Chuck Lauer: Where have our manners gone?

We live in an age when all of us are in such a hurry that we somehow forget very basic things in life. The most egregious example is manners.

Why this is the case, I am not sure, but most of us can attest to the fact that manners have somehow become passé. Many people I talk to complain that when they deal with others, they are often treated either indifferently or rudely. It happens in our personal and professional lives. In many cases, people don't seem to care anymore about treating others with some measure of respect.

However, I have found when any of us employ good manners with others, all kinds of positive things are possible.

For instance, during the Thanksgiving break, I had to pick up some cold cuts at the local grocery store. Of course, being in the grocery store just before Thanksgiving can be a less than a positive experience, as everybody is in a hurry to pick up last-minute items before the big day. The lady behind the meat counter quite obviously was not in a very good mood and made no effort to disguise her irritability. I went out of my way to treat her with a measure of respect even though she was initially unwilling to make eye contact. I addressed her in soft and respectful tones as I placed my order.

It was a simple thing to do, but it somehow did the trick. She seemed to calm down and I wished her a happy Thanksgiving and asked if she was doing the cooking for Thanksgiving dinner. That's when she laughed and said she and her husband were going to go to their son's house for  dinner. She said she couldn't wait to sit down with her family and relax. I left her with a smile on her face, and that made me feel better as well.

When dealing with others, we should take their plight into account so we can make our interaction with them a positive experience.  Showing courtesy and caring for others is a must. Good manners and a positive attitude can be powerful tools when working with others. Basic things — like using the old fashioned words, "thank you" and "please" — and then putting a smile on your face can turn most interactions with others into positive experiences.

Another example where bad manners and lack of communication skills are often evident is email. Of course, email can be a wonderful way to communicate, but too often we think of email as the only way to talk with others when a simple phone call or handwritten note is more appropriate. In his book, What They Don't Teach You at the Harvard Business School, Mark McCormick relays the story of having two of his senior executives shouting at each other just outside of his office because a tersely worded e-mail caused a major misunderstanding between the two. Mr. McCormick then pointed out that the whole conflict could have been avoided if one of them had simply walked over to the other's office and chatted with him to clarify the matter. Such misunderstandings happen every day in offices all over the country. We have become so accustomed to communicating with others either by text or e-mail that somehow we have lost the human touch, and that can often complicate matters.

In study after study, patients complain about the lack of communications with their caregivers. Many times, they tell me the physician spends more time typing on his or her computer than actually making eye contact and giving them their undivided attention. The same thing oftentimes happens in meetings, as individuals often spend more time glancing at their cell phones than participating in the discussion. This also holds true in personal exchanges when one or the other party stares at their cell phone while engaging in a personal conversation. It is both rude and disconcerting to the other party when that happens, and it can lead to major misunderstandings.

Then there is the matter of listening! How many of us truly listen to the other person when we are having a conversation? Too often we are so anxious to have our say in an exchange that we don't truly hear what the other person is saying to us. It happens all too often, yet listening is one of the most powerful tools in communicating with others. Truly listening to someone is not only good manners but shows the other person you respect them. It also gives us the opportunity to better understand what the other person is trying to communicate, and that is most important, whether in business or personal matters.

So what I am saying is this — in this fast-paced world we live in, we are all in a hurry to get some place. But too often we miss important interactions with others, which often lead to major misunderstandings and conflict. All of us enjoy being treated with respect and courtesy, and we tend to react negatively when we are not. Remembering this and making the effort to treat others well is simply a matter of good manners, just like our parents taught us. Saying thank you and please, as well as actively listening and avoiding overusing cell phones and e-mails, can do wonders for you in your interactions with others across all realms of life. It is a matter of common sense and courteous behavior!

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