Do Manners Maketh Money?


“There’s no need to hold the door open for me, Ed,” she said. “I don’t need a man to do that.” 45, brisk, efficient, successful, own business. No, she didn’t need a man to hold the door open for her. No, she didn’t need a man to do anything for her.

But I held the door open anyway, because that’s what I do.

Before you accuse me of being a sexist pig, let me say that I hold the door open for men as well. It seems to be one of the little courtesies that move life along; that help us all to have a slightly better day.

So manners have been much on my mind of late. Then again, when you have two boys, they’re never far from your mind.

“Sit up straight, Ed. Don’t put your elbows on the table.” “Stand up straight, Ed. And speak nicely. This is a good friend of mine.”

I can still hear my father’s voice. We’re a shade more relaxed with Dan and Rory – especially re the elbows on the table (where I might be a little guilty myself…) But mobile phones at mealtimes? Dipping out of a family meal to watch something on the TV? Not now: not ever.

And obviously, I hope the boys will learn from my example – and hold the door open for a lady.

So that’s my splendidly old-fashioned introduction. The question is, does it matter in the business world? In the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world of modern business, do good manners matter any more? Or do they just get in the way? After all, if you hold the door open for a lady she’ll get there before you…

I won’t even bother putting two sides of the argument as you can guess exactly where I stand. Yes, manners matter at work – and increasingly studies are showing that polite companies are profitable companies. As veteran management guru Peter Drucker puts it, “Good manners are the lubricant of an organisation.”

And yet stories and stats about bad manners in the workplace are everywhere. The city of Anaheim in California – the home of Disney no less – is laying on courses for cabbies, hotel staff and service workers. And closer to home we can all point to companies that have lost our business simply because one of their staff was just plain rude.

We’re becoming a more casual society and this seems to be reflected in workplace behaviour. In particular, Drucker identifies young, highly intelligent people as being lacking in social skills. Anyone who’s ever been on the end of a teenager’s raised eyebrows and the word ‘duh’ will know what he means.

As Drucker points out, many managers and business owners fail to grasp how crucial civility is in achieving the best results from this highly talented group. “Bright people – especially young, bright people – often do not understand it,” Drucker wrote. “If analysis shows that someone’s brilliant work fails again and again as soon as cooperation from others is required, it probably indicates a lack of courtesy – a lack of manners.”

As I’ve written many times, you can have the most brilliant person in the world working for you, but if he can’t get on with the people around him then in the long run he’ll be a negative influence.

So how do you improve courtesy in your business? The simple answer is by example. Yes, it’s difficult running a business and yes there’s more than enough stress and pressure. But you’re aiming for ‘grace under pressure’ as Hemingway defined it.

And next week I’ll look at that subject – ways to perform at your optimum when you’re under maximum pressure. But in the meantime there’s only one way to finish this week – by saying thank you for reading the blog, and wishing you a perfect weekend.

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3 comments

  1. tabderby · August 30, 2013

    Ahh you old fashioned thing you!
    I couldn’t agree more though. Good manners means a good leader that rmeans a good team which means a good brand and business. Good manners is ‘customer service’ both internally and externally and should undoubtedly be part of a business’ DNA

  2. Douglas Adamson · August 30, 2013

    Ed, I couldn’t agree you with more. Whilst I suspect I am generation older then your good self, good manners, courtesy and respect were hammered into me by my father while I was growing up. And they have stood me in good stead throughout my life even if I am sometimes regarded as a little ‘quaint’ these days. My father gave me good advice: be as polite and courteous to the receptionist as you are to the managing director. He understood the notion of ‘gatekeepers’ long before the phrase was coined.
    Being polite, smiling and saying ‘good morning’ or whatever salutation makes you feel better and notice how the recipient often returns the smile. To me, bad manners is a sign of ignorance and arrogance and there seems a lot more of that about in business these days. Carry on holding doors open for colleagues of whatever sexual orientation, most people appreciate it, some are even shamed into giving you a thank you as well. I look forward to the next time we meet at a doorway – will we ever get out of the room?

  3. Simon Hudson · September 6, 2013

    Being polite, extending simple courtesies, treating everyone with respect irrespective of their role or value to you is important. Important not so much for the act itself as for the signal it sends about who you are, your ethics and what you will be like to associate with.

    People buy from people is a well worn truth, but even more they buy from people they like and trust. Good manners are an outward sign of whether you are likeable and trustworthy.

    We are indeed a more familiar, casual society now, but that translates not to fewer manners but simply to more casually presented good manners.

    The English have a penchant for manners in language, for presenting awkward positions in the most genteel of watmys. Read this if you are in doubt http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/10280244/Translation-table-explaining-the-truth-behind-British-politeness-becomes-internet-hit.html

    So I shall continue to hold the door open for woman and man alike, whether director or ‘minion’. Not because they need it, but because I do.

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