They say its the small things that make all the difference. But is being courteous in business really such a small thing?
The other day I get an e-mail out of the blue that simply asks: ” Who is our dealer manager in Germany?” That’s it. Nothing more. You are probably thinking its no big deal, just a straightforward question from a colleague. Right? The thing is this message came from a former employee of mine. We had not communicated in over 18 months. Not a peep, nothing (his position had been eliminated a while back but he had been re-hired a few months later in another division of the same company).
So the first words I get since we had last spoken were from the message above. Not even a “Hello,” “Hi, I’m back!” or even a “Could you please help?”
A bit stunned by the forthrightness and lack of basic courtesy, my reply to his message started with “Warm greetings to you too.” I then gave him the information he was asking for. He quickly replied and unapologetically stated that he had “no time for frivolities.”
Now maybe my expectations are a bit warped and I am sounding a bit demanding (old fashioned?). The trouble is that the individual in question was a 45 year old international business professional and former Director of Marketing.
Call me demanding, but I expect high level professionals to show a modicum of politeness and courtesy in their communications with others. I don’t really care how busy a person is, we still need to treat each other with some basic courtesy.
What this incident highlights for me is not only the seeming absence of class on the part of some but the erosion of our internal communications down to the purely transactional. Maybe this is the direction we are all heading towards, but I for one, refuse to let myself be treated and to treat others in such a fashion.
The pace and nature of business communications may be evolving towards more curtness and brevity, but it is still a human business. What some may consider communication frivolities are the last vestiges of a code of conduct that values human dignity and mutual respect. How hard can it be to add a few brief niceties to a message? At he end of the day, at the end of a job, at the end of a career, all we have left is our reputation and the lives we have touched. Why are we so willing to sacrifice it in the name of a few shaved seconds and a few extra words saved on an email?
No. We must strive to preserve some basic human respect in spite of the relative anonymity and expediency the Digital Age offers. 140 word Twitter generation beware!
Here are a few tips and suggestions for how we can try to keep communications civil and polite:
Start your messages with a simple greeting: Hi, Hello, Mornin’, Greetings, etc… will suffice.
If you are asking for a favor, if the recipient is a superior or an important person, or if you haven’t communicated in a while, consider adding another brief sentence like: “How are you doing?”, “Hope you are well”, “Long-time no speak”, etc… Nothing fancy, just enough to show a touch of interest in the person.
If you are asking for something you should at the very least add a simple “please” to the request and a “thanks” at the end of your message. The golden rule applies here like anywhere else.
Meanwhile, technology has also made it easy for us to include a standard or default signature at the end of our messages. Consider creating one in Outlook (or whatever mail system you use) that automatically includes something like “Kind Regards” or “Cordially” right before your name/signature.
Bottom line: jobs, projects and companies come and go but what we are left with is the respect and goodwill of those we have interacted with. Taking a few extra seconds to add basic niceties to your communication may seem trivial but it adds up. It also shows that you value the human relationship as much as the transaction. We may be in business but we are not cows looking to milk each other.
It’s a personal choice. Think about it.
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