From The Urbach Letter –
How to Be a Business Mensch
I'm sure you can add your own pet peeves to this list. Discourtesy is pervasive and it's only getting worse week by week. When I discuss this sad state with colleagues, no one can explain it, other than by reciting a sad list of circumstances: everybody's busy, competition is fierce, the Internet has changed the rules, rudeness is part of the modern culture, etc. I don't buy it. There are thriving organizations where courtesy is part of the corporate culture. Phone messages are returned the same day, emails within 24 hours, low-level employees treated with respect, vendors recognized as the business partners they are, et cetera. Clearly, it's possible to be both nice and successful.
So, why aren't more businesspeople mensches? (For the Yiddish-impaired: a mensch is someone who always strives to do the right thing. Most Jewish mothers want their son or daughter to marry a mensch, and raise up a batch of little menschkins.) Why do many people in the corporate world behave so rudely and insensitively? I don't think they're bad people. Rather, I feel sad for them. They've lapsed into a set of negative behaviors and attitudes they regard as "normal." Many don't realize the damage they're doing, or are aware of the repercussions. Also, much rude behavior comes from poor organizational skills. I know well the feeling of having too many balls in the air – and the desire to cut corners to "get everything done." It's very tempting to erase that voice mail message, delete the email request, throw the letter in the trash unanswered, etc. Tempting, but very wrong. Bad karma and bad for business. You know the corny old saying: "Be nice to people on your way up. You'll meet the same people on the way down." That comes true more often than you think. The world is a surprisingly small place. The salesman on the phone today could be CEO five years from now. Do you really want to burn him off? (The answer may be yes... if he's a jerk.)
As a matter of fact, I do blame much rude business behavior as a defensive reaction to overly aggressive salespeople and marketers. Memo to "enthusiastic" salespeople: we live in a permission-based marketing world now. You do not have the right to impose your "solution" on those indisposed to hear it. Many of you also need to gain a better understanding of what the term "relationship" means.
When I wrote the original version of this article back in 2003, the research firm Yankelovch had just surveyed attitudes about direct sales and marketing. Even back then, over 80% of consumers responded they were "inundated" by direct marketing overtures. 60% felt the sale of mailing lists with their address was a serious invasion of privacy. Wow. As consumers, most of us have gotten pretty good at screening out commercial messages. This consumer behavior undoubtedly bleeds over into the office, where we subject visitors to long waits in the reception area, tune out during presentations, and erase voice mail messages without responding...
OK, enough ranting. Do I have any solutions for you? Well, if you're on the receiving end of rude behavior, you have to decide if the value of that business relationship is worth enduring the cruelty. Personally, I have no compunction about "firing" a potential client if I'm treated this way. Nobody is so important that I'll take abuse from them. My attitude is, and I sincerely mean this, "They need me a lot more than I need them." There are far more great people out there than I have time to meet, and many more lucrative opportunities than I could possibly participate in. I don't harbor grudges, but I do keep track. If somebody burns me once, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. You never know what else is going on in their lives. However, if rudeness becomes the norm, it's Hasta La Vista baby.
But what if you're on the delivering end? If you're in the position of frequently being solicited by people inside and outside your company, I have a couple of suggestions.
Bottom Line: I have no expectation that things will get better. It's my firm belief that much unhappiness in this world is due to the unmet expectation that other people will change. The only one who can change is you. Fortunately, it's just as easy to be a good guy as an S.O.B. If somebody contacts you with some sort of proposition, tell them you're busy – but listen anyway. Make decisions quickly. A sharp knife cuts the cleanest. If you're not interested, say so. Don't ask for a brochure to get the guy off the phone. Everybody hates spam but if a person takes the time to compose a personal message to you, you are *obligated* to respond in some way – even if it's a one sentence reply – even if you don't know who sent it to you. Finally, remember that being a mensch means more than "doing no harm." It means always doing the right thing... and little things mean a lot. If you see a colleague's name in the newspaper, clip it out and send it to him or her with a note of acknowledgement. If you come across a web site or something that could benefit them, click it over. Takes 15 seconds. If somebody does you a favor, whether you asked them to do it or not, you must acknowledge it. This is human relationship 101 stuff guys. Nonetheless, it's amazing how many people fail this course...
(c) Copyright 2002-2010 Victor Urbach
This article may be reprinted with permission and attribution