Mind Your P’s and Q’s

Mind Your P’s and Q’s

When I was growing up in the small western Pennsylvania town of Beaver Falls, my mother would send me off to school, friends, or family by saying, Now mind your p’s and q’s! Although I didn’t know the origin of the expression, I certainly knew it’s meaning be on your good behavior and mind your manners! Years later, I learned several possible explanations for this widely used phrase.

When ale was ordered in British pubs, the tabs would be marked “p” for pints or “q” for quarts. The publican and drinker were both challenged to keep the tab straight. Another notion is that a child learning to read might have trouble distinguishing p and q, and therefore was warned by the teacher to be careful. Along the same line, a typesetter needed to be attentive so as not to confuse the two letters when setting type. Regardless of what linguistic explanation you prefer, today the meaning is commonly understood as being mindful and correct in your conduct.

As adults, we don’t have mothers who send us off to work with helpful reminders and unfortunately many times it shows. Here are a few tips on how to mind your p’s and q’s in the workplace.

Say please and thank you. Even in these busy, frantic times, there is no excuse not to use these courtesies.

Get along with others. Greet people by name, smile, be approachable and friendly. This applies to everyone in the company from the cleaning people to the president.

Respect another person’s space. Do not use someone’s phone, computer, or work area without his or her permission. And, it’s inappropriate to read another’s mail or papers.

Attending meetings. Be on time, be prepared, and participate by listening and responding. Turn off all electronic devices.

Don’t waste coworkers’ time. Be conscious of taking someone’s time unnecessarily whether it’s work related or personal.

Ring-a-ling. Telephones should be answered by the third ring. Take a breath and smile. Answer with your full name, not just your first. It sounds more professional.

Change your message. Changing your outgoing voice mail message daily and dating it gives callers the confidence that you use your voice mailbox and will call them back.

Keep your voice low. Loud voices in open-floor, cubicle-filled offices carry easily and can be disruptive to others. Talk only as loud as necessary to be heard by the other party.

Privacy is the best policy. Watch what you say, where you say it, and to whom. Avoid being accused of speaking out of school or gossiping.

Watch your language and verbal emotion. Swearing is unprofessional and offensive. While some people want to believe using strong or loud language makes a point, it does the opposite. People quit listening when they feel the speaker has gone too far.

E-mail etiquette. Have a pertinent subject line, keep your message short, don’t copy anybody who doesn’t need to see it, and don’t use all capital letters. For external e-mail include a ‘signature’ which contains all the same information as company letterhead. (For a complete list of e-mail tips, go to www.sellingstrategies.com and click on


‘free stuff.’)

If it’s broken, fix it or tell somebody. All workers count on equipment that works when they need it. If you find a printer, fax machine, or computer that needs repair, take the initiative to get things going to get it fixed.

Refill paper trays. Be considerate of the next user and the favor will be returned.

Practice good breakroom etiquette. If you make a mess, clean it up. Do your own dishes. If you take the last cup of coffee, make more.

Meeting people. When introductions are made in an office, stand up and extend your hand to shake hands. Make brief eye contact and smile. Keep your business cards in an accessible place on your desk should you need them.

So there you have it. A “q and d” (quick and dirty) list on how to mind your office p’s and q’s. Now make your mother proud!

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