The Power of Polite

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Good manners can be career magic

Would you check for phone texts during an interview with a prospective employer or chew with your mouth open at a lunch meeting?

Pamela Eyring, president and director of The Protocol School of Washington, the nation’s only accredited protocol and business etiquette school, and Barbara Pachter, author of “New Rules @ Work: 79 Etiquette Tips, Tools and Techniques to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead” recall the stories they’ve heard from business owners who lost millions of dollars due to employee breaches of etiquette such as these.

powerofpolite2According to research by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Institute, technical skills and knowledge account for just 15 percent of the reasons that people get, keep and advance in a job, while 85 percent of their success is connected to their people skills – the ability to follow the basic rules of conduct that set the tone for a pleasant, productive workplace.

“Managers will often go to bat to keep employees who get along well with others over more technically astute ones,” notes Eyring.

“The details may change with the times, but the focus remains the same: consistently treating others with genuine courtesy and respect,” Pachter says.

Locally, Marquita Tittle, director of Northeast State’s Office of Career Services, echoes the Harvard study findings. Tittle said employers generally recognize that prospective employees have the hard skills necessary to do the job, but often express a need for applicants to have better business etiquette savvy.

These attributes include such things as punctuality, flexibility, adaptability, and a positive attitude, Tittle said.

“Keep in mind that many soft skills come as ‘second nature,’ so don’t disregard a skill because it seems too simple or elementary,” Tittle said. “It may be simple for you, but it might be extremely difficult for others, which gives you an advantage in keeping a job.”

Dress for respect

A professional image begins with appropriate grooming and classic, yet fashionable, proper fitting clothing that meets the standards for the workplace, says Eyring. She cautions women to dress conservatively, avoiding short skirts and spike heels.

Tittle also noted that employees should be mindful of their company’s policy regarding tattoos.

“Tattoos are very popular things to have nowadays, but they can be an issue,” Tittle said. “It’s important to know what your employer’s rules and regulations are about them. You might have to cover them while you’re working – it just depends on the corporate culture.”

The magic words

Pachter says that each day it’s important to arrive early or on time, and to greet each person crossing your path. “People judge the effectiveness of their managers based on if they say hello to their employees.”

She recommends a warm smile and interested expression as you greet others. She adds, “It’s easy to forget the importance of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ at work. An administrator told me that she placed precedence for completing the work of managers who used the magic words.”

Phone etiquette

The tone and manner in which you answer your phone speaks volumes about you professionally. Eyring suggests smiling before answering calls as it encourages a pleasant tone of voice, and then identifying yourself.

And speaking of phones, keep personal calls and texts to a minimum. And, pay attention to the person in front of you – not on your phone. “It’s distracting and disrespectful to surf or text during a meeting, or in the company of others,” says Pachter.


“If you wouldn’t share it in a break room or socially with colleagues, then don’t share it online,” Eyring says about social media and email postings. She counts the forwarding of inappropriate jokes, cartoons and chain letters; poor grammar, spelling and abbreviations; and typing in all caps (also known as cyber shouting) among blunders.

She firmly warns that using e-mail to resolve conflict can be deadly. “What goes online, stays online,” she admonishes. “It’s more effective to talk things over with someone, rather than resort to an e-mail with content that can easily be misconstrued without visual cues.”

Tittle also cautions workers to avoid surfing the Internet on their computers or phones while on the job.

“It’s such a temptation,” Tittle said. “It’s important employees know that good ethics on the job means you give eight hours of work for eight hours of pay – whether your employer is watching or not.”

“Can you help me, please?”

Jennifer Drueen, HR director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sympathizes with those uncertain of how to navigate codes of business conduct. While you can find good advice in books, online, and in classes, the best way to learn is to choose a role model and carefully emulate the way they behave. “It is important to carefully observe others in your organization and adjust your appearance and behavior accordingly.”

And remember that just as you are watching others, they are watching you – and helping determine your career path.

Tittle said the Career Services office offers workshops throughout the year to help resume writing, interviewing, career fair networking, soft skills, and business etiquette.

To schedule an appointment, contact the Career Services office at 423.354.5167 or

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