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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Shared Territory

Dear Sue: I work at a University. In our office, people are extremely territorial about their workstation, equipment and their job in general. In an effort to overcome this, we are attempting to cross-train people in order to implement an environment with rotating jobs. The hope is that this will encourage people to be less territorial and ease the transition in the constant flow of people moving on. But until this happens, the problem exists. How should this be addressed?

- Breaking the barriers

Sue Says: You are taking steps to address part of the problem. Once everyone is cross-trained, you still may find that people are territorial about their workstations. It's human nature.

People are protective of what they have. When it comes to the workplace, there often is very little space that we can call our own, causing some people to be quite possessive of whatever personal space they have.

Using a phone, borrowing a pencil or taking something from someone's desk without asking can appear rude and be offensive to a coworker.

While you certainly want to create an atmosphere in which everyone works together, you may need to address the issue of boundaries and the importance of honoring personal space. Sometimes we get so comfortable with our coworkers that we lose sight of our professional perspective and forget all about boundaries.

It sounds as though some of the people in your office need a reminder both about sharing responsibility and respecting each others personal space.

Dear Sue: A memo has been circulating in our office stating among other things, that sundresses are not to be worn to work. What is the definition of a sundress?

- Clueless

Sue Says: I've never been asked to define a sundress before, but I will give it a try, and base it on the reason I think you received the memo.

With summer here, your company probably felt it necessary to remind everyone of its appearance expectations. In the hot summer, people tend to wear less clothing, and in some cases wear inappropriate attire to work.

My initial reaction; a sundress is of lightweight material, usually sleeveless, and in most cases worn socially, casually or at the beach. Most sundresses are not considered business attire, which of course will depend on your work environment.

If my hunch is correct, and you are asking because you have been told you can't wear sundresses to work, you are much better off getting your answer from the person responsible for this question in the first place.

Dear Sue: I am responding to the letter from the person who was harassed on the job. I once had the same problem. The first time it happened, I let my harasser know clearly that he couldn't bully me. That worked for awhile.

The next time it happened I put a small tape recorder in my desk and taped what he said. Then I pulled the tape out and played it for him and let him know that the tape he was hearing was not the only one I had. I also told him that all I wanted to do was do my job and be treated as an equal. It worked like a charm.

- No longer harassed.

Sue Says: I'm glad it worked for you, but it may not work for everyone. No one deserves to be harassed. By the way, did you ever stop to wonder if the tape recording was legal?

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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