Catherine's Career Corner

August 1st, 2011
Mind Your Behaviour at Work

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Do you mind your behaviour at work? There are many decent, hard-working, focused, cheerful, and polite people in all organisations. These people are highly aware of the importance of perception. Yet they have no clue. They have a limited awareness of their negative impact on their co-workers.


bad behaviour

By Catherine Adenle

Usually, people are mainly focused on their own needs, so they often miss the social cues of others such as someone politely moving away from them, someone politely looking away or looking at their watch, or eager to back out of the room or pretend as if they can’t hear what they are saying.

The Three ‘No Clue’ Colleagues Stories

Meet Chloe, a supervisor in a cake factory who visits the cubicle of her colleague, Zoe, each day to chat for a while. Coffee mug in hand, Chloe hangs just by the cubicle edge and chatters away while Zoe tries to signify politely that she’s too busy to chat. She tries everything from coughing, looking down and continuing to work, taking phone calls, collating papers to turning her back on Chloe who continues to chatter until her break is up 10 minutes later.

In this situation, what would you do if you were Zoe?

Now let us look at Jared, a focused, goal-directed and result minded fellow worker who delivers good result always. Jared, however, constantly chews gum when he is in meetings, on the phone, or having a private conversation. Sometimes, he is pops the gum every two seconds. And the sounds get louder as the hours pass. Focused on getting his work done, Jared is unmindful of his colleagues’ annoyance. Meanwhile his colleagues perceive him as haughty and someone who is simply rude.

If you are Jared’s colleague, what would you do?

Alec is nice to everyone, he is soft spoken, and he’s driven. If you want anything done, Alec is the guy that will achieve good result and on time. However, Alec is clueless. He has a bad body odour, and a bad case of hair dandruff which explains why people back off when he tries to engage them in chats.

You have a strong sense of smell and you are Alec’s supervisor. You always have to meet Alec face to face, every morning; he sits near you. Now, you cannot bear the smell emanating from him or the steady specks of dandruff settling on your keyboard any longer, what would you do?

Clueless colleagues come in many forms but one thing they have in common is their lack of sensitivity to their impact on the people in their work environment. A word of warning though – don’t look down on a clueless colleague because we all have our moments of being clueless sometimes!

These behaviours will identify a clueless colleague

He/She may:

  • Have an inappropriate screen saver
  • Sing or hum a tune loudly in an open office
  • Sit in a crowded cubicle area and insist on putting every conversation on speaker phone, including the exploits of the night before.
  • Display inappropriate posters on his/her cubicle or office wall
  • Fail to say thank you, please or excuse me
  • You can hear every smack and slurp that their mouth can possibly make as they masticate at lunch time. Listening to barn yard buffets would be easier to stomach
  • Leave dirty dishes in the office kitchen sink knowing fully well that it’s a not a cleaner minded kitchen
  • Clip his/her fingernails (or toenails) at work and leaves the nail clippings everywhere
  • Cough loudly without covering mouth
  • Make several inappropriate sounds  like whistling, burping, slurping, or sniffing
  • Play loud music from computer in an open office
  • Have body odour or loads of dandruff specks on shirt
  • Wear an open mid riff blouse showing a pierced belly button adorned with a ring (don’t laugh)
  • Eat and chew with mouth wide open in the middle of the office
  • Have a permanently stale coffee odour breadth

Well, these are just a few examples of potentially clueless behaviours. Providentially, no single clueless colleague is likely to exhibit all of these behaviours. If it bothers you or if you are not happy about someone’s clueless behaviour, or feel disrespected, don’t take it too personally, you are probably working with a nice, mean no harm but clueless colleague.

There are three principles that can help you respond constructively to a clueless behaviour:

  1. Get Real
  2. Take Responsibility
  3. Build Relationships

Get Real

  • You are not perfect either so when you point a finger, are the other fingers pointing back at you?
  •  No perfect work environment with perfect employees working in their perfect heavenly offices.
  •  Are your concerns major or can you ignore them? It’s not the end of the world but if it’s really affecting you, get on the case.

Take Responsibility

  • Perform well by modelling the behaviour you would like to see.
  • Politely communicate your expectations to him/her or to your manager and how a better behaviour will help everyone in the office.
  • Consider your role and how you might have contributed by not finding a way to help.

Build Relationships

  • Network with and help him/her so he/she gets to know you.
  • Show empathy for the challenges he/she faces and find a way to help.
  • Protect your colleagues confidence and self-esteem.

I must say though, there’s no point in suffering in silence. Your clueless colleague needs to hear about the impact of their behaviour on the people around them. Depending on the temperament of the colleague, you may consider having a conversation in private. However,  be empathetic, listen to his explanations, paraphrase frequently, and clarify your needs. Together you may be able to come up with a mutual solution that satisfies you both.

Now, let’s hear from you, what would you do if you were Zoe?

As Jared’s colleague, what would you do?

As  Alec’s supervisor, what would you do?

See these videos of what not to do –

Annoying office worker.wmv

Catherine Adenle
Founder, Catherine's Career Corner. The career site empowering and inspiring ambitious candidates of all ages and professions to thrive and work smarter on their careers. Gladly helping all career-minded people worldwide to explore their career, manage change and understand how new technologies are changing and enhancing the future of work.
Catherine Adenle

2 thoughts on “Mind Your Behaviour at Work

  1. This made me chuckle aloud in my office cubicle. Could be my clueless moment as my colleague looked over to see what made me chuckle. You described one of my co-workers, he is the Alec type. Love the article.

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