Are Manners Waning in the Workplace?

April 27, 2018

Do we condone breakups by text, insulting strangers by tweet and even ignoring emails in an ongoing business relationship? I see common courtesy declining, in both our personal and professional lives.

Now granted, I grew up in the South where hand-written thank you notes were a must, and when you shook hands with someone you looked them in the eye. But what has taken the place of what I would simply call good manners? I believe it’s time to give the topic some consideration.  

Like most of you, I get hundreds of emails a day, in addition to people reaching out on LinkedIn and other social channels. I used to have a 24-hour rule to respond. Today, that has gotten harder. I don’t reply to all cold calls, but I do try to reply to everyone I know in a timely manner. I also realize I need to differentiate between what can be done on email and what, despite the need for speed, should be done by phone or in person.

My husband and I had a discussion about this, and he made the point that not responding to an important email is a way of asserting a position of authority. I have never thought about it that way, but it really does shift the tonality of the partnership and can erode the civility needed to make successful business relationships work. 

Are we more gutless than we were before? Do we hide behind our email to avoid the tough conversations? In this fast-moving world, we often use pace as a crutch to excuse the lack of manners. I don’t look at business as a zero-sum game where you win or lose, but rather as a marathon where you build relationships over time.

More times than I can count, I’ve had chance encounters and polite exchanges at conferences that have led to meaningful connections, new clients and even lifelong friendships. These relationships make my life richer and day to day more interesting. If I had not worked to follow up, respond to them or engage, I might not have them in my business sphere today. People often say that by redirecting their email, I helped them make a connection or enhance their business. They appreciate this generosity, and it reflects on my reputation.

So, in this era of constant disruption and overflowing inboxes, is there room to “be nice” in business? I not only think there is, but I believe it’s a critical component to your professional development and your impact as a leader in your industry.

I was raised with the mantra that karma comes back to you and to always treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. I hope we can all take a breath and be more cordial while moving fast. I hope I never lose my Southern upbringing and pass along to my children (as well as those I mentor) the importance of building your reputation through how you treat others.

So check that inbox, watch the tone and take a minute to make someone feel special today. I am betting it will make you feel more special as well.

Barri Rafferty is CEO of Ketchum, one of the world’s top communication firms, with offices and affiliates in 130 markets in more than 70 countries.

Outside of Ketchum, she participates in a number of groups including the sustainability task-force for the World Economic Forum and is a member of Arthur W. Page Society Page Up program. Rafferty sits on the board of StepUp, an organization with the mission of empowering girls from under-resourced communities to become confident, college-bound, and career focused and she is also a member of the governing body of OmniWomen, Omnicom’s Leading Women’s Network, for which she holds quarterly panel discussions featuring prominent women. She is the recipient of the Plank Center Milestones in Mentoring Award.

Barri is a graduate of Boston University (M.A) and Tulane University and enjoys watching soccer, volleyball, and dance – especially when her son and daughter are involved! Connect with her on Twitter: @barrirafferty