Courtesy Concomitant - Evolution of Etiquette

What is Courtesy-Concomitant?

One of the necessities of our social life of high importance is Courtesy. The word courtesy comes from being courteous which means being considerate and helping while interacting with people.

Putting aside one’s own interest and helping people in their actions is Courtesy- concomitant etiquette. It builds trust in social circles in minds of people by positive impression. A courteous person is able to get the maximum benefits of living in a society by regulating his interests and that of others. Few examples are keeping a life open for your colleague and allowing a handicapped person before you at a queue will leave lasting impression in the people’s minds.

In front of Courtesy-concomitant etiquette even hygiene-concomitant etiquette can take a back-seat. For example, offering his handkerchief that has to be clean to someone who has cut himself badly and hopelessly searching for something to dress the wound or if your friend is feeling cold then by offering your jacket.

If the courtesy-concomitant etiquette is not implemented properly, he faces social rejection from peers. One such example is the employees feeling for not getting promoted to managerial positions despite of excellent performances and knowing their job inside-out because of their lack of social etiquette.

Case Study − Korean Air Flight 801 Air-crash

In the 90s, Korean Air has a reputation of being most unsafe airlines in the entire world with 20 crashes. Management decided to employ experts to understand how their staff works after they earned enough bad name for itself in its 10 years of functioning.

The management is strict and went into search for engine, machinery, untrained pilots, etc. which generally companies look into when they face such crisis. They were thinking that media usually reports on such scenarios like old plane, communication gaps, unqualified staff etc. Interestingly, they are not facing any technical issues but an extremely rigid and strict etiquette based on hierarchy.

Report state that many people find extremely hard to believe at first, that the crashes were result of strict hierarchical structure of etiquette. Koreans are always expected to behave differently in a way that’s unthinkable in any other part of the world.

Depending on people’s seniority, relationships, ranks, orders and authority levels, Koreans follow a strict etiquette of conversation within their families. They follow six distinct levels of conversation which are developed as per hierarchy.

Case Study

Koreans speak in one way to his grandfather, another way to father and differently with his son. He has different manner of communication with an elder sibling as compared to a younger one. This is even followed in professional way and had a role to play in the 1997 aircrash of Korean Air Flight 801, which is one of the worst accidents ever in the history of aviation.

Korean Air Flight 801 Air-crash

On August 6, 1997, Korean Air Flight 801 flew into Nimitz Hill, that is a distance of more than five kilometers away from the runway to Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport, of Guam, USA, killing 223 out of the 254 passengers on board at the crash site. Unfortunately due to holiday season, all of them are vacationers and honeymooners.

In investigation, it was disclosed that the Captain took the wrong readings from a malfunctioning altitude indicator. However, the first officer’s altitude indicator was working fine, yet he failed to pass it on to the Captain that the flight was being endangered due to his faulty calculations.

 Korean Air Flight 801 Air Crash

The flight’s voice recorder disclosed that the first officer got to know that the plane entered turbulence but didn’t had the courage to break the etiquette of communication hierarchy and confront his Captain on his taking the wrong decision.

To add on, Korean Air had a policy where they recruit pilots who were previously in the airforce, which even made a stricter hierarchical structure of communication. This is why subordinates couldn’t dare to question the Captain who was at his wits’ end. This formed a climate of fear and agitation in the cockpit. After realizing the plane descending steeply, subordinates preferred to keep their mouth shut.

Etiquette of Communication to blame?

The Captain of the flight aged 42 is very experienced guy close to 9000 hours of flight time. And the first officer was only two years younger to the Captain. Interestingly, the flight engineer was 57 years old and had more hours of flight under his belt than both the Captain and First Officer jointly. Yet they stick to respect their authority that none of them could openly point him out his mistake.

After the cockpit recordings and findings in this audit, Korean Air management changed its HR practices and training routines. They stopped hiring Flight officers from military and the training procedures were designed such that there is a free flow of conversation between different ranks of officers.

Strict Etiquette of Communication

Korean Air made below changes to their policies, many such worksheets were designed and given to all the staff to know what they get from etiquette means −

If a co-worker of lower rank waves his hand and asks “How are you?”

  • You tell him to mind his manners
  • Saying “I am good, thank you.”
  • Ignore him and continue walking
  • Slightly nod and maintain authoritative body language.

It is ok to stand close to a senior co-worker while talking −

  • Yes
  • Never
  • If it’s a close friend.
  • Not if he is a co-worker from different department

A co-worker walks to your cubicle with a friend and wants to introduce −

  • He should immediately introduce your friend to you.
  • He should immediately introduce you to his friend.
  • He must talk to me first and then should introduce his friend.
  • Better to inform me before bringing his friend to meet me.

You have a scheduled appointment; however, you have been waiting −

  • Open the door and say “Excuse me”.
  • Stand by the door so that the person you came to meet observes you.
  • Wait for more time, and then leaving with a note.
  • Walk in confidently, introduce yourself, and mention your appointment.

To convey thanks to someone, it is apt to −

  • Send him a gift along with a note.
  • Drop him at office and ask him out for lunch or coffee.
  • Send him flowers to his home
  • Give him a call.

A man should wait for the woman to initiate a handshake in meeting −

  • Always
  • Never
  • Not if she is a subordinate
  • Not if she is a co-worker with same rank.

Breaking the ice by starting to discuss the weather, politics and traffic is okay −

  • Always
  • Never
  • Only if the person is a subordinate
  • Only if the person is a co-worker of same rank.

When sending an email to a business contact, you should −

  • If it were a letter written on paper, be formal.
  • Follow a formal writing style reflective of the writing medium.
  • Keep the email related to facts and pointers and be as formal as possible.
  • Keep it short, to the point, and evoke a response.

It’s okay to take calls on your personal phone during office hours −

  • Never
  • Always
  • Not in a meeting
  • Not when people are around

If a colleague shares a rumor with you −

  • You pass the rumor on
  • Try to verify credibility of the facts on your own
  • Ask colleagues related information to check it
  • Keep the information to yourself and rebuke the employee

On analyzing the results, majority of the staff members had “black and white” thinking in the way they answered the questions. Most of them answered either “Always” or “Never”.

While some of them maintained balance between the extremes, very few of them are in-flight staff. There were many changes done to the airlines resulting Korean Air has not faced a single fatal accident of this nature, apart from the isolated incident years later in 2007, when a plane landed on a taxiway instead of the intended runway. That incident caused no injury to anyone aboard the plane.


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