Do Manners and Etiquette Still Matter?

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Are we impolite? Is that a bad thing? Do manners and etiquette even matter anymore? They might matter more than we think, especially for businesspeople.

The world is becoming more informal as time goes by. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it might inadvertently be putting you at a disadvantage.

Manners and etiquette don’t necessarily mean being really posh and uptight. It’s a common association but what they really do is help smooth social interactions. According to etiquette expert, Peggy Post, manners are a “sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.”

Etiquette, on the other hand, has been dropped recently, especially as certain rules have ceased to actually smooth social interactions. Etiquette for etiquette’s sake has ceased to exist for most people.

While understanding which cutlery to use and when isn’t anywhere near as necessary to know as it once was, there are a few aspects that can still be useful for us, especially in business.

What is Etiquette?

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Basically, etiquette is the set of conventional rules of personal behaviour in polite society. It’s a kind of code that highlights the expected and accepted social behaviours that accord with the either society at large, a social class, or a social group. For example, in Australia it is proper etiquette in society not to burp at the table, however, one social group may want and even encourage burping at the table.

It also applies across different cultures who may have different norms. For example, Japanese etiquette dictates that eye contact should not be made during introductions as it could be seen as confrontational and therefore rude.

The reason that etiquette is great for business is that it helps you build strong relationships which is really what business is built on. What etiquette teaches you is how to work with and empathise with other people across time and cultures to build the best relationship possible. It isn’t really about using the right cutlery.

Etiquette and the Digital Age

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A lot of the casualisation present in society can be directly attributed to the digital landscape. Business in general has become far less formal as etiquette expert, Rosanne Thomas, told Forbes, “Business attire, boundaries between levels of authority, work/life integration expectations, and indeed business communications look nothing like they did 20 years ago.”

This had led to great things and a more comfortable working experience, however, Thomas believes that it has come at the cost of our communication.

“…verbal and written communication has become too informal. Employees often feel no hesitation in dashing off texts or emails to executives they have never even met, referring to them by first names, nicknames, or no names at all. The communications themselves are full of typos, grammatical errors, and complaints. Little thought is given to the tone of written communication.”

What this means is that written communication is more important than ever. The written word must “clearly convey both a message and the emotion and level of respect behind it. important business relationships hang in the balance of the written word,” according to Thomas.  

The common mistakes are “insensitivity to how messages come across and poor judgement in word choice. We put things in writing that we would never say face to face. We use acronyms and emoji that convey inappropriate words and messages. We stray from professionalism and the actual point of the communication.”

Digital Etiquette Tips

There are a few things you can do to ensure that you are coming across as professional as polite:

When using your mobile phone:

  • Keep it hidden when with a client
  • Don’t put it on the table at a nice restaurant or at a dinner party
  • They can be used during meetings as long as the call or text is relevant to the meeting.
  • Don’t look at it when you’re having a personal conversation with someone

Etiquette tips as they pertain to emails:

  • Never send an email when angry
    • Write the email and don’t send it to make you feel a little better
  • Keep an eye on humour or sarcasm as they may be misinterpreted.
  • Return emails promptly
  • Don’t correct others or engage in back-and-forth arguments, especially if there are other people in the chain.
  • Use CC and Reply All sparingly and edit out any extraneous information.
  • Keep emails brief
  • If you receive an email that seems brusque or rude, try give the sender the benefit of the doubt and overlook it. If you know that it was intentional, take action but not via email.

Tips for social media:

  • Don’t air personal disputes or conversations on social media
  • Don’t tag or post pictures of friends and acquaintances that are unflattering
  • Avoid posting offensive things on your feed. Represent yourself well. Employers will look at your social media profile to vet applicants.
  • Try not to be overreactive on other people’s posts. It’s easy to find yourself in a sticky situation if someone has misinterpreted your motivation.

General etiquette tips:

  • Actually listening to the person you are talking with
  • Watch your tone. Consider the way you are coming across.
  • Use empathy and try to think about others before you say anything

For more tips and tricks, check out our article on loafers – what they are and how to wear them.

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