Mind Your P’s and Q’s

The ABC’s of Professionalism

There are several stories about how the English expression, “mind your P’s and Q’s” came to be. One such theory says that 17th Century barkeepers kept track of their patrons’ consumption and would instruct them to “mind their pints and quarts.” Centuries later my Grandma used the same expression with her young grandchildren. It never dawned on me that she was concerned about my drinking habits. From the perspective of a six-year old, I assumed she was talking about my manners.

It’s a curious thing that we have so many words for this antiquated expression.  Thankfully we’re still concerned about subject, whatever one chooses to call it.

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.” — Emily Post (1872-1960)

Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.” — Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

“Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.” — Emily Post (1872-1960)

“Life is not so short but that there is always time for courtesy — Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Civility costs nothing and buys everything.” — Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)

“Without an acquaintance with the rules of propriety, it is impossible for the character to be established.” — Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC), The Confucian Analects

“Observe decorum, and it will open a path to morality.” — Mason Cooley (1927-2002)

The fact that mankind has adopted codes of behavior has been constant throughout recorded history. What have changed are the specific rules and their relative importance. The character of George Washington was strongly influenced by “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” Here are a few samples:

#15 — Keep your nails clean and short, also your hands and teeth clean yet without showing any great concern for them.

#19 — Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.

#22 — Shew not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

#108 — When you speak of God, or His attributes, let it be seriously and with reverence. Honor and obey your natural parents although they be poor.

#110 — Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

— Catherine Millard, “Rewriting of America’s History” pp.59-60

Those with adult children know first-hand how technology and generational attitudes affect changes in the current code. Certain “P’s and Q’s” of one generation might be “don’t know and don’t care” to a younger demographic. They are busy with other priorities. I don’t have access to President Washington’s entire list, but it’s a certain bet that it does not include the proper way to “de-friend” someone from one’s cellular favorites.

Cell phones and email are among the top disruptive technologies of the last 15 years. Appropriate behaviors are still being defined and learned.  For fun, I visited some Web sites that addressed cell phone etiquette of which I chose five for comparison. The authors agreed that ringers should be off in places like theaters, cell phones and driving don’t mix, and talking louder on a cell phone is unnecessary and rude. Four of the five complained about personalized ring tones. After that, they were all over the map, indicating we don’t yet have a common baseline for cell phone etiquette.

One way to learn about manners is to Google “pet peeves”. There are pet peeve lists about cell phone usage, driving, recruiting, baseball, the workplace, the bathroom, and even pet pet peeves. Those gripes which enough people share will eventually spawn new or revised rules of etiquette.  However, these lists also contain some pretty petty pet peeves. (Maybe alliteration is on yours.)

Bad manners (good manners, too) affect everyone.

“Whoever one is, and wherever one is, one is always in the wrong if one is rude.” — Maurice Baring (1874–1945)

Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are.” — Author Unknown

There’s an interesting three-way relationship among respect, manners, and morals in the following quotation:

“To have respect for ourselves guides our morals; and to have a deference for others governs our manners.” — Lawrence Sterne (1713-1768)

The subtle but important meaning is an inferred relationship between morals and manners. Without this connection, manners would merely be arbitrary conventions. Good manners come in two forms: acts of kindness and omissions of kindness (things one refrains from doing or saying.) In most cases these are small, simple matters requiring little knowledge and effort.

“Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

“Good manners: The noise you don’t make when you’re eating soup.” — Bennett Cerf (1898-1971)

Like all character issues, minding one’s P’s and Q’s produces tangible social and professional benefits.  In fact, the return often far exceeds the investment.

“Politeness and consideration for others is like investing pennies and getting dollars back.” — Thomas Sowell (1930- ), Creators Syndicate

“Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.” — Clarence Thomas (1948- )

“Outcomes rarely turn on grand gestures or the art of the deal, but on whether you’ve sent someone a thank-you note.” — Bernie Brillstein (1931-2008), “The Little Stuff Matters Most”

P’s and Q’s can help produce “peace and quiet” in a fast-paced, stressful world for you and those whom you meet.

“Good manners and soft words have brought many a difficult thing to pass.” — Sir John Vanbrugh (1664?-1726)

God bless,

— CC

[ O=Optimism | Index | R=Responsibility ]

© Copyright November 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
Read more “Clancy’s Quotes” at: ClancyCross.WordPress.com

Your Netiquette is Showing

The ABC’s of Professionalism

The Internet is the ultimate tool for inexpensive, rapid and optionally anonymous communication.  With unlimited venues for expressing opinions and conducting transactions, the Internet perfectly represents the ideals of democracy and the free market.

“Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” -– Winston Churchill

The best thing about the Internet is that it makes everyone a publisher. The worst thing about the Internet is that it makes everyone a publisher.” — Unknown

The nature of the Internet puts one’s character to the test.  Without the constraints of accountability (that comes from visibility) and self-control, there is little else standing in the way of verbal anarchy.  If you are a blogger, you’ve certainly seen the sordid underbelly of the Internet.

When human nature and technology team up, the potential for “mischief” is astonishing.

“Bad news travels fast.” — American Proverb

“Bad news is more readily believed than good news.” — Saying

“To err is human. To really foul things up requires a computer.” — Unknown

“Statistics, extrapolations and counting by Radicati Group from August 2008 estimate the number of emails sent per day (in 2008) to be around 210 billion. — About.com <http://email.about.com/od/emailtrivia/f/emails_per_day.htm&gt;

Stir all of this together and it is imaginable that anyone could be one click away from causing international havoc.  Okay, maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic.  But, it’s certainly possible to create a lot of trouble with a few words and a couple of clicks.  Just ask the folks at Snopes.com.

Solutions to this problem must include a code of acceptable behavior.  Today, that code is called Internet etiquette or “Netiquette.” Although the rules continue to change, they are still a useful baseline for measuring Internet professionalism.  I’d like to introduce five principles that lay a foundation for Internet etiquette.

Principle #1 – Netiquette is for Everyone

Network etiquette, like professionalism, does not come equipped with an on/off switch.  When people strive toward professionalism, their actions (including online behavior) must always be consistent with their principles.

“Don’t reserve your best behavior for special occasions. You can’t have two sets of manners, two social codes – one for those you admire and want to impress, another for those whom you consider unimportant. You must be the same to all people.” — Lillian Eichler Watson

As a professional, people will be watching you and following your lead.  You have the power to influence the culture of the Internet with each email you send and each blog comment you post.

Principle #2 – Accuracy Matters

When comparing a traditional letter with email, it’s reasonable to expect some stylistic differences.  However, grammar and spelling are not matters of style.  Unfortunately, the trend in digital communications seems to be toward compromising quality by bludgeoning our language.  However, let’s not blame the technology.  There is nothing inherent in email that grants permission to ignore good grammar and accurate spelling.  What has actually happened is that the proliferation of email users has simply revealed how woefully unprepared many people are to write in a professional manner.  Before email, some people avoided the issue by not writing — others delegated the responsibility to a secretary.  Today, most people compose and send their own email and they’re sending lots of it.

“We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.” — Robert Wilensky, speech at a 1996 conference

The quality of your writing reflects your professional image.  If you don’t want to look like a monkey, use good grammar and spelling.

Principle #3 – Plagiarism is Always Wrong

Replicating things found on the Internet is so easy that the temptation to steal can be overwhelming.  Plagiarism has always been wrong and digital technology does not change that moral principle. A professional respects the intellectual property of another and acts accordingly.

“I think almost every newspaper in the United States has lost circulation due to the Internet. I also think the Internet will lead to a lot of plagiarism in journalism.” — Will McDonough

Take a few minutes to review the U.S. Copyright Law with special focus on the “Fair Use” provision.  Then, check out the other two resources given below:

Principle #4 – Privacy and Security Are Important

As expected, Congress, Federal regulators and the courts are all over this issue.  John Perry Barlow wrote “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” presumably in response to overzealous and heavy handed governments.

“Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonwealth, our governance will emerge.” — John Perry Barlow, Excerpt from: “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”

While we wait for the legal issues get sorted out, netiquette offers some simple individual actions that can help protect your own privacy and the privacy of others.  Here’s an example.  When sending email to a large list or a list of people who have no relationship with one another use “Bcc.”  Instead of using the “To” and “Cc” spaces where the addresses are visible to all recipients, place the email addresses in the “Bcc” space, as shown in Figure 1 below.


Figure 1. Email Address Privacy Using Bcc

Principle #5 – Practice the Golden Rule

Behavior in the virtual world should reflect the same common courtesies a professional uses in real life.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” — Bible, Matthew 7:12

Specifically, this means to be polite, truthful, kind, even-tempered, thoughtful, accurate and forgiving.  Not much else needs to be said.


There is considerable chaos on the Internet.  Professionals need to step up and be part of the solution.  To learn the specifics of netiquette, visit the following sites once a week until the rules become automatic.

God bless,

— CC

[ M=Mistakes | Index | O=Optimism ]

© Copyright November 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
Read more “Clancy’s Quotes” at: ClancyCross.WordPress.com

Professional Behavior

[ A=Attitude | Index | C=Conversation ]

Series: The ABC’s of Professionalism

Professionalism requires the development of both professional attitudes and behaviors. The starting point really doesn’t matter as long as the professional development program includes both aspects. You aren’t a professional unless you both think AND act like one.

Professional behavior is the sum of lots of little simple acts. The role of parents and teachers is to get children started with some of the basics. Hopefully the purpose of their behavior training is not just to keep the kids quiet, but to establish a baseline and a growth pattern that will mature into attitudes of professionalism.

“Behavior is what a man does, not what he thinks, feels, or believes” — Unknown

It’s never too early to develop habits of good behavior. When someone acquires a position that demands professionalism, he’d better have a solid base of professional behavior because every subsequent action will be judged accordingly. Continual practice is needed to reinforce, improve and refine both behaviors and attitudes – they feed off one another.

Your GPS

People will form judgments about others with little regard for time or place. Nine-to-five professionals will soon be discovered for the actors they are. There’s a term for people who treat professional behavior as something that can be checked in and out at the door. They’re called hypocrites.

“O, what may man within him hide, Though angel on the outward side!” — William Shakespeare

“Go put your creed into your deed.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Does becoming a professional sound like a lot of hard work? Let’s do some analysis starting with a few more questions.

  • Does it take more effort to say, “You’re welcome!” than to say, “No problem!”
  • Is it really any harder to open the door for someone else before entering than to open it just for yourself?
  • Which sequence requires less effort? A) Taking a bite, talking, chewing, swallowing; or B) Taking a bite, chewing, swallowing, talking?
  • Does it require less work to arrive late than on time?
  • Which requires greater effort, remaining quiet or blurting out an angry response?

“Do thou restrain the haughty spirit in thy breast, for better far is gentle courtesy.” — Homer

Unquestionably it takes work to learn and develop new habits. But after that, the effort between professional and unprofessional behavior would appear to be roughly the same. So, if you are going to do something anyway, why not learn to do it professionally? I propose that professional behavior might even require less effort in the long run because it produces a more positive result, which reduces stress, which in turn is an easier road.

These rules of the game, though they may vary among professions and cultures, are intended to pave a better road for human interaction among friends and strangers alike. Such customs are usually rooted in matters of character such as: compassion, respect, humility and gratitude.

“There is a courtesy of the heart; it is allied to love. From it springs the purest courtesy in the outward behavior.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

“Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.” — Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), Reflections on America, 1958

“The greater man the greater courtesy.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

The characteristics of a professional are so similar to those of a leader that professionalism and leadership are essentially the same thing. They consist of the same attitudes and are demonstrated by the same behaviors. If they are not exactly the same, they are certainly inextricable. Leaders exude professionalism; Professionals exude leadership.

God bless,

— CC

[ A=Attitude | Index | C=Conversation ]

© Copyright August 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
Read more “Clancy’s Quotes” at: ClancyCross.WordPress.com