Etiquette for Office Cubicle Dwellers

Etiquette for Office Cubicle Dwellers

If you work in an open cubicle farm, you already know that a lack of privacy and frequent interruptions can cause cubicle dwellers to get on each others’ nerves. Here are some ground rules and etiquette tips to follow.

  • If you like to listen to music or the radio, keep the volume low or use headphones. Your neighbors may not work best with background music (or noise) and may not share your music preferences.
  • Don’t speak loudly. Avoid long, loud conversations—sometimes unrelated to work—with colleagues or on the phone. Step out of your cubicle into the hallway or an empty conference room. Don’t pursue conversations on sensitive topics—it is impossible to know who else is listening.
  • Avoid popping into others’ cubicles and parking yourself at an open seat. Don’t interpret an “open door” policy for a “no door” choice. Cubicles have made it easy to walk by someone, interrupt them, and start chatting. Don’t interrupt them if they seem busy. Prior to starting a conversation, take a second to ask them if now is a good time to talk. Remember that in the modern workplace, distractions kill productivity more than anything else.
  • Speak to people from the front. If someone’s sitting with their back to the entrance of their cubicle, don’t startle them. Instead, knock on the wall of their cubicle or take a moment to walk around to their front before talking to them.
  • Don’t look at others’ computer screens as you walk by their cubicles. Keep your glances out of other people’s space.
  • Workspace Cubicle Etiquette Don’t expect others to keep track of their neighbors. If you intend to seek out Anna but can’t find her at her cubicle, don’t expect James to know where Anna is because he’s right next door to her.
  • And, James may not want to have a chat with you while you wait for Anna. Don’t bother James. Leave a note for Anna and move on.
  • Don’t linger around someone’s cubicle if they are chatting with another person or on a phone call. Revisit at another time.
  • Don’t yell across cubicles. Walk over to the other’s location.
  • Never borrow items from other people in the office without letting them know. If they are away, leave a note on their table saying that you took the item and will return it as soon as possible.
  • Pay attention to personal hygiene and cubicle cleanliness. Don’t eat a smelly lunch. Don’t overuse perfumes. Don’t take off your shoes.
  • Personalize your workspace (it’s a sign of nesting) with framed pictures, area rugs, memorabilia, fresh flowers, a candy jar, and the like. Be discerning; don’t flaunt anything distracting, political, religious, unprofessional, or offensive.

Don’t Reject Your Spiritual Traditions Altogether in Favor of Another

Don't Reject Your Spiritual Traditions Altogether in Favor of Another All over the world, organized religion is on a protracted decline. However, in Western societies, Buddhism is one of the fastest growing “religions” in terms of new converts.

In these Western societies, many people take to Buddhism because of the appeal of meditation and the substantial self-help benefits attributed to persistent meditative practice. Some Neo-Buddhists are motivated enough to warm up slowly but surely to the fact that Buddhism is much more than mere meditation. They come to understand that the Buddhist way of life is atheistic and emphasizes ethics. They draw inspiration from the realization that they alone are responsible for their own attitudes, intentions, decisions, actions, and behaviors. As University of St. Thomas’s Stephen Laumakis wrote in An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy,

The single most important or most basic insight of the historical Buddha is the claim that who we are and what we think exists is a function of our mind and its cognitive powers. In other words, it is our mind and our uses of it that determine how we see and understand our self, the world, and other things.

On the other hand, some new Buddhist practitioners have misgivings especially as regards the religious or esoteric philosophical aspects of Buddhism. They continue to seek and practice meditation techniques in a secular, non-Buddhist context.

Buddhism has never sought strength in number of adherents

As I have mentioned in my previous article, Buddhism is more of a philosophy of life—a “spiritual practice”—than a religion in the Abrahamic sense.

When Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and other prominent Buddhist teachers started teaching Buddhism in the West during the ’80s, they did not intend to establish a beachhead. Rather, they intended to help educate enthusiasts and help Westerners return, with renewed spirit, to their own religions. In Teachings on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:

'Teachings on Love' by Thich Nhat Hanh (ISBN 1888375000) Many Westerners attracted to Buddhist practice have abandoned their own spiritual traditions. They reject the churches and clergy of their own traditions because they feel constricted and uncomfortable with the attitudes and practices they have encountered there. They have suffered within their own tradition and so have sought another. They approach Buddhist practice with the hope of replacing their own tradition and may wish to break away from their own tradition forever.

According to Buddhist wisdom, such wishing is in vain. A person severed from her own culture and traditions is like a tree pulled out by the roots. Such a person will find it hard to be happy. Buddhist practice can offer effective means to heal, reconcile, and reunite with one’s blood and spiritual families, in order to discover the precious gems in one’s own traditions. Thanks to the practice, people will see that Buddhism and their own spiritual tradition have many things in common, and therefore it is not necessary to reject their own spiritual tradition. They will see that there are things that need to be transformed in Buddhism as well as in their own tradition.

Idea for Impact: Forcefully rejecting one’s religious, spiritual, or cultural tradition in favor of another is not conducive to happiness and peace of mind. Buddhism encourages the Neo-Buddhists to employ insights from their Buddhist practices to find what may have been previously overlooked in their long-established beliefs.

Party Etiquette: Can you take your leftovers home?

Party Potluck Leftovers Etiquette A reader’s question about party etiquette: at the end of a party, could you expect to return home with leftovers of the food or the drink you contributed to the party?

No, not unless the host offers.

You’re a guest in your host’s home and anything you contributed to the party is tantamount to a gift. Unless the host decides not to preserve the remainder of your contribution and suggests that you take your leftovers home, don’t expect to return with your leftovers. Just return with your empty dish.

At potluck parties, however, you can take your leftovers home, but first offer to leave some or all of the leftovers for the host.

Party Etiquette for the Vegetarian Guest

  • Party Etiquette for the Vegetarian Guest When RSVPing to a party, mention your dietary restrictions and allergies: “Thanks for the invitation. I must tell you that I am vegan and gluten-free. I am also allergic to peanuts.” Be as specific as possible; mention if you can consume milk products and eggs. Elaborate if you can’t eat anything particular: butter, marshmallows, honey, gelatin, chicken stock, or lard in desserts.
  • Offer to provide for yourself and help out: “May I bring my five-bean and avocado salad with baked nachos? That should also cover the appetizer course for you!” If you’re comfortable with meat substitutes, offer to bring the meat-alternative dish that’s most suitable for the occasion: “May I bring a Tofurky dish? I’ve heard it mimics the taste and texture of a Thanksgiving meal.”
  • If the party is in your honor and the host insists upon cooking for you, suggest an easy dish they could prepare for you. Don’t make the host search for a dish that best suits your preferences.
  • Understand that your hosts can’t cater to every guest’s preferences. Don’t be offended if your host forgets about your dietary restrictions. Appreciate that they’ll be spending a lot of time preparing for and cleaning up after the party. If your host hasn’t made any accommodations to cover your dietary needs, just eat salad, quick-and-easy canned soup, or whatever is practical for the host to organize quickly for you. Don’t grumble.

Control Your Efforts, Not the Outcomes

General Eisenhower addressing American paratroopers on 5-June-1944 before the Battle of Normandy.

During World War II, President Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969) was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. On 2-June-1944, he issued a memo to his troops just before the Allied invasion of Normandy:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely. … The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle.

We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Under Eisenhower’s leadership, the Allied forces had meticulously planned Operation Overlord for over a year. For months, Eisenhower’s troops not only rehearsed their D-Day roles and routines, but also went to exceptional lengths to uphold the secrecy of their plans and deceive the German forces about troop movement. The Allied forces even plotted to cut off all roads and rail lines leading to the coast of Normandy and thus block reinforcements for the German troops.

Some things are simply beyond your control—you can only do your best

Despite all the strategizing and training, the success of the Allied invasion depended on the weather across the English Channel—their success essentially rested on something beyond their control.

The Allied aircrafts sought air superiority and would be unable to locate targets if low clouds covered Normandy. In addition, if the tides were high or the seas heavy, the troops would be unable to launch their landing crafts. The success or failure of their landings hinged entirely on suitable weather.

Eisenhower tentatively planned to send his troops across the English Channel on 5-June. The day before, however, the troops predicted cloudy skies, rain, and heavy seas that were inappropriate for the invasion. Eisenhower decided to postpone the invasion by a day, when the forecasted weather was to be more suitable than on 5-June, but not necessarily perfect for his plans. If he did not invade on 6-June, the tides would not favor an invasion for another two weeks, which would possibly give the Germans enough time to get wind of the Allies’ plan.

Dwight Eisenhower and the Invasion of Normandy

Eisenhower gave the marching orders for 6-June. It was then that he realized that the success of the invasion was no longer in his hands. Its outcome depended on 160,000 allied troops, thousands of commanders, and hundreds of lieutenants. Eisenhower had done everything in his power to coordinate their efforts and create conditions conducive to the mission’s success. After issuing his orders, all he could do was let those conditions come to fruition on their own terms. After all his efforts, he could not control the outcomes—he let go of the outcomes.

In time, the hard-fought cross-channel invasion was successful—Eisenhower won his wager with the weather. The invasion of Normandy proved to be a turning point in World War II. Despite formidable obstacles and thousands of casualties, the Allied troops prevailed over the German forces in landing at the coast of Normandy. Within days, Allied forces quickly consolidated at the beachheads and built up troops. Within two months, they broke out from their beachheads in Normandy and advanced on the Axis powers. The Allies liberated Europe when German troops surrendered unconditionally on 8-May-1945.

Control Your Efforts---Not the Outcomes

Idea for Impact: Focus on effort and lower your expectations of the outcomes

The wise among us understand what’s within their control and what’s not. They recognize that “you win some, you lose some.”

Success and results are not often within your span of control. However, you can control your effort and ability to create the conditions for success. Focus on your efforts, then let those conditions unfold.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna instructed Arjuna, “set thy heart upon thy work but never its reward” (verse 2:47.) And the Buddha counseled his followers to lower their expectations in order to achieve happiness, a belief that is not without proof in the hurly-burly world we live in.

Moreover, even if you can, don’t go overboard with your efforts. Push yourself to the max only when the stakes are big enough. As I mentioned in a previous article, a 110% effort may not fetch more rewards than an 80% or a 90% effort.

Be committed to your job, but don’t overly invest in it.

The Buddha Isn’t God or Superhuman

Today is Vesak (or Wesak) in South East Asia, the most prominent of Buddhist festivals and a celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha, the historical Buddha. Vesak is celebrated on a different day in South Asia.

I’ll take this opportunity to clarify a common conception—or misconception—taken up during casual comparisons between Buddhism and the Abrahamic faiths. I’ll also shed light on Buddhist gods and deities.

Was the Buddha God or Superhuman

The Buddha Never Considered Himself Savior or the Guardian of Truth

According to foundational Buddhist scriptures, Gautama Buddha claimed to be an ordinary man—not a God, superhuman, or prophet. The Buddha even denied that he was omniscient, though he did emphasize that what he knew was all that really matters.

The Buddha presented himself as a philosopher, an enlightened human being. He was only exceptional in having deeply contemplated the true nature of reality. He claimed he had identified the sources of pain and suffering.

The Buddha taught that humans are fundamentally ignorant about the nature of existence and that everything in life is unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) caused by ignorance (avidya) and selfish craving (tanha.) As a teacher, the Buddha was deeply interested in the ethical remaking of a person and declared that it lay within anybody’s capacity to follow his life experience to achieve awakening. The Buddha insisted that his teachings should not be accepted on blind faith—Buddhism is therefore a ‘religion’ of reason and meditation.

Siddhartha Gautama, the Historical Buddha

Do Buddhists Believe in God The entire philosophical edifice of Buddhism centers on Gautama Buddha’s enlightenment. He was born into royalty as Siddhartha Gautama during the sixth century before Christ. According to tradition, at Siddhartha’s naming ceremony, Brahmin astrologers predicted that the newborn was predestined to become an extraordinary ruler of humans, as a great king or holy man. His father desperately wished the former for his long-awaited heir. He isolated Siddhartha within their palace’s protective boundaries and took precautions to ensure that Siddhartha would never experience any trouble, sorrow, or suffering that could cast even the slightest shadow on his happiness.

At age 29, Siddhartha strayed from his palace’s simulated paradise and chanced upon an old man, a diseased man, and a corpse. He also encountered an ascetic who strove to find the cause of human suffering. Depressed by his encounters with human suffering, Siddhartha resolved to follow the ascetic’s example. Leaving his wife and infant son behind (they later became initial disciples), Siddhartha left his affluent palace and lived as a beggar. After pursuing six years of ascetic practice and arduous meditation, he attained new depths of understanding about the nature of life, ego, consciousness, and reality. He achieved enlightenment and thus became the Buddha, the “Awakened One,” or the “Enlightened One.”

Theism is Incompatible with Buddha’s Teachings

The concept of an omnipotent God does not feature substantially in Buddhism. Indeed, scholars quote verse 188 of the Dhammapada, “Men driven by fear go to many a refuge, to mountains, and to forests, to sacred trees, and shrines,” and state that the Buddha believed that the concepts of religion and godliness stem from primal fear, just as sociologists and psychologists have recently posited.

Unlike people of other faiths, Buddhists believe neither in a creator God nor in a personal God entitled to their obedience. Consequently, Buddhism does not derive its system of ethics from any divine authority, but from the teachings of Gautama Buddha.

Buddhism: Gods and Deities

Buddhism: Gods and Deities

Buddhist doctrines have evolved over the centuries. In some schools of Buddhism, the worship of the Buddha is merely an act of commemoration for the founder of their ancient tradition. Others defy the foundational Buddhist teachings that the Buddha is not an object of prayer or devotion and worship him as a deity who holds supernatural qualities and powers.

Gods in Buddhism Religion - White Tara To account for the misconception of a Buddhist God, the more-religious forms of Buddhism added gods to serve as objects of meditation. According to these schools, living beings can be reborn into various realms of existence, one of which is the realm of the gods. The Buddha was said to have taken various animal and human forms and reborn as a god several times. The gods (those born into the realm of the gods) are mortal and impermanent—i.e., they are born and die like other living beings. These gods do not play any role in the creation or sustenance of the cosmos. Adherents can meditate upon these gods and pray to them for practical (but not spiritual) benefits.

The Mahayana schools of Buddhism also believe in many supernatural beings that feature prominently in Buddhist art: various Buddha-figures, ghosts, demons, and bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are would-be Buddhas who represent various virtues of thought and action. In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, the Sitatara or the White Tara (‘star’ in Sanskrit) is a female Bodhisattva. She is a meditation deity who embodies compassion, longevity, and tranquility.

Buddhist God or Deity - Pu-Tai or Budai Finally, the Laughing Buddha (Pu-Tai or Budai in Chinese and Hotei in Japanese) is a holy person per Chinese folklore. He represents a future bodhisattva and epitomizes contentment. His popular image is often mistaken for that of Gautama Buddha. Rubbing Budai’s belly is said to bring good luck and prosperity.

Recommended Books & Films

  • English poet Edwin Arnold’s “The Light of Asia” (1879,) a book that deeply inspired Gandhi. The Light of Asia illustrates the life of Siddhartha Gautama, his enlightenment, character, and philosophy.
  • German theologian Rudolf Otto’s classic “The Idea of the Holy” (1917) explores the mystic, non-rational aspects of the idea of God and contains abundant references to foundational Buddhist teachings.
  • Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha” (1993) includes an remarkable visual retelling of the life of Prince Siddhartha Gautama. Bertolucci also made the epic “The Last Emperor” (1987.)

Thou Shall Attend the Office Holiday Party

Attend the office holiday party The office holiday party may seem like a mandatory celebration. Perhaps it is not in your tradition to celebrate Christmas. May be you are introversive, do not enjoy partying, or you feel uneasy about being around many unfamiliar people. You might even dread interacting with coworkers who you are not immensely fond of.

Despite your reluctance, the office holiday party comes with an implied obligation to attend it and enjoy it. Generally, companies consider the holiday party as a morale- and camaraderie-building occasion, not just as a mere ritual. Therefore, your management will take notice if you do not attend and may deem you negligent or arrogant if you ignore the office holiday party.

Unless you have a perfectly compelling reason — not an excuse — not to, you should partake in this celebration. It pays to attend the office holiday party, attempt to like it, exchange gifts, and make the most of it.

Great Opportunity to be “Seen”

As you move up the corporate ladder, one vital skill for your success is to be on familiar terms with the influential managers in your organization. The art of forming coalitions and winning the support is more about “who knows you” and “what they know about you” than about “who you know.” The most effective way of earning this recognition is showing up where the action is, “being there” and acting the part. For this very reason, the office holiday party is a great networking opportunity for you to introduce yourself to peers and management with whom you would not normally interact.

Office Holiday Party Etiquette

  • Attend and enjoy the office holiday party A word on propriety for the organizers: do not call the holiday party a “Christmas Party” and alienate employees who may not celebrate Christmas. The term “holiday party” is more inclusive.
  • Attend the party. Do not arrive too late or leave too early. You need not stay for the length of the party.
  • The holiday party is not a social occasion. Even if the party has a festive theme and setting, it is still in the professional context. Dress appropriately and conduct yourself professionally. Do not eat excessively or get drunk. Do not pass judgment, exchange inappropriate comments and jokes, or deride other guests.
  • Be Seen. Do not spend all your time hanging around familiar people. Mingle and introduce yourself to as many other guests as you can. Make sure you are “seen” by everybody important. Attempt to enjoy the party and make the most of it.
  • Bring a thoughtful and practical gift for the gift exchange ritual. Stay within the prescribed guidelines for buying gifts.
  • See my articles on how to start a conversation, how to help people pursue a conversation, how to introduce people to one another, and how to remember names.

The Winning Idea: Attend and enjoy the office party

Professional visibility and career success is often about fitting in and being visible to the influential managers and peers. Unless you have a perfectly compelling reason not to, you should partake in the office holiday party. Consider it a career advancement exercise, mingle with everybody, and enjoy it.

Three Great Commencement Speeches by Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and J.K. Rowling

The commencement season is upon us. On these momentous occasions, students celebrate their academic achievements and prepare to transit from one pivotal life experience to another.

In graduation speeches, students hear reflections of personal stories and timeless advice from accomplished individuals. While commencement speeches are brimming with plenty of patently obvious advice such as “pursue whatever you do with passion,” speeches such as the ones featured below are truly motivating.

I have coached many students graduating this year and I have recognized that, despite a gloomy job market and other challenges ahead, this year’s graduating classes seem to be more optimistic than previous classes with which I have interacted. My very best to them.

Steve Jobs: “Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life”

Steve Jobs, Commencement Speech at Stanford | June 12, 2005 Steve Jobs cofounded Apple Computer Inc. at age 21 in 1976, got fired in 1985, and returned in 1997 to lead one of the most remarkable corporate turnarounds in business history. The product and marketing visions he has since executed have elevated him to the status of a business and media superstar. Steve Jobs had a cancerous pancreatic tumor removed in 2004 and underwent a liver transplant in 2009.

In his 2005 commencement address (transcript, video) at Stanford University, Steve Jobs urged graduates to pursue their dreams and fulfill the opportunities in life’s setbacks:

  • Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. … Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.
  • Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Bill Gates: “Address the world’s deepest inequities”

Bill Gates, Commencement Speech at Harvard | June 7, 2007 Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and Corbis, is currently the world’s most influential philanthropist. His Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated billions of dollars to world health causes, particularly toward the eradication of infectious diseases.

In his 2007 commencement address (transcript, video) at Harvard University, Bill Gates urged graduates to discover and help solve the health and social inequalities that the world faces:

  • I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world — the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair. … Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries — but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity — reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.
  • If you believe that every life has equal value, it’s revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. … I hope you will come back here to Harvard 30 years from now and reflect on what you have done with your talent and your energy. I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequities … on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.

J.K. Rowling: “The benefits of failure”

J K Rowling, Commencement Speech at Harvard | June 5, 2008 J.K. Rowling, the celebrated author of the Harry Potter series of fantasy novels, is a classic “rags to riches” life success story. At the age of 28, as a depressed, unemployed single mother who lived on welfare, J.K. Rowling started writing the first Harry Potter book at a café. Within five years, thanks to the success of Harry Potter, she rose from obscurity to literary prominence and became a billionaire.

In her 2008 commencement address (transcript, video) at Harvard University, J.K. Rowling urges graduates to persist through failures and despondency:

  • Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. … Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
  • Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.
  • The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.

Links from Around the Web

  • Instructions for Life Instructions for Life. 43 quotes of wisdom and flashes of insight. My personal favorites: (1) When you say, “I’m sorry,” look the person in the eye. (2) Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before. (3) Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
  • Ten Fatal Flaws that Derail Leaders. Often, leaders do not realize their mistakes or try to hide them rather than owning up to them. Effective leaders have the capability to spot their own mistakes, reflect on them and recognize how to correct them. Here is a list of ten obvious leadership lapses. Use this “to-avoid” list to assess your own performance and reflect on what you may need to do differently.
  • Finding Patience at Work. “Our lives at work are filled with difficulty. Patience requires that we fully and directly face our difficulties, that we embrace and learn from situations and from our feelings about them. Owning and transforming our pain and disappointment can be a tremendous challenge, as well as a tremendous gift.” Quote from “Z.B.A.: Zen of Business Administration,” Marc Lesser. Source: The Daily Dharma from Tricycle magazine
  • Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. An easy and effective test to measure how recent life events could lead to stress and illness.
  • What Do You Tell Your Boss and When? Fortune magazine columnist Stanley Bing offers this quiz to help assess your communication style with your boss. My blog has previously discussed the importance of keeping your boss in line and suiting his preferred style of communication.
  • Compilation of the Funniest Résumé Mistakes. Amusing examples of vagaries, mistakes and overstretched qualifications on résumés of job applicants.