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Workplace etiquette: Mind your manners in office!

ACCORDING to an alumnus of a premier business school in the US, during an etiquette class Asian students were advised not to order salads with iceberg lettuce during business meetings in America or Europe. Order freshly cut fruit or skip the salad altogether, was the suggestion. The reason being, since this green vegetable is not a staple food in Asian countries, they may come across as clumsy when attempting to eat it.

As freshers enter the workplace, they can expect to be catapulted into tricky situations like this one.

Tapas Majumdar, General Manager, Human Resources, Cox and Kings recounts how they still pull the leg of a young employee because she referred to all her seniors as ‘Sir’. “At Cox and Kings, we follow the first name culture and things are pretty relaxed, so much so that we barge into cubicles sometimes without knocking,” says Tapas. Some companies prescribe a code of conduct for its employee and some don’t. So, we got professionals to share with us what worked for them in tricky situations.

Icebreaker at a Meeting
Every now and then important meetings give the 24-year-old Siddhesh Gawde from Mumbai, the jitters. "I tend to freeze and don't know what to say, especially if I am meeting the CEO. I usually wait for others to speak first," he confesses.  He suggests listening to what is being discussed and asking clarifying questions could help to break the ice. But Balu Pandian, former corporate director and chairman of Brookfield High School, Bangalore feels that being silent, waiting for things to pan out in a meeting is not ideal.

Balu's suggestions:

Introduce yourself right away and seek introductions from others. People with initiative are admired.

Give a quick overview of your work responsibilities and enquire about others in the meeting. This gives everyone a chance to participate and open up.

Ask a few questions based on their answers. This indicates that you are eager to learn more about their area of work, and can open channels of addressing senior colleagues.
Ask people how they would like to be addressed. For example: 'Hi Shilpa, is it okay if I call you that?'

Be confident while you speak to your senior colleagues. 

Phone calls
Bibin Verghese, 25, works in the pre-sales department at Mobikon Technologies, a web solutions provider to hospitality businesses in Pune. He spends more than half of his day interacting with potential customers, most of whom he speaks to for the first time. The MBA student from Singhad Business School, Pune says, "There was this one instance where I completely went blank while talking to the CEO of a hotel and had to simply hang up abruptly. I was so nervous and conscious of the fact that I was talking to a CEO." Lucky for him, the company didn’t lose the client.

Tapas advises emphatically, "Do not be casual on the phone, even if the other person is. Maintain some distance, simply because you don't know the other person at all." Sunder Ramachandran, Managing Partner, WCH Training solutions, a New Delhi-based training company says a bit of planning before a first phone call can help.

Sunder's suggestions:

Open the call with a standard professional greeting like a ‘Good Morning’ depending on the time of the day and move on to introducing yourself.

Ask if it is a good time to talk.

Be as direct as possible and don't beat around the bush; small talk can be an irritant.
Allow the other person plenty of time to respond and use prompt words such as 'I see' and 'really' in a sincere tone.

Don't repeat the name of the person too many time, three times every eight to 10 minutes is good enough.

Keep conversations brief.

Lunch time manners

Lunch time is a good time to find out the interests of your colleagues, says Shipra. People usually tend to their guard in the cafeteria but there are some dos and don’ts here as well.

"It is natural to form groups, especially in a cafeteria. But you never know when groups change, so by forming groups don't form barriers," advises Tapas.

Their suggestions:

Since groups are inevitable, it's a good idea to have lunch with different groups rather than sticking to the same clique, everyday. You will get to know more people and will not be viewed as "clannish".

When in the presence of one group don't speak ill of a person in another group. In fact, try not to comment on a third person in his or her absence. 

Try not to carry on any conversations from the café to the workplace but discussing work while at lunch is not a bad idea.

Finally Shipra adds, “A little caution and  thought in the manner in which you interact at work will definitely benefit you professionally.” 

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