We hear that good soft skills are key in the work place, so key that they can actually elevate a candidate with mediocre grades, experience or tech skills ahead of someone with great grades, experience and tech skills. But what do employers mean when they talk about soft skills? The usual suspects that come to mind include being able to communicate, good listening, taking notes, circling back to ensure people are on the same page, and responding in a timely way. Where do manners come in and do they even matter? I believe manners do matter, and are the polishing touch on good soft skills.
There are obvious examples of good and bad manners: saying “please” and not talking with food falling out of your mouth. These we take for granted, even if we forget them now and then. However, there are many subtle ways in which we show respect to our colleagues that pay dividends down the road. Equally, there are many subtle ways we disrespect others that can clamp down on any future possibilities for favor. Our daily mundane interactions can open or close doors further down the road, sometimes years later. Know what I’m talking about? If not, read on.
Looking up When Someone Enters a Room
Ever entered a small room and seen people huddled around their cell phone screens or chatting in small clusters, then seen someone raise their face to say hello to you? It’s a nice feeling, it feels like inclusion. However, I’ve recently entered that same room, said hello, and no one bothered to look up from their food, screens, or chat group. It felt rude, like exclusion, and it made an impression of bad manners and lack of refinement. It’s a yucky feeling.
Stay Back When People Seem to be Talking Privately
Okay, this seems to contradict the above point, but it’s subtle. When you see people conversing in a serious or private way, nod or say ‘hello,’ and carry on. Give them space and show that you can read a situation. You can catch up with later when they separate or conclude their private discussion.
Someone Else Paying? Resist the Urge to Order the Most Expensive Cocktail or Menu Item
How does it look to your host when you order an expensive item once they’ve told you they’re paying? Right. It looks bad. You’ve just turned a planned treat and pleasure into someone else’s punishment. When your host, friend or employer shows a generous spirit, reciprocate by showing gratitude; thank them and order a mid-range item, unless they’re ordering something pricey for themselves. Declining an expensive add-on leaves a positive impression. It’s subtle, but it shows class.
Want Something? Ask for it Nicely
We all experience frustrations on a daily basis. Things move slowly. People are stupid. Why was I charged a service fee or tuition for that? What’s the fastest way to get action? Demand it! Intimidate! Show your ferocity! Surely they’ll be so scared they’ll back down and give you what you want just to get rid of you. This actually works. Sometimes. Trouble is, you’ve just blackballed yourself for life with anyone who just saw you do that. People will think you’re an a**shole, and truth be told, you are. Here’s a tip: show good manners no matter whether people are watching or when there’s no obvious strategic gain. It’s decent and it just feels good. You never know when payback happens. Some people call it karma. We’ve all seen it reward and punish.
If you want something, start with good manners, not intimidation. It prevents the receiver’s guard from going up and getting defensive, angry. It keeps the conversation going. Check out Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s an old classic, but good manners never go out of style.
If you’re really ticked off, take a day to cool down and THEN write your email or leave a message. Ask to speak with the person who caused you the irritation, don’t go to their supervisor right away. Or the President. I’ve seen a student commit this blunder. It showed the entire chain of staff and faculty that student’s uncontrolled rage and lack of judgement, and revealed that person is an idiot. The nice thing is that sometimes, idiots realize when they’ve gone too far and apologize. This happened recently with a student whom I later invited to connect with me on LinkedIn. I was very impressed with his humility. Learning to resolve conflicts appropriately is an invaluable skill, especially in social median where grievances are aired ferociously in order to get results quickly. This burns trust, nearly impossible to restore, once the damage is done.
So when you want something from another student, staff, professor, TA, bus driver, custodial staff, clerk, cashier, or stranger, start with good manners. You’ll go so much further. Good manners are appreciated and they give us a more gracious, more productive way to live and work with each other.
Beyond the Blog
Are you a Beedie Business student looking to expand your career options? Connect with the Beedie Co-op program, here.