Mr. Manners on Office Etiquette

June 4, 2014

There’s probably no confusing your graduate curriculum with finishing school but a few hours of study on office etiquette might be the best spent time for a successful career. Office managers, colleagues, and clients will judge you more on manners than mentality. The recommendations come largely from a former colleague, except where otherwise credited.


  • Always leave a phone number when leaving a voice mail. Even if it’s someone who should know your number.
  • Always return voicemail or email within the SAME business day, even if it’s to say “I need more time” to get someone the answer they are looking for.
  • If away from office for 1 day or more and you don’t plan on regularly checking messages, set out of office message on voicemail and email and update message with regard to your plans.   Be sure to leave specific directions on WHO to speak with, not just the fact that you are unavailable.
  • If you share an open plan workspace speak no louder than necessary and use speaker phone only when necessary. (


  • Check your emails from most current to least current. You don’t want to respond to something that has already been addressed.
  • If you are on the ‘CC’ list, DO NOT respond to the email unless requested to do so by someone on the ‘TO’ list.
  • Respectfully avoid emailing people who you know to be on vacation. (
  • Never ‘reply all’. (
  • If something is time sensitive, don’t send an email. Pick up the phone.  Many blunders can be avoided with a timely phone call to the right person. This holds for anything that can be more efficiently communicated verbally.
  • If you ever write an email that contains and subjective, inflammatory or otherwise controversial information, leave it in the ‘drafts’ box overnight and re-visit the following day.  If you still agree that what you wrote is the appropriate message, then fire away…if not, edit it and save yourself from a potential career-limiting moment.


  • Keep meetings to the scheduled amount of time. Don’t force the next group to stand in the hallway outside the conference room waiting for you and your group to finish. (Forbes)
  • Pay attention during meetings and avoid multi-tasking, such as scrolling through emails on your smart phone or computer. (Forbes)
  • Never go to ANY meeting (internal or external) without business cards, a writing instrument and a pad or journal.
  • Always get/give business cards to EVERYONE at a meeting, from the admins and maintenance personnel to the president of a company. You never know when you will need to get in touch with someone…and you never know who may call when they need services in the future.
  • Don’t criticize or blame the ‘givers of work’ (contractors, architects, consultants, etc. ) particularly when they are in front of their ‘giver of work’ (end user or client).  The same can really be said of criticism of anyone of the project team.  At the end of the day, if there is a problem on a project, it doesn’t really matter who’s fault it is…it matters who FIXES the problem. Keep in mind this is a VERY small industry.  Throwing others (inside of outside of the firm) under the proverbial bus will surely come back to haunt you.
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  • Avatar Michael Luebbers

    I would like to ammend the first bullet:
    • Always leave a phone number when leaving a voice mail. Even if it’s someone who should know your number. Leave the number at the beginning of the message immediately after identifying yourself. Take pains to speak the number slowly and distinctly.
    Often the recipeint has to re-listen to write the number down and it very annoying to first have to listen through a long message.

  • All good suggestions and appropriate comments. I would add another personal suggestion of my own that is particularly applicable to e-mail communications. Be very careful about the overuse of technical jargon and terminology. You may be one of the nationally acknowledged experts on the application of ITS technologies in TOD areas as an element of large scale MPO LRTP concept development but that does not ensure that any of your audience will have a clue about what you are trying to say.

  • Avatar Andrew Schwarz

    Jim, I wanted to give you a hard time for using the word “penultimate”, but I knew what you meant so it was effective… Haha

  • Also, be sure to proofread. The errror in the post (“of” instead of “or”) in the penultimate line would not be caught by a spell checker (though it might be flagged by a good grammar checker).

  • Spell check everything you write, twice.

    • Good advice. I’m definitely guilty when it comes to this blog. Hope you didn’t catch a big typo in this post. 🙂

      • Last bullet point of Email section: “If you ever write an email that contains and subjective”. Should this be “any subjective”?

        Many good points, but sometimes email can be tricky. I’d say “use discretion” with respect to “reply all” and replying as a “CC” recipient, not necessarily “never”.

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