The etiquette edge: Use politeness to stand out

The etiquette edge: Use politeness to stand out

Holding open the door for a colleague.

Sending a personal thank you email to a business stakeholder after a meeting.

Turning off alerts on your phone when you’re at a business lunch.

To some people, being polite is second nature. Other people, however, might not be aware that their behavior could be more considerate. But if you’re doing a good job, why should it matter whether you follow up when you said you would or wait till a colleague has finished speaking before you jump in with your idea?

Why good manners are important in the workplace

How do you feel when a business contact is late for a meeting and doesn’t bother to call or text? How about if a colleague keeps looking at her phone when you’re trying to ask her something? Or when a co-worker always leaves his alert tones on so you’re distracted every couple of minutes?

If you’re like most of us, situations like these will make you feel anything from mildly annoyed or upset to deeply ignored or disrespected. Granted, there are some people who handle all of these situations with equanimity—though this doesn’t mean they aren’t aware someone is being rude or inconsiderate. However, when you’re faced with this kind of behavior day in, day out, irritation and resentment can build up. And neither of those emotions is conducive to good working relations.

Now imagine how you feel when a new colleague checks in with you to see if he speaks too loudly when he’s on the phone. Or if a coworker sends you a quick email well ahead of time if she’s going to be late with a project so you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Or when the intern makes a point of asking everyone in the office if they want something from the coffee shop before he goes to get a Frappuccino.

Most of us will feel respected and appreciated. In short, when you’re polite and considerate, people will enjoy being around you more.

Being polite can give you a competitive edge

When people enjoy being around you, they’ll want you on their team. In the workplace, this can mean being invited in on more interesting projects or being a more sought-after candidate for promotion.

In other professional situations such as networking events, meetings with clients or partners, conferences, continued education courses, and even job applications, politeness pays off, too. In fact, the findly article “Signs a job candidate may be a waste of time” states that hiring managers should beware of tardy, rude, or pushy candidates because if they demonstrate this kind of behavior during the application process, they’re likely to do so in the workplace, too.

In contrast, when professional connections find you pleasant to be around, they’re more likely to want to help you, do business with you, and recommend you for opportunities.

The concept of “politeness” is culture-specific

Of course, what’s polite in one culture can be something completely different in another. That means that if you do business with people from different countries, you’re best advised to study up on their culture first. That way, you’ll know what’s respectful behavior and what isn’t.

For example, in her Forbes article titled “Business Etiquette Tips for International Travel,” Susan Adams points out that in Brazil, people have a smaller personal space than in the U.S. and use physical contact when they’re in a conversation. In India, the use of the word “no” in business negotiations is considered to be rude. And in Japan, only the most senior member of a team may speak during meetings.

Treat your colleagues the way you want them to treat you

If the thought of brushing up your manners has you worried, just keep the following piece of advice in mind: treat your colleagues the way you want them to treat you. That should provide you with a baseline of what type of behavior will make others feel respected and appreciated. 

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