How to Be a Better Boss (And Team Member)

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We've all got stress at home and on the job. And yet, it's the small things, the little acts of kindness and consideration, that can turn a workplace from a spot you loathe to one you actually enjoy. Flagrant slights are usually dealt with quickly and effectively--particularly if you've got a good human resources department. However, it's the smaller slights--whether intended or not--that can build up over time and cause resentment and even lawsuits. It takes such little effort to be courteous to everyone, but it goes a long way to making your workplace less toxic when you do.

Here's are some of my don'ts for keeping things civil at the office:

DON'T

•Unless you want to be known as the Michael Scott of your office, you should never use your position of power as platform for bullying your team. Not only will you lose the loyalty of your staff, but you will find yourself in a real bind someday when one of your employees becomes your boss. And it will happen.

•If you've got a kitchen at the office, treat it as you would your kitchen at home. (That is, if you keep a neat kitchen.) Leaving spills and decaying coffee-grounds for others to attend to is rude, and will earn you a reputation as the floor's resident slob.

•Don't forget special occasions. You'd be surprised at how much a little "happy birthday" can mean to the people you see day in and day out. It proves that you see them as a colleague rather than a fellow drone.

And what should you do if confronted with one of the situations above?

In the case of the bully boss, this is not an issue you want to tackle on your own. If your superior has demonstrated a pattern of abusive behavior, take it to the human resources folks, and barring that, to an employment lawyer. Whatever you do, don't escalate the situation by matching his or her aggressive behavior with aggression on your part. This will only make a bad situation worse. Your case will be stronger if you keep your cool, and document any incidents you witness or experience.

For dealing with the office slob, I'd let the first couple of transgressions slide, but if you see it becoming a pattern, I'd definitely speak up. You needn't make a big deal of it, but the next time you witness something happen, you can follow two courses....if your work relationship is pretty genial, try to make light of it by saying something like: "Oh, Jeremy....I think the office maid might be on vacation this week. Would you mind wiping that up?" If your relationship is a little more formal, try saying something along the lines of: "I know you always do, but do you think you could wipe that up for the next person to come along? This kitchen can get messy real fast if we don't all pitch in." If it's your boss who's the Oscar Madison, I'd be inclined to let it go.

As for the birthday one, you can't really force someone to wish you a happy birthday, but you can start by remembering the birthdays of others. With any luck, they will remember yours in kind. Bring on the cupcakes!