Paul's Office Etiquette 101

Paul's Office Etiquette 101Okay, busted. Not only do I have meeting etiquette, but I highly promote office etiquette as well. Why? Because plans for a productive day can be thwarted by undisciplined coworkers. Messy office practices not only affect your bottom line but effect business morale, too.


I love a happy and relaxed business environment, don't get me wrong. However, I have found complying to a few "best practices" for office culture creates a more engaging and exhilarating place in which to both work and thrive.


Paul's Office Etiquette 101


Etiquette of Engagement

This addresses the gracefulness of how you approach your coworkers throughout the day regarding business issues. 

  • Take a reading, or temperature, on your coworker before you approach. Get a read on how they are doing, how they are feeling, and how they are behaving. This quick read will let you know if “now is a good time.” (Physical state)
  • Be aware of your coworker’s mood or temperament. (Emotional state) 
  • Be aware of the level of concentration being demonstrated by your coworker. (Intellectual state) 
  • Rule of thumb: Head up . . . good to engage. Head down . . . wait to engage.
  • If someone has to stop . . . you’ll be a distraction. If someone is stopped . . . you probably will not be a distraction. 
  • Be sensitive to the busy times of your coworker’s day, week, or month. 
  • Read their body language for signs. 
  • Be considerate of the warm-up and cool-down periods of the day. (Warm-up—first thirty minutes of the day. Cool-down—last thirty minutes of the day) These are not good times to engage if heads are down.
  • When you do engage (email or face to face), always be polite by giving your coworker an option to meet at another time if the present does not work. “Is this a good time to talk to you about (subject)? This should only take about # minutes. If now is not a good time, I would be more than happy to get together with you at your convenience.” 
  • There are times when an interaction cannot wait. If the matter is urgent, be graceful in the way you manage the interruption.

Etiquette of Importance 

This addresses an issue you feel is important that may, or may not, be of the same importance to a coworker.  

  • Know the difference between urgency and an emergency.
    • Urgency: a project has reached a crucial point in the plan and needs full attention and energy from the staff 
    • Emergency: an unexpected project/issue has been placed in your charge and you need other staff to make this project/issue an immediate priority  
  • If you are consistently “emergent” rather than “urgent” in how you conduct your work, people will not want to engage with you. They will avoid you. 
  • Understand that your emergency is not necessarily someone else’s emergency. 
  • In the case of an emergency, clearly state the reason help is required.
  • In the case of the urgent, inspire your coworkers to meet the planned goals and deadlines. 
  • Urgency demands a concerted plan. An emergency demands a concerted rescue!

Etiquette of Communication 

This addresses the proper ways in which you should communicate throughout the office.



  • When you make a call and it is received, immediately ask if it is a good time to talk: “Is this a good time for you to talk # minutes about (subject)? If not, I can connect with you at another time.” 
  • If you call someone and you put them on speakerphone, tell the recipient that you have put them on speakerphone and name others in the room with you.  
  • Watch your volume. It is natural to raise your voice when speaking on the phone . . . especially if you are speaking to someone far away. (True: we talk louder on outbound/inbound calls than we do on inner-office calls) 
  • Utilize small conference rooms in the building if you feel you need a designated place to carry on a lengthy business call. 
  • Personal calls at your desk should never last more than a minute. If longer, just step away from your desk and take the call in a non-concentration zone. If you can keep your conversation at a whisper, it may not be that big of a distraction.


  • If you send an email requesting a meeting/conversation, state the subject matter for your meeting. “I need to talk to you about something when you have a chance!” is not very polite, as the recipient can’t prioritize the importance of your request. It should be, “Hey Will, I need # minutes to talk to you about (subject). Let me know when it would be a good time to connect on this. Thanks!”
  • Know when to bow out gracefully on multi-recipient emails. Multiple-recipient emails are beneficial in getting a message out to a group of people involved with a particular project. Once the subject of the mass email is no longer for everyone, only communicate to those necessary. You simply send a final mass email stating, “Okay everyone, I think Jeremy and I can take it from here. We will work out the details on this and if you have any questions concerning (subject), you can connect with me personally.”
  • Try to decipher what emails need a response and which ones don’t. It is not necessary to send back a “thank you” for every email you get. If the email you receive is standard from a person and is strictly work-related, it is not necessary to send back a congenial response. “I thank you in advance” is a line you can place in your first email if you wish.
  • Sometimes a face-to-face “pow wow” is quicker and more productive than multiple emails. Taking a walk to another department or workspace is sometimes more beneficial as emails can sometimes be more laborious.


  • Be careful not to “bushwhack” your coworkers in the hall or common areas when it is obvious they are in a “zone” with something, or someone, else. 
  • We all need light moments in our workday, so navigate the right balance for those moments.
  • The office is a professional space and should be respected as such. Though a relaxed atmosphere is encouraged, a casual atmosphere is not. Our appearance, dress, demeanor, and actions should always be appropriate to a professional, hard-working organization. 

Etiquette of Information 

Sometimes details get lost in translation. Whether it is a face-to-face meeting, a quick conversation on the floor, in an email, or on a phone call, try to practice good information etiquette and you will be surprised how fast all parties get on the same page: 

  • State the topic: “I need to talk to you about the (subject).” Add any details to refresh if needed.
  • State the issue: This is the idea, problem, thought, or issue you are addressing.
  • State the history: This is what you have done, or considered, thus far.
  • State what you need from your coworker: This is how you could help me. 
  • After your conversation, restate your action step.

One last thing: Though everyone in the office should be practicing good interaction etiquette, some may not. Good manners usually are contagious, so lead by example.  

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