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Manners versus Productivity

October 18, 2011

When I was a boy my dad used to frequently remind me of the adage: “Manners maketh the man”. Now as a parent myself I see why he did this – good manners give a child a distinct advantage over their contemporaries.

Good manners can help productivity at work

So, if manners can maketh the man, are they good for business?

Adults are more inclined to listen to the opinions of a well-mannered child, they more readily submit to their requests on hearing a sincere ‘please’ and are more likely to remember the birthday of a child who always sends a thank you note.

Despite our determination to instill these habits into the next generation, many of us seem less inclined to maintain the same degree of good manners in the workplace.

We use terse language in emails; fail to return or even listen to voicemails; arrive late to meetings and often fail to thank junior colleagues for their help and support.

Writing this I know I’ve been guilty of these and other sins of impoliteness myself, and I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of people who are ‘too busy to be courteous’

Most of us in business simply accept that it goes with the territory. There’s simply not time for nicities in the 21st century economy.

Some years ago I was invited to spend time with a charitable organisation in the US. Despite employing many thousands of staff and volunteers I was struck by the courtesy and generosity of everyone I met. Senior leaders had time to talk without an appointment, the cleaners always smiled and engaged with me, often apologising for inconveniencing me as they tidied my mess. The actions and behaviours throughout the organisation exemplified their values of creativity, consistency, relationship and excellence.

Contrary to the assumption that this touchy feely approach leads to inefficiency and a lack of focus, this organisation has gone on to grow around the world, under the guidance of a committed and stable leadership team with staff retention statistics that are the envy of similar sized businesses.

It could be argued that their culture of good manners has been a significant contributor to their success. Good people want to work with them, they attract powerful funders and their customers or beneficiaries talk about how their work has changed their lives. Few modern businesses could boast the same.

So, if manners can maketh the man, are they good for business? It would seem to me they are crucial if you want to build an organisation, team or personal brand of which you are proud.

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