The often-quoted justification for poor manners in business is that everyone is busy being busy and so something has to give. But there is a counter argument that at a time when personal and professional reputation is as fickle as the latest social media update, it could be worth investing some of that precious time in good manners, especially in business.
Simple infractions in common courtesy, such as; not giving thanks, ignoring people, being tardy, cancelling or changing meetings at the last minute, failing to meet your commitments and the like could have a cumulative, deleterious impact on your professional reputation.
Let’s look at some of the more common infractions and their impact.
1. It costs nothing to say thank you
Let’s start with this very common and quite annoying behavior. When you make a request to another person, and they acquiesce to your request, and you fail to acknowledge this with a thank you. If we were dining together and you ask me to pass the salt and I did, would you not thank me?
Every business day people make requests of others by email and when you respond with what they need, very few people say thank you. This is particularly true in the procurement process. Procurement request a proposal and yet I find myself having to follow up for any type of acknowledgement that they received it.
How easy would it be to reply with a simple ‘thank you’ to acknowledge the completion of the request?
2. Ignoring people is not bliss
That leads to the new most annoying, and that is willfully ignoring people. In fact, there is even a colloquial term for this – ghosting – the practice of ceasing all communication and contact without any apparent warning or justification and subsequently ignoring any attempts to reach out or communicate made by said individual.
Clearly, we are not talking about ignoring those unsolicited spam emails that cram your inbox, or the outbound call centres that bombard you day and night. But ignoring those you have a professional relationship with, such as salespeople, who have worked hard to get the proposal to you, their client, only to never have you respond again. You just ghost them, right?
But if you decided to go with another vendor, then why not have the decency to tell them so and why? Or if you decided not to proceed, thank them and explain why? If you simply changed your mind, again, just tell them and explain. Are you really so insecure that you cannot handle the truth? It could be sending a message you are not to make the tough decisions.
3. Would you run late for your own funeral?
Next is running late. Also known as tardiness. This is simply a passive / aggressive powerplay that says to everyone else, I am so busy and so important that you can all sit there and wait for me to get better organised.
In meeting driven organisations, tardiness is possibly the main driver of loss of productivity, as people are forced to sit and wait for you to turn up. Do you really believe that you are the only one who is busy? Are you really more important than everyone else in the meeting?
In organisations that tolerate this behavior, it becomes the norm, as people begin to run deliberately late because there is no point being on time. I can recall a Chief Marketing Officer who was always running late. The CMO thought this was a reflection of them being busy and important. The CEO just thought they were hopeless time managers.
4. Leaving it to the last minute to change your mind
Similar to the last, but different, is the person who is constantly changing or cancelling meetings at the last minute. Clearly their diary is out of control, and it can take up to four or five reschedules to actually have the meeting, if at all.
Sure, occasionally the unexpected happens. But this constant schedule shuffling simply sends a message that either our meeting is not important to you, which is fine – let’s just cancel it.
Or you have absolutely no control over your time and activities, which smacks of being a pawn rather than a player. It is due to these people there is a roaring trade in personal assistants and virtual assistants whose fulltime job is simply managing an out-of-control diary. But if you cannot control your time, how can you possibly manage the responsibilities of your job function?
5. Failing to be your word
There is a lot of talk these days about the importance of personal integrity. There are also as many definitions of integrity as there are people talking about it. My favorite working version is “to make complete or whole”.
What does that mean? It means to be my word. For my words and actions to be complete and whole, to be integrity.
So, when you make a commitment to do something and you do not do it, you have lost integrity in regard to that commitment. When you agree or commit to a deadline, a meeting, an action, by a specific time and date, others will be relying on you to have integrity to deliver.
If you do not, it does not work, and the consequence is they are let down and disappointed. The cure to loss of integrity is to re-establish integrity and hold yourself accountable to deliver. That is integrity. Leaders understand the importance of integrity and how to lead by example. Do you?
Now, while these bad behaviors are often found universally, there are definitely some markets and some organisations where they are much worse than others. It was once said to me that “cultures are defined by the poor behavior tolerated”, which means that where these behaviors exist, they must also have particularly poor cultures.
Perhaps a I simply have a high personal standard. One of my mother’s favorite sayings was from US Businessman, John Templeton – “It is nice to be important, but it is important to be nice”. My mother held a senior leadership role in Guiding and was a better and more effective leader because people appreciated her integrity, especially around punctuality, integrity and acknowledgement.
But if being a better and more effective leader is not motivation enough, then perhaps take this from an Executive Creative Director I once worked with, who shared the advice of playwright Wilson Mizner, who said “Be Nice to People on Your Way Up. You’ll Meet Them On Your Way Down”.
Does that give you enough reason to mind your business manners?
I first met Stuart Nelson in 1987, when I commenced my advertising career at Mattingly in Hawthorn East. Stuart was the dapper Executive Television Producer. He has also always been a person of great charm and courtesy. His book “Pocket Inspirations On Etiquette In Business” is 180 pages of hints, tips and inspirational advice on mastering the art of business etiquette, just as Stuart has done throughout his career. You can read all about his book and buy your copy direct from the author here or at all good book sellers.
This article first appeared on the First5000 on March 18, 2020
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