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9 Little Rules of Business Etiquette That Will Help You Get Ahead at Work

Refresh your office manners with these tips on how to be decent, polite, and respected at work.

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Silence your cell phone

And if you need to take a long personal call, step away from your desk. “Use good judgment,” Joseph Scotto, director of human resources at Higher Counsel, says. “If you’re a parent and your child calls when they come home from school every day, that’s one thing. But if the conversation is more in-depth or personal in nature, then you should excuse yourself to a common area out of courtesy to your coworkers.” And you should always follow these cell phone etiquette tips wherever you are.

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Knock before you enter

Scotto says if an office door is closed, it’s probably closed for a reason. Don’t assume your boss is available to talk 24/7—even if what you need to chat about seems like an emergency. “Use good sense—don’t just barge in,” Scotto says. “Also, a lot of people who have their own office space use speakerphones. So someone might be on a conference call, even if they don’t appear to be from the outside.”

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Accept the lunch invite, even if you’re busy

“I’m busy, you’re busy…we’re all busy,” Scotto says. “There is a deeper level of social context you get from having a meal with someone outside of the office. Even if you’re still talking about work, you’re bonding with that person and strengthening your relationship with them simply by accepting the invitation in the first place.” Not sure how to connect with a coworker? These tips on making small talk will help.

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When you bring your lunch, be aware and respectful of allergies…

… especially if you work in a small office. “There are more nut allergies now than we’ve ever seen in the past,” Scotto says. “The food you bring from home should certainly not be problematic from an odor standpoint, but you also have to be aware if there are folks who have very severe allergies.” Find out these 20 weird things people can be allergic to.

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Familiarize yourself with your office’s rules for food and garbage disposal

“Many offices have specific common areas where they want you to put your garbage and recycling,” Scotto says. Don’t assume it’s the right move to throw away leftover food in the garbage can next to your desk.

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In most cases, include titles of coworkers when introducing them to non-employees

Scotto says this is especially important in a business setting, for mere contextual purposes. You don’t want to leave either party in the dark with any information about your relationship to them. Be as transparent and informative as possible.

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Don’t gossip

According to Scotto, stirring office politics is one of the most overlooked deal breakers. “I’ve seen people lose their jobs over this,” he says. “Senior leaders want people around who share their same commitment and positivity in the office. I’ve worked with companies where we’ve had CEOs let people go and say, ‘I’m making a choice over how I spend our bureau dollars. I want people who are committed to what we’re doing here.'” Here are other top career-killing mistakes to avoid.

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Stay positive

Positivity and commitment go hand-in-hand. “Most senior leaders are very happy to be out there working, so when folks are just plotting along and really unhappy with their jobs, it’s draining. Complaining is very infectious,” Scotto says. “People get caught up in it without even knowing it.” Make sure you don’t fit the bill for any of these types of annoying coworkers.

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Remain accountable when you travel for business

“When you’re on work-sponsored travel, you’re an ambassador of the company,” Scotto says. “So even if you have a really long day, don’t go to the bar and drink too much. Coworkers are going to be around to see you at work the next day and clients might even be there, too.”

Lauren Bettenga
Lauren Bettenga is a contributing writer for Reader’s Digest covering Culture, Advice, Travel and Home Improvement. Her work has also been published in Country Living, The Pioneer Woman and Business Insider, among other outlets. She earned a BA in Journalism from the University of Minnesota and is a graduate of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute.