How Can I Be Polite in the Office? (12 Tips to Be Politer at Work)

According to data from Gettysburg College, most people will clock in 90,000 hours working throughout their whole lives. For most of us then, we will spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our own family. When you put that into perspective, you might realize that you could afford to treat your coworkers with a little more respect and politeness. How do you go about doing this?

12 Tips to be politer in the office, you can do the following:

  • 1. Greet people in the morning
  • 2. Keep your hands away from your face (no hair-twirling, nail-biting, or nose-picking)
  • 3. Know your table manners
  • 4. Arrive early
  • 5. Master personal hygiene
  • 6. Reconsider whether humor works
  • 7. Always dress for work
  • 8. Don’t use jargon
  • 9. Apologize if need be
  • 10. Skip the watercooler gossip
  • 11. Listen actively
  • 12. Know basic manners

In this article, we’ll expand on the above politeness pointers, offering more details on how to incorporate them into your own life. We’ll even share some benefits of doing so. Keep reading, as you don’t want to miss it!

How to Be Polite in the Office

1. Say Hello with a Smile

Do you often start your day with your head down, mumbling into your cup of coffee, dreading what comes ahead? This comes across as incredibly unapproachable.

To change that, the next time you go into work, put on a happy face. Drink some coffee before you get to the office if you’re concerned about flagging energy levels. When you see a coworker, look them in the eye and greet them. Smile if you can. You might say “good morning” or even a simple “hello.”

This isn’t a huge part of your day, so don’t overthink it. It can indeed get your mood and thus your day off to the right start, though.

2. Don’t Touch Your Face in Front of People

Do you absentmindedly begin twirling your hair while at work? Perhaps you touch your face without realizing it. If you’re already semi-conscious of these behaviors, then you need to become even more conscious of them. The next time you sense yourself doing any one of them, make yourself stop.

Twirling your hair could come across as flirtatious, especially in American culture. That could be problematic at work. It also dirties your hair and makes you look distracted. Biting your fingernails and picking your nose are both gross if we’re being totally honest. Touching your face or ears does your skin no favors and could lead to breakouts, so get out of the habit of doing it.

3. Master Your Table Manners

Whether a casual Wednesday lunch with some coworkers or a big dinner with a potential client, showing off your table manners will surely impress anyone who’s paying attention. You probably fuzzily remember these rules because you learned them as a child, but they need some reinforcing now in adulthood.

Here’s what to do. Keep your elbows off the table. When you eat food, only cut or bite off what you can chew. Never have a discussion while you’re chewing; nod or raise a hand to let the other person know you’ll respond when you can. Keep your mouth closed as you chew as well.

Choose your food consciously and carefully at work. If a food has an especially pungent smell, then do you really want to bring into the office and stuff it in the fridge? Of course not. Everyone will complain about the odor. If you’re at a work dinner and you want dessert but everyone else doesn’t, then yes, skip the dessert. You don’t want to keep everyone waiting.

4. Be Early if You Can, but Always Punctual

One of the rudest things you can do is disrespect someone’s time by arriving late. You show this person that you have no regard for what they have going on with their day. They have to wait around for you to show up and waste a lot of time in doing so.

That’s why you should always strive to get to where you’re going early. Yes, you might have to wait around for a few minutes, but that’s better than freaking out and rushing to your destination in a mad dash.

You’ll probably have to alter your schedule to become an early bird. Try waking up a few minutes earlier or cutting down on your routine. Yes, it’s a pain, but for that effort, you don’t have to worry about another discussion with your boss about you being late.

If you absolutely cannot get somewhere early, then at least do so on time. 

5. Practice Sufficient Personal Hygiene

Going back to the pungent food example, no one wants to work around someone who smells pungently themselves. While you may shower before or after work, you should always do so daily. When you wake up in the morning, brush your teeth. Make sure you apply deodorant or antiperspirant before you leave the house. Don’t douse on the cologne, perfume, or aftershave to mask any musk.

Avoid wearing the same clothes every day or every other day. If you don’t have enough business outfits for work, then wait until your next paycheck and buy some. People don’t study your clothes like you’re on a runway, but if you wear the same thing all the time, they will start to notice.

6. Know When to Inject Humor

Humor is a subtle art, and admittedly, not one everyone can master. It’s much more important to do good work and be a dependable, reliable person at the office than to crack a few side-splitting jokes. Remember that

If you are indeed the jokester type, then know your audience. Remember you’re at work, so watch your profanity. Avoid political, religious, sexual, or racist jokes (the latter of which should go without saying).

7. Stick Within the Dress Code

Almost as bad as wearing the same clothes day in and day out is dressing inappropriately. Every office has its own dress code. If you’re lucky, maybe that’s business casual. Other offices have a more buttoned-up policy.

No matter what your office mandates in terms of dress, follow the rules. Unless it’s a casual environment, don’t wear jeans. Women should skip over the short skirts, low-cut tops, and anything else that’s revealing. You’d hate to embarrass yourself with your attire or come across as unprofessional.

8. No Jargon

Jargon might seem like a good way to show off your deep knowledge of your industry or niche, but it’s exclusionary. If others don’t know what you’re talking about because of your advanced, even confusing vocabulary, then guess what? They won’t want to talk to you.

Also, using jargon can make you seem egotistical, which you want to avoid. The next time a line of jargon begins to roll off your tongue, stop for a moment and then simplify your language the best you can. If you can’t do that, then at least the time to explain the jargon term to the other person.

9. Learn to Apologize

Some people view apologizing as conceding defeat and thus can remain pigheaded. That won’t get you very far at the office. If you made a mistake and pin it on someone else, not only will you make an enemy, but you could cost an innocent bystander their career. You must be able to admit when you’ve messed up.

Most of the time, your colleagues or boss will accept the flub and move on quickly. It’s only if you make a major gaffe or have a history of repeated mistakes that you might run into trouble.  

10. Don’t Talk about Others Behind Their Backs

If you see coworkers engaging in watercooler gossip and you suspect it’s about you, it can feel pretty terrible, right? Don’t do that to someone else. Rise above the need for petty gossip which isn’t often even true.

You might not like every coworker you have, and some might even not like you. It happens. Your dislike doesn’t give you free reign to pull your work buddies aside and talk trash about a person. Remember the old line, “if you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all.” Learn to live by that.

11. Work on Your Active Listening

When a colleague starts launching into a detailed story of their weekend or your boss begins a long presentation at a meeting, where does your mind go? Perhaps you’re thinking about an assignment due today or that email you have to send out before you go home. You might even be focused on what you’ll say in return if you’re in a conversation.

That’s passive, not active listening. With active listening, you take in what the person in front of you says. You’re not thinking of anything else but what you’re hearing. Yes, that means you don’t plan what you say next.

It’s not easy to listen actively at all. You’ll need a lot of practice before you get the hang of it, so don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself slipping into your passive listening habits again. Even a little active listening will make you more polite and a nicer person to talk to at the office.

12. Dust off Those Childhood Manners

Do you remember the days of being a kid when you always said “excuse me,” “please,” and “thank you”? It’s time to start using those social skills at work and at home.

Too many people forget these basic politeness rules. When you do, you come across as rude. Try implementing the three terms, including “no thank you” and “yes, please” into your vocabulary. People will want to be around you more.

Why Bother Being Polite at Work?

You don’t believe in mixing business with pleasure. To you, the idea of getting close to your coworkers in a friendship capacity is something you’ve striven to avoid. You’re cordial enough, but you may wonder, why act extra polite?

There are many reasons to treat your coworkers with dignity, respect, and kindness. By practicing active listening, you can increase your empathy for those you work with and see every day. You’ll also find yourself bettering your communications abilities. These expand beyond just those you work with, but also potential clients and vendors, your boss, and even your friends and family. Everyone reaps the benefits of you being more polite.

You can also increase or maintain company morale. While every company will have its issues, morale can make a big difference between a company that strives to do better and one that’s an unbearable work environment. Your kindness and positivity can contribute to that morale, making you an important and valued part of the company.

Also, you can ensure more people like you at the office. Sure, not everyone will be your biggest fan, but most will appreciate your sunny demeanor and kind attitude. If a promotion or other advancement opportunity pops up, people might vouch for you.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, you can make work more pleasant. Very few people actually want to be at work, but it’s unavoidable. The bills won’t pay themselves, after all. By radiating positivity, even when you’re not feeling your best, that positive attitude becomes contagious. Before you know it, more people at your office pick up on your vibe, returning that kindness back to you and spreading it to others. That makes getting up in the morning and going to work a lot less awful than before.

Related Questions

What are some examples of politeness?  Here’s a rundown of quick and easy ways you can begin incorporating politeness into your life immediately:

  • – Hold the door for someone, even if you don’t know them
  • – Smile
  • – Remember your manners when you speak to others
  • – Practice empathy and understanding
  • – Be tolerant, even accepting of those who are different from you
  • – Always offer to help

Which polite words should you use?  Want more polite words to say than “excuse me,” “thank you/no thank you,” and “please?” Try incorporating these into your regular vocabulary:

  • – “May I?”
  • – “Cheers!”
  • – “Sorry” or “my apologies!”
  • – “Have a great day”
  • – “Good morning” or “good afternoon”
  • – “You’re welcome”
  • – “Bless you” (when someone sneezes, not necessarily in other contexts)

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

Recent Posts