The New Rules Of Modern Manners

In my last post, I (plus my colleague Sue and, subsequently, numerous readers) decried the decline in basic courtesy in business life. That some people felt saying “Thank you” is a burden on their and others’ time was a new concept to me.

I was interested then in an article from The Times magazine which said, “The book on modern manners, of what is rude and what isn’t, is due for a major overhaul to bring standards in line. So much has changed so fast, we’re struggling to keep up. The fact is that a lot of the things we used to think of as bad manners are no longer rude and, equally, other rudenesses have arrived on the scene to make up for the shortfall.”

So in the interest of open-mindedness and sharing the debate, I figured I’d set out half a dozen examples the magazine had to offer, along with my thoughts on each. (I’m sure you’ll have your own views, which is exactly what the comment box at the end is for.)


Ditching thank you letters

The Times says: It’s lovely to receive a proper thank-you letter, but a heartfelt text or email is just as good, especially from the generation that can’t hold a pen.

I say: I’ll take an email or text thank you over no thank you at all. But if you really want to show your appreciation – and stand out from the crowd for a personal brand based on courtesy – take it up a notch with a letter or, if warranted, a gift.

Commenting on people’s appearance

The Times says: We are all fashion aficionados now, so it’s OK to constructively criticise, as in, “You should try wearing that skirt with something tucked in. And maybe not with something mustard.”

I say: To paraphrase Audrey Hepburn: you tell more about a person by what they say about others than what others say about them. To keep perceptions of your brand positive, try and find something to compliment rather than criticise; unless you’re specifically asked your honest opinion, in which case give it constructively. (“Yes your bum does look big in that, but I think it’s a fabulous bum so why hide it?)


The Times says: Your basic entry-level swearing no longer even counts as swearing. Even the c-word has lost its power to shock.

I say: In Personal Branding For Brits I’ve openly stated my position on swearing: I’m someone who does it and, in my experience, plenty of others do too. But I make an effort to match my choice of words to my audience, saving my fruitiest language for those who set the tone with some effing and jeffing of their own. That said, I’d never use the ‘C U Next Tuesday’ phrase (as my old boss called it) in business…and nor should you if you want to keep your brand intact.


Smartphone rudery

The Times says: How long have you got? Texting while supposedly having a conversation. Other people googling information when you’re attempting to use your memory. Not answering texts…for days. The list is endless.

I say: Ah…well, you see…I’m guilty as charged on one of those counts (the googling to find an answer when someone’s trawling their grey cells). In my defence though, it’s only my other half who suffers. When I’m with clients, my phone stays firmly in my bag – and I suggest yours does too if you don’t want to appear rude.

Travel loutishness

The Times says: Headphones noise. Manspreading. On-the-move eating of smelly food.

I say: May I add putting feet on the seats and hogging space with your bags when it’s busy to that list? I travel a lot, so encounter loads of this type of loutishness (though, oddly, the smelly food doesn’t bother me).

I feel so strongly that it’s rude, while everyone tuts under their breath, I’ll be the one saying, “Would you mind turning your music down please?” or “Would you move your bags please so I can sit there?” (I can’t deny it…I’ve turned into my mother.) On the odd occasion I’ve had an aggressive reply, but usually the person knows they’re being rude and quickly toes the line. You say a lot about your brand when you stand up for what you believe in.


The Times says: Let’s meet (on my terms). Which pretty much amounts to, if nothing better comes up, and I am in the mood. I’ll let you know on the day.

I say: I’ve found that MOMT in business life is more a case of people cancelling meetings at the last minute (by not turning up), not responding to your messages unless you chase them (so you look like the bad guy for nagging) and then being the epitome of urgency when their deadline is looming (as opposed to yours, which is obviously unimportant). If I’ve just described your behaviour, you may want to consider what it’s doing to your personal brand.

So there you have it: some new rules for modern manners. Want to add some of your own to the mix? Or feel that these don’t cut the mustard? Let me know what you think with a comment below – I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

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