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My mum’s Canadian. Growing up, I didn’t think I was being raised any different than the next Southern Californian kid, except when I got teased for pronouncing the word “been” like the lentil. But, the older I got, the more I started to realize that our family was just a little different than the average American family. There were always cloth napkins, tea after school, and then there was…
Don’t call someone “old enough to be your parent” by his or her first name.
Stand up and shake hands when an elderly person addresses you.
Write a thank-you note within a week of receiving a gift!
These instructions were typically proceeded by the remark,
“It’s just common courtesy.”

Granted, at that age, I probably didn’t know what courtesy was, much less the common variety. Canadian, American, or Other, many of us were raised with these principles. Yet, are they still relevant?

Actually, yes. Especially if you are running a business!
Nice in theory you may be thinking to yourself, but in the real world…
So, what does the real world reveal? Here’s a few fast facts involving workers who had experienced incivility:
  • 48% intentionally decreased their work efforts,
  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender,
  • 78% said their commitment to the organization declined,
  • And 25% of them admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.*
from The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, C. Pearson & C. Porath.
Can you really afford to have these statistics on your team? Of course you can’t.
Everyone knows who the “pill” or the “Eeyore” is on the team. We vent about their antics behind their back and move on. Or, so we think. Author Christine Porath in her book Mastering Civility—A Manifesto for the Workplace writes that the effect of witnessing, or worse yet, being the victim of incivility has a lingering effect, robbing ones of their productivity and creativity. A persistent negative or bullying attitude has a communicable effect, from the boardroom, across the hall, down two floors, across the phone line, and eventually out the door to the client.
So, why do we commonly drop courtesy?
Frequent excuses for not taking the time to be courteous are that we may feel overwhelmed or we don’t feel there’s “time to be nice” because there’s a job to be done. Our CEO once had a manager who told him that he [the manager] never said “thank you” to his assistant because they had worked together for many years, and he didn’t have enough time for that.

There isn’t enough time? Ok, let’s talk about the time you’re spending because of a lack of courtesy. According to a report featured in Fortune over 20 years ago, leaders in Fortune 1000 firms spent 13 percent of their time at work resolving conflicts between team members.* Obviously this represents lost time and financial gain; however, the cost can soar beyond that once third-party remedial help is hired.

People want to follow nice guys and gals.
Think about it. Who would you rather work for—someone who’s highly skilled and a jerk? Or, someone who’s perhaps not as talented but easygoing and non-judgmental?

The manager that I spoke about before, who didn’t have time to say thank you to his assistant struggled year after year to make quota, had high turnover on his leadership team, and was ultimately demoted. Is there a correlation?

“That guy.”
So going back to our uncourteous team player, Eeyore Pill, what does a business do about him when he is a crucial part of the success of the company? What does any self-respecting medical facility do with a contagion? Exactly, isolation. While not an ideal solution, limiting that individual’s exposure to the rest of the company can allow the rest of the team to heal, regrow their creativity, and in essence, put down the shields.
The team.
A large health care system in Louisiana developed the “10/5 Way.” Simply put, when you approach someone and are within 10 feet of them, you make eye contact and smile, within 5 feet, you say a greeting. Not surprisingly when this policy was put into practice, metrics gauging patient satisfaction and referrals rose. As a side note, this was a custom in Belize years ago, and I have to say, it was one of the most peaceful and happy places I’ve ever lived.
How do I improve me?
We know the drill. Self-awareness leads to improvement. In a business, we’re always looking to “up our game.” We know the basics: say please and thank you before and after projects are completed, clients landed, and difficult phone calls are made. We know “phubbing” is bad form, but how about sending electronic messages during a meeting if it’s not crucial to the task at hand? How present am I?
  • Do I keep people waiting?
  • Do I use trade jargon that elevates me above my listener?
  • Do I look at my employee when they are speaking to me, or am I staring at my computer screen, or phone?
  • Do I ignore seemingly inconsequential requests of my time or energy, such as an invitation to a company softball game?
Your employees are likely your most valuable asset. Be the boss who looks them in the eye and listens intently. It shows them that you care. Beyond the eye contact though, show your appraisal in tangible ways. For example, your company has had a highly profitable year because of the efforts of everyone. Do you show your appreciation by buying everyone a $25 Starbucks gift card or doing something a little more meaningful? Do you buy yourself a top of the line laptop every year while your team struggles to make do with a 10-year-old desktop? What if the team comes in to work on a weekend, or they stay late to finish out a project. Do you order pizza, but only enough so that everyone has just one slice? A kindness, or courtesy, would be to order enough so that there are leftovers and someone can take some home to the family who’s missing out on time with their loved one. The benevolence, and in turn loyalty, extends beyond the front door.
Improving from the inside
Sometimes courtesy is a physical issue. We’re tired, and we’re “hangry.” It’s a real thing. Studies on the amygdala, that almond-sized portion of our brain that handles emotions, show that when this region is depleted of brain glucose, self-regulation falls dramatically. Maybe you’re not a star performer in the late afternoon. Recognize this, and take extra caution when things irritate you. Before you respond, ask yourself, is this going to represent the real me? Will I regret doing/saying this later on?
Did I just miss something?
Ever say that to yourself when a group of individuals, who was just 3 tenths of a second ago having a lively conversation, part ways like a bomb dropped? Well, you probably did miss something. With two-thirds of all communication being non-verbal, it’s time we get fluent. It’s not just facial expressions; it’s proximity, gestures, and posture. Develop your ability by studying these aspects while watching a television drama where non-verbal communication is often accentuated. Here’s a freebie. If the man you’re addressing has his lips tightly pressed together, and the vein in the side of his neck is pronounced, or worse yet, pulsating, the idea your communicating isn’t going down so well. But, you probably knew that.
Start small.
Listen with your ears and your eyes. Judge less. Smile. Be patient. Lead with service to others.
We have a tendency to value ourselves based on our intentions. Others cannot read our minds and hearts; therefore, the value they place on us is often based on our actions.
Therefore, be courteous; it’s not just common.
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