I Just Work Here

Sometimes the best advice is simple: Be nice

After one year of I Just Work Here, we've learned to appreciate the power of being nice

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Happy Birthday, I Just Work Here!

After a year of sharing workplace advice, columnist Rex Huppke has learned one thing: It's best to be nice. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / June 24, 2012)

This month marks the one-year anniversary of this column, and it is with great humility that I take credit for single-handedly transforming American workplaces into centers of happiness and bliss with my intelligent advice and charming prose and handsomeness.

(You're welcome.)

They say helping people is its own reward, but that's preposterous, so let's do a quick tally of the honors I've received since the column launched:

Pulitzers: Zero.

Honorary degrees: Zero.

Book deals: Zero.

Praise from my mom: Zero.

Readers telling me I'm not funny: Let's conservatively call it a baker's dozen.

But more important than the vast amount of praise that has not been heaped upon me is all I've learned from a year of covering the maddening and ever-changing world of work.

From questions of etiquette to job-search tips to advice on running meetings, enough subjects have been covered to identify some themes. Chief among them is this: being a decent human being is wildly advantageous in the working world.

Consider these disparate issues I've written about: co-workers who complain all the time and bosses who don't provide face-to-face feedback.

In each, you have a person behaving in a way that runs counter to our better nature.

People who gripe non-stop aren't thinking how their bellyaching might be bringing others down. Bosses who don't give workers an occasional pat on the back or a compliment are thinking like bosses — not human beings.

In interview after interview with career specialists and executive coaches and CEOs and academics, I've learned that the remedy for these issues and a startling array of others is for workers and bosses to take a moment to THINK before speaking: How is this going to sound? What's the right thing to do here? How would I want someone to treat me if the tables were turned?

Peggy Klaus, an executive coach, has a tremendously smart section in her book — "The Hard Truth About Soft Skills" — where she explains how important it is to listen to others in the workplace. She describes listening as "part art, part science and all important."

"Much of business happens during various kinds of social interaction," Klaus writes. "And to be successful, these interactions not only depend on listening to the message, but equally on creating a shared meaning with the other person."

So Klaus offers these very concrete suggestions on what to do when listening to a colleague:

•Keep an open mind.

•Tune into the feelings of the speaker along with the facts.

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