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Politeness, decency, and etiquette are values that have been taught and valued through generations, but have these values been lost over time, especially in the workplace?
WHAT IS POLITENESS?
Politeness is a set of strategies for doing everyday communication tasks (e.g., requesting, advising, complimenting, criticising, reminding). Politeness is a core communication skill, as soon as we begin to learn language, our guardians teach us to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ and ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s no mistake that we learn politeness so early. Our guardians intuitively sense that politeness skills are central to our being seen as decent people.
Being polite allows us to show basic human decency to others, even strangers. Receiving politeness acknowledges and reaffirms our humanity. Politeness can make a difficult and sometimes thoughtless social world just a little bit nicer.
Politeness reflects the social relations maintained between individuals. It can build, solidify, or destroy relationships. Companies are beginning to understand the real costs associated with rudeness in the workplace. But what are the specific benefits of good manners?
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD MANNERS
A great trait of polite people is that they have the natural ability to make others feel comfortable. Within any organisation there will be a large variety of people, with different personalities, work ethics and coping mechanisms, so having someone with this behavioural trait can go a long way in building strong relationships with co-workers.
First impressions of a company can weigh heavily on the people already employed their and can set the tone for clients and new employees alike. Polite behaviour to everyone in an organisation shows a mutual respect and helps to express appreciation and create the desire to be motivated.
Disagreements in the workplace are also inevitable, but when combined with thoughtless and impolite behaviour they can escalate very quickly. If you compare this with polite behaviour, whereby the same situation can be handled with attentive and expressed consideration there is more potential to disarm the situation and resolve any issues quickly.
If you consider your own situations, don’t you feel more inclined to help the co-worker who politely asks for your help than the one who demands your time, without showing any manners or respect towards your own workload and deadlines?
KEEPING GOOD MANNERS AT THE RIGHT LEVEL
Surely good manners and politeness don’t need to be managed, don’t they come naturally? Well, they do need managing, more than anything to protect the person who finds it easier to show them as qualities they possess. Other colleagues can confuse politeness for an excess of generosity and can take advantage whereby you end up becoming the person who is handed all the last-minute projects, get drawn into difficult situations to diffuse them, and basically being taken advantage of. So, there is, as always in life, a balance to be considered.
WHAT CAN WE DO IN THE OFFICE TO IMPROVE GOOD MANNERS?
Research by Harvard back in 2018 found that we all want to come to work and be treated with kindness and respect.
Unfortunately, the research showed that there is rampant incivility in most organisations, finding that 98% of the workers surveyed over the past 20 years have experienced rude behaviour and 99% have witnessed it. And the situation seems to be worsening. In 2011 half said they were treated badly at least once a week — up from a quarter in 1998. So, what can a manager do to ensure that people on their team or in their department treat each other well?
First, managers need to set expectations by articulating the organisations and team’s values. It’s also important to define exactly what you mean by civility. But don’t dictate certain rules. Engage your team members in a discussion about what kind behaviour looks like. This will engage them and empower them to keep one another accountable. Lastly, teach your employees the skills they need to treat one another respectfully: how to give and receive feedback, how to listen, and how to maintain composure.
CAN YOU TRAIN EMPLOYEES TO HAVE CIVILITY?
To teach employees these skills, you need to give explicit training that covers what civility looks like, describes situations in which employees sometimes act uncivilly, and provide tips on how to maintain composure.
It’s also a nice idea to have an outline of what Civility looks like to all. This is a great starting list from Brian Cave (Harvard)
- We greet and acknowledge each other.
- We say please and thank you.
- We treat each other equally and with respect, no matter the conditions.
- We acknowledge the impact of our behaviour on others.
- We welcome feedback from each other.
- We are approachable.
- We are direct, sensitive, and honest.
- We acknowledge the contributions of others.
- We respect each other’s time commitments.
- We address incivility.
When coaching employees, focus on helping them learn to listen fully, give, and receive feedback, work across differences, and deal with difficult people. You might also coach them on negotiation, stress management, crucial conversations, and mindfulness.
If you do consider engaging all your employees in a training course on good manners, politeness, and etiquette it is essential that the corporate values and overall company policy follows the same criteria – One of the most crucial things for management to do, is to model the right behaviour they expect from their staff. Basically, set the tone. Even if you establish expectations, define what civility means on your team, give people training and coaching, you can’t expect employees to treat one another with respect, if you don’t – it absolutely must work both ways.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE IMPACT OF YOUR BEHAVIOUR ON OTHERS
It may sound obvious, but always consider your impact on others, if you are set for an interview or meeting for example and can no longer (or don’t wish to) attend. Just be honest and let all concerned know, you don’t know what has been adjusted to ensure the interviewer/meeting lead is available to meet you, or the other candidates who may have been affected but your actions not to update people on your situation. Plus, if you don’t just turn up, others will naturally worry that something more severe may have happened – it’s basic good manners just to update people if your circumstances have changed.
It’s also a good idea to self-reflect, recognising your own personality traits is the first step in successfully achieving your goals and relationships. Being able to capitalise on your strengths and understanding how to strengthen your weaknesses is the cornerstone of success. When you use your personality to make decisions best suited for yourselves, you are more likely to find long-lasting happiness and satisfaction. Similarly, understanding the personalities of others will help form stronger relationships.
Personalities have been studied and discussed dating back to Ancient Greece and Roman times. Research has been conducted for years and years to try to determine how to properly predict behaviour using an individual’s personality traits.
So, which is it? Is it personality or the situation that plays a leading role in influencing a person’s behaviour? The short answer is both. Many people expect a clear-cut answer to the question. However, that is an impossible task when it comes to predicting behaviour. It is important to consider the individual’s personality in addition to the situation they find themselves in.
However, having clear company and personal mindsets towards good manners and polite behaviour is a step in the right direction. It is perhaps a lost art sometimes in the busy world we all find ourselves in and not something that has been considered for some time. If you are introducing or amending your current wellbeing plans, then why not put into practice a “Civility Policy” –
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