Office Knigge: Ten rules for working well together

Published on 02.08.2019

Adolph Franz Friedrich Ludwig Freiherr Knigge (1752 – 1796) wrote the book “Über den Umgang mit Menschen” (“About Interacting with People”). It quickly became known as “Knigge” (etiquette manual). Since then, the author’s last name has been synonymous with books on etiquette as well as for etiquette rules and manuals of all kinds.

Interestingly enough, the original “Knigge” wasn’t an etiquette manual in today’s sense of the term. Instead, Baron Knigge was concerned about tact and politeness in the interaction between generations, occupations and characters. He even touched upon interacting with oneself.

The following ten office Knigge rules attempt to capture the enlightening spirit of Baron Knigge and align them with the demands of modern office and working life:

1. Solidarity and fairness

It actually goes without saying: One doesn’t allow others to run into a brick wall. Not only the “Office Knigge” says this, but so does empathy and common sense. Don’t take part in office gossip. It’s better for the working atmosphere and doesn’t give mobbing a chance to start. It will also make you an exemplary colleague. Because those who stay out of power games and gossip demonstrate intellect and empathy — and gain trust.

2. Politeness

The open plan of many offices makes it tempting, but it’s best to avoid always showing up unannounced at other colleagues’ desks. Make appointments. To do so, use e-mails or internal messenger apps, for example.

3. Composure

Stay composed and calm and don’t pass on your personal sensitivities, moods and problems to your colleagues. Certainly one of the most important Office Knigge rules.

4. Commitment

If you see that you are unable to complete a task in the time agreed upon, let your colleagues know and ask for assistance. If you have the tendency to take on too much work, it is time to learn how to occasionally say no.

5. Punctuality

This is similar to commitment. Of course the train will sometimes be late or your car will get stuck in traffic. But if it becomes the rule, you will need to add some wiggle room.

6. Lend a hand

If a colleague is carrying something heavy, help them. If you don’t have time or the physical ability to do so, then hold the door open for them. Make more coffee if there’s none left — especially if you are the one pouring the last cup. The Office Knigge clearly says: Colleagues, interns and trainees are not your personal service or cleaning staff.

7. Casual or formal?

The following applies at the office: One’s position in the hierarchy tops both age and gender. Even if the boss is younger than you, they are the only ones that can suggest using first names. According to the Office Knigge, the same goes for long-time colleagues that have been working at the company longer than you.

8. Speaking volume

Adjust how loud you speak to fit the situation and environment. Especially in open plan offices, your colleagues will thank you for following this Knigge advice.

9. Smartphone volume

What applies to your voice also applies to your smartphone. Make sure that your ringtone isn’t too loud. Select the vibration tone whenever possible. You should also use as neutral of a ringtone as possible for the office. A “disco” ringtone can be a bit disconcerting at work.

10. Illness

If you have a contagious illness like the flu or a stomach bug, please stay at home. Otherwise you’ll just spread your germs or virus. It’s not only your colleagues that will thank you for following this Knigge recommendation, it will do your health good and you’ll get better faster.

In general: Both modern and traditional Knigge rules are there to be mixed and adjusted. Follow your gut feeling. It will help you to make the right decision.

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