Manners and verbal etiquette for professionals
Note: In addition to these guidelines, make sure to review our
Good manners are essential to a professional
consultant, and you should choose your words carefully to avoid
offending or "shutting down" someone. This applies
in-person, at conferences, and on internet forums. If someone
Libels you, you have recourse (dueling has been outlawed), but it
is never acceptable to insult or degrade anyone. Borrowing from
Oracle Code of Conduct:
- Always treat
individuals with respect and dignity.
- Disrespectful or
disruptive behavior or any other behavior that reflects poorly
on you will not be tolerated.
Insults and cultural
According to the book
Personality Psychology (McGraw-Hill) the cultural reaction to
insulting behavior varies widely:
“In cultures of
honor, insults are viewed as highly offensive public challenges that
must be met with direct confrontation and physical aggression.”
This issue of “insults” varies by region within
the USA. North of the Mason-Dixon Line, I’ve seen people “flip-off”
others without fear of personal injury. In areas of the Southern,
Midwest and Western areas of the USA, using obscene gestures can
result in death or serious injury. To them, it’s a matter of
personal honor not to allow personal insults, while the Hispanic
concept of “Machismo” requires a person to physically defend their
sacred honor against verbal attacks.
I've noted that statements by some British
folks (e.g. "I can't believe people actually pay you money", "your
stupidity is appalling") would not be appropriate in the USA, and in
some cases, they are considered "fighting words".
I’ve heard that in the British government
(House of Lords), it’s not considered unprofessional to hurl
insults, and people in the U.K. don’t expect to be beaten-up when
they walk-up to someone and call them a “moron” to heir face. This
is not true in Texas, where a “real man” would never allow such an
insult to-your face without fisticuffs.
Many famous British leaders have a history of
insulting others, and it makes one wonder if “insulting” is more
acceptable in Great Britain than it is in the USA.
These famous insults from Sir Winston Churchill:
- And you, madam, are ugly. But in the
morning I shall be sober. (to Bessie Braddock after she
accused him of being drunk)
- Lady Nancy Astor: "Winston, if you
were my husband, I'd poison your tea."
Winston Churchill: "Nancy, if I were your husband, I'd
We also see hilarious written insults which
would be considered unprofessional in the USA, as these
extracts from British officers' annual confidential reports:
- "This officer is depriving a village
somewhere of its idiot."
- "This Officer should go far - and the
sooner he starts, the better."
- "Only occasionally wets himself under
- "He would be out of his depth in a car
- "This young man has delusions of
- "This Medical Officer has used my ship to
carry his genitals from port to port, and my officers to carry
him from bar to bar."
- "Since my last report he has reached rock
bottom, and has started to dig."
- "She sets low personal standards and then
consistently fails to achieve them."
- "I would not breed from this Officer."
For Burleson Consultants, it is never
appropriate to make any statement, verbal or written, that might be
considered offensive to any individual. A few guidelines:
When you want to say: This moron’s lack of knowledge is appalling
Instead, say: Gee, I never looked at it that way before. . .
When you want to say: I can’t believe that people really pay this jackass money for this
Instead, say: Interesting. Have you considered this approach that worked for me?.
When you want to say: This guy is so stupid I’ll bet he can’t fart and chew-gum at the
It’s not uncommon for people to misunderstand that . . .