How Do You Know What To Do?
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners….” ~ Emily Post
Manners matter in a workplace that favors respect for everyone. Manners convey recognition and consideration. When certain manners are practiced in an organization and you follow them, you fit with the company culture. And, whether you accept it or not, you are communicating a lot about yourself and how you view yourself in the organization when you use manners or don’t use them with the people you work with. Yet, manners can be tricky because they are not the same from country to country or region to region even within the U.S. and they are constantly evolving and updating according to general practice of the times. With all these differences, how can you possibly figure out how to act in a respectful way in a workplace?
Take for example, if you were new to the United States what would be important to realize about our popular practices? What you may not realize that expatriated employees learn about Americans for example are common practices we may take for granted. Included in them are: Americans make eye contact when we are having a conversation, although we don’t stare. It is considered polite to hold open the door for people who are exiting or entering behind you. And, you wait for an elevator, train or subway car to empty before you enter. In addition, Americans require more personal space than in some cultures. When we are conversing, standing or sitting our comfort level is for more space between us than in other areas of the world. On the question of timing, we also expect if you are attending a meeting that you are on time or a few minutes early. And if you are running late, you contact a person you are meeting with so they can make adjustments to their schedule. (sources: Tripadvisor, United States: Polite.Manners.html and Edupass 2021 MPOWER Financing). While you may not practice all of these, they are accepted ways of showing respect, self-awareness in relation to others and conveying professionalism and credibility.
If you already work in the U.S., relocating or traveling within the U.S. it’s useful for you to understand there are regional manners that vary. You may find practices that are strange or foreign to you. For instance, in many Southern states, you would always say, “please” and “thank you” in conversation. Entering a room, ordering, or sitting down, you would wait for elder people first then proceed afterward, also men wait for women. Foul language is not used in public in the South. And, you don’t interrupt a person when they’re speaking. Correcting someone, only do it in private, not in public. (Source: Southern Living, “20 Unspoken Rules of Etiquette that Every Southerner Follows”.)
Midwestern practices are also different from other regions. You would be expected to always be kind to people regardless of the circumstances. Also, it is common practice to smile and say hello to everyone, even when it’s someone you don’t know. (Source: Odyssey “20 Things Only Midwesterners Truly Understand and Appreciate” by Shanyce Bishop.)
With all these differences, how do you understand what to do? Do your research, ask someone who makes you feel recognized and respected, and pay attention to what other people are doing.
That’s what I did traveling back and forth from France to Switzerland when I was studying abroad during high school. These countries’ acceptable greetings differed in number of kisses per cheek you gave to someone when you greeted them or said goodbye (fyi, in France itself, depending on the region the number and if you start with left or right cheek varies. Also, this greeting may be called something different in each region). Even though from Annecy, France to Geneva, Switzerland, there wasn’t much geographic distance, their practices differed. The French kiss in the Rhone area is three times, right cheek, left cheek, then right again. In Switzerland where I was staying, it was four times – one extra time than the French. I often got confused and learned to watch others before I would initiate. I didn’t want to be humiliated or disrespect them. And, thankfully because I was young and not from the region, seeing that I made the effort often was enough for people to think I was acting in a well-intentioned manner. They would correct me without judgement.
Americans like to be respected as individuals. Don’t you? If you are contemplating working for a new company, relocating, working with new clients, and wanting to make a positive impression, research the best ways to make a good impression and be respectful. It can only help you. Also research the culture of the new organization. Consider the company’s mission and values, that gives a baseline to follow. If there is a handbook and guidelines for professional conduct, read it. And, always a great idea to research local manners beforehand when you are relocating to a new location or working with a different region.
And, if people are coming to you on the best way to say or do things in your organization, you should feel honored. Not only are they saying, “you know your stuff”, they’re also implying they respect you and feel you are respectful of them.
As a leader, are you the resource for answers to these kinds of delicate questions because you make others feel respected? Have you been the role model for your team – communicating with respect and good manners so that they can learn to build strong positive relationships with you, their colleagues and senior level management? Or are there communication gaps? While the organization may dictate an overall sense of culture, the culture within your team is set by you.
My work as a leadership and communication expert has me go into organizations, as an outside unbiased view to look at the communication gaps. I identify what an organization is missing that’s holding it back from thriving and continuing to stay relevant. Think you can use an outside perspective because practices may have become entrenched or no longer fit your plans for today’s workplace and goals? Contact me: Susan@SusanGoldbergLeadership.com Let’s talk.