When I was at school, there were two comments that were regularly written on my report cards. The first was, ‘Ken has very good manners’. The second comment was, ‘Marks affected by frequent illnesses’. Possibly, my good manners at school helped me fly somewhat under the radar when I decided to feign illness and absent myself.

I think that good manners are still relevant and essential today. Sociologists say that human beings have developed manners as social rules, known as mores, as to how courtesy, consideration and respect are shown to others. It is important to realise that mores do vary between individuals and cultures and they can certainly change over time.

Good manners can make a positive impression on others, demonstrate appropriate behaviour, and show consideration for how people are feeling. I think of manners as the oil that keeps the machinery of relationships flowing smoothly.

Certainly, in workplaces, our manners, or lack of them, have a huge impact – either offending others or helping the relationship to be a positive one.

Here are my thoughts on 5 ways we show good manners in the workplace that carry across most cultures:

  1. Smile and greet people nicely: Yes, we are all busy. And, some of us, are very task-focused. But if we forget to simply acknowledge colleagues or avoid someone we find difficult, we can easily come across as rejecting, uncaring or making a strained relationship worse.

    Smiling when we greet or farewell our colleagues communicates positive regard to others and also benefits for us in releasing endorphins that help create a more positive mood.

    However, smiling at colleagues comes easier for some than others. Some colleagues are going through challenges at home or work that make it hard for them to smile. Then there are people like me who find it hard to smile before my morning coffee. Smiling is best done genuinely. But, sometimes, we have to fake it before we make it.

  2. Give people our full attention: Don’t you hate it when you are speaking with a colleague, but you sense their mind is elsewhere? Or you are running a meeting and colleagues are consumed with their smartphones?

    People feel valued when they believe they are genuinely being heard and being given that person’s full attention. So, it is important for all of us to remind ourselves to look at people when they are speaking to us, be present in the moment, and listen to what they are saying, rather than thinking about our response.

  3. Be alert to how we are coming across: At our worst, we either don’t care about how we are coming across or are not alert to how we are being perceived. Here I am thinking of managers who speak down to people, are defensive to feedback, or are too busy to touch base with their team members.

    We also need to be highly alert to how our emails and text messages can come across to others. Emails can be easily misread as they lack body language signals that communicate the right message. Otherwise, our intentions are often misunderstood. That’s why many of us use emoticons, such as a smiley face, with messages to friends, to let them know we are trying to be humorous.

    The general rule is that if you have a sensitive matter to communicate, these conversations are best held in person. If this is not possible, then at least speak with that person by phone.

    If you do need to send an email that could be misread, then make sure in the email that you reassure that person of your good intentions and have a colleague read that email before it is sent. A middle ground approach is at least flagging the issue of concern by email, expressing a good intention (that you want to work it out, for example), and then arranging a time to speak with them in person.

  4. Say the magic words: Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to our colleagues communicates respect when we are asking them for a favour as well as appreciation for their effort.

    When we help people to feel appreciated, this not only helps that person to feel affirmed and respected, it also encourages reciprocity. It increases the likelihood of getting more of the behaviour we like to see from our manager and colleagues.

    Remember that our appreciation has to be completely genuine. Otherwise, if we are perceived as insincere, this can be just as offensive.

  5. Support for our colleagues: Managers do this well when they touch base with team members to see how they are going, provide support to those who need it, and give people what they need to do their work well.

    Colleagues do so when they help each other out, stepping outside of their role, at times, to support their colleague. Such professional support and assistance certainly shows consideration and communicates real care and support for our colleagues.

    Team members also show support and consideration for their colleagues when they do what they say they will, keep colleagues in the loop, and realise that the timeliness and quality of their work can certainly impact on others.

Despite ‘good manners’ being my best subject at school, do I always do things right? My family, friends and colleagues can stop laughing now.

We are all imperfect. So, of course we need to cut each other some slack and show some understanding and tolerance for others. But we can also lift our game with how we relate to others. It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort.

It is often the little things that we do that can make the greatest difference.

Quote of the week

“The test of good manners is to be patient with the bad ones.”

– Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Jewish Philosopher