Office Etiquette, Vol. 4, Issue 41

Dear Etiquetteer:This past week a co-worker was out sick from the office. As I was sitting at my desk I heard his telephone ring and normally I wouldn't think anything of it, except following the ring came a voice of another co-worker (who does not assist or supervise this individual) answering his telephone. This individual answered the phone to let the person calling know that he was out sick and took a message. This person could not assist or provide any information to the caller because this person is a separate entity from him. I thought first that this was out of line and inappropriate to answer a colleague's phone; second, this hindered his ability to check voicemail from home and forward along any impertinent time-sensitive information to other co-workers in the office. In this situation was it appropriate for this person to answer a co-worker's phone when they are out sick and what would your response be (besides that of bewilderment) to the co-worker you witnessed answering the phone? I look forward to hearing your thoughts! Dear Perturbed: Well, you’re not going to like this, but Etiquetteer’s first thought about this is that you need to learn the difference between "pertinent" and "impertinent." The former means "relevant to the situation" and the latter is really a dressy way to say "sassy."Someone once said something like "Never attribute to malice what you can put down to incompetence." Unless you know this colleague to be a wicked, back-biting and evil person eager to take every advantage against other colleagues, Etiquetteer encourages you to attribute this person’s actions as an absent-minded desire to help the caller. After all, one can never assume that colleagues writhing in pain on a sickbed have remembered to change their voicemail.As a general rule, however, if it’s not your phone, it’s not your business.

Dear Etiquetteer: Can you talk a bit about the pitfalls of deadpan humor in office situations - from co-workers, bosses or underlings? I sometimes wonder if I am inappropriate. Dear Dead Duck: The biggest pitfall there is is being taken seriously. Nothing is worse than realizing your snappy comeback was taken at face value as an insult. It’s sort of like realizing the woman whose due date you just asked about is not at all pregnant.What this really means is you have to know your audience. Too much wisecracking at a job interview or on your first day on the job, or with anyone you’re meeting for the first time in a professional setting – it’s like setting off a string of firecrackers. One of them could put someone’s eye out.Etiquetteer blames World War I for all this. Before the "war to end all wars" society knew how to pay a well-turned compliment. After the war, during the Roaring Twenties, the well-turned compliment fell to the well-aimed wisecrack. This evolved into the insult humor we know so well now, alas. Society has lost the art of creating a verbal posy, and more than a few people end up bruised without knowing how to say so.Now Etiquetteer doesn’t mean that humor has no place in the office – not so! Indeed, That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much laughs louder than anyone in the place does. But again, know your audience.Etiquetteer can make only one other comment here, which is never to joke aboutDilbert with employees who report to you or who are lower on the corporate ladder. They interpret it differently, and you could only come out looking like the Evil Pointy-Haired Boss with your observations.

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