• Tamar Balkin

Manners Maketh The Man And The Woman..

Updated: Mar 3

"Today this expression (" manners maketh the man" ) broadly means that your mannerisms and characteristics make you who you are, that is to say people are judged by their manners and conduct. But in its earliest use, as manners maketh man, it likely had a broader meaning--that manners make us human - that politeness and etiquette are what prevent us from falling into savagery"



Photo by Kevin Butz on Unsplash

Modern workplaces  have seen the introduction of policies and procedures to mitigate unconscious bias, and improve diversity and inclusion, it seems we have forgotten our basic manners. I often look at new workplace initiatives aimed at ensuring people are treated appropriately and fairly, and wonder if we all just took a breath and simply treated each other with respect and good manners would all these policies and procedures be necessary?

Unfortunately, despite my rose coloured glasses, we seem to have a pervasive negative phenomenon in our workplaces called incivility. In 1999, Andersson and Pearson formally defined workplace incivility as follows:

‘Workplace incivility is low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others."

According to Diane Berenbaum (2010), incivility in the workplace can take the following forms:

Sometimes it is blatant, like:

  • losing one’s temper or yelling at someone in public

  • rude or obnoxious behaviour in the workplace

  • badgering or back-stabbing in the workplace

  • withholding important customer/client information

  • sabotaging a project or damaging someone’s reputation

And others times it may be a bit more subtle, like:

  • arriving late to a meeting

  • checking e-mail or texting during a meeting

  • not answering calls or responding to emails in a timely manner

  • ignoring or interrupting a colleague in the workplace

  • not saying "please" or "thank you"

The challenge of course with all of these behaviours, is even if the intention is not malicious if they frequently occur on the workplace they can have damaging effects on morale, motivation and  productivity and left unchecked they can escalate and multiply. (I am by no means saying that every person who is late to a meeting is evil or has evil intent, but if this is you it may be worthwhile to think about whether your behaviour may indirectly imply that your time is much more important than everyone else's. ) 

One of my early coaching clients was a part of a group of senior managers in an energy company who had all been referred to coaching to improve their leadership capability and were given the ECR 360 - a 360 assessment of Emotional Intelligence as it pertains to leadership.  My first client  had  large discrepancy between her perception of her Relationship skills and that of her direct reports.  The direct reports had rated her as "aloof, not interested in the opinions of others, and not able to communicate well with a variety of people". What was even more confronting were the extra comments that the staff had written on their surveys, these included "she has favourites" " she is a snob", "she never says hello and wouldn't even know if I was at work".  I began coaching as always by gaining an understanding of her role and and getting to know her.  Before showing her the 360 report,  I asked her how she began  a typical her day. She told me when she enters the office she says hi to her team and talks to a  few of them about their lives work etc. On probing it seemed she only really  spoke to the same five employees. 

Two hypotheses began to form in my mind: either she was rather  rude or shy.

Not only did she turn out to be shy,  she was mortified that her shyness was being interpreted by her team as rudeness. Fortunately by overcoming  her shyness, she could begin to treat all her staff equally and appropriately. 

Unfortunately , incivility can be contagious. In a recent study  it was found that employees who reported being treated poorly earlier in the day were more likely to subsequently engage in uncivil acts directed towards other employees. When people are treated badly as well as feeling hurt, they spend energy trying to work out why, hypothesising if they had done something to provoke the behaviour. These two process are mentally draining, and may prevent the recipient from having the self restraint to control their own uncivil and impatient behaviours, causing them to ‘pay forward’ this rude behaviour to others.

What's the solution?  Learn manners ?

“in today’s toxic and sometimes vulgar public square these old-fashioned values are needed now more than ever.”  

John Baldoni. 

In my opinion we know what our manners should be, however we have just got out of the habit of using them. 

Perhaps because we are too busy, to lazy, under too much pressure or because rudeness has become the norm. 

What can you start doing now?

1. Improve your self awareness so you know how your behaviour is interpreted and what you need to do differently. (For tips read Insight by Tasha Eurich) For real change contact me.

2. Get into the habit of saying  "Hello how are you?" to your colleagues friends and relatives,  then pause  and properly listen to their answer ( if you need to be reminded of how to listen to  Celeste Headlee's Ted talk).

3. Be a role model of good manners at all times. 

4. If you are in a senior leadership position raise the issue with your peers and commit to making a change. 

5. Politely, sensitively, and privately call out inappropriate behaviour. (For feedback tips, listen to Stew Friedman and Kim Scott Malone talk about  Radical candour

5. Calm down when you  experience incivility at work, have a sip of water, go for a walk around the block and  try one of my quick relaxation techniques so that you don't  carry it forward. 

Let me know what else,   -----------------------------------


Andersson LM , Pearson CM . (1999) Tit for Tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace. Academy of Management Review 24:452–71. Berenbaum, D. (2010)Workplace Incivility on the Rise: Four Ways to Stop It, HR exchange network  https://www.hrexchangenetwork.com/hr-talent-management/articles/workplace-incivility-on-the-rise-four-ways-to-stop

Uncivil behaviour in the workplace causes mental fatigue and is contagious, Employees on the receiving end tend to ‘pay forward’ the incivility to others.  Christopher C. Rosen, Joel Koopman, Allison S. Gabriel and Russell E. Johnson . April 11th, 2017



Cooper, J. (2017) The Price of Incivility is High – Incivility in the Workplace Published on the 27 January 2017  https://www.ausmed.com/cpd/articles/incivility-in-the-workplace

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