The importance of good manners in business

It costs nothing to say please or thank you - but it can be costly if you don't.

by Tracy Kite
Last Updated: 13 Sep 2018

Good manners can be the difference between an effective and ineffective leader. No matter how skilled or knowledgeable you are, if you can’t engage with and build rapport with others, you will ultimately fail – no leader can deliver on their own. Interestingly, you can find much in the academic literature on staff engagement and its importance in workplace effectiveness, but courteous conduct doesn’t get a mention anywhere. Perhaps it’s considered old-fashioned or not relevant in business, but I would argue that it’s crucial and worth a more detailed mention.

When we think about good manners what is it that we mean? This is worth thinking through for yourself. What behaviours specifically would you say are important for you and your team? I’m sure most of us would say that expressions of please and thank you are at the top of the list of good manners.

That may seem obvious, but I would hazard a guess that we have all experienced bosses who don’t seem to think it’s necessary to communicate in this way. However, I wonder what the consequences of not using please and thank you are to our teams. Making demands and instructing others without such etiquette is damaging in the long term. It impairs relationships and damages respect between individuals. It causes resentment when one person believes they are too important or too senior to need to behave in a mannerly way. A team will mirror its leader – if you want respectful adult behaviours from your people, you must first exhibit them yourself. Saying please and thank you seems an easy way to start.

What else sits in the realms of good manners for you? Good communication with eye contact? Speaking calmly and respectfully always? Not interrupting when someone is speaking and allowing others to have their say? Using someone’s name when you talk with them? Showing appreciation that team members are ‘whole’ individuals, including those aspects of themselves that sit apart from work? Behaving as if we are all equal and important in the workplace? Switching off your phone and offering attention when someone is speaking? Minimising disruptions during conversation? Finding out about and respecting cultural differences?

These are my initial thoughts – you’ll have many more, and it’s essential that you flesh out your own beliefs regarding good manners so that you can consciously ensure you are mannerly in the workplace.

Sadly, I have encountered managers (I call them managers rather than leaders, because a leader would never do this), who walk into a place of work and never make eye contact, let alone speak with those of a ‘lesser rank’; who fail to acknowledge other’s positions in the team; who speak over other people, or worse still, shout in the workplace; who believe their contribution is superior to others by nature of their title; who request time with their direct reports but don’t silence their phone or minimise disruptions; who genuinely believe they are superior because they never shut up for long enough for anyone to debate with them or offer suggestions which might change their mind.

We see it all the time on shows like ‘The Apprentice’. Whilst it makes good TV, I’m certain that Alan Sugar’s brash, aggressive TV persona is not great in creating functional, trusting, mature teams who pull together and perform brilliantly. It’s also not difficult – there are no complicated formulae or theories, or difficult-to-master techniques – it’s a shift that starts with the identification and role-modelling of mannerly behaviour.

Go ahead and experiment. Keep it up for a couple of weeks and see what changes. At the very least, you’ll have a team of people who are polite to each other and the workplace will perhaps become a nicer place to be. I would anticipate though that it will be much more profound than this – you might just become celebrated as a human, trustworthy boss who encourages their team to keep going that extra mile.

Tracy Kite is author of Love to Lead (£14.99, Panoma Press).

Image credit: Marcus Woeckel/Pexels

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