Rudeness in the workplace

There's a story that personnel experts like to tell:

Employees at a Bay Area health care organization met outside the office to talk about workplace etiquette. They agreed that they would no longer stand in the aisles between cubicles, having loud conversations while others tried to work.

Six days later, they were yelling back and forth across the room, instead.

And yet, those workers were potentially on the right track, said Sara Tickler, a workplace conflict consultant, psychologist and program director for Sonoma State University's master's degree program in organization development.

"Employees are always looking to the leaders to set the parameters, but these conflicts are a no-win situation for any manager. You have to spread the responsibility for enforcement across the staff," she said.

For many people, the most challenging part of going to work is getting along with the other workers. Even if a co-worker's little habits — from constant nail clipping to loud personal conversations — really have nothing to do with the job, minor conflicts are inevitable.

Some guy playing music in the next cubicle may not sound like aggressive behavior at first, but no matter how trivial co-workers' irritations might seem, it's foolish to let them fester, Tickler said.

"Most of the more serious conflicts that arise start with this kind of stuff," she said. "Any of these problems can quickly lead to a grievance."

When we asked readers to tell us their complaints about manners at the office, the responses were voluminous, almost all were anonymous, and a few were venomous.

Some of the responses, however, were rather thoughtful. Mike Booth, a Glen Ellen insurance agent, was concerned that the hug has replaced the handshake as a workplace greeting.

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