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12 Rules of Kindness – Rule 5 – Manners

Rule 5: Manners cost nothing but mean everything

Having good manners means acting in a manner that is socially acceptable and respectful to others. In my book First Comes Courage, I highlight the importance of the way we conduct ourselves or, our manner as a leader. I note that Leadership is an attitude, and courage is an extremely important part of that attitude. Bravery is also how you become more resilient; as you tackle more of your fears and worries, you’re better equipped to handle them.

When business leaders practice conversations in a courageous style with the right manner and approach, they reap many benefits – and one of the biggest is increasing their resilience. It’s only natural to fear those tough conversations in the workplace (and in life) and avoid them if possible – and if you can’t avoid them, you run the risk of not communicating clearly because you don’t want to come off as too ‘harsh’.

There’s a difference between being rude and getting across points that may be unpleasant, and leaders must keep this in mind if they’re going to have effective conversations about those tricky subjects. Like it or not, as a leader you’ll be having many conversations with many different people in the workplace, and being able to handle the difficult ones in the right way is essential to be a great leader.

Whether you fear being accused of bullying, unfair dismissal, legal action or even just plain being disliked, it’s imperative that you become proactive in preparing yourself and developing your communication skills so that you’ll be communicating assertively and in a positive manner, to get the positive outcomes necessary. A courageous conversation entails:

  • The delivery of honest feedback
  • Building acceptance
  • Constructive communication
  • Managing emotional and other difficult reactions
  • Using a step-by-step framework for tough conversations
  • Finding the common ground
  • Reaching an agreement and commitment
  • Maintenance of relationships after talking about difficult issues

Working on being able to carry out courageous conversations will empower you to become more resilient; the more you deal with these types of conversations, the better equipped you’ll feel and the easier it will be to focus on achieving the right outcomes, instead of worrying about whether your team member will like you after you discuss their need for performance improvement with them. Managers must take the lead in a conversation to avoid going off track, as well as miscommunication.

It is these attributes of kindness that we see and admire in Princess Diana’s story. Princess Diana was generous with her time for the causes she supported. She took time out of her schedule to go out of her way to hug children who had been disadvantaged. She was generous with her time in advocating for the removal of landmines and supporting those whose lives had been or potentially might be affected by them. She was considerate of other people’s feelings and positions in life, using her position, fame and power to advocate for them, to help them get the support they needed to live better lives. Most of all she was a leader. Her charisma, manner and kindness meant that people were naturally drawn towards her and attracted to her goals, and also wanted to make a positive change in the world they lived in.

Deb Sofield, author of Speak without fear indicates that manners cost nothing and are priceless. Deb continues by asking a question, when was the last time someone said “thank you” or “please” that you recall? It seems so rare to hear a kind word of thanks, praise, appreciation or encouragement that is not forced or contrived to get you to do something for someone. Deb believes that most kids today learn from other kids. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch to observe good manners, which show a proper upbringing of polite, decent and well-mannered children taught by parents who understand the way of the world and how social conduct plays an important role in their success. That being said, it seems to be the case that members of the millennial generation we have now do not know the basics of common everyday social interaction without a phone in their hand and an emoji or selfie showing how they feel second by second. Deb concludes by saying that it seems that there is an overall lack of basic etiquette that is missing in our personal lives, our professional lives and society in general. So, to make the world a better place, let’s do our part by using our manners and showing kindness and social skills that reflect our gracious upbringing, and this will be a reflection of who we are on the inside, which shows on the outside.

The Protocol School of Washington (PSW) indicates that Manners Cost nothing but are Highly Valued in the Workplace.” Even though good manners cost absolutely nothing, using them can be one of your most valuable assets in the workforce. PSW says that having good manners and using them to guide your own behaviour and your professional relationships sounds simple enough but often people underestimate the value of this personal commodity. Most important, good manners show you have respect for yourself, your co-workers and colleagues, as well as your office environment. PSW concludes by saying that good manners in the workplace are also beneficial for the following reasons:

  • Manners show gratitude 
  • Manners show class 
  • Manners set you apart 
  • Manners are memorable 
  • Manners are smart 
  • Manners make the workday better 
  • Manners make you feel good 

Headspace was officially launched in 2010 by Andy Puddicombe. Andy cut his sports science degree short to become a Buddhist Monk. Over 10 years his training took him across the work and he was ordained at a Tibetan Monastery in the Indian Himalayas. Andy has directed his support to many people through a variety of Headspace initiatives and he has some very meaningful thoughts around manners.

Andy says that manners help us appear more confident, maintain more fulfilling personal relationships, lead to us prospering at work and generally enjoying happier and healthier lives. But what we probably didn’t realize when we were being taught to be well-mannered as children — and perhaps those teaching it didn’t recognize either — is that when we were learning about good manners, we were often learning about mindfulness. By living more mindfully, it can lead to us naturally having better manners and help us to live a more prosperous life — without spending a cent.


Andy continues to say that by practicing basic good manners, we are showing those around us that we respect them and are considerate to their feelings. This makes them feel better, and us too. Most of us have heard the old adage: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This wisdom is so ingrained in our life lessons, it has become known as “the golden rule.” Examples of good manners can manifest themselves in seemingly small actions and rewards — like holding the door open for someone and receiving a silent smile of recognition in return. But it can also make or break crucial relationships and be the difference between harmony and conflict at home, at work, or even between countries and cultures on the world stage. Like any rule, there are some exceptions, and we must appreciate that others’ experiences, needs, and boundaries can be different from our own.

Manners are a concept with solid and natural roots. And Kristen Monroe, director of the University of California Irvine Interdisciplinary Centre for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality, says: “There is a lot of good, if emerging, scientific work suggesting people have an innate sense of fairness built into them and that the golden rule captures much of that innate moral sense. A lot of people instinctively follow it.”

Tracy Kite in Management Today says that It costs nothing to say please or thank you – but it can be costly if you don’t.” Good manners can be the difference between an effective and ineffective leader. No matter how skilled or knowledgeable you are, if you can’t engage with and build rapport with others, you will ultimately fail – no leader can deliver on their own. Interestingly, you can find much in the academic literature on staff engagement and its importance in workplace effectiveness, but courteous conduct doesn’t get a mention anywhere. Perhaps it’s considered old-fashioned or not relevant in business, but Tracy argues that it’s crucial and worth a more detailed mention.

In HR downloads, it is shown that proper conduct and manager etiquette are part of creating a respectful workplace. Although people usually know the difference between right and wrong, the difference between polite and impolite can sometimes leave room for interpretation. Is it impolite to leave a meeting and grab a glass of water? What about taking a personal phone call at your desk? Sometimes there are blurred lines where these things might seem O.K. or not O.K.  As a leader, how you act can speak volumes to your employees. As mentioned, if you tell them to do something but don’t do it yourself, it comes across as impolite or unfair. How do you know if you’re not practicing proper leadership etiquette? 

Simple gestures such as manners show kindness, respect and appreciation towards others and you show what a great role model you can be. Decide based on the many examples shown in this chapter, where you can build in habits daily.

Author – Sonia McDonald

Sonia McDonald is changing the face of leadership across the globe. She believes we should lead with kindness and courage, from the heart, and is known for her mantra ‘Just Lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her transformational coaching, leadership training programs and cultural transformation for organisations and encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped thousands of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others.

Sonia is a founder and CEO of McDonald Inc., LeadershipHQ and Global Outstanding Leadership Awards and the newly launched Courage Conference. For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of leadership and she is beyond committed to her mission around building a world of great leaders.

She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realise what it takes to be a truly great leader. She has been recognised by Richtopia as One of the Top 250 Influential Women across the Globe and Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs.

Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is a leading coach, an award-winning published author of newly released First Comes Courage, Leadership Attitude and Just Rock It! and has become an in-demand keynote speaker on leadership, kindness and courage.

Sonia has become recognised for her commentary around the topic of leadership, kindness, empathy and courage as well as building outstanding leadership across the Globe.

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