Why manners still matter in business

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by Margot Carmichael Lester


Three recent studies provide evidence that proves what most of us Southern belles and gentlemen already know: Manners matter whether in business or social settings. Findings include:


  • Most people would choose a "lovable fool" (a co-worker who”s more likable than competent) over a "competent jerk."
  • Nearly 60 percent of customers report that they would rather shop elsewhere and even pay more than deal with rude employees.
  • About one-quarter of employees working in rude or uncivil work environments intentionally cut back on their production. One in eight quits.


Common courtesy

"Your subject matter may get you in the door, but if you aspire to a management or leadership position, treating others with courtesy, consistency and respect is critical to building trust and credibility," says Beverly Langford, author of "The Etiquette Edge: The Unspoken Rules for Business Success," and a managerial communications instructor at Georgia State University”s Robinson College of Business.


Just ask Harvey Snider, Jr., a wealth management advisor in Merrill Lynch”s Duluth office. "There”s no sense in falling short because you failed to show proper respect," he says. For instance, when he walks with his older clients, he allows them to pass through doorways first. "These simple actions help demonstrate caring for the individual."


Dentist Bill Williams, owner of Suwanee Dental Care, concurs. "I believe that our mannerly approach is directly impacting our bottom line and the number of referrals that we receive," he says. "We average 110 new patients per month and the majority is from personal referrals." Referrals say they were told that Williams” staff was nice, attentive and seemed to care more than other dentists.


Must-have manners

Etiquette experts say these are the must-have manners for professionals:


Respect other people”s time. "Letting meetings go off-topic, showing up late or not responding to messages promptly will annoy your colleagues," says Robyn Simonton, division director of The Creative Group, an Atlanta staffing agency.

Make a connection. "In this culture, good eye contact is a sign of respect," explains Anne Boyd of Ty Boyd Executive Learning Systems, in Charlotte, N.C. "A good eye connection along with a good solid handshake can reveal a lot about one”s character." Averting your eyes sends a signal that you”ve got something to hide, or that you”re not trustworthy.

Pay attention. "Sending an e-mail on your BlackBerry while you”re meeting with someone may not seem like a major breech of etiquette, but it signals to the person you”re meeting with that they”re not that important," Simonton notes. "Treating people well means giving them your undivided attention."

Be culturally sensitive. "Do your homework," Boyd suggests. "How do they conduct business in their particular culture? Know personality types, names, positions, even a little something interesting about the individuals you are meeting with. Find some common ground."

Give credit where it”s due. "Don”t take credit for someone else”s work, and make sure that you thank your co-workers for their efforts," Simonton notes. "Be generous in your praise, and acknowledge everyone who contributed to a project. By giving credit where it”