Do we still need etiquette?

I was invited to be on The Boss Show to talk about the five workplace etiquette no nos that can derail your career. The fun hosts, Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko, and I had a delightful time discussing the no nos and teasing each other. Steve opened the interview by asking me if etiquette really mattered any longer.

As I pointed out to Steve and Jim, we are a world governed by rules and guidelines. There are rules of the road, rules for commerce, rules for teachers, etc. Etiquette is rules and guidelines for how we should behave and treat others.

As children we learn how to line up and wait our turn. Imagine the mayhem that would ensue if we decided to push ahead of others standing in line. We need rules to keep us in line, so to speak.

When I worked for Washington Mutual, one of the events I was part of was a walk that honored teachers. At the end of the walk the teachers were treated to a concert. I was staffing a booth at the concert where we passed out promotional items as gifts for the teachers – a lap blanket, a neck pillow and other small items.

Because the booth was accessed from all sides and there were no clear places to line up, the teachers started to surround and swarm the booth. We were handing out items right and left with no order as people yelled at us to make sure we saw them and gave them the gifts. It didn’t take long before the teachers were literally on the verge of rioting. My coworkers and I feared for our safety until finally security came and shut the booth down.

Requiring people to line up would have prevented the near riot conditions. The teachers also forgot to be respectful, patient and grateful instead of being demanding, angry fools.

When we don’t follow etiquette or don’t know the rules chaos ensues like it did at the WaMu booth.

The rules of etiquette morph as our society changes and roles evolve. For instance, one of my old etiquette books included information on how bosses should address their secretaries – usually by their last name as in “Miss Smith”. Also, when the book was published in the 1970s, women rarely shook hands, especially with other women. But now because the workforce is made up of more than 50% women, women shake hands with each other and with men. Bosses address their female or male executive assistants by their first name. Rules have evolved to cover our changing culture.

So, does etiquette still matter? Of course it does. Etiquette not only helps you to know how to approach various situations, such as how to navigate a crowded place setting, but also how to treat others, whether they’re your coworkers, friends, clients or strangers handing out free gifts.

Do you think we still need etiquette? Are there etiquette rules you think are outdated or missing or that people seem to ignore?




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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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