by Chuck Martin

Too Few Manners at Work

Sep 26, 20074 mins
Relationship Building

Want to make an impression? Be polite.

Work might be a bit more pleasant for everyone if more people practiced good manners at the office, whether it’s remembering to say please and thank you or waiting one’s turn to talk.

Only about a third of senior executives and managers say that people in their departments or organizations always practice good manners, according to a global survey my company, NFI Research, conducted this summer.


How to Behave in Public

This is not good news for those who aren’t using their manners, because the majority of business leaders say that good manners are extremely important to advancing a person’s career.

“Saying please and thank you, knowing how to shake someone’s hand properly and how to use the right fork at a dinner have become even more important in the last few years,” according to one survey respondent. “It’s not being taught in the schools, so someone who has those skills is a standout.”

“Most of our people are above age 35 so they were taught some manners by their parents and schools,” observed another. But if managers were not taught good manners while growing up, it is unlikely that they will learn them inside the pressured environment of today’s workplace.

Manners are one of the casualties of today’s do-more-with-less era. “Manners and courtesy are the first to suffer during times of pressure and stress,” said one survey respondent. “People answer their cell phones during meetings, type on their Blackberries, walk in on closed-door discussions and generally behave rudely. There is a belief that pressure and stress are valid excuses for those behaviors, and when demonstrated by persons in positions of rank or authority, there is reluctance to correct or challenge them.”

Some of the issues of manners come not from the workplace but from how the individuals were brought up.

Common Rudeness

The lack of good manners manifests itself in many ways, some small and subtle, others significant and obvious.

“Most of us work remotely,” says one manager, “and I’m aghast when folks eat crunchy chips during a conference call. They apologize for doing it, but keep right on chomping.” Interrupting others is also a common problem, this manager notes. Meanwhile, if the speaker is on a speakerphone, the opposite problem occurs. People on the other end can’t always hear the interruption. “No one can even jump in to ask a question.”

Said another respondent: “It surprises me that rude language is becoming more common in the workplace. Courtesies such as please, thank you and being polite go a long way. Just because you are busy is no excuse.”

Meanwhile, e-mail provides a vehicle for individuals to offend their colleagues en masse. “E-mail is the worst example of bad etiquette consistently practiced by everyone,” one survey respondent said. “E-mail is like shouting across an auditorium. Some courtesies do not translate well across media. An example is the common thank you, which loses meaning and becomes an annoyance when it is sent in e-mail, particularly to a broadcast list.”

Manners Equal Character

“We often laugh that we must say thank you at least 100 times a day and how obvious it is when someone doesn’t bother to say it,” says one manager. Why this matters: Managers think that how manners are practiced inside an organization may also indicate how they’re practiced externally.

“Manners are an indication of character,” says one executive. “How employees treat each other is a good indication of how they will treat a customer in a stressful situation.”

The bottom line is that good manners are a reflection of respect for others and without mutual respect it’s difficult to work efficiently together.

“Good manners equal respect in the treatment of fellow human beings, even toward those who do not always exhibit them,” said one survey respondent. “In business, it is an important part of the professional image a company wants to put forth to its clients. [Good manners] show you have class, no matter what your position or status is in life.”

While moving ahead in an organization is typically based on performance and results, it is hard to overlook how an individual interacts with others as they perform, which comes right back to practicing good manners.

“It is imperative that one be able to get along with one’s coworkers, and good manners are the main ingredient,” says one executive.

So in addition to competence and performance, good manners should be added to the ingredients for personal success.

Chuck Martin is a best-selling business author whose latest book, SMARTS (Are We Hardwired for Success?) (AMACOM/American Management Association), was just published. He lectures around the world and can be reached at