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August 21, 2014 at 1:00 AM

The power of good manners

In recent years, it seems that good manners have come to be thought of as a “nice to have.” A frill. Even — and this is much worse — a sign of weakness. In fact, manners and the use of etiquette are powerful tools for mind control.

How so? For the simple reason that what you sow is what you reap. Therefore, if you are demanding, people will be withholding; if you are sarcastic, people will close down around you; if you are rude, people will often be rude right back; and if you are courteous and thoughtful, people will treat you similarly and might even be inspired to pay it forward.

In the workplace, the consistent use of good manners is a ridiculously easy way to stand out from the crowd and ensure that, no matter what your level, you are treated with respect. Observing these 12 basic rules will put you light-years ahead of most people.

  1. Be punctual.
  2. Say “good morning/afternoon,” not “hi” or “hey.”
  3. Treat everyone equally, with courtesy and kindness.
  4. Say “thank you,” not “no problem.”
  5. Look for things to praise, and praise sincerely.
  6. When you need to criticize, do so unemotionally.
  7. Respect your co-workers’ privacy; don’t eavesdrop or “borrow” items from their desks.
  8. Regardless of gender, the first person to reach a door should open it.
  9. Regardless of gender, the person nearest the elevator door should get off first.
  10. If you hear gossip, forget it, don’t spread it.
  11. No matter how boring the meeting, behave graciously.
  12. Don’t “cell yell,” or yell into any phone, or overuse the speaker function, or text your pals while co-workers are talking to you.

Basically, etiquette is the art of putting other people at ease. This may involve placing their comfort and well-being ahead of your own. Keep that little rule in mind and you won’t be tempted to wear a gallon of perfume/cologne, bring stinky food for lunch or clip your fingernails at your workstation.

It’s just common courtesy. And, even more important, how you treat people signals how you expect people to treat you. (That’s the mind-control part.)

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: career advancement, co-workers, etiquette, office politics

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Blog contributors

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.


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