By Ken Chapman, Ph.D
Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc.
Did you know that polite executives are more in demand these days than abrasive ones? That’s a switch from earlier years when greed was big and barreling over the opposition was the way to go. Basic things don’t change that much, but it’s become a matter of how you do it. Verbal polish counts. Soft-spoken executives get more respect than the leftover “Masters of the Universe” who populated Tom Wolfe’s novel Bonfire of the Vanities.
You don’t have to pull out your mother’s copy of Amy Vanderbilt, wear a hat and white gloves to work, or make a dress-for-success fashion statement. You should, however, review the little things that make a good impression on other people.
Be polite. Say “good morning” and “good night” to co-workers, from your boss to the mail room clerk. Smile. Offer to get a colleague coffee if you’re going out to get some for yourself.
Watch your table manners. Don’t smack your lips or slurp your soup. If you can’t tell a salad fork from a fish fork, look it up in a book. Don’t be ostentatious. The times aren’t right. Ivan Boesky used to order everything on a menu, taste a few dishes, decide which one he liked and sent the rest back. That’s too tacky for words.
Remember people’s birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. Ask about spouses and children. Show some interest in your peers’ personal lives. One problem with business is that you get to know only one side of your co-workers. With a little effort, you can get to know more and make others feel good that you care enough to ask.
Notice things about people such as hair cuts, clothes, suntans, pallor, and weight loss. Don’t tell the local fatty he’s just gained another twenty pounds, especially if it’s true. That’s unkind and it isn’t funny.
Lay off nasty humor. That worked in the past when people were more self-confident, less sensitive and more willing to laugh at themselves. Now they’re afraid that your latest crack means they’re being shown the door.
In this edgy business climate, the little things count for a lot. The front office knows it has a morale problem and often can’t do much about it. Sales are lousy. Layoffs and downsizings are commonplace so any executive who makes the effort to show good manners to others will get high marks for himself.