By Michael Gunther

My recent spate of business travel has allowed me to observe Americans all across the country. Unfortunately, I have noticed a serious lack of manners: People bumping into me without saying a word, people ordering from retail or wait staff without saying please or thank you, people walking and texting with their eyes glued to their phones, people talking so loudly on their phones that everyone around them becomes a part of their conversation, kids throwing a Frisbee and hitting me in the head without any apology … the list could go on and on. When did we lose this basic human connection of being polite and/or professional?

As I contemplated this issue, I realized this phenomenon isn’t limited to face-to-face interactions. I’ve seen it throughout social media, news outlets, political campaigns, the Olympics, etc.  It made me think that leaders and organizations focused on being humble, professional, inclusive and connected with others would thrive in our current environment. Isn’t this really about respecting others as members of the human race?

This exposure to the ‘lack of manners’ epidemic led me to try an experiment over the remainder of my trip. I vowed to acknowledge and say hello to others in the elevator, those I walk by and individuals serving me. I began looking for people who were respecting and connecting with others while observing those who were not. It is amazing how people lit up when I said good morning, or when I asked  a hospitality worker how their day was going. When was the last time you thanked the person cleaning the public restroom or landscaping the grounds at your hotel?

This non-scientific experiment of mine led me to determine that the media and politicians are often lacking professionalism and manners – they’re constantly tearing down others and examining all the ways that people are breaking trust. Are we becoming so disconnected due to our smart phone technology and the bombardment of negative stories of other people? Is the lack of manners actually due to a lack of trust of others? Or does the lack of manners actually create a lack of trust of others?

I realize I might seem a little idealistic that being respectful of others and treating others as you want to be treated can change the world, but through my experiment I realized it certainly changed my world and perspective. I connected with more people on this trip from flight attendants and hospitality workers to other travelers and retail clerks. I felt more energized than I have in a long time by just showing respect for others and acknowledging them, which created a connection that so many people are craving.

As leaders, I wonder how often we forget to acknowledge people on our teams or show respect to colleagues — even in a heated debate. The way you choose to respect others within your workplace probably translates to how well your team is going to show respect to your customers, each other and your vendors. Your level of respect and professionalism will also directly relate to the level of trust and collaboration your team has toward you, I would imagine.


Bottom Line

Most people want to be treated fairly, with respect and kindness. If you are experiencing a lack of manners, respect or professionalism in your life, you have two choices: Respond in a like manner or choose to be a leader. By responding in a respectful and professional manner, you might be surprised at the results.

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