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New Year's Resolution? How About Dignity And Good Manners

by Alf Nucifora

As we compile our list of good intentions for the year that lies ahead, it's time to reflect on the degree to which the Huns and Philistines have now taken over. Bad business manners are epidemic. Remember, we're talking here about experienced and well-trained people who, presumably, have been indoctrinated in the commonly-accepted protocols of sales interaction and business practice. Call me unduly sensitive if you must, but barbarian behavior provokes extreme discomfort in me. And where there's discomfort, there's the probability that I won't be in a buying mood, whether it's for goods and services or ideas.

Too Much Talking

Doesn't anyone listen anymore in America? No wonder foreigners accuse us of brashness and arrogance. Put us in a room and we suck up the oxygen. While that may be acceptable behavior for talk radio and politics, it represents the antithesis of what is appropriate for the selling environment. I'm tired of having to deal with the listening-challenged, the dogmatists, who, when they want your opinion, will gladly, provide it for you. I'm fed up with the narcissists who dominate the conversation with legendry tales of their past exploits. These blockheads have forgotten two of the cardinal rules of effective sales technique-identify the need, and answer the "what's in it for me?" question. If self-interest is the primary buyer motivation, my money is on the sales psychologist who listens first and speaks later, rather the fast talker who's answering the question before it's been asked.

Incidentally, on that issue of past exploits, resist the urge to revisit case studies that go back beyond the five year mark irrespective of how successful they were. History "sells" in any number of universes, but marketing is rarely one of them. There can be nothing more embarrassing than the earnest salesperson or marketing type dredging up victory from a long-forgotten era. It's akin to turning up for a date wearing a leisure suit.

Death to Blackberries!

They're now more than a phenomenon, they're a clinically-diseased cohort, the Blackberry-obsessed, thumbs clicking away incessantly as they respond to every email the moment it lands. Are their lives so bereft of meaning and challenge, that every waking moment is driven by the compulsion to know what's in email, much of it spam and irrelevant information that never gets read anyway. I appreciate the need for immediate response, where it's warranted (responding to a client need, for instance), but there's a time and a place for everything. Answering emails during a meeting or while you're on a conference call brands you as rude and self-centered. I try not to spend my money with those who lack the civility and common courtesy that one normally expects from the business transaction. And while I'm on this rant, switch those cell phones off during meetings. As a professional speaker I can attest to the fact that cell phone interruption is a continuing problem.

Be Considerate with Time

A meeting start time is a specific point-in-time to be acknowledged and adhered to, not a time range subject only to mood-of-the-moment decision. Arriving late creates interruption, often requires repeating information and discussion in order to bring the offending party up-to-speed and communicates an arrogance that easily offends. And while we're at it, watch the body language. If you're in a meeting with me and I'm exhibiting impatience, get to the point and get out. This is not the occasion to settle in for a leisurely chat. Respect my time and I'll respect your pitch. I may even buy what you're selling.

Don't Be Uncouth

It may be time to dust off the etiquette books. Social behavior shift within the business world seems to be paralleling the change that's taking place in dress code as it moves to business casual-growing sloppiness and loss of couth. How else to explain slovenly, high-decibel eating habits? Or the inability to hold one's liquor, a weakness that seems to be on the increase as aging Boomers relive the high, this time around with the aid of a stiff martini or that third glass of cabernet.

Memorable were the days when good taste had a following, quality was admired and attention to personal deportment was the rule rather than the exception. Yes, the world has unquestionably turned crass in thought, desire and behavior. But note how the best seller lists are now heavy with philosophical treatises and "how-to" tomes on the subjects of personal leadership and optimization of business and personal performance. One hopes there is a rebellion in the making. Never forget, there are still enough of us out there who want to associate with peers who behave with class and who believe that dignity and good manners apply equally to business relationships as they do to diplomacy and marriage.

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