Office Etiquette

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Not sure how to ask your cube mate to lower his or her voice on personal calls? Wondering how much information is "too much" when it comes to talking about your social life at work? Mary Crane** is our etiquette guru and she is here to answer your questions.

Q: Is it business all the time, or is it appropriate to talk about your social life at work? If so, how far do you go with your conversations?

A: With rumors of recession filling the air, every employee should be thinking about building his or her professional network, and that means building personal relationships with peers and managers alike. Connecting socially is part and parcel of building relationships. So go ahead and connect with others at work. While you connect, avoid sharing details of your personal life. Some topics to avoid bringing up at work include: health issues; your sex life; relationship problems; personal finances; gossip about co-workers; and last night's beer bash. Also, never forget, what you choose not to say will communicate loads about you.

Q: Clear desk, clear mind? Is there a certain way to keep your desk? What types of knick-knacks are appropriate for your desktop?

A: Admittedly, I am a "clear desk, clear mind" person. Too much clutter on my desk or in my office drives me crazy. I know lots of other people, however, who want the comfort of family photos in their offices and still others who need toys and gadgets to help stimulate their creative side. So let me suggest a couple of rules of thumb. First, any photos you bring into the workplace must be office appropriate. That means everyone in the photo is fully dressed and posed in a tasteful manner. Second, if you need to stimulate your creative side, consider bringing in some toys that you can manipulate without making noise. Koosh Balls, Play-Doh or an Etch-A-Sketch are perfect alternatives.

Q: What's the best way to ask a co-worker to lower his/her voice when they're on personal calls?

A: Yet one more joy of cubicle life. Unfortunately, this is one of those issues that you will probably have to tackle head on. The best thing you can do is, in your most pleasant and non-confrontational voice, ask the other person to either lower his or her voice or place the call at another location, for example, and empty conference room. Say something like, "Heather, would you mind making your personal phone calls in one of the open conference rooms down the hall. We work in such tight quarters here, and I can't help but overhear everything you're saying. I just don't feel I should hear the details of your roommates' love life."

Q: How long should you take for lunch? If you take lunch should you stay late to make up work, etc? If you with co-workers, what should you talk about, what should you avoid, etc?

A: Most workplaces set aside 30 to 60 minutes for employees to eat lunch. Check your employee handbook or ask someone in HR what the expectations are at your particular office. As to dining with co-workers, a regularly scheduled lunch with your peers is a great way to build office relationships. Go ahead and connect socially. Ask other people about the projects in which they are involved and the people with whom they are working. You may learn of new and interesting opportunities that you will want to explore. Avoid sharing lots of personal information. No one at work really needs to hear about your health, your sex life or your relationship issues. And above all, avoid getting caught up in office gossip. By the way, I like to encourage co-workers to mix it up; try to avoid eating lunch with the same people every day. Reach out to people in other departments. And reach out to some people who are more senior than you. You will find that many managers are complimented by an invitation to lunch.

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**The above content is given to us and solely owned by Mary Crane of Mary Crane & Associates LLC.

A graduate of George Washington Law School, Mary Crane lobbied in Washington, D.C. for nearly 10 years before pursuing her life-long interests in food and wine. Crane enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America and, upon graduation, worked at the White House as an assistant chef. During this time, Crane discovered the important relationships between food, wine and business. Her desire to share this unique knowledge yielded Mary Crane & Associates. Today, Crane travels North America delivering high-impact, high-energy programs to Fortune 500 companies and more than 50% of the AmLaw100. She supports new employees by explaining how to quickly assimilate in today's fast-paced work environment. Crane also helps managers understand how to best recruit, motivate, and retain today's newest workers. • Visit her Web site