Magic Words for the Workplace

I just returned from two weeks’ vacation, most of which was spent below the Mason-Dixon Line, and I’m still struck by the differences in regional culture within the borders of our United States.  No, I’m not talking about accents, food, or voting habits…I’m referring mostly to manners.


Our southern neighbors are far more courteous than we are here in Connecticut.  There, I said it.


Everywhere I went, I was met with politeness.  Retail clerks, restaurant servers, and even the guy at the kayak rental place met me with warmth and kindness at every interaction.  In North Carolina, they’re even beginning to notice that their language just might be a bit too syrupy, as described in the current issue of Our State magazine:


Whether it’s the northeastern urbanized hustle-bustle, or our collective Dunkin’ coffee habit, we don’t always make the time for common politeness in this region of the country.  It’s as if Richard Scarry, Barney, and Yo Gabba Gabba just didn’t sink in with us up here.

please and thank you clips

Saying “please” and “thank you” have fallen so far out of our collective daily vernacular that it becomes actual news when they’re used, as we already learned this summer from a coffee shop in Roanoke, VA, and from a nice little grandmother in the UK.


Most online content regarding workplace etiquette focuses what to wear to the office, not playing Pokémon Go during meetings, or other common-sense topics…but there is less overt advice on plain, old-fashioned manners.  DC-based career coach Joyce E.A. Russell did recently suggest that current trends in using neutral and inoffensive language is a return to civility and politeness.  In her recent Washington Post blog, she suggests that “Being ‘PC’ is just another way of showing common courtesy.”


Working the basic “magic” words into your life may feel a bit awkward at first, especially in the workplace at your internship or first job.


“Please” is the easy one – just work it into any basic request.   Change “Hey, got a pencil?” to “May I please borrow a pencil.”  It’s that easy.


“Thank you” can be trickier.  Surely, our coworkers need not expect us to thank them at every turn for just doing their assigned jobs, but it is wholly appropriate to recognize effort above the norm or if they offer assistance.  The Popforms blog offers up some tips on how and when to express gratitude in different settings at work.  Some common tips across situations suggest that “thank yous” at work should be:

  • Short – one or two sentences
  • Specific – show the connection between what someone did and how you benefitted
  • Personal – say “I” not “We”


Next time you need something at work – from asking a coworker to stay late on your behalf or even just to borrow a Post-It from your cubemate, be sure to say “please” when you ask, and “thank you” once it’s done.


Please do this for me.  I thank you for your good manners!




images from and

By John Bau
John Bau Career Consultant, School of Engineering John Bau