10 Ways To Be Courteous At Work – A Powerful Leadership Trait

Nowhere is the power of courtesy more understated than in the business world! Yet, a little courtesy can go a long way in enabling your leadership effectiveness. In the pressures of corporate workplace, you can dispense with courtesy but you cannot do away with its consequences.

Oxford dictionary defines courtesy as ‘the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behaviour towards others.’

The strange thing is – in social interactions people extend courtesy to total strangers they may never meet again but somehow they dispense with it in workplaces.

So why is courtesy so important at the workplace?

Courtesy Is A Great Enabler For Building Relationships

The power of relationships cannot be emphasised enough. Have you considered what is the first thing you do for people who are important to you?  You go out of your way to be courteous and nice to them. You become a good listener if you are not already one, are attentive to their needs and make them feel good about meeting you. And, you do all of this while ensuring that their work gets done on priority.

When you deliver value to a client or customer in a business interaction and you do this in a courteous manner, you have an added impact. The result is that the client enjoys doing business with you and rewards you with his or her business, building loyalty.

Courtesy Differentiates You

Today’s world is all about differentiation. For any product or service that you can think of, there will be hundreds and perhaps thousands of business entities that sell/provide it. In the world of standardisation, most products offer similar features within their price range. This is where a brand identity brings in differentiation.

At the workplace too, other things being the same, being courteous differentiates you. It sets you apart and often brings you more opportunities, simply because people want to work with you.  As a leader, you will be seen as a caring and effective leader. Your career will also benefit from this.

You Only Get One Chance To Make Your First Impression

In the business world, what you see can go a long way in determining who you do business with. When people meet you for the first time, apart from your appearance they also take note of your behaviour and manners. This is an impression that stays with them for a long time. Think of the difference in perception when you meet a person who gets up from his chair and extends his hand with a smile, greeting you by your name.

You have another scenario when you walk into a person’s office and he barely looks at you, gestures for you to be seated while he continues with his work, making you wait.

The point is you don’t always know in advance how important a person can be for your business. If you are in the habit of dispensing with courtesies and behaving brusquely, you could kill opportunities before they even come to you.

So, how can you be more courteous at your workplace?

1.  Make Courtesy A Habit

Some of my most important breakthroughs on deals have come from relatively junior people in client organisations who I had been very courteous with. Quite often these were people whose opinion mattered in getting us the deal although we were not even aware of it.

You can never say who is really important for your career with certainty.  People who are senior to you and who determine your future would certainly be important but sometimes being rude to someone you thought was not important, can cost you.

The best thing to do is to be courteous to anyone you meet and make that a part of your personality.  When you do this, courtesy becomes a habit and you become a better leader.  In addition, your rising career graph will also reflect this.

2. Get To Know People Better

Start with getting to know people who work with you or with whom you have interactions at your workplace. By getting to know that person, I don’t mean knowing his or her name and designation.  Instead, it means knowing more about him or her as a person.  Things like – what is important to that person, what does that person value in his or her life, what is that person’s achievement, what does his or her family comprise and so on.

You don’t need to find out all that is to know about a person in your very first meeting. But when you interact at a deeper level at every available opportunity, you will find the relationship also deepening.

The real test of courtesy is when you are courteous to people you think you don’t need to be. How you speak to your team members, your support staff, people whom you control can say a lot about you.

Make sure what your behaviour says about you, is what you want to hear yourself. Aligning your behaviour with effective leadership behaviour can do wonders for your career!

3.  Treat People They Way You Would Like To Be Treated

How do you feel when someone shouts at you?  How do you feel when you are criticised in front of other people who know you?  Surely it won’t make you happy. Then how could anyone else will be happy with you if you demonstrate this very behaviour?

If you start treating people the way you would like to be treated, you will see a distinct change in their behaviour towards you and how they relate to you. The relationships you build will also boost your career prospects significantly.

4.  Address People By Their Names

If someone sends you a photograph of a group of people taken with you, whose picture do you search for first? Yours obviously! It is not by accident that the single most used word in the English language in all communication is ‘I’.

Addressing people by their names is like paying them a compliment. It tells them that they are important to you. In the American culture, it is quite normal to address anyone by their first name regardless of their seniority in an organisation. However, in some cultures as in India, addressing people by their first name, may not be welcomed by everyone. In such cases, you can still add a title to their name if you want to make it formal.

5.  Introduce Your Team When They Accompany You To Meetings

When your team members accompany you for meetings, make it a point to introduce your team members even if you are the only one speaking in that meeting. Quite often it is the senior – most person who hogs all the limelight and you come away from some meetings without even knowing who the other participants were.

6.  Know Whats Important To Every Single Member Of Your Team

When you take the trouble of knowing your team members well, you build a great team. When you go past formal interactions and find out what really interests your team member or what he or she is really good at outside of work you build more lasting relationships. It also allows you as a leader to motivate them really well.

One of my bosses would take the trouble of introducing every single team member in corporate gatherings and when he did that he would have something personal to say about each one of them. The kind of loyalty he inspired, had to be seen to be believed!

7.  Listen More Than You Speak

Sometimes, the higher people rise in an organisation hierarchy the more they tend to speak and less they tend to listen. While it is true that a lot of people want to hear what you have to say when you are in a position of power and authority, the fact is they also want you to listen to what they have to say, which is most cases goes unheard.

When you as a leader allow others to also share their views with you, you not only understand them and their needs better but are also become a leader who cares for other people. In doing so you also attract more opportunities.

8.  Your Emails Don’t Have To Be Brusque

If you are caught up in a lot of work in the middle of high-pressure deadlines and you are flooded by emails then perhaps it is understandable when you write cryptic emails. However, you cannot always be in that state. As a leader, when you are not in such a state, do take the trouble of writing courteous mails, more so to people with whom you can afford to dispense with courtesies. You will find that behaviour at the leadership level often sets the tone for similar behaviour down the line.

9.  If You Have To Criticise Someone, Do It In Private

As a leader, you have the power to evaluate other people’s performance and also criticise them for poor or unacceptable performance. But, when you get down to doing this, try and do it one-on-one where your criticism is not seen and heard by a whole lot of other people. By doing this, your message becomes more focused and the person you criticise also appreciates your discretion and is, therefore, more receptive to what you have to say.

I have come across people in companies who would criticise their team members in front of everyone else for the smallest of mistakes. If you do something like this, you are not really building teams or nurturing team spirit.

10. Appreciate People In Public

One of the deepest cravings that people have, is to be appreciated. The finest of leaders that I have worked with, would never let an opportunity to appreciate their team, go by. Whenever you appreciate people try and do it when they are with people who matter to them. By doing so, you raise them in the eyes of their peers and they will not only appreciate your gesture but your gesture will also go a long way in building team spirit.

Remember, a little courtesy goes a long way in the corporate world!




About the Author:

Srinivasan is an independent consultant working in the area of strategy and technology interventions in the public sector domain. He has worked in companies like IBM and TCS and has over 30 years of experience spanning 24 countries.

Srinivasan R

Management Consultant at Independent Consultant