, and that's how you'll build healthy relationships with your co-workers, be they bosses or peers. Remember, the next time you open the door for someone; you may just be opening a door to opportunity for yourself.

Next week, lets get into telephone, e-mail and remote rudeness, coupled with workplace wizardry to make our first few months happy and progressive.

(To be concluded)

ABHIMANYU ACHARYA

abhi.hyd@cnkonline.com

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