Common and Professional Courtesy

Common and Professional Courtesy

I grew up in an era where you offered your seat to an elderly or disabled person, or a woman on the subway or bus. I grew up in an era where you held the door for the next person, be it a woman or a man, and always let the woman enter first. I grew up in an era when these and other things were common, like returning calls in a timely manner, respecting elders, and being polite. Courtesy is defined as “excellence of manners, respectful and considerate acts, polite behavior, social conduct, and expressions of consideration.”

I do not see a lot of this anymore. The first thought or reaction typically is, “That younger generation—those millennials and Gen Zers—they have no understanding of professional or common courtesy.”

But I think it goes beyond that. I see it in those older and younger than that group, and even in my own generation. True, the world has changed, and with it, common practices have changed also. We no longer tip our paper boy each week when he comes to collect the weekly subscription fee—because we now have to pay that fee in advance. We pay online and typically never meet the 50+-year-old delivering the paper in the morning—if we get a hard copy at all.

We are bombarded by many more messages today through social media, DMs, email, text, and phone than we were 30 years ago when we just had phone calls to return. That makes a difference in common courtesy practices, as does the onslaught of new technology. And to my generation—understand that, as new technology emerges, our traditional practices of common courtesy may not apply any longer—new world, new tenets of common and professional courtesy.

However, I think there are still some basics that we would all do well to remember and practice whether it be through archaic channels such as face to face coffee meetings (in person) or phone calls versus DMs, email and texts. Here are some key areas where I see us failing, which we need to embrace once again and practice more diligently in a world of professional common courtesy.

  • Punctuality—be it for a phone call, virtual meeting, face-to-face meeting, or report due date. You just don’t arrive late. It is that simple. And if you are going to be late for a call, meeting, or deliverable like a report or proposal, let the recipient/organizer know in advance. That is being courteous, and I think, a main basic tenet.
  • Acknowledge information/communication. If someone leaves you a voice mail, sends you an email or text or tag on social or DM, respond in a timely manner. That is typically 24 hours. Get back and say, “Thank you for the information,” or “I will get the info you need, but it will be a week or so before I can get to it.” It is common professional courtesy to acknowledge communication.
  • Confidential material is confidential. Today, we are covering our butts with NDAs, but if one is not in place, you know well enough what is confidential and what is in the public domain. Don’t cross that line. No one should have to ask you to keep something confidential. It is professional courtesy to do so.
  • During meetings or presentations, pay attention. Put your phone down and pay attention. Look people in the eye and be respectful of their time. For sure, use your phone to access information during a meeting or discussion, but listen and participate. You should not be multitasking.
  • Say “thank you.”

When there is an absence of courtesy, our business relationships fall apart. I feel that courtesy should be recognized, not flaunted. I like Margaret Thatcher’s comment to a room of women at a conference. She said, “Being powerful is like being a lady; if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t!” The same goes for being a courteous person.

I look forward to your thoughts if you feel I have missed something important, or if I am being an old timer and expecting things that will never happen!

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