We’re all familiar with the power of good manners in a customer service context. Simple pleases, thank yous and apologies can transform a negative client experience into a positive one. They can sell a product, bolster a brand’s reputation, or forestall a complaint.
But what place do manners have in management? Does kindness really matter when we’re under pressure to perform? In a high-stakes, commercial environment, common courtesies might seem a waste of time, a throwback to typewriters and carbon paper in an era of emoticons and acronyms.
Leading by example
As a manager, you may not deal directly with customers, but don’t underestimate the example you’re setting to those who report to you. Asking politely about someone’s weekend, remembering the names of their children, and inviting them to contribute in meetings, will similarly foster a culture of politeness and courtesy that will have a trickle-down effect on client interactions.
Conversely, a curt manner, however justifiable due to lack of time, indirectly gives your staff permission to adopt the same approach with their clients and colleagues.
Kindness equals confidence
Those in leadership roles may worry that being courteous to those they manage will undermine their authority.
In fact, the opposite is the case. Consideration for others reflects well on you as a leader, demonstrating confidence, authority and trustworthiness.
Consideration for others reflects well on you as a leader, demonstrating confidence, authority and trustworthiness.
When introducing yourself to an interviewee, for example, courtesy dictates that you deploy a firm handshake, eye contact and a warm smile. These techniques also support the image of a confident leader.
Kindness not only communicates self-confidence, but also instils it in others. In the semi-social context of a networking event or business meal, consideration for others – offering to refill someone’s water, remembering their name, and asking interested, relevant questions – can put people at ease, smoothing any awkwardness and ensuring interactions are positive and productive.
From a young age, we’re taught to ‘ask nicely’ to get what we want. As cynical as it might seem, this same approach applies when persuading staff to carry out our instructions. Saying please, expressing sympathy for an individual’s workload, thanking him or her once a task is complete, and providing constructive feedback, are more likely to ensure that a duty is performed promptly and effectively than a blunt, unqualified command.
At the same time, couching any criticism with courtesy can ensure it is more clearly understood. Delivering negative feedback with sensitivity and encouragement will minimise the chance of a defensive response and ensure that the recipient takes it fully on board. It will also prevent them from feeling discouraged and disincentivised.
couching any criticism with courtesy can ensure it is more clearly understood
Manners for morale
According to Forbes, ‘bad manners at work can be bad for business by negatively affecting employee morale and productivity’. Practising politeness helps to maintain positive relationships with your staff and gives them confidence in their own abilities, incentivising them to perform well. It also has a positive influence on the atmosphere of an office or department, fostering collaboration, communication, and productivity at large.
A kind demeanour and an ability to curb any frustration will also make you more approachable, meaning that those who report to you feel able to come to you with any problems.
If a staff member is too scared to let you know about a mistake, that hidden error may soon develop into a business nightmare. Conversely, if they know that any problem they have will be treated with equanimity and respect, they will ask for your input and help, facilitating a swifter resolution.
If a staff member is too scared to let you know about a mistake, that hidden error may soon develop into a business nightmare.
Good manners also improve staff retention. Last year, Fortune magazine outlined three of the most common reasons employees resign. The first? They dislike their boss. Insensitivity to our staff, even under pressure, can be very discouraging, and may lead to long-term resentment, sending staff members looking for opportunities elsewhere. Showing courtesy and kindness in the workplace will see it reciprocated in loyal, motivated employees.
Rupert Wesson is Debrett’s Academy Director and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about Debrett’s courses for businesses.