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Is etiquette dead?

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Daniel L. Stoick
  • 92nd Maintenance Operations Squadron First Sergeant
Is etiquette dead? I often ponder this question as I observe Airmen in their daily activities. Based on their behavior, some might not even know what the word "etiquette" means. According to AFPAM 36-2241, Professional Development Guide, etiquette is defined as common, everyday courtesy. A more familiar term might be "good manners." Whatever you call it, it's an important part of being a professional Airman.

Examples of proper etiquette include saying "please" and "thank you." These are good manners, but being on time is also very important. Arriving late tells those waiting for you that you think your time is more valuable than theirs.

Answering the telephone seems like an easy enough task, but you'd be surprised at how many Airmen haven't been told how to do it properly. Always identify yourself and your organization. If you can't help the person on the phone, offer to call them back or take a message for someone who can help them.

Gossiping is a big violation of etiquette. If you don't know the facts (or even if you do), keep your mouth shut. The work center is not the place for talking about personal issues as it can bring morale down and cause a disruption in unit cohesion.

Do you address your subordinates, coworkers and superiors in the proper manner? Subordinates should always address superiors formally by using their rank and last name and be liberal with "sir" and "ma'am." This same courtesy should be afforded to subordinates. This goes a long way toward building a professional relationship based on mutual respect. A common mistake I have observed is addressing a senior master sergeant as just "senior." This is explicitly forbidden in AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure. Civilians should also be addressed formally by using "Mr.," "Mrs.," "Miss," or "Ms." and their last name as appropriate.

There are also more subtle rules of etiquette for military personnel. For instance, you should always give the senior person the position of respect, which is to the right of you. If you are walking down the sidewalk, riding in a car or sitting at a briefing, your boss should always be on your right. When entering a vehicle, aircraft or boat, the senior person enters last and leaves first. Unless told otherwise, when a senior person enters the room, you should, at a minimum, stand as a show of respect. If it's an officer, you should call the room to attention unless a higher ranking officer is already present, respectively.

Some of these rules of military etiquette and courtesy may seem a bit odd. Trust me, once you get in the habit of observing them, they become second nature. Practicing them will help your unit function more smoothly and pleasantly. The PDG says, "Common acts of courtesy among all Air Force personnel aid in maintaining discipline...When courtesy falters within a unit, discipline ceases to function, endangering mission accomplishment."

Don't be the weak link in your unit. Practice proper etiquette and ensure those around you do as well.