I have discussed this before in this space, but recent encounters with some people have made it clear that it bears repeating: One of the most important tenets of common courtesy is to be considerate of other people's time. Sounds simple, doesn't it? If so, then I wonder why some people can't grasp it.
I find it almost unbelievable how inconsiderate some people are of the time constraints of colleagues and business contacts. They seem to think that the more they talk, the better their chances are of selling you something or bringing you around to their way of thinking. Actually, in most cases, the opposite is true. When a salesperson or a contact visits with me and goes on and on without sticking to the subject at hand, I get more and more irritated. A little small talk goes a long way.
Conversely, when someone comes into my office to sell me on an idea or talk about a matter and is organized and doesn't drone on, I am more receptive to what the person has to say. I realize this person has thought out what he or she wants to communicate to me and shows me the respect of sticking to the point and not wasting my valuable time. The word I'm trying to drive home is brevity.
Now I am not saying you shouldn't have relaxed conversations. In fact, there is nothing that beats the human touch. If you can't look into someone's eyes, how can you judge whether that person has integrity and is someone with whom you want to do business? Too often in our harried lives, however, we rely on electronic communications such as e-mail and voice mail. Of course, those have their purpose, but here's another way of looking at it: Think about how often a face-to-face meeting leaves you with a depth of feeling about that person and then ask yourself the last time you had that kind of reaction from an e-mail.
Even e-mail has its etiquette. In fact, e-mail is now our No. 1 source of excess chatter. Done right, it is an efficient and valuable business tool. But too often I have to wade hip-deep through someone's meandering before the point of the exercise even starts to become clear. I think many people treat e-mail as kind of throwaway communications, akin to opening your mouth and just seeing what comes out. That's why you see such poor sentence structure, misspellings and disorganized thinking in many e-mails. Like all good communication, e-mail must be concise and to the point.
Voice mail is one of my pet peeves. I cannot believe some of the messages I get. People ramble before they tell me what the call is about, and after I have spent several minutes listening to these messages it is hard to remember anything about them.
I had a boss years ago who told me that a quality salesperson should learn "to get in and get out" when selling something. That boss was Jim Dunn, who ought to have known what he was talking about. At the time he was the national sales director of Life magazine. Soon he would become publisher of Forbes magazine. Dunn was a stickler for good manners and not wasting people's time. He once told me that in the publishing business whenever I was selling something I should be able to give my pitch in five minutes or less. All of us should practice what we are going to say in a formal setting such as a presentation, a chat with the boss or an after-dinner speech. Say what you need to say concisely and with feeling and then stop. If someone wants to hear more about your topic they'll ask for more.
That reminds me of a story that one of Modern Healthcare's best salespeople told me. One day not long after she started working here she was planning a first trip to her sales territory. I cautioned her about not overstaying the time a client was willing to give her. One of her first clients was willing to give her only 10 minutes. "I assured him I would stay only that long," she recalls. "He was obviously a very busy man, but when I started the call I told him I was new to healthcare and simply wanted to know more about his business so I could do a better job of meeting his marketing needs. He was proud of his company and he started telling me all about the products the company manufactured for healthcare facilities. As he was telling me these things I noticed the 10 minutes was up, so I started to get up. He asked me what I was doing and I explained I didn't want to overstay my allotted time. He suggested I sit down, and for the next hour and a half told me how he had started the company on a shoestring and how lucky he had been. Later he asked me to have dinner with him and his wife, which I did."
When it comes to public speaking, brevity is even more important. Too often speechmakers don't seem to know when to end their talk. It's embarrassing and rude, and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Really effective communicators speak concisely without a lot of excess verbiage and then get off the stage. When you see a lot of eyes drooping or people leaving, wind up the talk.
Communicating with others is an art form and needs to be perfected by anyone who hopes to get his or her ideas across. But it has to be practiced constantly, whether it's writing a letter, an e-mail or a memo, leaving a voice mail or talking in person. Be conscious of others' time and you'll win many friends and influence others more effectively than you could imagine.
Be clear and concise,