SEATTLE (Reuters Life!) - Rudeness is epidemic all over today. And I’m not even talking about cyber-rudeness.
People steal each other’s cabs. Telephone receptionists are nasty. Sales clerks act like they’re doing you a favor when you buy something. Waiters exhibit an attitude. Vicious gossip sells newspapers. Decency is considered boring.
Look outside and you’ll see litter everywhere except in trash cans. Sit down in a restaurant and you’ll find gum is underneath every table. Go into an office and you’ll see bosses who don’t treat their teams like human beings - foregoing simple little things like acknowledging their presence with introductions to visitors and clients.
The list could go on forever. I know because I pay a lot of attention to these things. I also know because any number of people call or write to tell me their latest manners travesties.
And all of it begs a question.
Hasn’t anyone noticed that if we want to change anybody else, we first must change ourselves?
Books can be written. Speeches can be made. But I ask you: Who ever learned to ride a bicycle by reading a book?
The point is that any significant, lasting change must come from within, not from without. I can rattle off information about etiquette skills, but they ring hollow if we don’t honor some very basic principles for success. 1. Every living thing deserves respect. 2. A person’s wealth really is determined by the quality and integrity of his relationships.
Our relationships are the most important and significant components of our lives. If, in fact, our relationships with our Higher Power, our self, our spouse, our family and friends, and finally, our career - in that order - are healthy, then the material trappings believed by most of us to be “wealth” will more likely become ours. Think about it. What are the qualities and actions that really help in attaining success and sustaining it throughout a business career? 3. Our relationships are smoother and more satisfying when we understand and use the basic etiquette skills that make sense for our individual lifestyles. 4. Manners and etiquette are not the same thing.
Manners have to do with our basic attitude and approach to life and the people in it. Kindness is the essence of good manners. Etiquette, on the other hand, is a set of rules that govern our relationships in various situations.
Etiquette is different from country to country, city to city, company to company. For example, in the United States the handshake is an essential part of greeting. In Japan, however, a bow takes the place of a handshake. Is one better than the other? Certainly not. 5. Honesty and a sense of humor about oneself are essential to a successful, prosperous life.
To illustrate: One of the most genuinely well-mannered people I’ve ever met is a fellow named David in Barbados.
He is a diver and a fisherman, and certainly makes no effort to present himself as a suave sophisticate.
Inevitably, David is likely to appear at the door of tourists, uninvited and unannounced, bearing a just-caught fish so fresh that it fairly quivers. He will then proceed to take over the kitchen and prepare a memorable meal.
I’ve enjoyed several such feasts. Never have I been presented with a fish knife, fish fork, a trio of glasses, or any of the implements that I instruct my clients how to use when dining for business and pleasure. Yet I’ve never missed them, not once.
Because David — although he often breaks all the etiquette rules — exudes so much enthusiasm for life and the people in it. He knows with every fiber of his being that life is all about sharing our experience, our very selves, in the kindest, most joyful, most pleasant way we can. What David knows (and needs no etiquette guide to tell him) is that people are much more important than the rules.
I have no interest in putting myself out of business with this writing. On the contrary. All of those unspoken prejudices about behavior and etiquette are as pronounced in today’s business arena as they ever were. But people who do business successfully realize that the essence of productive business relationships is the people in them.
Try this out for yourself with this simple test the next time you have the pleasure of that harassed, apparently surly waiter or waitress:
Instead of sounding irritated, try saying in a polite and sympathetic tone: “You really have your hands full, but the next time you come by, may I please have some more coffee?”
You will get your coffee with a smile — I promise.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
Mary Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, including "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette" and "Class Acts." She is also the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization with the website www.themitchell.org. The opinions expressed are her own.