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Dollars & Sense:
A Major Dis-Connect

  Column published in DM Review Magazine
May 2004 Issue
  By Susan Osterfelt

How to Avoid Being Dis-Courteous in Your Organization

I remember that when I was growing up, my mother would get mad at me if I walked in front of someone and didn't say, "Excuse me." Common courtesy was expected. There have always been consequences (at least in my family/schools/workplaces) for ignoring the "please" and "thank you." Therefore, it is baffling to me to realize that today, especially in the workplace, common courtesy has become common dis-courtesy. Maybe it's that "dis-ing" others (disrespecting through talking trash, etc.) has become a part of so many other areas of life that it just spills over into the workplace. However, dis-ing others in the workplace doesn't make sense. If there is anywhere people need to act like a team, work toward a common goal and do well (in order to receive that very necessary paycheck), it's the workplace. We should view courtesy to our coworkers as a minimum baseline of how to act. Instead, we see common dis-courteous acts. Some examples follow.

Being late to meetings. Everyone's time is valuable. When a meeting can't start because there are one or two stragglers, everyone else's time is wasted. If you start the meeting without the stragglers, you are forced to repeat issues/resolutions when they do show up, again wasting the time of all the participants who had the courtesy to show up on time. (My suggestion: Give all the action items to the people who show up late!)

Side conversations. Speaking of meetings, it is rude to conduct side conversations while the speaker is trying to make a point. Yes, you may have just picked up some important scoop on your Blackberry (again, while the speaker was talking, in itself a form of "dis-ing"), but it is just not courteous to then engage the person sitting next to you in a conversation to say, "Wow! Did you see this?"

Letting your cell phone ring at inappropriate times. When did it become more important to take a cell phone call from your friend/broker/neighbor (or even coworker) rather than continue a performance review with your boss? Your boss may realize that your concept of what is appropriate behavior in the workplace has taken a turn for the worse and decide that maybe you don't need that bonus or salary increase after all.

Speaking of inappropriate behavior in one-on-one situations, it seems to me to be a bit over the edge to read/answer e-mail and voicemail on your PDA/phone while interviewing someone for a job (this actually happened to me). We all have a need to multitask, but it really sends a message to the interviewee that there are much more important things that need to be done right now than interviewing him/her for the job. I thought reading the e-mail was rude, but when the interviewer then picked up his Blackberry/phone and dialed in to receive his voicemail, I just didn't know how to react! (Actually, I just stopped talking. And, of course, I realized that the interview wasn't really going very well.)

Here's one that shows disrespect on a more subtle level: failing to be candid. If an idea doesn't make sense, there are people that won't say anything to the person who generated the idea. Granted, this should not be interpreted as an opportunity to "dis" the person's idea. However, there are ways to politely challenge a bad idea without saying, "What a stupid idea!" It is extremely important to be candid in business today. People with the skill to be candid will be held in higher regard than people without it, and they will contribute positively to both their teams and business results.

One behavior that really gets me mad is failing to answer e-mails or voicemails from coworkers. What is the issue here? Are people just too busy? Yes, I have to weed through 200 spam e-mails each day to get to the ones that I really need to handle, and, yes, it takes time, but it seems to be a necessity for me to acknowledge a coworker's message, even if I need time to develop a full response for delivery later. Again, failure to respond sends a message in and of itself that the sender is just not important enough to take up a moment of your day.

I see the lack of courtesy in today's workplace as a major dis-connect (get it?). Our companies need to achieve their goals and need the full cooperation, teamwork and combined resources of work groups within the enterprise to get that done. However, individuals' lack of common courtesy can inhibit the effectiveness of work groups and actually work counter to business goals. A renewed commitment to common courtesy could work wonders.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence (BI) and Enterprise Intelligence.

Susan Osterfelt is senior vice president at Bank of America, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She can be reached at susan.osterfelt@bankofamerica.com.

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