Manners Matter

By Lindy Earl

Yes, manners matter.  I don’t mean how to butter your roll at a dinner party, but if the Queen of England has to follow the rules, so do you.

I’m talking, first, about manners in carrying on a conversation.  Twice in the past week I have encountered men, yes both males, who were incapable of carrying on polite conversations.  Maybe it was personal, but I prefer to think not.  In both cases it was a person I hadn’t seen in a while. In the first case  he made it clear he would not engage in polite conversation.  That was it.  Rudeness.  In the other case I tried to engage a gentleman I know well but, again, hadn’t seen recently, and was conversationally met with monosyllabic answers.  To engage him in conversation I asked him three questions about his business and his responses were yes, no, and no.  No elaboration. No follow up with me about my business.  Nothing to further promote the conversation, although he didn’t leave, thus was just an awkward addition to a small group.  Again, no manners.  Rude.  Being able to converse intelligently is part of what is expected from us in social situations.

Of course there are the obligatory words of please and thank you.  These are good and necessary, but insufficient in and of themselves.  You need to be able to engage in intelligent conversation, just as a matter of manners.

Within the paradigm of polite conversation, there are more rules.

Naughty language.  It really says more about the person uttering the epitaphs, and their limited vocabulary, than anyone else.  There are thousands of words at our disposal, but if for no other reason, you should use appropriate, professional language because it’s mannerly.  If you are subjected to people with less than a stellar vocabulary, so be it.  When confronted with crassness, choose to absent yourself from their company.  Maybe the birds of a feather can flock together and nobody else will be around to be shocked by them.

I recently had a business meeting with a woman who just didn’t, or couldn’t, control her language.  After hearing another 4 letter word, actually one of a few she was particularly fond of using repeatedly, I commented, “to use the vernacular . . . “ She didn’t take the hint and didn’t change her language.  She did, however, suggest to me that, in addition to doing business with me, would like me to invite her to some business networks that are beyond her current reach.  I don’t think I’m in a hurry to include this foul mouthed person in my professional world.  I would rather not inflict my colleagues with someone so brash.  So her vulgarity, beyond being poor manners, may cost her business.  I’m not saying that’s always the way it works, but is it worth the chance?

Interrupting.  We all know there are times that an interruption is necessary.  We accept that.  Too often, however, we see people change the subject simply by interrupting.  They walk into a room and, regardless of the conversation being held, start talking.  Not nice.

Self-involvement.  If you are finding your conversations are all about you, you are not engaged in a dialogue so much as a monologue.  Conversations should flow two ways.  You talk about yourself then ask about the other person. If you’re shy or unsure of what to say, definitely get the other person talking about themselves.  Find their passion and you can enjoy their taking the conversational lead.  But the person who goes on ad nauseum about their job/children/MLM (these are the worst) is, in a word, impolite.  Please don’t be surprised if I don’t seek your company in, or for, future meetings.


Cell phones.  These wonderful pieces of technology have brought us an entirely new set of rules of communication etiquette.  We are all in business and have people in our lives to whom we need to be connected.  For this reason, I do not believe, even when giving a seminar, that people should turn off their phones.  In addition, while others may disagree with me, I believe texting, especially within a group, is acceptable if done inconspicuously.  In a one-on-one conversation, of course a request to be excused to look at or respond to a call or text is appropriate.  It’s also true that if you have a loud and long phone conversation, you have a responsibility to find a place away from others, so you do not intrude.  We all understand if the person we are calling answers with the words, “Hello, can you hang on for a second?”  We realize they are engaging their manners in order to not be rude to people around them and we will be mannerly and patient.


There are other simple manners that should be observed as well, such as opening doors for others.  Seriously, I had a 20 year old gentleman not open the door for me, so I opened the door for him and he walked through without so much as a nod let alone a word of thanks.  His mama would be so sad.  He must know basic manners but has chosen to not use them.  What if he were on his way to an interview and the interviewer saw this – would it affect their feelings toward having him on their team?


So, whether your manners are spot on, or need some refinement, please know that manners matter.  In addition, manners are a habit.  Once you become adept, through practice, they come so easily that you won’t even realize you are being thoughtful and kind through your manners.  But they have a huge impact on others and send non-verbal messages that are useful for professional and personal reasons.


Lindy is a Speaker, Columnist, Author, and Consultant and currently accepting new clients and speaking engagements.

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