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How to be rubbish at work

Nobody likes to think they are “that person” at work, but bad behaviour at work is rife – and often done without thinking. Crimes against office etiquette range from revolting personal habits and poor electronic manners to being a cheapskate and stealing ideas. So, what are some of the rudest things that people do at work – and why shouldn’t you do them?

1. Gross behaviour.

The most common form of this is eating smelly foods at lunchtime – eat all the egg mayonnaise sandwiches you want, but do it at home where you do not pollute the airspace of your colleagues. Other olfactory offences include BO (yes, Steve Jobs had it, but you’re not Steve Jobs) and its opposite, the wearing of strong perfume or aftershave. Then there’s messy desks, the hanging of sweaty cycling kit to dry, bad breath, not flushing loos…. and the really weird stuff like clipping toenails at your desk. It’s worth remembering that all these things will become part of your personal brand. In fact, they’ll become the most important part: no matter how good you are at your job, you’ll still be “the guy who picks his nose when he thinks no-one is looking.”

2. Bad language.

A 2013 Harris Interactive survey for Randstad USA listed “profanity” as the top workplace offensive behaviour. This was in the US, but in the less puritanical UK, a little workplace swearing is probably OK. But what is not OK is endless swearing, swearing in front of people you don’t know and aggressive swearing. If nobody reacts when you say the c-word, it’s probably time to rein it in a little.

3. Never buying your round.

Once confined to the pub, this form of rudenes has found a new outlet; the coffee shop.  Nothing makes you look more like the office skinflint than never buying your round of cappuccinos. Particularly  unforgivable are bosses who endlessly send the team junior to get the coffees but never fork out for them. It’s fine not to go to Starbucks because you have an important job, earning £150k a year, but it’s absolutely not fine to make the guy who earns £15k per year pickup the tab. Obviously, the same applies to trips to the bar.  

4. Checking email on your phone when you’re talking to other people.

Buzzfeed recently did an online poll where 49% of people said their bosses checked their phones while talking with them. But let’s think about what this says: it says that the possibility of an interesting email is more valuable than the flesh and blood person you are actually talking to. If you’ve ever wondered why your team members are unmotivated, well, this may be why. In fact, when you’re talking to someone at work, really, you should reject all calls.Try doing this, it’s amazing watching the other person’s face light up as they realise that they are your number-one priority.

5. Boasting about how much you earn.

Even in roles like finance and sales,where you are effectively scored on what you earn, a little bit of game theory suggests that it’s better to be coy. If you brag to someone then discover you earn less than them, ypou look like a fool; and if you earn more, they’ll resent you. So keep them guessing and signal your earning power in more subtle ways; like always paying for drinks.

6. Not giving others credit for ideas.

We’ve all been in meetings where we hear something we suggested a few days ago trip off the tongue of someone else, entirely uncredited. Usually they explain it better too – as they’ve had a bit of time to think about it. Doing this is always a bad move. If you steal Bob’s idea, Bob will hate you and start a whispering campaign behind your back. But if you credit Bob you’ll earn his gratitude, look decent and still have the kudos for recognising a good idea. Moreover, you won’t have to worry about getting your fingers caught in the ideas-till at a later date.

7. Superiority.

Everyone has their eyes on promotion and to an extent we try to mirror the behaviour of those above us. Unfortunately, we often get it wrong by sucking up to the brass and treating our peers and underlings like something we found on our shoes. But this is a losing gambit. Brown-nosing senior managers makes you look untrustworthy and sycophantic; they want people who deliver more than empty compliments. Moreover, your peers will resent and dislike you. So by all means, network with your superiors, but do so by bringing something to the table. Remember too, that being nice to junior staff (who don’t expect it) can often pay big future dividends

8. Passive aggressive behaviour.

Emailing colleagues who sit next to you, taking an unreasonably long time to respond to requests, forgetting to pass on messages… If you’re doing little things that feel like cheap victories over colleagues, the important word here is “cheap” not victories. You need to be the bigger person. Ask yourself why the colleague annoys you and then either decide a) that it’s not a big deal and you can live with it or b) you need to speak to them and clear the air. The alternative is keeping up the behaviour in question until they call you out – and if they do, you will almost certainly look bad.

9. Talking over other people.

Do you like the sound of your own voice? Great. Perhaps it’s time you learned to like the sound of other people’s voices too. If you interrupt others when they speak, they’ll resent you and discount whatever it is you’re saying. And if you routinely take up three quarters of the meeting with your monologues, people will turn off and, quite rightly, start checking email on their phones. However, if you listen to what others say and show interest by asking intelligent questions, they’ll love you and be likely to give you their support when you speak. In fact, people love good listeners so much, they routinely describe them as intelligent and interesting when they’ve barely spoken.

10. Poor email etiquette.

Nearly two decades after it became widespread, there are still people who don’t get email. Perhaps they forward everything, like an elderly relative with bad jokes or perhaps they cc everyone in. Perhaps they expect instant replies or perhaps they just keep endless group conversations going long after they became both useless and unintelligible. Anyway, good email etiquette is easy. Less is more and if a conversation is more than four emails long, pick up the phone. Remember too, that being a bad emailer is like talking too much. Because you’re such a source of waffle, when you finally do have send an important email, it’ll get treated as marginally more important than spam.

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