Q. During your training program, you never told your bosses about your difficult personal life that included some nights spent with your son in a homeless shelter or an Oakland subway station bathroom. Why not?
A. Nobody cares about your personal life and it’s none of their business. You’re there to work and nobody wants to see your sad ass dirty. Everybody’s got their own problems. (From Washington Post interview with Chris Gardner, author of The Pursuit of Happyness)
During his long slog from homelessness to multi-millionaire, Chris Gardner had every reason to complain about his personal life at work. If he didn’t need to, neither do you. The first rule for the gentleman at the office is to keep personal life and your professional life separate. It’s fine to socialize with people from work, but don’t go out of your way to do so. It’s very nice to have your workplace serve as a sanctuary from any problems you may be having in your personal life, and the reverse is also true, but once you start mixing the two your problems from one will follow you into the other.
We’ve all heard the person arriving late with the laborious excuse: “Sorry, I’m late, but little Johnny has the mumps, I had to prep Sara for her SATs, my wife’s mother is in town and I had to make her soy latte, and my dog ate the work I brought home.” This can all be better paraphrased as “Sorry, I’m late. Let’s get to work.”
The second basic rule for the office can be summarized as: No kissing up, no talking down. The basic rule of the gentleman is curtsey to all, fawning to none, expressed most eloquently by Confederate President Jefferson Davis:
“Never be haughty to the humble; never be humble to the haughty.”
Everyone from the janitor to the CEO should be treated with curtsey and respect – you should arrive with the same meticulous punctuality for meetings with your subordinates as with your boss.
If you have the sort of boss who requires excessive fawning, you should get a new job and a new boss – really effective managers don’t require subservience, and the smartest ones will resent it. Kissing up to your boss will also engender the contempt of your colleagues – co-workers hate an ass kisser.
Not talking down to subordinates is harder to master. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between explaining something clearly and condescension. Perhaps the best rule is the old management maxim to explain the result you seek, and, to the greatest extent possible, let subordinates figure out how best to achieve that result.