Etiquette Never Goes Out of Style

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

It really does not matter what type of work environment you work in. A modicum of etiquette and common courtesy should be constantly exhibited and practiced. Anyone or any organization that wants to succeed in general and compete in specific markets needs to understand and follow the protocols of proper behavior.

Your superiors, colleagues, staff and outside parties will respond more positively if they believe they have been treated civilly and with respect. Reciprocal referrals and other mutual arrangements are easily carried out when both parties believe they have been properly accorded respect and courtesy. I have found that those who believe they were treated unfairly may not say anything, but they will never conduct business with the individual(s) who offended them.

And don’t think this will be a closely held secret. With the use of social media, the suffering person will share his or her travails with scores of other people in their network; this will then exponentially grow until the masses hear about it. If there is video to support the offense and you are a service provider, then you are subject to humiliation and potential loss of market share.

Think of airlines whose flight attendants have disrespected customers, the actions of which were either captured on video or audio. Or the drive-in line at a fast food establishment. Or incidents at a host of other environments. The behaviors of the bad actors will live on in perpetuity. What will be the results of public shaming, if any?

What defines good behavior or civil discourse? Well, don’t look to the Fox News Channel or the alt-right advocates as role models. An internet connection combined with a confused understanding about what constitutes acceptable comportment has created the current landscape.

The need to score points or gain immediate leverage is based on the need for instant gratification, winning a contract, expanding market share, demeaning the competition, embarrassing direct reports. But what about the long-term consequences? The effects of this type of behavior are nuanced and just fester below the radar until one day…

This is not your grandparents’ workplace. Women and minorities play a greater role in today’s workplace. So the actions that were considered acceptable in the Mad Men era are no longer tolerated today. We read frequently about the juvenile behavior in Silicon Valley and in white shoe law firms — the latter being more subtle as women who have been the real rainmakers have been compensated less than their male counterparts; the former have been victims of sexual harassment in frat-boy style. What gives?

Etiquette is not just limited to face-to-face interaction. Consider social media. The Gen Yers have grown up with social media, which while providing a 24/7 barrage of information and opinion—both good and bad—really have no understanding that the basis of positive human relations is based on etiquette (and thoughtfulness) not on the speed of response. Anonymous rantings and put-downs on social media does not position you as a moral compass or the voice of reason.

Tip: When in doubt, take the high road even if you feel it puts you at a disadvantage (albeit temporarily). Think about how to put others at ease even though you have a larger motive tugging at you. Proper etiquette does not mean that you automatically put yourself at a disadvantage from which you cannot recover. You can still remain firm, negotiate firmly, get your point made (and understood), and protect your rights.

It is when you prevent others from having the same opportunity that you have created a lose-lose situation for yourself.
About Steve
Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at