The Death of Common Courtesy: Encouraging Good Manners in Your Staff

You know who they are. They’re the people in the supermarket with their cart blocking the entire aisle while they decide which brand of cereal to buy. Or they’re in a restaurant, talking loudly on their cell phone while you try and enjoy a quiet dinner with friends or family. Maybe it’s the person who finished off the last of the coffee at work and then neglected to brew another pot. They’re people with no sense of common courtesy, and it seems to be a growing epidemic.

Now wait a minute, before you start dismissing this entire article as a mean-spirited tirade in the vein of an Andy Rooney-esque rant on young people, take a moment and consider your life. How often are you forced to inconvenience yourself simply because someone else has little to no awareness of how their actions are impacting you? If you’re like most people, this probably happens quite a lot.

But of course you’re asking yourself: what can I do about it? Believe it or not, in your role as a manager you can go a long way to encouraging and developing etiquette in your staff, traits they will take with them long after they’ve left your employ. Here is a step-by-step guide to encouraging your staff to be more considerate to each other, fostering a better environment at work, and hopefully a slightly more considerate world outside.

1. Identify – Believe it or not, most people who act inconsiderately aren’t willfully doing so. While this isn’t always the case, some people are just jerks, many inconsiderate behaviors are simply the result of ignorance, and the offenders don’t realize that what they’re doing is wrong. As a manager you’re in the perfect position to point out these behaviors and encourage improved etiquette.

2. Confront – This is the most difficult step for most people, but it’s also the most important. If someone is behaving in an unacceptable manner, it’s not just your right to point it out, but your duty. Now this doesn’t mean you should start an argument or passive-aggressively attack them. Instead, draw attention to their behavior and its negative impact on others. Politely ask them to be more mindful in the future. You run the risk of offending some people, but you’ll be surprised how many people will immediately correct their behavior.

3. Appeal to a higher authority – Unless you’re the sole owner of your company, there’s almost always a higher authority to whom you can appeal. If people consistently refuse to adapt their offensive behavior, then it becomes necessary to take the problem to someone with the direct authority to deal with it. Whether this is a higher manager, an HR representative, or in the real world, a police officer, these people are skilled at mediating problems. And faced with the threat of negative consequences, all but the most stubborn people will actively try to be more considerate of others.

4. Encourage politeness and respect – As a child you were probably taught the importance of saying “please” and “thank you”. Unfortunately, many people seem to have forgotten this lesson. But that’s why it’s great to be in management. Though you probably don’t rule by decree, your words should carry enough weight that a simple encouragement of politeness and respect should immediately improve civil discourse.

5. Lead by example – This is an often overlooked key. If you want your staff (or neighbors, etc) to show more consideration, you need to show more consideration to them. Take a look at your own behavior and try and identify times when you have been less-than-considerate. If you have a hard time finding them, ask a friend to point out times when you were rude or showed poor etiquette. Then be mindful of this in the future and try to consider other’s feelings more in the future.

6. Stick to your principles – Don’t compromise when it comes to etiquette. If you feel that someone is in the wrong, don’t let anyone convince you differently. This doesn’t mean instigating World War III over an empty coffee pot, but instead stand your ground. Be strong about what you know is right, and most times others will come around. (Of course the important flip side of this is being able to admit when you are wrong and apologizing gracefully – don’t worry it can take lots of practice to get right, just stick with it.)
7. Be consistent – Finally, one of the best ways to create a more considerate workplace is by maintaining consistency. That means if something is wrong when one person does it, it’s wrong when anyone does it, from the loftiest executive to the lowliest part-timer. Maintain a consistent approach when it comes to encouraging consideration and good etiquette and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the great results you get.

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