If courtesy costs nothing, why is it so rare in business?

David Cliff discusses the decline of common courtesy and how making an effort to be courteous in business relationships will pay dividends

I am old fashioned, but my father always imbued in me that ‘courtesy costs nothing’. I understand completely where he was coming from.

I walked around London recently and found people neither held doors nor gave way when oncoming and there was an equal right of way. People spend their days walking round the streets more concerned about the contents of their smartphone and the latest message from wherever, rather than the person immediately in front of them whose space they share.

OK, ‘he’s having a rant’ you may say, ‘grow up, it’s a modern world’. Yes it is a modern world and what does that mean in terms of courtesy? Surely, if we lose honour and respect within our communities, we lose something essential about the nature of humanity being that of a social animal. We revert back to a primal, ‘survival of the fittest’, ‘first among equals’ approach. The very social media devices that distract people from normal social intercourse would ring out with protest if we found an individual in a high corporate arena using such selfish traits to exploit markets, individuals, societies, and we’re quick to criticise the bankers for their lack of awareness elsewhere.

The lack of shared consensus on what are basic civil rules underpins a lot of our basic social relationships. We have lost respect for many status individuals who are learned in our community, with years of hard work and devotion. Absolutely, they should be more accountable, but accountability and an ability to exercise rights to call people to book, whether this is the police, doctors or others, should not amount to a disrespect of the individual. We live in a society where to ‘dizz’ is both approved of and simultaneously a mindset for many.

In business, courtesy actually enhances business ethics. The courtesy of offering a meeting for a coffee is only a courtesy when it actually enacted. A ‘let’s have a coffee soon’ palliative to get some poor soul trying to ply their trade out of one’s face is a disservice to good business practice. Other examples abound. To invite somebody to email you about a product or service they may have with no intention of replying, substitutes for the basic courtesy of honesty and frankness in our social relationships. It results in people running around interminably in the hope of some small sense of human reciprocity from the contact they have initiated only to have those hopes dashed when back at the office one can simply consign that person’s communication to the junk box.

The lack of courtesy of organising one’s diary and one’s affairs to be on time for meetings the cost and excuses about how busy people are rendering them unreliable, failing to get back to you, failing to be on time, failing to be where you need them to be, even when you have commissioned them, all of this seems excusable now under the mantra of ‘it’s so hectic’.

I can tell from my coaching experience that 95 per cent of all errors, lateness, sudden crises etc. were on the part of the poor management of the individual, rather than the circumstances they perceive themselves to be in. It’s a question of honesty really with ourselves and others.

In our politically correct world, we have forgotten courtesy that exists within gender. We have been pasted over with such a feminist agenda these days we have lost sight of the mutual respect that men and woman can have for each other and the respect for differences that exist in the life cycle, the emotional repertoire and the physical realities of being housed in quite contrastingly different bodies.

This is not to say better or worse, it is however to celebrate difference and we seem to wash that out.

If courtesy costs so little, I wonder why we don’t practice it. Or is it just in an ego-centric busy focused world of self-first we’ve lost sight of others and the communities we belong to?

David Cliff is managing director of Gedanken and chairman of the Institute of Directors’ Northern Sector Group.

Original article