Insulting an employee can result in any number of outcomes — a figurative slap on the wrist, distrust in the workplace, or even a lawsuit. Knowing how to balance your personal and professional lives can minimize the chances of making such blunders.
Here are 10 proven ways to avoid a lapse in judgment, and instead become known for your charm, good taste, and professionalism:
- Respect your workers’ personal lives. Just because you’re aware of other people’s personal business doesn’t mean you have to invade their privacy. It’s acceptable to listen if employees approach you about a personal issue. Indeed, you might need to listen to gain or maintain trust. It’s not okay, however, to press for details.
- Avoid physical contact. Most people don’t like to be touched at the workplace. Just the thought of brushing against some colleagues is enough to make one shake. Even an innocent pat on the arm can be misinterpreted. Hugging may be the universal language of love, but a smile goes a long way and will keep you out of trouble.
- Don’t break the “TMI” rule. Too much information can make people uncomfortable. Don’t assume that others want to know the details of your Saturday night, the wonders of Viagra, or the calming effects of Prozac. It’s one thing to discuss personal matters regarding health or dating with a close friend; it’s quite another to raise these issues with employees.
- Temper your humor. Equip yourself with an “appropriateness” meter when it comes to your humor. Consider religious, racial, gender-related, and sexual jokes off limits. Also, avoid extreme sarcasm. Instead, use humor to facilitate communication and build relationships. If it’s hurtful or results in the ridicule of others, the humor is inappropriate and should always be avoided.
- Keep your compliments impersonal. Carefully worded flattery can mean the difference between an acceptable compliment and an unacceptable remark. Consider “That’s a nice tie” versus “You look good in that ensemble.” Or say, “Blue is a nice color for you” instead of “That dress really matches your eyes.”
- Maintain objectivity during a review. Reviews can be tricky, especially if the employee is a friend. Still, your job is to offer constructive criticism. Make a distinction, for instance, between the person and the job function. Remember: the appraisal process is about helping the employee improve future performance, not your personal feelings about the individual.
- Give gifts wisely. Giving gifts should be simple and stress-free, but in the workplace the rules are different. How much should you spend? What are “safe” gifts to give? Follow your company’s established gift-giving policy. Make sure your gift suits the personality of the recipient and that it’s not too expensive or personal. Consider teaming up with coworkers to present a boss with a gift.
- Use caution when serving alcohol at a work-sponsored event. Just because alcohol is available doesn’t give someone the license to become rip-roaring drunk. In addition to slurring your words or stumbling into prospective clients, you could put your company at risk for future costly litigation if you were to leave a party intoxicated and then get into a car accident. Consider skipping the alcohol altogether. Water and soft drinks are still good alternatives for quenching one’s thirst and avoiding an embarrassing situation.
- Dress in professional attire. Even if you’ve established an unspoken, unwritten dress code, it’s a good idea to dress conservatively. Exuding a positive, professional image by the clothes you wear builds credibility. As a leader, you set the tone whether it’s in the clothes you wear or the language you use, so keep your torn jeans and rock concert T-shirt at home.
- When in doubt, consider the old rules of etiquette. Sometimes it’s best to rely on old-fashioned manners when it comes to successfully balancing personable with professional. If your grandmother would disapprove, then it’s probably a safe bet that your employees will, too.