Try Mind Tools for 7 days FREE Start Trial
Gain essential management and leadership skills
Busy schedule? No problem. Learn anytime, anywhere.
Subscribe to unlimited access to meticulously researched, evidence-based resources.
Join today!
Join Mind Tools

Sign-up to our newsletter

Subscribing to the Mind Tools newsletter will keep you up-to-date with our latest updates and newest resources.

Working on it...
Successfully subscribed to the newsletter
Sorry, something went wrong
February 23, 2017

Manners: Why Good Ones Matter at Work

Rachel Salaman

, , , ,

Share this post:

Manners: Why Good Ones Matter at WorkBeverly Langford’s book on modern manners in business, “The Etiquette Edge,” is full of memorable tips and observations. Many are specific to a situation or mode of communication, while others are more generic. One of the most striking appears in the section on business travel: "Treat everyone as though you were going to have to spend the rest of your life with that person in a very small room."

This seems good advice for most human interaction, not just business travel. It captures a fundamental reason for behaving well: it's catching. If you treat people with consideration, they may well return the favor, making your life more comfortable. It can also help you professionally.

"Courtesy can actually give you a competitive advantage," says Langford. "You can stand out in the crowd among seven billion people in a good way, rather than being noticed for the wrong reasons."

Somewhere between those seven billion people and the "very small room" of her maxim lies the average workplace, where a lot of people share space for many hours every day.

In our Expert Interview, Langford talks me through some dos and don'ts related to manners in the workspace, starting with a reminder of some of the basics.

"As much as possible, you need to be aware that that desk, or that space, is still someone's office, albeit a very easily observed space. It's still their space. The same things apply as if you were coming into someone's office that had walls and a door," she points out.

"When you walk up to someone's desk, ask them if they've got a moment, is this a good time, just as though they were in a private office. If you see that someone is obviously deeply involved in something, working on something on the computer or looking very stressed, then you may want to put that off for a few moments."

As well as thinking about others, think about yourself, Langford advises. Unwittingly, you may be annoying your co-workers in any number of ways.

"Do a reality check yourself. Do you have an unusually loud voice when you're on the phone? Do you have anything on your desk or on the wall of your cubicle that might be offensive or troubling to other people?" she posits.

In Langford's experience, most complaints from people working in open offices are about either noise or smells.

"Either people are too loud, and you're forced to listen to sometimes intimate conversations, or people wear too much cologne or aftershave, or in break rooms people fire up the microwave and cook something that may not smell exceedingly good to everybody else," she reports (politely).

The responsibility for minimizing such annoyances rests with each team member, who should stop and think about his or her impact on colleagues. For example, if you're planning to make a call and need to be at your desk, give your neighbors a heads up about it, so they can be prepared for potential interruption.

But managers also have a role to play, Langford believes, stating, "It shouldn't always be up to the employee to have to do the policing." There should be guidelines on certain activities that might disturb others. For example, people who sometimes need to talk loudly or privately should have a place to do so.

"If companies are going to have open space, the architecture ought to include some private rooms where people can take conference calls, and can have conversations that they don’t want everyone to hear," Langford says.

When the issue is a bit more personal, involving distracting smells for example, should managers also intervene? Let's say a few people have complained about the strong perfume of a particular team member.

"The way I would position that is that, when you function in a group, you may not be able to do things individually quite the way that you would like to do them, and to the extent that you would like to do them," she says.

"There's always that tension between the rights of the individual and the rights of the group, and, in my opinion, if you explain it effectively and come at it very compassionately… most people are going to respond [well]. And if that person does not respond effectively, if that person gets very adversarial about it, then that tells you something about that employee's attitudes about other things as well."

How to behave around co-workers is one aspect of business life where manners make a difference. Another is written communication, and particularly emails. In this audio clip, from our Expert Interview, Langford offers several tips on doing it right.

 Listen to the full Expert Interview in the Mind Tools Club ¦ Install Flash Player.

How do you encourage good manners in your team? Join the discussion below!

Share this post:

3 comments on “Manners: Why Good Ones Matter at Work”

  1. You have to set the right example and be a role model in good manners. A few basic rules are:
    - Watch your mouth. Someone else's ears aren't dustbins for your filthy language.
    - Always say 'please' and 'thank you'.
    - Be helpful and look for opportunities to be considerate.
    - Be kind and friendly.
    - Leave a place cleaner/better than you found it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Gain essential management and leadership skills

Busy schedule? No problem. Learn anytime, anywhere. Subscribe to unlimited access to meticulously researched, evidence-based resources. Join today!
Join Mind Tools

You may also like...

November 30, 2023

Supporting Neurodiversity at Work: Our Expert Interview With Ed Thompson 

Creating work environments that support varying needs and preferences will make neurodivergent employees – and all of us – more comfortable and productive.  


November 23, 2023

Leadership Lessons From Superheroes

They fly around saving the world - and offer real lessons in leadership. Discover 8 superhero lessons in being a good leader.

November 16, 2023

Digging Into Conflict: How to "Play Nice" at Work

"It leads to what the author calls “assertive play” – not brick-on-skull assertive, but self-confident engagement, where people know they have things to contribute, and stake their claim."- Jonathan Hancock

, ,

© Mind Tools Ltd 2024. All rights reserved. "Mind Tools" is a registered trademark of Mind Tools Ltd.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram