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While traveling in Kenya, I had the pleasure of being invited into two schools: St. Christopher’s School and Hanne Hobackpack experienceward Fund community school. St. Christopher’s is a private school located on a plush estate in the wealthier part of Nairobi, a suburb called Karen. The Hanne Howard-funded community school is also located in Karen, but on the outskirts of the Lenana Slum. St. Christopher’s was started by a Kenyan women name Leah Ngini. Leah has always been an educator and created this school to promote girls education in the presence of boys.  The Hanne Howard fund school was developed by a German and Canadian couple to assist with nourishing the mind, body and soul of orphaned and underprivileged children.  These two schools appeal to two different social-economic groups, two different life circumstances and two different environments, but what they both have in common is the importance of manners in order to be successful.

I often wonder how as adults we know it is so important to instill manners into our children, but we so often forget to practice what we preach.

This blog is not to educate anyone on manners, but to remind us what our mama taught us. Listed below are top ten manner reminders that are often not observed regularly enough in business. Reflect on these childhood rules, and think about how many you might have accidentally broken recently (I counted 3 for myself).



briefcase expertise10. Our mother always said to say thank you to anyone who helps us or gives us something.  ‘Thanks you’, is so simply done, but so often forgotten. I have observed, and heard that employees often don’t thank their bosses when taking them out for lunch. It is almost like it is expected. A little more appreciation and a little less expectation will bode well when you want something, like a raise. We would remember to thank a client if they took us out for lunch, so why would we forget when our boss, who also impacts our future, foots the bill?

9.  You may remember being dragged across the schoolyard by your Mama to apologize for hitting little Billy. You stood there until you muttered the words “I am sorry.” How about trying a form of an apology when you make a mistake at work. This is a new trend that I have stumbled upon. Someone makes an error, sometimes costing the company money, sometimes a lot of money, and there is no acceptance of an employee’s role in the situation. If you are a contributor to a mistake, take ownership! It will gain you more respect than avoidance.

8. When we were kids, while at a restaurant our mama’s often gave us something to colour to distract us. This is a lesson we have retained, in our adult life.  We continue to have a distraction now in the form of a cell phone on the table. The reality is she gave it to us so she could focus on her conversation. Remove your cell phone from the table during a dining experience, unless you have told your dining companion you’re expecting a call.  I am being very forgiving here; as I believe your phone should never be on the table while socializing or conducting a meeting it can subconsciously imply someone is more important than your dining companion. Now that may be the case, but do really want to remind them of that through out the entire meal?

7.  When our mama told us to ‘sit down’ when in a restaurant, it was with the intention not to disturb others. This also applies with turning your cell phone off for the benefit of the person you are sitting across from and everyone else in the restaurant. People often go out to dinner to get away from the phone. Even in this world where technological communication is everywhere, some of us just want to communicate with the people around us.

6. Do you remember when Mama said, “Say hello to adult or a child when you walk in the room?” Well this also applies when you write an email.  To get the attention of the reader and more importantly, to set the tone of the email use a salutation – It is arrogant of us to think that someone is just waiting to hear from us, and as a result we set up an email as if we are in a conversation. The consequences are that we often sound abrasive rather then conversational. And a bonus tip: If you and the sender of the original email don’t know each other well then attach the email thread, it will jog their memory. Bonus reminder, still say hello to individuals when you walk into the room.

5. We have all heard this one, “don’t talk with your mouth full”. Not only will we see what is in your mouth, but also we won’t understand you. The same applies when getting the attention of someone in business, use their name or if you don’t know it, use Mama’s ever-popular phrase, “Excuse me.” – Two words that are void in the busy businesspersons life. Gaining the attention of the person you are communicating to prior to commencing conversation will promote an active listener and possibly a desired action. If they are not ready for the message, they may not be responsible for acting on it.

4. This one is still ringing in my ear, ‘respond when someone is speaking to you.’ This can refer to returning phone call when someone is trying to speak to you. Ok, so how many calls do you get? We can become overwhelmed with returning calls, but it does say a lot about someone who takes the time. If you want to set yourself apart, return calls. You never know when that person may be your client.

3. “Hold the door for elders.” Hold the door open for everyone! Now somewhere along the way this piece of etiquette went by the wayside. Perhaps one too many women may have said they can open a door for themselves. That being said, open the door for anyone, male, female, it is just common courtesy to be respectful. Challenge, next time you are in an elevator, hold it and let people go first, you just may make their day!

2. Mama’s favourite word, not ‘no’ but ‘please.’ Yes, even if you are in a management position. If you demonstrate respect for your employees, it is amazing the respect they will give you in turn. Besides, without this proper courtesy you may sound demanding and breed resentment.

1.  I am sure you remember this manner mandate “Look at someone when they are speaking to you.” By looking at someone, you should also be listening when someone is speaking to you. Really listen – don’t be on your computer, or distracted with your Blackberry. Give the person your undivided attention. If culturally appropriate, look them in the eye. It will pay dividends for years to come.

Excuse me, I am sorry if I was too straight forward, but I wanted to impart some of what our Mama’s have wanted to continue to tell us all our lives, if you please. But if they did, we would not listen, therefore I thank you for allowing me to remind you that in business, in society, and in government, like in schools, is a place where we could use some manners. Without them, we are affecting our emotional relationships, which can jeopardize colleague co-operation, increased sales, and job promotions.

I welcome you to comment, and add to the list manners you would like to see using more of in business. I also challenge you to go back to basics and not only listening to what mama said, but also applying it, it will make the difference in who follows us, who works with us and who promotes us.

Action: Take note of yourself over the next week. Notice how many times you forget your manners, and fail to promote positive impact as a result. Then next week, change it.


Bonus Manner Mandate: Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking, no matter how tempting it is.

Visit our other Ignite Excellence Group of initiatives’ websites with corresponding blogs.

Suzanne F Stevens – Profiling women leaders who have pushed their edge to personal or professional potential from backpack to briefcase to boardroom
Ignite Excellence Foundation – Leadership, Advocacy, Education – following donations to scholarships for women in developing countries
Wisdom Exchange TV – A forum where women will be inspired from the achievements of African women in business, education, philanthropy and politics.
You Me & We – a husbands and wife’s journey through Africa in 2011/12
Ignite Excellence Inc. – Influence, Differentiate, Engage more people and more business – a training & development company

Originally posted on Ignite Excellence by Ignite Excellence.