Brian Underwood: No matter the matter, manners matter

Manners matter for meaningful matters. And at all other times.

Now, I’ll take a moment to avert my eyes for inevitable eyerolls, but we are going to go there for a minute because manners really do matter. They are a reflection of who we are and, more importantly, how we feel about others. And, sadly, they are in decline.

According to a 2016 Associated Press Center for Public Affairs Research survey, 75 percent of Americans polled stated they felt manners have declined in the United States during the past several decades. The result has not only been the gradual slippage in the articles of common courtesy, but also in manners mattering to employers — and employees. (Warning: There’s a twist coming.)

And so, with respect to Emily Post, Amy Vanderbilt, Miss Manners and the many other fine etiquette experts who have saved so many of us throughout the years from thoroughly embarrassing ourselves, I have assembled my Top 10 Manners That Matter across the personal and professional spectrum.

No. 1: Ask What to Bring and How to Help. With Christmas parties in full bloom and New Year party invites flowing, it’s important to teach young people to ask what they can bring when invited to a party. Nine times out of 10, the host will graciously decline the offer, but teaching (and reminding) our young people to ask how they can bless a gathering is important. It takes a lot of thought and effort to prepare for guests, so reinforcing the importance of this basic question honors the host/hostess.

Whether a food item is brought or not, being an engaged and thankful guest also includes offering what can be done to assist the host. This kind of offer also is often politely declined, but keeping a casual eye on how things are flowing can sometimes produce another opportunity to ask for specific areas of need. And when all else fails, helping to clear things at the appropriate time and help with cleanup, generally always is appreciated.

No. 2: Bring a Gift for the Host/Hostess. Duh, you say? For some, yes, but not for all. So, let’s assume you’ve asked about bringing something to the party and the offer is respectfully returned or let’s assume you’ve been invited to someone’s home for another special occasion where food isn’t involved. Understanding the value of bringing a small gift respects the time and effort the host/hostess has given to welcome people into his/her home, et al.

This leads to the natural question what to bring and how much to spend, which can be challenging. Time-honored fallbacks are flowers and wine, but if you want to be a really great guest, maybe take an extra moment to consider the occasion as well as your host/hostesses interests. For example, with Christmas coming up, homemade treats are wonderful, or an ornament would be great. The amount isn’t nearly as important as the gesture.

No. 3: Find the Host to Say Thank You Before Leaving a Party. It sounds like a small thing, even elementary, but teaching pre- and young professionals to take the time to find the host/hostess to thank them before leaving a party is polite. This extra step communicates gratitude. Learning and practicing this at a young age is important.

No. 4: Send a Thank-You Note — Not an email, a handwritten card. This communicates, “I care enough about the event you planned, invited me to, sponsored, prepared for, likely cleaned up after, and generally cared about to acknowledge your thoughtfulness.” Switching gears, this practice is also a must for anyone who interviews for a job. A note should be sent to everyone who spent time with a candidate, and it must not only contain accurate spelling and proper grammar but original content for each.

No. 5: Gentlemen Should Stand When a Lady Enters and Leaves a Group. This seems to have gone the way of the dodo, but unlike extinct members of the animal kingdom, this can (and should) be brought back. Now, at the risk of causing offense, the practice of standing is still in keeping with most etiquette protocols that guide decorum for gentlemen. It is not intended to be misogynistic or anything else but simply polite.

A memorable anecdote on this point comes from my favorite leadership book, “Jack You’re Fired: How to Avoid Being Fired by Your Friends and Other Important People.” In this regard, the author, Jack Perry, a nationally-renowned motivational speaker who began his career in IBM’s famed training program before a successful career in the financial services arena, painfully recounts the absence of chivalry in a professional setting.

“One morning on Wall Street during an educational seminar, I was having breakfast with three other brokers before the day’s meetings,” Perry begins. “A woman approached our table to take a seat, and two of us stood while she was being seated. The other two brokers remained glued to their chairs, looked up and casually nodded a “Hello” as we introduced ourselves around the table.

“In mere moments, the two “manner-less jerks” who failed to stand were absolutely mortified when they discovered that this woman was our new branch manager — their new boss. Not a good start.”

Okay, so now here’s the twist. In a tight labor market, which we find ourselves in today, employers also need to be mindful of etiquette. Particularly so, I’d say.

Often, we only think of job seekers needing to be put their best foot forward, but, now, so do companies and their hiring managers. This brings us to my next five Manners That Matter, these for employers, with help from Essential Etiquette Tips For Today’s Hiring Managers, published by an expert panel representing the Forbes Human Resources Council (Dec. 17, 2018).

No. 6: Make the Candidate Feel Welcome. The best way to do this begins with flipping the script from the mindset of “they need me more than I need them” to “I need them more than they need me.”

In other words, prequalified candidates for certain positions these days have lots of options, so savvy employers would do well to put on their recruiter hats and treat each candidate as their No. 1 draft pick. Make them not only feel welcome but special because they could be a difference maker for your franchise.

“All candidates should leave an interview thinking the company is a nice place to work,” writes council member Karla Reffort, a recruitment and human resources specialist for BeecherMadden. “Even if they are not suitable, they should be given enough time to feel they have demonstrated their skills and obtained information about the company.”

No. 7: Prepare for the Interview. It’s expected that a candidate do his/her homework when preparing for a job interview. In a tight labor market, hiring managers must do the same, starting with spending thoughtful time reading and maybe re-reading and reviewing, cover letters, resumes and available portfolio material. Mistakenly asking asking questions on material previous provided can taint a candidate’s perception of an organization.

“When a manager fumbles through the conversation because they don’t know what they want to ask or they ask inappropriate — or worse, illegal — questions, the interview will be a waste of time for your company and the candidate,” writes Tracy Bittner, senior director of human resources at Physician Partners, LLC. “Good people are hard to find. Don’t blow the opportunity due to lack of preparation.”

No. 8: Uphold the Organization’s Brand and Communicate its Value. Nobly representing an organization’s brand serves to honor a company’s mission while also modeling expectations associated with being part of the family’s brand.

“Hiring managers should uphold the organization’s brand and communicate the value it delivers to its target audiences,” said Genine Wilson of Kelly Services. “Helping candidates feel like part of “something larger” will differentiate the organization and aid the overall negotiation process.”

No. 9: Remember That You’re Being Interviewed, Too. The preparation piece mentioned earlier should also be applied to anticipating candidate questions and being prepared to answer them well, and with recruitment and retention in mind, never forgetting the importance of warmth and promptness

“I once interviewed a phenomenal candidate and forwarded her to the hiring team,” shares Lucy Rivas-Enriquez with the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles.

“After two weeks, the hiring manager indicated that they wanted to extend an offer to her. She politely declined and said we were not the right environment. From irrelevant questions to uncompromising scheduling conflicts, we did not do our best.”

No. 10: Attract, Evaluate and Inspire. This goes back to No. 6, but with added gusto. Attracting great talent and having them breathe in an organization’s vision and how they fit into it is critical, but inspiring them to actually catch the vision goes beyond etiquette.

“We need to inspire them, regardless of the fit,” writes Abhijeet Narvekar of the FerVID Group. “If you do this right, candidates will always remember the opportunity and talk very highly of your company. They will want to keep in touch and become your external sales/reviewers to attract more.”

So, no matter the matter, remember manners matter.

Brian Underwood is director of school development at Sierra Lutheran High School in Carson City.


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