Thursday, October 3, 2013

Good Manners Make Good Friends

If good fences make good neighbors, good manners make good friends.

Somehow or other our culture has led people to believe that once you are friends with someone you can dispense with courtesy. The culture has also told us that once you are in love you can dispense with fences and with manners.

Meaning: you can invade the other person’s privacy and be as rude as you wish. Doesn’t true love conquer all?

It’s bad enough when people follow these rules in their private lives. When they apply them to business situations the results will do serious damage to career advancement.

The Robert Half International Company has offered some excellent advice for job applicants. If you are applying for a job you need to know that your manners count as much as your qualifications.

Lots of people are qualified. Fewer people have good manners.

Having bad manners suggests that you do not know how to get along with other people. No one wants to work with someone who does not know how to get along with other people.

Obviously, the advice applies well to other relationships, with friends and neighbors, even with spouses and lovers.

Half Int. begins by saying that when you are applying for a job, be nice to everyone. That includes the receptionist and the janitor. If they decide to interview you over lunch, be nice to the bus boy.

The same applies to all social interactions. If you save your kindness and generosity only for people who are “important,” you are developing a bad habit. You are telling yourself that you are a user:  you are nice to people you can make use of and ignore those who cannot advance your goals.

When your friends and colleagues and acquaintances figure it out, you will pay for it.

Generosity is a habit. Habits should be cultivated. If you are gracious with everyone, being gracious will become second nature. The more you are kind and generous to others, the more they will be inclined to return the favor. Your generosity will gain the ineffable quality of sincerity.

Like benevolence, gratitude is also a habit. One develops it by expressing it. If you feel grateful and fail to say thank-you, you are an ingrate and a user.

You know that you must send a thank-you note after an interview. But do you know that you must say thank-you to anyone who has helped you with your job search, to anyone who has offered you advice, and, in general, to people who do favors for you.

It doesn’t matter how small the favor or how trivial the advice. Saying thank-you is required.

It’s another good habit to cultivate.

Of course, you know how important it is to be punctual. The Half organization knows that you will be on time, even a little early for job interviews, but it wants you to understand that you must respond to all job-related communications promptly.

This does not mean within thirty seconds. Responding too quickly suggests that you are overly anxious and have not thought out your response. Responding too slowly means that you are playing status games. Responding the same day or early the next day feels about right.

The same rule obviously applies to communications with those near and dear to you. Answer messages promptly. If you don’t have the answer to a question, answer and say that you will look into the matter.

And then there is the matter of interruptions. It is bad form in a job interview to be interrupted by a ringing cell phone. The Half Company recommends that you not allow yourself to be tempted. Thus, leave your phone in the car.

The same applies to conversations with friends and neighbors. Obviously you cannot live without your cell phone. Who knows what urgent matter might require your urgent attention.

Still, if your personal conversations are peppered with interruptions from ringing cellphones you will be less present to the conversations and will be treating your interlocutors rudely. It’s not a way to sustain a friendship.

And then there are the social cues. Poker players call them “tells,” but they are equally important away from the table. When engaged in a conversation it is good to be alert to signs of flagging interest. When you see that you are beginning to bore your interlocutor, you should shift to a more compelling topic or to offer the person an easy out.

The Half Company says:

Learning to read body language gives you a big advantage on the job hunt. At networking events and interviews, be alert to signs you're losing the other person's interest. She might break eye contact, cross her arms, check the time or start gazing around the room.

At events, graciously offer the other person an easy out with a handshake and "It was so nice to meet you." When you're interviewing, kick things into high gear. Raise your energy level and focus on telling stories about your past jobs that really show off your skills.

If you allow someone a face-saving exit you will rise in his estimation. Allowing him to exit a conversation gracefully, without having to excuse himself will show you to be considerate and tactful.

A similar rule applies when someone does not respond to a request. Examine this example:

Social cues also come into play when you ask a colleague for an introduction or reference. Following up once is fine, but if you don't hear back, assume the other person isn't comfortable granting the favor and let the matter drop.

Often, people who do not really want to do what you are asking will say that they are going to think it over. In that circumstance—the one that the article is thinking of—a follow up is acceptable. When the person fails to respond it is best to move on.

Surely, you see that it is better to let matters drop than to pester people and to force them to state explicitly what they have been trying to tell you implicitly.

It is bad to force people into overtly rejecting you.


Sam L. said...

I've seen many of these before, and it seems all start with treating other people nicely, with respect. Wait staff, anyone with a "lowly" job, may be part of the test you get on applying for anything.

Anonymous said...

I retired after 40 years (VN/Civ Svc). I v v rarely encountered disrespect or vulgarity in the first 30. I was so unconsciously PC, I didn't even use racial epithets in VN.

The last 10 years were v different. Frequent Stern Seminars on Sex Harassment, Racism, Sexism, Bigotry, Vile Language, Lookism, and much else. I was reprimanded for saying "uvula".

During the same time frame, there was an upsurge of poisonous behavior. Sadistic and/or exploitative bosses. Rude and/or backstabbing co-workers. Law of the Jungle attitudes.

I got out just in time. I'm sure it's worse in the Private Sector. Paradoxical, eh? -- Rich Lara