I was watching the 2003 film, Tears of the Sun recently and falling for Bruce Willis as a US Navy Seal team commander who was, well, commanding but always courteous.

Backed by a team of equally manly guys with manners. Lieutenant A. K. Waters had to lead a beautiful doctor played by Monica Belluci as well as 70 other people on a dangerous trek t o safety. Through it all, the Seals never ceased being polite. Even when they were physically dragging people up a hill, they used “please” and “ma’am” or “sir”.

There is something incredibly appealing about a person in command who still takes the time to be polite. I  believe it gives the person more authority, not less. As President Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Politeness [is] a sign of dignity, not subservience.”

As a personal branding exercise, brushing up on your “Ps” and “Qs” (an old English saying meaning ‘please’ and ‘thank you’) is something you can do immediately. In this increasingly self-focused and competitive world, the memory of someone with manners lingers.

For many years I worked as a news journalist and I remember interviewing Lord Piers Wedgwood – then fourth Baron Wedgwood. I was in my twenties and a bit nervous expecting a stuffy and aloof man but instead met someone who was gracious and interested in others. I asked him about the British class system. He told me real “class” was always making people feel comfortable in your presence.

Many years later I interviewed two women who ran an etiquette course. At the  time I thought it a rather light assignment compared to the stories I usually covered, but what I learnt that day has also stayed with me. Like President Roosevelt, the  teachers told me that manners were not about subservience but true confidence. Polite people don’t need to strut with ego or exercise power by making others feel inferior. In fact, a great many of their clients were executives who had been identified as stars on the rise but in need of a polish to really shine.

Those on the job hunt are still in rugged territory right now. Standing out from the pack to project a personal brand that says “capable”, “reliable” and a “stand out candidate” takes work. Even those in jobs face challenges as employers currently have the upper hand and are making the most of it.

It would be easy to literally forget your manners but don’t. As we all know, a personal brand includes the words someone uses to describe you. “Charming” sounds so much better than “arrogant” and “courteous” much better than “curt”.

As pretty much everyone’s grandmother used to say, “it doesn’t cost anything to be polite” but it may cost you a great opportunity not to be.


Kate Southam has been giving people advice on careers for 13 years. She has been the editor of a career website, author of a syndicated newspaper column and remains a regular blogger. She also continues to coach individuals as well as provide commentary on careers and workplace issues to TV, radio and magazines. Kate is also a communications consultant advising businesses. Follow Kate on Twitter @KateSoutham.