When Did Business Culture Become So Impolite?

by Bruce Tait

Impolite business travelersMy first boss gave me a tip my first week on the job. He said that you should always return calls. Even calls from suppliers or salespeople. And even if it is to quickly explain that you are not interested. It is simply the professional thing to do to close the loop and let people move on with their work. It’s also the right thing to do and it ingratiates you with your suppliers as well. In the end, it’s good business.

I followed that advice for a while. Then email arrived and with it, spam. You had to ignore much of this type of correspondence and it seemed okay because you weren’t really dissing a person but rather a machine. It was impersonal so, you could become impolite. But somewhere along the way it seems that maybe we crossed a line. Since people ignore emails, we can ignore phone calls. Even calls or emails from trusted suppliers or partners are ignored now unless the recipient needs them at that particular time.

One former client recently asked us to develop a very detailed, customized program to help him re-define his brand. After a lot of work and a few discussions, this client disappeared. No answers to emails. No answers to calls. Nothing. We couldn’t keep valuable capacity waiting so we put the team we had set to do his project on another assignment . Then, about a month later this former client surfaced. Now he was ready to talk about moving forward but we could no longer put the best team for his project on the job. We were frustrated and so was he. But if he had just once responded to say that “we’re working our way to a conclusion but the project is still very much a possibility” or something to that extent, we wouldn’t have had this problem.

The mentality was “I don’t need anything from you right now, so I’ll ignore your requests for an update.” That attitude isn’t just inconsiderate, it’s bad business.

Maybe we can trace a lot of rude behavior back to the deluge of useless email we all receive. Maybe the dehumanizing effect is responsible for the guy who recently took his bag out of the overhead and thwacked me on the head with it. He didn’t apologize or even acknowledge he had done it. I wasn’t really there.

So, I’ve started replying to all emails again. Quickly. But I do it, as long as it’s not the worst kind of spam. It’s interesting because I often get shocked and thankful responses from salespeople saying that they really appreciate my response (even thought it’s “no”).  It won’t stop the rude behavior on airplanes anytime soon, but maybe it’s a start.


Posted in Quick Bits, Quick-Take Perspectives.