What’s happened to good manners in business?

In Atom, General by Christoff Lewis0 Comments

shutterstock_93384208In this post-festive period of goodwill to all I have been reflecting on good manners in business. What do I mean by good manners? Even the term sounds archaic – something that was done when business was more genteel and exercised in a world without global brands. But whether good manners or ‘business etiquette’, there are core qualities that we aspire to in our private lives: courtesy, punctuality, honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, which translate to treating colleagues and clients with respect.

With a background in sales I am conscious of how these qualities operate in a working relationship with a client. My experience is that most people around the world in business do not think about the distinction between personal and professional good manners. Visiting clients in Bradford, Bahrain or Bangkok invariably you aim to meet the right person at the right time and have a cup of something with them before the meeting proper. This would happen automatically when (not so very long ago) appointments were made and confirmed by a call, fax or, in the distant past, a telex.

But we work in an age where an ‘appointment’  is just as likely to be a skype or conference call as a face-to-face  meeting. The improved efficiency of technology and mobility does not necessarily mean an improvement in effective communication. It seems increasingly acceptable to cancel a meeting the day before (even if the other person has already booked a non-refundable flight ), or five minutes before the booked call. Or even, all too frequently, being a complete no-show, purely on the pretext that reorganising is just a matter of accepting a further Outlook invitation.

Yet this meeting could be just the beginning of an ongoing relationship. The follow-up to any exchange – usually by the party looking to sell their services – will hopefully be a good reason to continue a conversation or a course of action. Sadly, too often the best of intentions to respond are forgotten in the rush to deal with the next deadline or the next meeting and another good opportunity for both parties is lost.

Failure to respond or for reminders to be batted away with ‘…am incredibly busy at the moment’ is usually not intentionally bad manners but evidence of unclear intentions, muddled thinking or an inability for some client to ‘just say no’ because a non-response is non-confrontational and just so much easier.

Good business usually accompanies good manners: poor manners can result in lost business.

Essentials for the  seller:

  • Always maintain the very best manners with your client – however appalling theirs might be.
  • Good manners can be your distinguishing feature in a relationship.
  • The manner of how you conduct your business can differentiate your company’s service.

Essentials for the buyer:

  • You might think of yourself as having the whip hand in the relationship but do not abuse that position. How many recently fallen corporate warriors try to cosy up on LinkedIn..?
  • Be honest.
  • Be decisive even if the answer is a ‘not yet’.

You can, of course, have all the trappings of good manners but still be a complete bastard in business which is a whole other story. That moral element behind the social mores that allow us to operate smoothly with clients and colleagues, is something nearer to a word I heard the chairman of M&S use when describing the single most important quality that the board looks for in a key appointment: integrity.

Evidence of integrity, he said, always would win over experience and qualifications. Note to self to brush up on questions to potential employees at interview stage to tease out that quality after, of course, having offered them a choice of beverages.