What has happened to us? I cannot believe the rudeness I run into so often in day-to-day living. Somewhere, we've gotten lost in our dealings with each other. I haven't experienced quite the same level of rudeness in smaller cities and towns that I see in large metropolitan areas. Obviously, there is more space and the pace is a little more leisurely. Maybe there are just too many of us in large urban areas. Maybe we are so crammed together that we just forget to treat each other well. Whatever the cause or causes, it doesn't bode well for future generations.
I've read various articles that place the blame on all sorts of factors, including childhood experiences, schools, parents, politicians or employers. But it doesn't take a genius to figure out what is going on here. Somehow, if we are to maintain a decent quality of life, we must begin to deal with each other on a more civilized basis-and that includes being kind to one another. In short, it means dealing with each other with dignity and respect. There isn't one of us who wouldn't appreciate being treated in that manner.
Recently, for instance, I received a letter from a former hospital administrator who was upset by the way he is being treated by his former colleagues. He is now on the other side of the desk, selling to administrators and other top executives. He is disturbed about what he considers the lack of professionalism on the part of many individuals he either is doing business with or hopes to work with in the future. A few weeks ago he sent me a note and this is what he asked for: "This letter is to request that you address the professionalism required from the receiving end of a sales presentation. I have noted a remarkable loss of professionalism from administrators when dealing with sales and marketing personnel. I realize that they are busy men and women and that they cannot take or return every phone call. I certainly do not expect such. However, within the past three months alone, I have made several on-site presentations to administrators and their staffs (at the administrators' requests), presented proposals and responded to requests for proposals. I have three clients who have not responded to my calls for over 30 days. I suspect that they have decided to go with another vendor and do not wish to tell me. The loss of any contract is disappointing, particularly the multiyear, $500,000-plus contracts that I am dealing with; however, you and I both know that losing is only the other side of winning."
Now, I'm not going to get into this whole matter of when or when not to tell a vendor or anybody else that they have lost in a competitive situation. But I do know that the sooner you tell someone they are out of the picture the better. Furthermore, letting people immediately know where they stand is simply good manners as well as ethical behavior. None of us likes to be kept in the dark as to what is going on in any negotiation. My yardstick goes something like this: Treat others as you would like to be treated. That makes things pretty clear.
This particular example of a perceived slight involves a vendor, but there are other examples of being too busy or too preoccupied to deal with others in a timely and respectful manner. For instance, thoughtless behavior such as not paying enough attention to a valued employee who has a serious family problem and, therefore, needs support and time to resolve the crisis. Quality people make any organization successful and they need to be made to feel important. But sometimes, when their own colleagues and bosses are so engrossed in other matters that they don't pay attention to what's going on around them, people get so fed up with being ignored they simply look for other work.
Of course, there are more basic examples of good manners-such as waiting for your guests to be seated in a restaurant before taking your seat. Sounds simple, but I witnessed one of the more successful executives in healthcare sit down at a table and reach for the bread before any guests, including the ladies, had even started to sit down. Then there are things such as holding a door open for a lady, or standing aside to allow ladies to enter or exit an elevator. There is also the little matter of calling someone by his or her first name before you are invited to do so. This list is endless.
Bad manners beget bad manners and too many people today are so concerned with their own needs that they forget how to treat others-both at work and in social settings. Most of the successful executives I've met in my career have impeccable manners. By their actions they make guests, as well as customers and colleagues, feel very important indeed. There are also salespeople who have high standards when it comes to selling their products and services. They stand out because of their exceptional manners. I believe that salespeople who exhibit these exceptional manners usually are the top earners in any organization.
There are now consultants to corporate America who teach executives how to behave properly in various situations. These lessons include such basics as which fork to use with a salad, what kind of clothes to wear at a trade show and when to call someone by his or her first name. It can be as simple as saying "thank you" and "please." Parents, of course, should have taught all of this. But somehow the teaching of manners and etiquette has been lost in this fast-paced life we lead. Good manners really do make a difference in both personal and professional life. They will never go out of style.
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Chicago, Ill. 60601-3806
E-mail: [email protected]
Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com
Editors note: Charles S. Lauer is on vacation. This week's column is adapted from his column of March 4, 2002. He will return next week.