The Etiquette Edge: A book review by Bob Morris

etiquette-edgeThe Etiquette Edge: Modern Manners for Business Success
Beverly Langford
AMACOM (August 2016)

Why we must “treat everyone in a manner that values everyone and denigrates no one”

Incivility in the workplace and elsewhere in our society (notably in schools) continues to receive a great deal of attention by various media. The current presidential campaign may well prove to be the most rancorous since 1800 when Thomas Jefferson defeated the incumbent, John Adams. In this second edition of a book first published in 2005, Beverly Langford shares her thoughts – and feelings – about how to establish and then nourish what could be characterized as a “culture of civility” at a time when almost every company’s competitive marketplace seems to have become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any time that I can remember. The stresses and tensions seem to be exacerbated by social media that are unable to prevent all manner of malicious mischief.

I agree with Langford that “we make a serious mistake if we ignore the importance of effective and appropriate communication and behavior, social savvy, and commonsense etiquette. Failing to recognize how one can seize a competitive advantage by leveraging good manners and courtesy in the workplace can undermine our good efforts on the job.”

Early in the narrative, she includes a CQ (Courtesy Quotient) self-assessment, followed by correct answers and a key to evaluation. As is also true of other self-assessments, completing one is worthless unless all answers are candid.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Langford’s coverage:

o Nonverbal communication (Pages 27-34)
o What’s better left unsaid (39-44)
o Praise (45-49)
o Listening (50-53)
o Social media (59-63)
o Air travel (64-69)
o Job interview guidelines (73-82)
o Office space (88-93)
o Different management styles of bosses (94-100)
o Email (104-112)
o Productive use of telephones (113-119)
o Dress code (120-125)
o Leading the Virtual Meeting (129-133)
o Leaving job (134-139)
o Gender gap (154-159)
o Pitfalls of cross-cultural communication
o Global village (160-165)
o Price of success (169-172)
o Communication of unwelcome information (195-202)
o Workplace conflict and confrontation (203-209)
o Personal brand (216-221)

This is a serious book because incivility is a serious problem but Langford’s suggestions are not heavy-handed, preachy, or unrealistic. The material is updated because the business world she surveyed in 2005 has since undergone major and significant changes. Workplaces will always be multi-generational but many are now multicultural and the nature and extent of work done has also changed. Virtual meetings are now the rule rather than the exception. Many supervisors are now younger than their direct reports. Also, on average, workers may have 8-10 different employers during a career. Today, what is culturally acceptable in one country may be offensive and even insulting in another.

Hence the importance of emotional intelligence (especially empathy) and developing outstanding listening skills as well as having a sincere respect for diversity of values and points of view. In the healthiest organizations, there is mutual respect and mutual trust.

These are among Beverly Langford’s final thoughts: “Rules of etiquette aren’t meant to make you pompous or uptight. Indeed, they grew out of society’s need to make the world a fairer, kinder, more comfortable place to live. Be ingenious and innovative the way you apply the rules to your own circumstances. As one practice becomes irrelevant or outdated, come up with a version that meets current needs but keeps alive the spirit of the principle. Ultimately, all the guidelines on how to behave properly in any social situation come down to a simple principle: Treat everyone in a manner that values everyone and denigrates no one.”

I presume to add this admonition from Margaret Mead, one that I have tried to follow since I first encountered it: “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”

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