There is a saying about relationships that goes something like this: "People may not remember what you did. People may not even remember what you said. But people will remember how you made them feel."
Recently a local business contacted a young professional employed at another Minnesota company and, after an introductory phone conversation and receipt of her résumé, set up a breakfast meeting for the initial interview.
The meeting was set for 7:30 a.m., and the young woman arrived 10 minutes early. The department vice president with whom she was to meet never showed up. She called him later that morning to inquire why he didn't show up. She left a message for him that he did not return. Over the next two weeks she sent an e-mail and left several more phone messages, which also never were returned.
I think we can all agree the matter was handled badly. But why would someone conduct himself in such a rude, impolite and unprofessional manner?
According to Joe Loveland, a St. Paul-based communications consultant, this kind of unprofessional behavior is increasing.
"Some of it," Loveland said, "stems from the mistaken notion that to conduct yourself this way projects the [appearance] that you are too busy to be worried about returning calls or answering e-mails or doing what you say you'll do. Some of [it] also comes from the idea that this kind of conduct conveys an expression of power."
In the world of politics the power game plays out, too. Steve Kinsella, a local consultant who was communications director for then-Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and press secretary to then-Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, confirms that many politicians have the same poor manners and play the same games with members of the press and fellow politicians.
Kinsella recalls a major breaking news story that one of his clients wanted to publicly comment on. Kinsella arranged for the reporter to call the client. But the would-be source did not call the reporter back for three days. By then, the story was already published. Not only did the client not get quoted, but the reporter vowed never again to contact him for a comment. The reporter felt "used" and considered the client's behavior rude.
Communication etiquette, both internal and external, reflects the organization's core values and also is a reflection of the leadership. That starts at the top and is projected to the rest of the organization and the marketplace by example. Whether the encounters involve clients, customers, job candidates, vendors or employees, people will long remember how they were treated by an organization.
Of course there are organizations that have built their reputations on a culture of treating employees with respect and consideration, and that approach has extended to their customers and outside contacts. From my own exposure to organizations such as Target, Medtronic, 3M, the University of St. Thomas, Macalester College and H.B. Fuller, among others, it is apparent that they have gone a long way to project this feeling to employees and customers alike.
While there are good and sufficient business reasons for treating people with respect -- namely, because it's good business -- the fundamental reason for doing so should be because it's the right thing to do. Many organizations say their customers and employees are their most important assets. While that may be true in theory, oftentimes it is not backed up by example.
At a time when the world seems bent on destroying any semblance of civility, it seems worth the effort to create an atmosphere in the workplace that shows respect and appreciation for all employees, customers and outside business associates.
Many of us have recently celebrated two of the most important holidays in the Judeo-Christian traditions that teach the value of our fellow man.
Tomorrow we can all begin a New Year's resolution to rekindle the "Golden Rule" of communications etiquette.
Ronald M. Bosrock of St. Paul is founder and director of the Global Institute, a research center. His Global Executive column appears on the last Monday of each month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.