Forward thinking: Uncommon courtesy

A common courtesy is a polite remark or respectful act that
we do for everyone, regardless of whether we know them or not.

Another Mother’s Day is history…

The day has not held much appeal to me personally for several years. My mom made her transition over a decade ago, a victim of the dreaded “C” word.

However, I did find myself reflecting on the impact that she had on my life in many different ways.

One in particular was her ongoing instruction or lessons on what I would describe as “uncommon courtesy.” As you might guess, there was the proverbial please, thank you and excuse me, along with showing respect for your elders.

I would not attempt to remember the number of times I was reminded of the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And lest I forget, there was the issue of holding the door open for others–especially women or people with disabilities.

My point is that I may be old fashioned, but when I was little, I was taught to always be polite, respect others and to have good manners. Stated differently, etiquette used to be the glue that held society together. No more.

In today’s world such training seems to be more of an exception rather than the rule. In our me-first world, the defining adjectives would appear to be “rude, crude and abrasive.” What was once considered appalling is now common place. The use of four-letter words that were once considered vulgar are now viewed as cute, or at least acceptable.

I would hurriedly point out that there is always a tension between how much we should follow our instincts and how much we should yield to social conventions. But in times like ours, the tendency is to tilt too far towards our instincts, since the conventions are changing fast and there is no consensus about them anyway. There is a risk in that. You don’t know whom you might be offending or how you might be sabotaging your own success.

It may come as a surprise to you that the original etiquette manuals of Western civilization were in fact success manuals used to teach knights and nobles how to conduct themselves in the court of the king – which is where we get the concepts of “courtly” and “courtesy.”

Recently, I have begun to pay close attention to some of my more “civilized” friends and colleagues as to what a 2018 updated manual might look like.
Some examples are as follows:

• Make a genuine effort to be on time for your appointments.
• When invited to an event, RSVP when requested.
• Turn off your cell phone at a dinner party – be in the moment.
• Keep personal conversations and arguments off social networking sites.
• Listen to the person speaking without interrupting them.
• Don’t RSVP for an event, then not show.
• Throw your garbage in bins instead of littering
• Don’t flash your head lights or honk your car horn when tailgating.
• Don’t let your kids act like wild monkeys in a restaurant.

Bottom line: Think about the feelings of others first because it is not all about you and maximizing your personal convenience.

Since most of us are working stiffs, it seems only appropriate that something should be said about common courtesy in the work place. And my first thoughts are that “it ain’t so common.” Sad but true. As one sage observed, “courtesy has gone the way of the typewriter.”

Unfortunately, bad behavior and a lack of common courtesy are becoming all too common in the workplace and out of it. Where has it gone? I can remember a time when people within and outside the work place treated each other with respect regardless of the circumstances even during very trying times. What about today?

How frequently do you observe people (colleagues) being late to work, slipping out early, gossiping, eye rolling, interrupting others, being sarcastic, leaving messes for others to clean up, giving co-workers the silent treatment or speaking to others in a condescending tone.

Allow me to state the obvious. It’s past time to bring back courtesy to the workplace. Respect towards others should be the standard behavior in the work place – regardless of role, rank or reputation. However, companies have become more virtual, global and stressed out, this assumption can break down unless we focus on it more explicitly.

Bringing courtesy back to the place of employment can be done on two levels. Let me make two simple but not easy suggestions. First, convene a meeting with your team leaders, including virtual members, and talk openly about the kind of workplace behaviors you expect from each other.

On a personal level, start today greeting people at work with a smile; look them in the eye and make an effort to exchange polite conversation. A positive attitude can be contagious. Your friendly greetings each day demonstrate your respect from the receptionist, to your boss to the janitor.

However, on both levels, common courtesy, respect for others and rules of etiquette must apply in the workplace to ensure that colleagues can get along together and work productively. Employees should be encouraged to think before they speak and apologize if they have made a mistake or offended a co-worker.

I would close by sharing one last summary statement.

Common courtesy is so uncommon these days that each of us can set ourselves apart from others – in a positive way – simply by being courteous. Courtesy
is all about showing respect to others. It makes our life together (especially in the work place and in the public) more agreeable. Showing people respect gains us their respect in return and their cooperation.

Until next time…

Loren (1)–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.

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