Let's say you're sitting at work, laboring over an important report.
It's been hours since you had lunch, but you don't have time to run out for a snack. Fortunately, you've got a bag of pork rinds in your desk drawer and begin munching away while focusing on your work.
About 20 minutes later, you're confronted by a red-faced colleague who is staring at your pork rinds.
"Would you like one?" you question politely.
The colleague makes no comment, just growls in her throat and stomps away.
While you may wonder why the colleague acted in such a way, it's clear to those sitting around you. Gobbling away on the chips is not only distracting with your bag-rustling and your crunching but is seen as a breach of office etiquette.
Then don't be surprised if colleagues don't invite you to participate in an important client dinner or fire emails around the office detailing your boorish ways.
All because of those pork rinds.
While many people believe that the key to career success is doing good work, the truth is that "it's more important to be popular and well liked." says Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions.
So if you do things to annoy people like eating a bag of snacks when others are trying to work nearby, that can be a detriment to your career. Further, if you're not using proper office etiquette, chances increase that you're likely to pull a boneheaded move outside the office that also can hurt your career.
"Poor manners hurt your career because the little things matter. Very often, reputations are built on the basis of a first impression that takes someone approximately 3 seconds to formulate," says Alexandra Levit, a career expert. "So, sitting at dinner with a new client and ordering the most expensive entrée on the menu (when they're paying) is not a good move."
The best way to avoid mannerless gaffes at work is by paying attention. If it's OK to ride a skateboard to meetings, then by all means feel free to do it, Oliver says.
But if you get annoyed looks when you show up in lime-green leggings and a Dodgers baseball jersey, then you may need to rethink your strategy.
"No matter how your colleagues or boss dress, I always think it's a good idea to dress nicely," Oliver says. "You never know when you'll go out to lunch with someone important. Looking like a slob never serves you well."
If you want to clean up your act so you can improve your image at work, here are some other suggestions:
Stop casual rudeness • Interrupting when someone is speaking and texting during a meeting are all signs that you're not giving someone your full time and attention, and that's off-putting, Oliver says.
"I think it's sort of addictive and a thrill to always be online. But even if others are doing it I don't think it makes a good impression," she says.
Communicate carefully • "In this climate, the most frequent complaint I hear is that people are too short with one another and that tone is misconstrued in virtual situations," Levit says.
"Most of the time, people don't mean to be rude but simply aren't careful about their communication," she says.
Don't be loud • Many workers sit next to one another, so take care to respect someone's space.
That means you may say "knock, knock" when entering someone's cubicle space or avoid talking loudly on your phone or listening to your voice message via speakerphone, Oliver says.
Look for mentors • "If you're unsure about a specific behavior, ask a trusted mentor who's not at your organization for his or her advice," Levit says.
She also suggests taking a basic etiquette course and reading workplace blog posts and articles so "you will become familiar with how to avoid a lot of the major no- nos."
Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22107.