I don’t have the strongest memory, but those moments I do recollect have undoubtedly had a profound impact on my own values, and contribute to the makeup of my professional self. I vividly remember an interruption to a Year 5 class (ages 9-10 for the none UK folk) where the teacher scolded an unruly child with the phrase ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say…then don’t say anything at all’. Whilst it is not a phrase I can ever recall parroting to others, recently I have wondered if such a succinct but forgotten expression could be a better basis for communicating online than any others I have heard in my travels.
Etiquette, or the ‘Art of being polite’ is something I have always admired in other professionals. On reflection, I consider most, if not all my best friends and favourite business contacts to be consummately polite. I doubt it is coincidental that I also find polite people to be some of the most charismatic speakers, either in front of groups or in 1-1 engagements. Take a moment if you will, to survey the office around you, who is the most-polite person in your office? I bet they are someone you enjoy the company of, and that’s not a coincidence either.
I believe a considered reflection on etiquette is poignant as we approach 2017, and can reflect on what has been a turbulent 2016 for the polite crew. I fail to think of a year where being brash and impolite has conquered the world so outstandingly in my 31 years. This was of course, the year when President Duterte called Barack Obama a ‘son of a whore’, President-elect Trump called Mexicans ‘rapists’ and half the UK labelled the other half as ‘Remoaners’. This considered, being sensationalistic and rude can clearly win you votes on a political platform, but I would contest that it does not bring affection or trust like being polite would.
I’m not of an opinion that being polite is something that can be turned on and off like a tap, my view is that it is developed partly through your education, influencers and environments. Those that seek to put on a veil of politeness are often quickly unmasked and dealt mob justice in a 24/7 digital world. So, what communication medium would be better to look at than the social media sphere of justice keyboarders and trolls to really get under the bonnet of the United States of Etiquette.
Business has overcome their hesitations about engaging in the real-time free for all that is social media platforms, with only a minority of stubborn industries swimming against the tide. Brands understand that they need to engage for servicing reasons, and many are now benefiting from the R&D and marketing opportunities amongst others that lay before them in abundance. I followed a particularly engaging scenario on Twitter the other evening that motivated me to focus on the aspect of etiquette for this article.
UK based Just Eat, the online food order and delivery service had just pinned a tweet expressing apologies to customers experiencing an issue with their online service. Here we go I thought, as I grabbed some popcorn and prepared to tuck into the inevitable online fallout from a disgruntled and hungry mass. During the three-hour firefight (I know I should really find better hobbies), I could bracket many of the tweets being received by the brand into 3 buckets. A few were polite and enquiring, a few were rude and abusive yet the majority were initially indeterminably intentioned (try saying that after a few at your next work drinks) but were turned into polite interactions by what was a stellar effort from the Just Eat Social squad. As a veteran social media crisis manager with the scars to show, overall I was pleased to see the good old-fashioned art of being polite winning a victory here and soon the bhajis, chow meins and pepperoni feasts were being reported as received by the starving Britains.
One thing I didn’t agree with, which I’m sure is down to the brands social policy, was the requirement of the staff to respond to every, and I mean EVERY tweet at them no matter how ludicrous, incoherent or irreverent.
A feed I follow habitually is that of the company formerly known as the WWF, the WWE. Yes, the no-shirt, pants out front, soap opera of professional wrestling that involves staged beatings with baking trays, ladders and anything else in sight. It is a favourite micro-community I follow along with gamers, due to the uncompromising, often unreasonable, very rarely polite observations of their audiences. One who does not engage with these audiences regularly would assume from the vitriol carried in their hashtags that not one aspect of each show is enjoyed by the fan base who quite happily tweet this at the brand, followed by remonstrations to any disagreeable party unfortunate enough to be in the virtual vicinity.
This for me shows the paradox for etiquette in the post-social society. Those carrying these passionate opinions would never dream of saying these things to their favourite wrestler face-face, they are brand advocates no matter how unconventional their method of showing approval is. Many I’m sure are very polite individuals too IRL (in real life) even if their digital persona doesn’t substantiate this. Perhaps these communications aren’t considered impolite at all by others in the shouting debate of Twitter, just how one expresses themselves online.
I was reminded the other day of the philosophical concept of naïve realism. Haidt describes this in the Happiness Hypothesis:
‘Each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is. We further believe that the facts as we see them are there for all to see, therefore others should agree with us. If they don’t agree, it follows either that they have not yet been exposed to the relevant facts or else that they are blinded by their interests and ideologies.’
As someone who considers themselves one part realist, one part idealist this concept resonates with me. My hunch is that one is more inclined to be polite to another that sees the world similarly as opposed to one who doesn’t.
In conclusion, I think I will continue to stick to the lessons learnt in Year 5. Whilst I won’t be winning Time Person of the Year or climbing the greasy political pole anytime soon, I do feel that being polite has helped me immeasurably in my career and in my own personal relationships. Whilst some may fall into the trap of ‘things were better in my day’, I doubt civilisation on the whole is more or less polite than it has been throughout history, just that digital communication has made it possible for people to express themselves to a wider audience.
I still believe etiquette has a key part to play in gaining trust and affection in all relationships, and whilst you are out there saying your please and thank yous, there is hope for us yet.
Chris Barnard is Managing Director of FeedbackFans.com. Feedback Fans is part of a collective of global technology companies working towards a common goal of improving experiences that include: retail, leisure, finance, education, gaming and business services. By developing unique state of the art solutions and environments, and combining this with strategic execution, we ensure our clients and users prosper in the digital age.