Rudeness never wins. You may think you’re placing yourself in a point of control, but in fact you’re undermining a potential relationship and showing how ignorant you really are.
Letitia Baldrige, social secretary to two US ambassadors – David Bruce in Paris and Clare Boothe Luce in Rome – and Jacqueline Kennedy’s Chief of Staff during the Kennedy administration knew about manners and presenting oneself flawlessly in business situations. She’s been referred to as the etiquette maven. In her book, Letitia Baldridge’s Complete Guide to Executive Manners (if it’s not in your library, hard copy or digital, get it!) she lays down the ground rules for successful relationships – professional and personal. She states in her introduction “Why We Need a Book on Business Manners”, “good manners are cost-effective, because they not only increase the quality of life in the workplace…, and embellish the company image, but they also play a major role in generating profit.” She goes on to say, “Good manners are part of working smart.”
This is as true today as when she was in the White House in the 60s to when she wrote her book in the 80s. We seem to forget it more often than not today, however, thinking manners don’t matter. Not true.
In a 2015 Inc.com article, “The Importance of Good Manners”, the author states, “There is a reason for manners and courtesy and it is not just to be nice. The purpose of manners is to give us a practical structure to deal with each other. … It is the glue of civilization and a utilitarian road map for dealing in everyday business. Manners and polite address are not superficial. They are essential.”
As these two different writers from two different generations illustrate, manners are essential for interpersonal relationships, never more true in today’s world, especially in business.
Recently, I went with my new husband to meet his lawyer at a long-planned meeting. Upon arrival, without making eye contact, the lawyer asked my name twice stating she was bad with names. If that is the case, you should find some method to remember them! I was willing to dismiss this until she brusquely told me to leave the room despite my husband’s objections. She actually became angry. I did leave because I refused to be treated so poorly. Now while her objective may have been sound, to care for her client, my husband, her delivery and rudeness were disastrous – for both our wasted day and her loss of a client. She was ultimately dismissed as our lawyer. All of that was completely avoidable if she’d been polite, remembered that she did indeed know my name, and explained why she wanted to speak with my husband alone. Maybe it was one-upmanship on her part, but clearly that didn’t work. Trying to make others feel inferior doesn’t work in life, and it doesn’t work in the AEC world either.
Politeness and good first impressions are vital for the AEC industry. Our livelihoods, and those of our firms, depend on building deep, lasting relationships with clients. First impressions of rudeness will end the possibility of ever building a rapport, as seen in the lawyer example above.
Here are five tips for starting relationships on the right foot:
- Show respect from the beginning
Treat people with the respect you’d like to receive. If they prove not to deserve your respect, you can always reassess.
- Make eye contact and hold it
Don’t use the windshield wiper method where your eyes never stop moving. It takes people up to 30 seconds – not 3! – to be uncomfortable with eye contact. Windshield wipers are just distracting, and your audience ends up following your head instead of the conversation.
- Have a firm handshake
A limp handshake feels like shaking a noodle – very uncomfortable for the recipient! A weak handshake makes you appear as if you lack self confidence, whether you do or don’t. Practice a firm handshake.
- Repeat the person’s name upon hearing it
Use their name in a sentence. People love hearing their name, and you show respect by using it and learning it.
People love to talk with and work with friendly/happy people.
Be polite. It makes life more enjoyable. And, it will start you on the road to long-term, rewarding client relationship.