The Cubicle Survival Guide – The Ten Commandments Vol IV

Posted by Justen Collins on December 15, 2012

“What is The Cubicle Survival Guide doing on a critical thinking forum?” It is a fair question, and one that I keep in my mind each week when writing this series. There is nothing inherently challenging about reading our weekly tips and deciding if they make sense to you or not. The application of critical thinking skills that I hope to engage the most, though, is your ability to self-reflect and self-evaluate.

So many times, we find ourselves going through the motions at work and blaming the nature of the job for all our struggles. What I hope you will do each week with our tips is take the time to really look at your own behavior in situations and see if you are really engaging your mind or just going through the same predictable pattern. If I can make you question the way you handle even one little situation at work each week, I think I am helping to fulfill the mission of this site.

It is almost Christmas time, so we are being especially generous with this week’s Cubicle Survival Guide tip, which is the Ten Commandments of Being a Good Work Neighbor. The people that sit around you each day at work are the people that you will spend most of your adult life with outside of your immediate family. These relationships can make or break your chances at surviving in the modern workplace. With that in mind, we present “ten tips in one” to help make sure you are not that annoying neighbor that everyone dreads.

The Ten Commandments of Being a Good Work Neighbor
(All of these are examples of real people that I have had the misfortune of working beside)

1 – Thou shalt not have all thy conversations on speaker phone.

We can agree the speaker phone is a useful tool that serves a necessary purpose in every office. There are times when it is necessary and convenient to use the speaker phone option at your desk. If there is someone in your office that also needs to hear and participate on the call, more power to you. On the other hand, if you abuse the speaker phone and use it to call your wife, order your lunch, check movie times, and have every single phone conversation during the workday, do not be surprised if your coworkers slash your tires one afternoon.

2 – Thou shalt not eat thy obnoxious-smelling lunch at thy desk.

While your curry cabbage stew with pickled beets may be the most delicious and nutritious lunch in the world, it smells like hot garbage to the rest of us. There is a reason that they passed a law requiring employers to allow lunch breaks, and it had something to do with making sure your coworkers were not subjected to your microwave science projects. If your lunch has any detectable odor and your office does not have a break room or area with lunch tables, please go find a park bench outside or eat lunch in your car. I am looking at you, too, “afternoon popcorn snacker.”

3 – Thou shalt remain at home when thou are clearly contagious with walking death.

Nothing makes a workday more uncomfortable and stressful than sitting near someone who is clearly sick and likely contagious. Every lung-rattling cough and monitor-shaking sneeze serves as a reminder that you are likely being exposed to your next debilitating illness. Especially in this modern age when laptops and wireless internet have made working remotely more efficient and readily available than ever, coming to work dog-sick makes little to no sense. Use a sick day, use a vacation day, stay home and work, or go work from the Panera Bread and infect them. No one is impressed by your dedication to working under the weather, but we would be grateful if you took your death rattle back to your own couch.

4 – Thou shalt not make bizarre sounds for any reason other than comedic storytelling effects.

These are true stories that I have personally encountered, so I know these folks are out there and this commandment is necessary. I once sat next to a sweet older lady who had one tragic “work neighbor” flaw. For some reason, she often felt compelled to call her grandkids from her desk and engage them in a spirited game of “name the animal that grandma is trying to sound like.” It always started simple enough with some cow and chicken sounds, but after a few minutes, it advanced into strange sounds that even my college-educated self sitting right across from her did not recognize, much less her preschool grandkids listening on a phone line. This would go on for what felt like hours. Another former neighbor of mine had an unfortunate nervous tick that caused him to unconsciously make a high-pitched wheezing sound when he got nervous. Nothing makes a pressure-packed, intense day at the office more unsettling than a high-pitched wheezing in the background.

5 – Thou shalt not trim thy fingernails at thy workstation.

This one feels like it should just be common sense, but I have seen it broken so many times, that I feel compelled to include it on the list. If the clicking sound of nail clipping is not annoying enough, there is the paranoia that goes along with wondering if any of the trimmings have flown into your vicinity. We all know that nail trimming is unpredictable. Those bad boys sometimes shoot off like they have been launched from cannons. If your nail trimmings end up on a coworker’s desk – even by a pure fluke of an accident – you can rest assured that you have lost that person as a work ally for eternity. There is no coming back from that one.

6 – Thou shalt take thy awkward and intimate personal calls away from thy desk.

We all have lives outside the office, and sometimes they inevitably get a little messy. Everyone understands there are times when you may have to handle a delicate or emotional personal matter during business hours. That does not mean that we all want to listen in to one-half of those awkward conversations, though. Studies show that nearly every working adult in America now has a cell phone, and these are the times to use them. Walk away, take a deep breath, and handle your business elsewhere.

7 – Thou shalt not abuse thy neighbor’s email inbox.

Just because they work beside you does not mean that your neighbors want to receive your chain emails or funny forwards with giant attachments that either clog up their inbox or unleash viruses upon their systems. It is also not necessary to email them a message that you could lean back in your chair and relay with your spoken voice in a matter of seconds. Emails make the business world go ‘round, and the less irrelevant ones you send them, the more your work neighbors will appreciate you.

8 – Thou shalt not badger thy neighbors for endless donations.

We are not the ones who decided to enroll your three children into seven extracurricular activities each, so do not expect us to feel obligated to fund all those endeavors on your behalf. The way I see it, you can approach me for a monetary contribution about once every six months, so use your opportunities wisely. Your Girl Scout cookies are a given. I will buy from the first one of you that approaches me. I am also willing to agree to an exclusivity deal to buy my Thin Mints from your daughter alone, but there has to be something in it for me. I am a three-box-plus kind of buyer. I am partial to your pie sales, but your markup seems outrageous. There is no such thing as “gourmet” popcorn or they would sell it at the movies for like twenty bucks. Your coupon books at least provide me a chance to get some of my money back, but the places I go are usually never in them. Also, I have two boys of my own that are rapidly approaching the fundraising age, so be warned that I am making a list, and I will be checking it twice.

9 – Thou shalt not sing.

This one is a blanket statement. So few of us has a singing voice that is worth sharing with the office, especially considering it would be solo and without musical accompaniment. Singing is one of the fastest ways to annoy others, actually. I have no scientific proof of this, but I do have a personal story to support the theory. Only one time in my career have I actually found myself clutching a pair of desk scissors like a dagger and had to talk myself into not murdering a coworker. The near-victim was an engineer that I used to sit beside. He had the most unfortunate habit of sitting at his desk with headphones on listening to classic rock. The man loved classic rock but sadly only knew a small portion of the words to his favorite songs. That did not stop him from singing out loud at his desk, though. The day he nearly died at my hands came as I endured the following across the wall from him: “Desperado…why…(unintelligible half-word-half-hum)…SENSES!....(humming noise)…FENCES!...(murmur)…long now!” I am a strong man, people, and that is the only reason you are reading this now as a commandment and not reading it as my official testimony at a murder trial.

10 – Thou shalt provide the final commandment.

I know this audience has endured some cubicle crimes in the past, and I have saved the last spot on these Ten Commandments for your best suggestion. Send me your best final commandment by either leaving them in the comments below, on Facebook, Twitter, or email them to me directly at

I look forward to reading your suggestions, and I will have the final commandment to take its rightful place on this prestigious list when we meet back here again next week