October 4, 2012

Mind Your (Business) Manners

Last week a potential client who runs a local real estate company called me up, wanting to talk to me about installing a plugin to his site. I was in the middle of some jobs, so he wanted to set up an appointment this week to talk about it. No problem – even the small jobs pay bills. We set a date, a time, a place.

I showed up at the appointed time and waited for him. And waited. After 15 minutes of waiting, I called his cell phone, which went to voicemail. I Googled his office phone number from my iPhone and called. His dad answered the phone, said he worked with his son, and I explained I’d been waiting for the appointment with his son to discuss something he wanted to do with their website.

He said he’d contact his son and have him call me. Ten minutes later, no call, so I called the office again (!). Dad promised me he would contact his son and call me back within a minute. A few minutes later, I get a text from his son saying he’d had someone else do the work and he was super sorry he didn’t let me know. Then I got two apology texts from the dad.

Your mama raised you right

I’m not upset that I didn’t get the work. I’m upset that the son didn’t see fit to CALL me and cancel our appointment when he decided to have someone else do the work, and I’m upset that I cooled my heels waiting for this guy for a half an hour. Guess what real estate company will not be on my radar if a friend is looking to buy or sell a house?

In “Good manners are good for business,”  the author writes, “Despite what many people believe — or the behavior they exhibit — there still are those who believe business etiquette is something that never goes out of style. In fact, in a study conducted by etiquette consultants Eticon Inc., 80 percent of the respondents reported an increase of rudeness in business. When they encounter rudeness, 58 percent of the people surveyed said they will take their business elsewhere. ‘Rude behavior ruins business,’ said Ann Humphries, Eticon president.”

A text to me should have never entered the picture, especially considering the person was a no-show for our appointment and didn’t have the good grace to let me know he’d had someone else do the work. That required an (abject) apology by phone, to which I would responded professionally, graciously accepting his apology.

How else should we practice our business manners?

According to Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and author of “Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work” (St. Martin’s Press, 2005), “Some of the biggest mistakes people make in the workplace involve e-mail.” That means you might need to brush up on your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This is no place for text-speak. Capitalize those first letters of a sentence, learn how to use punctuation correctly, and get a dictionary. There are enough people out there in the business world who do have a handle on English 101, that they’ll think you’re possibly incompetent if you don’t know the difference between its and it’s, and lose and loose. If you’re that careless with your business communication, how will you be if you’re doing work for them?

The early bird gets the worm

Don’t settle for being on time – be early, says to Ann Marie Sabath, president of At Ease, Inc, who has over the past 20 years trained some 90,000 businessfolk. “If you’re the one benefiting from a meeting (the one receiving a paycheck, a shot at a job or promotion, etc) you should be 15 minutes early. That’ll give you…time to get through security, if there is any, stop in the restroom and gather your thoughts. Leave non-essentials, like coffee or any heavy bags or purses, in the car or at your desk to create a neat, pulled together appearance. Be prepared and well versed in the topics that are going to be discussed, and try to formulate your own input ahead of time.”

Check the profanity at the door

It makes you look really unprofessional and uncultured, and some people are extremely offended by it – even by a simple “Oh my God!” It shows a lack of control on your part and a lack of respect for the other person. Is that the impression you want to give to a potential or current client?

Please, thank you, respect, and common courtesy

Really, need I say more? I’ve heard that in business, “please” is equivalent to begging and is not professional sounding. I beg to differ. As long as it’s not said sarcastically, I’m inclined to pay more attention to someone asking me please.

In the past, I have often behaved in ways that, in retrospect, make me cringe. I’m doing better, and trying to treat the person on the other side of the table or the other side of the phone call the way I’d like to be treated. Even if you are treated poorly, make a supreme effort to be respectful and courteous, even if it takes every fiber of your being.

When there is conflict, keep your cool, practice your listening skills (another struggle of mine), and check your ego at the door, even if the person on the other side is acting like an idiot. You might be surprised to find that you are wrong, that you misunderstood, or that you don’t have all the information. The person on the other side might be having a horrible day, and you could end up being the nicest person they’ve dealt with all week. You make your company look great and yourself look incredible.

If you were having lunch with someone who was important to you, how would you feel if they took several phone calls or spent their time texting instead of making eye contact with you and talking to you? Wouldn’t you think they were exceptionally rude? So don’t do it yourself. Give them your undivided attention.

Be kind to others, and practice patience. A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking into the gas station with my 4-year-old granddaughter, a woman almost knocked the both of us over in her haste to get into the building herself. And then she almost knocked us over in her haste to leave. I know she brushed up against me pretty hard – and I had opened the door both times!

Watch your tone of voice, and watch the things you say. I’ve had one client tell me to “Stop talking!” as I was trying to explain why something she wanted done couldn’t be done. Really? “Stop talking”?

Say good-bye before you hang up. Have you ever been on the phone with someone, and as you tried to graciously close the conversation, the other person just hung up? “Okay, I guess we were done.” I’m not talking about a dropped cell call, which requires an immediate call back, unless you were in the process of actually saying, “Good-bye.”

Final thoughts

No one is so important that he or she can’t be civilized. Treating others the ways you’d like to be treated — can only be good for your business’s bottom line.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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