Today, the status quo is that we live in the Age of Rudeness. The popular opinion about manners is that they are genuinely nice, but generally useless today, an anachronism not suitable for the pace of current life style. Nowadays, the basic norms of etiquette and good manners are being forgotten. More and more people seem to forget what good manners mean and why they are important. It is becoming more common not to hear words of acknowledgement, greeting, gratitude, and appreciation from people at all levels and in all circumstances. More often people and corporations put their interests over those of others, they undercut, intercept and interrupt each other without any reservations and considerations. This decay of manners is stemming primarily from our way of life, and it is negatively affecting humanity and businesses alike. This paper attempts to highlight the importance of good manners by examining what attributes of our culture led to such a status quo, and how the decay of manners affects society and businesses.
The status quo results from the contemporary culture, way of life, and common perceptions and attitudes. Globalization and expansion of western capitalism stimulated wider spread and acceptance of the ideas of individualism and Social Darwinism. As individualistic views were advancing they affected the overall culture and stimulated growth of self-centeredness of persons. As it has been identified, starting from 1970-s rapid social changes stimulated a transformation of people’s self-identification from institutional roles they played to characteristic ways of feeling and acting. People started to focus more on their own interests, and they became less considered of other people with their interests, needs and opinions. Consequently, increasingly self-centered people started to feel lesser need to uphold the norms of good manners and these norms started to decline.
Furthermore, perception of the importance of good manners in society was also negatively affected by higher general acceptance of Social Darwinism’s ideas and the concept of survival of the fittest. The ideas of Social Darwinism were used to justify tracing all failures to character flaws, and tagging all people who “did not make it” as losers free-raiding on those who possess the qualities and will to win. Thus, driven to outsmart, outperform and outrun the others and survive as the “fittest”, people accepted the belief that boldness and aggressiveness, and not politeness and gentleness bring real success. As a result, politeness started to be perceived as weakness and a character flaw that ought to be overcome, while rudeness eventually became a sign of superiority and a mark of higher social status.
Also, the status quo has been highly affected by the present media and entertainment. Interestingly, the relationship between media and entertainment and the overall decline of good manners in the society can be characterized as a self-fulfilling prophesy. As a rule articulated by Culpeper, pretentiously rude and impolite behavior may often be considered more entertaining than naturally polite and well-mannered. The trend emerged when impoliteness was not yet a norm or a standard of behavior. As it is in the nature of people to get amused by abnormalities and rarities, pretentious impoliteness and rudeness was highly entertaining and consequently widely provided for the audience. Popular TV shows and movies with main characters very often being politically and otherwise incorrect and impolite serve well to illustrate the trend. The audience, especially children, watching these shows and movies, subconsciously accepted impoliteness as a norm of behavior and brought it into the real life making it a de facto norm and fulfilling the prophesy.
In addition, the overall level of culture has been affected by the decreasing amount of time many parents have with their children. Good manners are not regularly taught in school. It is a general truth that home is the place where children learn good manners, with parents being the teachers. However, recent studies showed that since 1975 parent-child time has decreased by approximately forty percent. The trend is primarily attributed to increasing costs of living along with growing feminism. In most families nowadays both patents are working full-time jobs in order to be able to support the family, or out of a desire to pursue a fulfilling career. Also, the number of single-parent families has been increasing, with these parents often struggling to survive and not having any time for children. As a result, children are not being as closely attended as in the past and consequently stay uneducated in aspects not covered in school, such as precisely good manners and etiquette.
Thus, the current culture, formed under influences of growing capitalism and related individualism, negatively affected the degree of good manners being exercised in the society. But does degradation of good manners actually affect the society and business? The answer is “yes”, and in the following paragraphs will explain how and why.
Manners affect the society through morals. Manners and morals are generally erroneously perceived as distinct from one another. Morality is considered to be a natural expression of a person’s character, while manners are perceived to be an artificial layer covering, and sometimes disguising, the real personality. Examples supporting the claim may come from everyday experience, when least mannered people often turn out to be the most moral and vice versa. However, this differentiation of manners from morals is an assumption accepted without being thoroughly examined. In fact, while critically examining the assumption, G. Johnston showed that actually “all manners are morals, but not all morals are manners” and that “manners constitute a special department of morals”. People are not altogether bad or good. Diverse and different experiences and circumstances make people good in some departments of morality while bad in others. However, simplifying the process of judgment, people see each other as generally “good” or “bad” basing their conclusions on just a few departments in which the person is actually “good” or “bad”. The fallacy here is that this sort of simplification results in some departments of morality being excluded from the realm of morality at all. The accurate conclusion should be that a person is “good” in some departments of morality, while “bad” in others. Consequently, according to Johnston, “it is illogical to state that because a man may be good in some particular department of morality without being good so far as manners go, therefore manners cannot from a part of morals”. In other words, there are many departments of morality within the overall realm of morality with manners being one of such departments and, therefore, manners cannot be excluded from morality. Thus, violation of the rules of good manners in a society is a direct wrongdoing against the society’s morality. Logically, as the decay of manners leads to a decay of morals, the overall general decay of manners negatively affects the society.
Besides the society, good manners also affect businesses. General decline in exercising good manners and rules of etiquette by economic entities and their employees predictably results in worse business. According to a recent report, “when they encounter rudeness, 58 percent of the people surveyed said they will take their business elsewhere”. Vice versa, when businesses stress the importance of good manners to employees and follow them themselves, revenues flourish. The relationship between manners and revenues is the most straightforward in the downstream activities of the value chain, namely Service and Sales and Marketing. Undoubtedly, polite and well-mannered sales people and service providers are more pleasant to deal with. It is particularly true for the first company-customer encounter, since the first impression is the lasting one. Having encountered good service, customers enjoy doing business with the particular company and are willing to come back. However, the benefits of good manners express themselves not only directly in revenues figures from particular customers. Not only do satisfied customers bring repeated business to the company, but they also represent a valuable marketing resource for the company by sharing their experiences, and thus advertising the company to their peers. Hence, nowadays, as the president of Eticon Inc. consulting company Ann Humphries rightly put it: “Rude behavior ruins business…Good manners and civility is not a `soft skill’ relegated to the `nice but not necessary’ category, but rather it becomes a fundamental strategy in a business’s ability to perform, compete and profit”.
The effect of good manners on businesses is not limited to customer service only. By a broad, definition, it could be stated that exercising good manners means caring about other people. Consequently, another way for companies to show their good manners and gain benefit from it is to show that they do, actually, care about people, even if they may seem not related to them directly. If businesses, however, do not agree with such a statement and do not act in accordance with it, they may well suffer negative consequences. Nike Co. learned such a lesson the hard way. In 1980s Nike’s outsourcing practice started to be widely criticized by general public and media. Nike’s subcontractors in South-Eastern Asia were running sweatshops marked by extremely poor working conditions, safety and hygiene norms, worker abuse, below-subsistence wages and child labor. Customers were becoming highly concerned with the working conditions in which factories’ employees were manufacturing Nike products, and first cases on Nike products’ boycotts appeared. How did Nike respond? The company rudely and disrespectfully stated that its suppliers’ and subcontractors’ factories are out of their concern and responsibility. In other words, Nike did not express good manners in the broader definition of the term; the company did not present itself as a well-mannered company caring about the others. In response to such impoliteness, in 1998 public outcry against the company’s outsourcing practice and the company itself caused revenues to drop dramatically and the company to suffer considerable losses. Nike learned the lesson. The company’s management publicly apologized; the company admitted its responsibility and started actively showing that it cares about people. Revenues recovered. This is just one example of how good manners, or sympathy to other people, may help businesses, or at least not harm them.
Good manners, or lack of them, may also affect businesses indirectly in other ways besides services, sales and marketing. An anecdote told by Corby O’Connor, founder of an Essex Fells consulting company, serves well to illustrate one the possible ways. According to O’Connor, a business owner was working on a deal with an investment banking house. Negotiations went well and the deal was about to be finalized. During one of the final restaurant meetings, the business owner happened to pick up food with his fingers, instead of using a fork, and exacerbated his mistake by licking his fingers clean. The investment bankers were so highly repelled by such behavior that the called the deal off. Thus, manners outside of direct businesses’ operations affect businesses as well as within value adding operations. Indeed, as it is commonly said, good manners mean good business.
Thus, the present status quo is that we live in the Age of Rudeness which we ourselves created. Natural social changes altered our culture, way of life and perceptions, and squeezed good manners out. In the present world of capitalism and individualism, under constant media pressure, good manners, respect to others and selflessness lost their popular appeal and are considered to be anachronisms. The tendency does not seem to be changing as each new generation does not receive proper good manners education at home. Many people believe that there is no problem in such a tendency. Their claim is that manners are different from morals. However, as it has been shown, manners are an important part of morals. Thus, degradation of manners leads a degradation of morals. And this is inarguably a negative tendency. Moreover, a decay of manners may also negatively affect businesses in many ways, directly and indirectly. Thus, the importance of good manners should not be underestimated, as the perspectives stemming from the status quo are not bright and promising neither for the society nor for businesses and, therefore, the status quo is ought to be changed.