We put a lot of focus on teaching and maintaining good workplace skills —communication skills, computer skills, presentation skills and leadership skills. But you know what’s just as important? Plain old manners and etiquette.

Emerging and established leaders need to be mindful of both the impression their own behavior gives their employees, and the behavior of their employees themselves.

The work stuff is easy to address — deadline issues, communication hiccups, slips in performance, poor results. The etiquette side, however, can be a little trickier. Consider the following:

  • Wardrobe and appearance
  • Bringing too much personal life into the office
  • Checking phones during meetings or conversations
  • Cultural inconsideration
  • Respecting hierarchy and authority

These can be a distraction in the workplace and should be addressed deftly. Yet many managers and leaders struggle with finding the right tone. Instilling etiquette and soft skills can be tough to do without sounding parental or fostering resentment. So what is the right way?

This is where true leadership steps in. Organizational leaders should set the example for other to follow; after all, if they don’t show their employees appropriate respect and consideration, why should employees be expected to respect each other? And if you’re mentoring others who hope to manage and lead one day, you should focus just as much on instilling these important considerations as you do the more obvious business skills.

Some of these issues can—and should—be addressed on a corporate level with clearly laid out policies every employee knows and understands. If you don’t have them already (or perhaps it’s time to take another look), develop corporate standards and policies around some of the more hot-button issues. Create a dress code. Institute an employee social media policy. Offer reminders and guidance about appropriate office behavior.

The great part about setting policies is that if problems start to arise, you can simply send out a general reminder about particular policies to periodically reinforce them to your team.

You may even consider implementing culture and gender diversity training. Why? Here’s an example: I’ve seen workplaces where men hug female employees and shake hands with male employees. This could be interpreted in several ways, such as that cross-gender work relationships are more personal, or that women are emotional in the workplace.

For global organizations, the cultural implications of what seems like a minor difference or breach in etiquette can be huge. For this reason, any workforce that consistently does business in other countries can benefit from training or documentation to help avoid embarrassing or offensive cross-cultural misunderstandings.

Above all, the important thing is to always act with the appropriate care, respect and consideration for everyone you work with, and to ensure others take this lesson to heart. It may require some uncomfortable conversations, but not as uncomfortable as inappropriate behavior spreading unchecked. Stand up, be strong, and be a leader.

Contact Melissa melissa.lamson@lamsonconsulting.com

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