The hills in northern Maine farm country are arduous and ostensibly endless. You climb. Plateau. Climb. Possibly turn a corner and climb again. The well-deserved reward for this taxing endeavor is a panorama across pastoral fields to majestic Mount Katahdin. The roads, however, are narrow, without a bike lane, and the gravel ditch is close at hand. Thus, on an ascent not long ago, I was elated to see a sign reading, “State Law: 3 Feet Minimum to Pass Cyclists and Pedestrians.” Maine is among 33 states with this rule, and the placards are abundant in Northern Maine. Why? Safety. Courtesy. Politeness. All of the above. The directive seeks to avoid sideswiping bicyclists or having them overcorrect, ultimately dumping the rider in the ditch or worse. Despite the law and the signs, which one doesn’t see in Southern Maine or Northern New Hampshire, cars do not always share the road. While keeping my distance on a recent ride, I got to pondering about rudeness, which has flourished since the lockdown seven months ago.
The pandemic seems to have given everyone a free pass to be discourteous. What happened to civility? Is the new mantra “It’s all about me”? Is everyone so afraid of the unknown, they feel justified in their impoliteness? In the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) Industry, the old adage goes, ‘people work with people they like.’ Firms win work by developing connections with clients. This is never more true than today in trying times. It appears, however, that we have forgotten that good manners are the building blocks of both new and seasoned relationships. Do we think we don’t need to be respectful if we are meeting via Zoom or Teams? Can we be insolent to colleagues, clients, and even friends when we don’t know what the future holds? When we don’t know when we’ll see them again either in person or just unmasked? Can we be aggressive with teammates and strangers alike? Since the virus attacked our country and our industry, signs of disrespect for others and the environment are universal.
Here are Just a Few Examples of Courteousness Gone Askew:
- While cruising down the barely two-lane Bear Notch avoiding the gravel on the shoulder, a car from Virginia passed me leaning on their horn, yelling ‘Get the F out of the road!’ and giving me the finger. I guess Virginia may still be for lovers, but it’s certainly not for kindness.
- At a planning board meeting, an abutter to the project under review, was strident in his admonishment of the chair for not following Roberts Rules to the letter. The belligerent behavior, not during the public comment session, revealed the audience member’s true motive – he didn’t want the petitioner as his future neighbor.
- At a town meeting in CT, early in the shutdown, residents yelled loudly and refused to let others speak.
- While driving and hiking, tourists threw trash out of car windows and dropped garbage on trails.
- A visitor to the Mt Washington Valley spray painted rocks because they thought they were an artist.
- At restaurants, guests were rude to servers and threw their disposable masks in parking lots.
- A BD Manager on a Zoom call with a potential client, whom the manager had never met, said ‘so what do you have for me?’
- One Board member harassed and threatened another member repeatedly and at length via text.
Fear may be driving a lot of this disrespect, but it doesn’t help an already challenging and angst-filled age. Rudeness doesn’t deepen, enhance, or move relationships forward. Instead it drives a wedge between parties. Sure, there’s lots of uncertainty right now. We are living in an anomalous situation, and we are all completely exhausted by the current state of affairs. Questions loom, such as: When will the pandemic end? When will we go back to our offices? When will we meet with clients and colleagues in person again? There are lots of unknowns causing anxiety and anger. We must, however, try harder to understand and care for each other. Just because we are remote and living in a stressful world, this doesn’t give us the right to be rude to colleagues and strangers. Good manners, graciousness, and courtesy are vital for the AEC industry. They are the foundation on how we run our businesses and build relationships with clients. We need to lead by example and set the new kindness barometer.
Here are 5 Tips to Improve Civility:
- Listen to truly appreciate another’s viewpoint not just to respond. Listen for pain points. Listen to understand. Listen to help. This is how you build a relationship with clients, co-workers, and friends.
- Remember your manners. Good manners, such as saying hello, how are you?, thank you and yes please, go a long way in building rapport.
- Make eye contact even on Zoom and while wearing a mask. Show others you see them.
- Pick up the phone and talk with each another or better yet meet for a socially-distanced chat.
- Smile! Yes, even behind your mask.
Anger and disrespect never win. Not friends. Not clients. And in fact, those manners just make you unlikeable. Poor behavior is its own disease. It’s a pestilence that we must, individually and as an industry, end. We cannot let it become a chronic condition. Remember in business development, it’s not about you. Get to know another’s perspective. Keep this in mind as you navigate new, unchartered Covid territory.
Next musing: Stop the Platitudes! And stay tuned for future musings: Covid Didn’t Empower Poor Grammar and What Characteristics Lead to BD Success?