Self-awareness and awareness of those around you is one of the most important aspects of any healthy relationship.  Working relationships are no different.  Clear communication can only take place when both parties are aware of and receptive to one another.  In the interest of promoting self-awareness and healthy communication amongst coworkers, here are some tips on how to treat your secretary well.  While each person and office has its peculiarities, there are a few basic principles which everyone working in an office should keep in mind.

Though this list is tailored specifically to an office setting, the principles can easily be applied to treatment of anyone working in customer service.  As the person requiring service from another person, it is incumbent upon you to communicate by your words and actions that you appreciate the service being done for you and do not wish to take it for granted.  You must be aware of what you are asking, how you are asking it and how it is likely to be received.

1. Provide context and details when you make requests or inquire about an old request.  Vague instructions are bound to result in a job unsatisfactorily done.  Keep in mind that your secretary is the stillpoint of the multifaceted and swiftly turning world.  S/he is following multiple threads of conversations and playing in multiple overlapping narratives.  You must not assume that your own personal narrative or task is foremost in your secretary’s mind.  Most likely s/he has written down notes on the task somewhere and must be reminded of the task to which you are referring.  When you follow up on an earlier conversation, provide details to jog your secretary’s memory as to the specific task or scenario of which you speak.  For example, the question “Did the student come to see you?” is inappropriate because it is unspecific.  Try something more detailed like, “Remember how we spoke earlier about that student who is coming to make up a Literature and Arts exam?  I told her to come in on Wednesday and I am wondering if she came in to take it.”

2. Be aware of how much time certain tasks take and give your secretary ample advance notice to complete each task.  For example, if you know that your office has a hearty copier with a stapling feature, then you can feel no guilt in asking your secretary to make numerous stapled copies of an article because all s/he has to do is press a few buttons and refill the paper when it is out.  Your secretary can work on other projects while the printer is stapling your copies.  If, however, you want each of these hole-punched, remember that this activity is much more time consuming if the office only has one small, temperamental electric hole-punch.  This is not to say that you should not request hole-punching, but it does mean that you should consider how much time the task will take, whether it is really worth all that trouble, and make sure your secretary has enough advance notice to do the job without feeling flustered.  Be clear about when you need a task completed so that your secretary can prioritize efficiently.

3. Consider if it would not be more efficient to do a task yourself.  For example, if you have a detailed communication to convey to someone, it may be more advantageous to not involve your secretary as a third party.  Eliminate the middle man and it will save you and your secretary a good deal of time and avoidable frustration.

4. If you leave papers or other items on your secretary’s desk, provide (preferably written) instruction as well.  A brief post-it note of explanation will save your secretary from time wasted on guesswork.  On the post-it, put your name, what is the item and what you would like your secretary to do with it, as well as a deadline (if applicable).

5. If you have regular office hours, put them on your schedule so that your secretary can make appointments confidently instead of wondering when you will be available.

6. Respond to your emails.  Nuff said.

7. Don’t be afraid ask your secretary to do things.  Everyone wants to feel needed and if you never ask your secretary to do anything, s/he may feel unnecessary or get the impression that s/he is a scary, unapproachable person. Your secretary wants to see you succeed and help you accomplish your goals.  If your secretary knows what you are aiming for, then s/he will be better equipped to help you realize these goals.

8. Remember that gifts are no substitute for clear, respectful communication.  However, gifts can be meaningful expressions of appreciation and gifts which complement your clear communication are always welcome.  Organic chocolates, copies of Plato from the Loeb Classical Library and/or a copy of Catherine Pickstock’s book After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy would all be appropriate, thoughtful gifts.