Is it a Question of Courtesy?

Courtesy as a word is on the decline. I know this thanks to the latest Google gizmo (or perhaps I have only just discovered it) that charts the usage of the word in language. Apparently it peaked somewhere in the 1950s and has been on the slide since then.

Of course this was always the damning conclusion of elderly relatives tut tutting at the latest manifestation of ‘Generation Youth’. For many of us (who weren’t around during the 1950s heyday), courtesy stopped being a thing when it started being something else – like a card, a call or a replacement car.

Lately I have been revisiting the notion of ’showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behaviour towards others’ (thanks again Google!). Living and working in London, courtesy is often an alien concept, or comes with a price tag.  Perhaps we need to get out more.

We’re very good at laughing at our country cousins – mud on the shoes, a penchant for waterproof anoraks, unrealistic rave reviews about the local takeaway – but they do know how to do courtesy. They will greet strangers with a cheery ‘morning’, wait patiently in the post office as an OAP dithers at the counter and flash an exaggerated wave if you pull over to let them pass in a country lane.

Courtesy costs nothing (as I write this I am aware that the spirit of a fastidious Great Aunt seems to be channelling through my keyboard) and yet it can achieve so much in a professional environment. This is a lesson worth learning, especially in the age of tweets, trolls and Trumpisms. How so? Let me hold up the magnifying glass to some of the more commonly perpetrated professional crimes against courtesy!

Email Correspondence – Do you treat email replies as an unnecessary infringement on your time? Yes? Well it shows. I am sometimes surprised by the mismatch between people who are incredibly charming face to face, but email like a teenager on Snapchat. It only takes 20 seconds to write a personalised note to lay down another slither of rapport in your working relationship. Yes, you’re busy. We’re all busy! But don’t forget business is a long game built on relationships.

Peer Interaction – You may get irritated by the mistakes your colleagues, especially newer /younger members of the team may make – but never forget that we all made rookie mistakes once. It’s easier to dismiss rather than encourage, but extending the courtesy of some workplace compassion is healthy for all.  I will also include the courtesy of listening in this section.

Client Interaction – I recently wrote about how to improve your pitching skills. A sense of courtesy runs through the stream of tips for getting your bid or proposal chosen over a rival’s; from being a conscientious team member to presenting yourself as an appealing person to work with.

Social Interaction – The cleaners and fixers who maintain your office, the receptionist, the courier, the security and catering staff at a hospitality do… How often have I seen these people treated like underlings? The trick many professionals miss is that these are the people who keep the ship afloat and can make your life easier if treated with courtesy (and very difficult if not).

I will leave you with a last note on this point, which comes courtesy of TED. The question is ‘what does it take to live to 100 and beyond.’ Hint: A bit of courtesy goes along way!

Luan de Burgh

February 2018

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.