Common courtesy: Dead or alive?

Known for his Dale Carnegie training expertise, Terry Siebert is writing to inspire leaders to reach their greatest potential. Leadership, today more than ever, may mean the difference between closing the doors or opening new markets. Every month, he'll post help with mindset, business tools and more. Read Full Bio

I was walking from a parking lot to a store a few weeks ago and noticed a very pregnant young woman quite a few steps ahead of me. A young man scooted around her, walked through the entrance door, and almost let the door slam in her face. Wow!

I have a friend who told me she has a best friend who has a bad habit. When they are talking in person, the friend will answer her cell phone right in the middle of a conversation. The other party doesn’t check to see who it is, she just answers automatically and stops the face-to-face conversation.

My guess is that many of you have been in meetings where as many as half of the participants are engaged with their phones versus being engaged with the subject at hand. It makes you wonder why so many businesspeople talk about the challenge of productivity of meeting time.

Speaking of productive meetings, what time does a 9 a.m. meeting start at your organization – 9, 9:10, 9:20? And if it does start later, how many roam in even after that? It seems that acceptable behavior and the culture in some organizations is just to live with this.

Then there is this story that I just heard last week. A presenter at a conference was speaking to about 100 people who had paid good money to hear him speak. Like most speakers at these events, he mentioned the ground rules of turning cell phones to vibrate and if you needed to accept a call or communicate with your phone to please leave the room. As it turns out, one person in the front row was very obviously texting like crazy, and because of his location in the room, it was noticeable to many. After being asked several times to either leave the room or stop texting, the presenter asked the individual for his phone. This story ends when the presenter takes the phone and throws it to the back of the room. I was assured that this actually happened. A bit of an overreaction, but what is one to do?

My guess is that you have a story that you could add to this list. If you do, just respond to this blog. The best examples are the real thing. You can’t make this stuff up! It could be professional or personal. Regardless, it seems that this thing called common courtesy is not quite as common as it used to be.

When we are asked what we do in our business at Dale Carnegie Training, one of our responses is that we are very good at coaching people to put common sense into common practice. What does that mean?

It means treating others the way they would like to be treated. In every example/story above, the “offending” individual shows a lack of respect for the other person or group. This could be intentional OR unintentional. I do believe that some people are probably not even aware of how they are offending their friends, co-workers, or even relatives. Regardless, the behavior can be summed up in one word: RUDE!

So, with this wee bit of background, here are a couple of principles from Dale Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends and Influence People that would be very helpful in putting that common sense into common practice:

Become genuinely interested in other people: If you truly want to build positive, long-lasting relationships with others, the focus should be on them, NOT YOU. Dale Carnegie said you can make more friends in two weeks than you can in two years by becoming interested in them. Answering a cell phone call in the middle of a conversation doesn’t quite cut it.

Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves: Paul Tillich once said, “The greatest compliment you can pay someone is to listen to them when you are listening to them.” This applies to one-on-one conversations as well as being in that meeting, engaged with whoever is talking, not engaged with that phone.

Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely: When someone has scheduled a meeting at 9, show up before 9. It shows you respect the other person and their time. If you do get a message during a meeting that needs to be immediately responded to, excuse yourself and take care of business. Don’t interrupt the rest of the group with texting or calling.

In conclusion, I am not sure if common courtesy is dead or alive. It seems to be going in a less than positive direction. Technology is there to help us be more productive. Let’s use it to do that and continue to build our personal and professional relationships.

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